This Could Be the Best Swim of Your Life — If You Avoid the Crocodiles
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
It’s worth the trouble of getting a visa.
Taking a dip in the longest freshwater lake in the world can be both dangerous and thrilling. If you search “swimming in Lake Tanganyika,” one of the top results is about a 70-year-old man-eating crocodile named Gustav. But there is much more to Lake Tanganyika — which is 410 miles long and runs across Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Zambia — than hungry reptiles.
In the west of Burundi, in a remote and isolated town known as Rumonge, the shores next to the Blue Bay Resort are covered in white sand. The area is free, thankfully, of crocodiles and hippos. Lake Tanganyika is in the western branch of East Africa’s Rift Valley and is surrounded by mountains that make the views — both in and out of the deep water — spectacular. You might just forget that you are in a landlocked country. With fishermen in rowboats in the distance, it’s like time is standing still.
Jumping off the pier into the bluest, clearest (non-crocodile-infested) waters is a refreshing break from the heat.
Jumping off the pier into the bluest, clearest (non-crocodile-infested) waters is a refreshing break from the heat. The water is the perfect temperature, rejuvenating but not too cold, and so clear you can see to the bottom of the lake without the sting of salt in your eyes. The water is very calm — no waves or tides. There are more than 350 fish species, 250 of which are rare cichlids, most of which can only be found in Lake Tanganyika.
Located an hour’s drive from the capital city, Bujumbura, this idyllic area is sheltered from the political instability that has dragged on since April 2015, when the country’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, clung to power for a third term, defying the country’s constitution. Still, things have improved and tourists are returning. “This year, the political situation has been very calm, good for our business and we are getting back on our feet,” says Joseph Furaha, Blue Bay’s executive manager. By 2016, most international tourists had stopped visiting Burundi, but political and constitutional solutions are being sought and there has been a reduction in protests. Most foreign nationals still need to apply for visas before arriving in Bujumbura; check with authorities before planning a visit.
But once you get here, it’s time to enjoy spectacular surroundings. Rent a Jet Ski or take a boat out on the lake. Or laze about reading a book in a rainproof bamboo gazebo built over the lake and listen to the water lapping below. When you need a bite, there’s the catch of the day — a wide selection of fish, freshwater shrimp and crabs — served with potatoes or rice and a side of kale, spinach or other local greens. Fresh fruits such as mangoes, oranges and bananas mean you are always assured a glass of fresh-squeezed juice. Or cycle round Rumonge and stop for a picnic on any of the beaches. If you are in a particularly deserted area, definitely ask a local about crocodiles.
Go THERE: BURUNDI
How to get there: Fly to Bujumbura from Nairobi (1.5 hours) or from Kigali (45 minutes). The drive to Rumonge takes about two hours.
Get a visa: You can also apply in advance in one of Burundi’s neighboring countries if you are traveling through them first. Pegging a Burundi trip to a larger East Africa trip is a good way to scope out the situation on the ground.
Where to stay: The Tanganyika Blue Bay Resort offers rooms for $100 per night.