Lake Kariba – Visitor’s guide to the world’s largest man-made lake

Lake Kariba from above, in Zimbabwe

Beautiful Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe boasts incredible sunsets, spectacular views, and many activities for the adventurous traveler. Up to 40 km wide in some areas, this vast expanse of water mimics an inland ocean with an unparalleled wildlife scene.

Visiting Lake Kariba and its thriving local surroundings will have you staring over the reflection of African landscapes. The beauty of this space will mesmerize you.

There is nothing quite like seeing a pair of hippo’s ears breaking the surface of the water to remind you of the enormity of the lake.

Learn about a corner of serenity with this concise visitor’s guide to Lake Kariba.

Where and What is Lake Kariba?

Lake Kariba dam and the statue of Nyami Nyami

This unique spot, situated on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, is the world’s largest man-made lake. Lake Kariba is 220 km in length and is home to a diverse range of animal species.

The lake generates a large amount of power for both Zambia and Zimbabwe and is the center of a bustling fishing industry.

Since the completion of the construction of the dam, the lake has brought along a vibrant tourism industry. The conservation efforts made by the locals managed to keep the fauna and flora mostly undisturbed and it has remained the main attraction for years.

The history behind the world’s largest man-made lake

Kariba Lake has a rather contentious history which made way for some unusual legends. It formed at the base of Victoria Falls by damming the Zambezi River into the Kariba Gorge. This was a controversial move that displaced the Batonga Tribe residing in the area.

The negative impact on wildlife was expansive. The rising floodwaters stranded animals on small islands. A rescue mission, Operation Noah, involved rescuing 6000 animals by boat.

The legends of Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

The name of the lake has its origins in the Batonga word, Kariva which means ‘to trap’. It refers to a large rock that protruded from the Zambezi River, which the Batonga people believe is home to the river god, Nyami Nyami.

This rock had become submerged underwater after the flooding of the valley.

The dam suffered damage during the construction phase. It’s believed by the Batonga people that this caused Nyami Nyami to take revenge on losing his home.

The Atmosphere Around Lake Kariba

Filled with quaint towns and an abundance of wildlife, the surrounding areas of Lake Kariba are tourist hubs. Kariba Town, located in the northern part of the lake, is a must-visit destination on your journey.

Don’t visit Lake Kariba with an unrealistic expectation. This uninterrupted piece of Africa is no metropolitan hub. The tourism in this area focuses on the serene wildlife and the idyllic expanse of water.

You’ll most likely find yourself kicking back and soaking in the sunshine at the resorts scattered around the lake.

How to get to Lake Kariba and where to stay

Houseboat on Lake Kariba, with cloud reflections on the water

From Kariba Town in the north and Mlibizi in the south, choosing where to kick off your tour might be hard.

If you choose to arrive by air, which is true for most international visitors, the best bet will be to enter Harare airport in Zimbabwe. From there you can choose road transfer to Lake Kariba or board a charter flight.

There are many accommodation options on both sides of the lake, ranging from 5-star stays to basic campsites.

The best-rated way to tour the world’s largest man-made lake is via houseboat. These boats mimic the set-up of an Airbnb and range from luxury lodging to self-catering budget options.

Best activities at the lake

As mentioned, the main attraction of the lake is the thriving wildlife. Most tourists visit for the unique tiger fishing experience. Some houseboats even offer dedicated tiger fishing experiences.

Safaris and birdwatching are additional famed activities around the lake. Take a dive into the natural habitat of the Big Five at Matusadona National Park, located on the Zimbabwean side of the lake. This unique safari experience will give you an awe-inspiring view of the wildlife saved by the locals years ago.

Relax on the crystalline waters of the lake, rent a kayak, a motorboat or take a sailboat along the uninterrupted expanse of placid water.

Trees line the horizon and complete the painting of the burning blue African sky. Awaking animals meet the sunrise and run across the grasslands, while sunsets are an amazing display of colors and movement.

This corner of Africa mimics the artwork of the great impressionists of centuries gone by.

Lake Kariba Map

Map of Lake Kariba, bordering Zambia and Zimbabwe
Click to enlarge

Discover the national parks that line the Zimbabwean side of the Lake Kariba map. They boast a unique ecological space, ranging from green grasslands to rocky hillside spots.

The lake has many small islands scattered along the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides, perfect for private and idyllic vacations.

The town of Kariba was originally meant to be home for the construction workers building the dam wall. The town is a small settlement in the eastern part of the Zimbabwean side of the lake.

Another local town called Binga is on the eastern side of the lake which is closer to Victoria Falls and the famed Hwange National Park.

Matusadona National Park

Consisting of 1470 sq km, this expansive park has enormous potential for wildlife conservation and tourism.

The vast landscape, constructed out of impressive hills that abruptly descend into flat grasslands, is home to an array of wildlife species. Rhinos, buffaloes, elephants, lions, and many more creatures lurk behind every corner of the park.

Kariba islands

These luscious green islands line the waters of Lake Kariba and are a mystical place of serenity and privacy. The only intruders into this space will be an elephant trotting outside or a hippo submerged in water.

These islands are home to numerous camps and lodges ready for your visit. Enjoy an island vacation with breathtaking views of the African landscapes just beyond your doorstep.

Chete Safari Area

Just beyond Matusadona National Park lies the hilly area of Chete Safari. Unreachable by vehicle in some places, this controlled hunting location is mainly accessible by boat or on foot.

Weather at Lake Kariba and the Best Time to Visit

Dead trees in the water with stunning sunset in the background, Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe

This area is hot all year round, especially during the summertime which runs from October to the end of April. Humidity peaks during the rainy season in October.

The windy season during August and September makes the water on the lake unsettled. Therefore, it’s best to avoid these months if you dislike choppy water.

The best time to visit Lake Kariba is in May through July, when the temperature is significantly cooler. Fishing is good throughout the entire year, but bird watching is most enjoyable during the rainy season in October.

If you plan on going on a safari on the mainland, then the dry season (May through September) is an ideal time to visit.

Important Things to Note Before Visiting Lake Kariba

Big Nile crocodile running into the water, Lake Kariba, Zambia

If you’re planning a fishing trip to Lake Kariba, ensure that you gather the correct permits to do so. Get well acquainted with the local fishing regulations to avoid disappointment.

Also be wary of lurking crocodiles in the lake. Swimming in the lake is not advised due to these water-based predators, and doing so can result in an emergency situation.

Ultimately, take some health precautions before entering this malaria hotspot.

Interesting facts about Lake Kariba

The story behind this man-made lake is full of interesting facts that feed its specter. Here are some of the best historical facts about Lake Kariba that will make your visit that much more interesting.

  • The Zambezi River that starts a 2700-kilometer route into the Indian Ocean, directly feeds the lake.
  • Many species of wildlife get spotted around the lake. They include leopards, lions, elephants, honey badgers, and buffaloes.
  • The dam has a volume of 1 032 000 cubic meters of water pushing up against the wall.
  • Lake Kariba has a great number of mooring opportunities on both the mainland and surrounding islands.
  • There are idyllic waterfalls scattered throughout the area.

Lake Kariba and Beyond

Inquisitive zebra and impala on the shores of Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe

This lake has been home to a multitude of fauna and flora for the past few decades. The countless wildlife sighting opportunities and fishing spots make it a perfect African vacation location.

Remember to check out Victoria Falls and the beauty of Zambia while you’re at it. There is no right or wrong way to reconnect with your wild side.

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