Lake Kariba


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Zimbabwe's vast fresh-water inland sea - 280 kms long and 40 kms at its widest - formed when the Zambezi River was dammed at Kariba Gorge in the 1950s. A wildlife and water wilderness paradise!

Lake Kariba is the name given to the huge body of fresh water which spread 5 200 sq km over the Zambezi River valley after construction of the first major hydro-electric dam was completed in 1959, across Africa's fourth largest river.  It is roughly estimated to be about 280kms long and 40 kms at its widest.

Lake Kariba has since become an attractive and popular holiday destination. Its vast expanse of water forms a boundary between Zimbabwe and Zambia; its extensive and attractive shorelines are home to large populations of wildlife and its islands are dotted in a picture-postcard deep blue sea against a backdrop of high escarpment mountain ranges on each side. Big sky sunsets over the lake are legendary, with the calm water turning to golden shot silk in the dusk and the bare branches of its famous drowned trees silhouetted in the foreground.

Lake Kariba is a laid-back holiday playground with a wide choice of activities ideal for families, a hot, tropical climate, fantastic fishing, lots of boating choices, houseboats, motorboating, sailing, and watersports and wildlife and safari opportunities second to none.

Most people visiting Lake Kariba take a boat out of one of the harbours (Kariba Town at the north-eastern end of the lake and Binga or Mlibizi at the western end).    Some are crossing the lake to stay at one of the safari or fishing camps along the shoreline, in the Matusadona National Park or the islands.    Others are setting out for a leisurely cruise of several days aboard a houseboat,  fishing, game-viewing, birding,  sunbathing or simply relaxing.   

Lake Kariba has lots of these “floating hotels” of various sizes, shapes and degrees of comfort.  They can be hired either on a full-board or self-catering basis and are usually equipped with an efficient and hard-working crew who will do everything to provide you with a holiday of a lifetime. 

The most popular destination for houseboat holidays out of Kariba town is the Matusadona National Park, about 30kms across the lake, where there are islands, tranquil bays and creeks teeming with wildlife against the magnificent backdrop of the Zambezi escarpment mountains.  If you are lucky, you can see a variety of large African mammal species, including elephant, buffalo, lion and cheetah  and a staggering variety of waterbirds.

Fishing is excellent sport in Lake Kariba's waters. The magnificent tigerfish, endemic to the Zambezi River, is a thrilling catch for avid anglers, and the focus of an International Tigerfishing Tournament held in Kariba in October each year. Various other species including several types of bream make good eating. Bait is available from the boat harbours and some fishing tackle can be provided, but it is advisable to bring your own if possible. National Park entry and fishing permits are essential and can usually be obtained from your boat harbour at Kariba, Binga or Mlibizi.    Be especially careful when fishing or walking near the shoreline, and never swim in the lake.   It has a very large population of crocodiles.

Local art, culture and legend
The sad reality of Lake Kariba is that this huge body of water displaced a large number of the Zambezi valley's original inhabitants, the Tonga people, who were evacuated from their ancestral, riverside fishing grounds to a harsh new life in arid farmlands inland to the south of the new lake.

The Tonga were convinced that Nyaminyami, their river god of the Zambezi, angry at the building of the dam, would one day wreak havoc and destroy the wall.  He had several attempts - two major floods during construction in the 1950s succeeded in breaching the coffer dam and setting back progress for many months. However, in the end his wrath was overcome and the wall has held back the waters every since.

The legend of Nyaminyami has inspired art, sculpture and craft work in the Kariba area and provided a livelihood for local people who sell intricately carved wooden walking sticks depicting the snake-like river god to visitors.   At the western end of the lake around the Binga area, traditional Tonga skills of wood carving and basket-weaving have been developed into thriving industries the products of which are exported worldwide.

Linked stories:-

Latest ZimParks Fees  -Travel Advice

TRAVEL ADVICE FOR SELF-DRIVERS: Tackling the remote "Back Route": Victoria Falls/Hwange to Kariba/Mana Pools (Travel Blog, April 2022)

First fossils of crocodile-like phytosaurs from Southern Africa discovered at Lake Kariba. (News March 2020)

Cruising in Paradise on Lake Kariba: the perfect holiday - March 2019

Lake Kariba fills to 86% - Aug 2018

A modern-day Operation Noah rescues animals stranded on Lake Kariba islands - July 2018 

High Zambezi water levels bring splendour at Victoria Falls and a rising Lake Kariba May 2018 

The Legend of Rupert Fothergill  - Oct 2017

Fish of Kariba: Bream & Tilapia - July 2017

Time to re-brand houseboats?  Help us do it.October 2016

Cruising Lake Kariba out of Victoria Falls - October 2016

Kariba Town: hotels, lodges & self-catering options - August 2015

Tourism assistance at Kariba borderpost - March 2015

Fly Air Zimbabwe to Kariba via Vic Falls or Harare - we did! - August 2014

Air Zimbabwe flights re-link Kariba with Vic Falls-Harare - July 2014

Kariba Dam Wall is stable, says Zambezi River Authority - March 2014

Tigerfishing on Lake Kariba - Sept 2013

Tiger tournament introduces Catch & Release - Oct 2012

A fitting 50th! - Nov 2011

Catch a tiger in Kariba! - Oct 2011

UNESCO declares Zambezi Valley a Biosphere Reserve - June 2010

Kariba at 50 - a spectacular site! - May 2010

Kariba dam wall is safe and well maintained - Aug 2009

Travel listings for this area

Catalina Houseboat, Kariba

Luxury air-conditioned cruiseboat based in Pama Harbour in Kariba. Sleeps 12 passengers on a self-catering or fully-catered basis.

Cutty Sark - self-catering accommodation, bistro, bar, supermarket

Self-catering flats, apartments, lodges, catered rooms, bistro, bar and supermarket in the grounds of the former Cutty Sark Hotel, Kariba Town.

Musango Safari Camp

Classic family-run safari camp on its own island in Lake Kariba, with wildlife and boating activities and top quality professional guiding

ZimParks - Zimbabwe National Parks and Wildlife Authority

Self-catering lodges/chalets, tented camp, campsites & picnic sites within the Zambezi Valley's major National Parks and Protected Areas.

Executive Air

Private, professional air charters throughout Zimbabwe and the Africa region, including remote areas.

Changa Safari Camp

Lake Kariba shoreline luxury tented camp within the Matusadona National Park

Heartveld Adventures

Travel information, bookings and tours around the Zambezi region and the rest of Zimbabwe

Zambezi Cruise & Safaris Lodges - Kariba Safari Lodge & Crowned Eagle Boutique Hotel

A portfolio of lodges at Kariba Town (and just outside Harare) owned and run by Zambezi Cruise & Safaris

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