When we set off to Mahale I knew that the snorkelling is possible in the area, same as some other spots on the lake (Kipili), but I did not expect certain surprising twists!
After enjoying the five hour jungle chimp trek the day before, it was time for a more relaxing activity. Hanes, the only other visitor to the park at the time, had asked us if we were up to joining him on the boat trip to snorkel and seen hippos. Sure we were, even though we’ve seen probably too many hippos in our lives before.
We boarded the boat in flip flops and swim shorts – but Hannes donned full body safari attire and high-top boots (insert pics): good protection against the sunburn but Tim and I just wanted to enjoy the sunny and hot day.
First, stop – picking up the snorkelling gear at one of the “fancy” lodges ($1,000+ per night…) on the way – we got a glimpse of luxury of how a select few enjoy Mahale.
We reached Lubungu River/Swamp enjoying always stunning views and counting the crocs on the shore: I think we seen about 3-4 of them basking on the sandy beaches – more on this later. No sign of hippos after floating upstream the river for 10-15 minutes but plenty of beautiful birds and papyrus shorelines while looking up the beautiful valleys. The water was still little low at the beginning of the rainy season so we turned around and headed off snorkelling.
Snorkeling and diving in either Lake Tanganyika or Lake Malawi is simply beautiful – hundreds of endemic cichlid species make it a unique experience. There are no corals like in the ocean but that makes it unique from ocean diving/snorkelling. In these two tectonic lakes the cichlids usually congregate around the rocky spots along the shore (insert pics).
Upon reaching the area, the coxwine (= boat driver) started riding fast and in wild turns between both rocky outcrops with our guide vigilantly looking around through water. The task was to make sure there were no “stray” crocs around. After 5 minutes we determined the area to be ready for our snorkeling adventure.
Here comes another fun part: Hannes put on his fins and goggles and jumped into the water dressed in his full body trekking attire. Why did he not keep the boots on his feet 😊?
After an hour of playing in the water, we headed back very happy as snorkeling here feels really as raw nature. Few hundred kilometres south in Kipili, one can go kayaking alone to various islands to snorkel but this complete “wilderness” feeling can be only felt here in mahale.
So you might ask – can one swim safely here? Short answer is yes with a few rules: first, the guides usually take tourists swim further offshore (500 m to 1 km) to the very deep water: remember L. Tanganyika is in some places over 1,400 meters deep (but only about up to 100 meters or so by the shore). Swimming here is 100% safer as the crocs only occur in shallow water along the shore. You might say “it only takes one”: yes but all camps have been providing the service to their clients for years without single incidence – and one of those camps just won “best camp in Africa award”. The fact in Africa and wildlife is that it matters “when” and “where”. The animals occur at certain places only at a certain time and they in general have no interest to harm anyone. Having said that, we always take precautions and only conduct safe activities.
One afternoon, I ventured to swim offshore and it was fantastic: being offshore gives you a fantastic view of the mountains. Better yet to enjoy with a sunset drink!