It took me 2 years of living in Tanzania before finally heading out to Lake Jipe, simply because it first took me a year and 11 months to know it even exists. To say it’s off the beaten path is an understatement, especially if you approach the lake from the Tanzanian side, so this is definitely not a place where you’ll risk running into 100 other visitors. Let’s go!
What & where is Lake Jipe?
Lake Jipe is a shallow lake on the border of Tanzania and Kenya, about 2 hours away from Moshi in northern Tanzania. It’s located just east of the northern Pare mountains which dominate the view during the ride and on the lake. On the Kenyan side you can see Tsavo National Park and if you’re lucky you might spot some of the larger animals like elephants as you can’t go super close without going into Kenya. The Holili / Taveta Tanzanian / Kenyan border is only a good hour away from the village of Jipe.
The lake is home to lots of fish, birds, hippos and crocodiles, even though the last two can normally only be found on the Tanzanian side of the lake from June to August. The locals that live in the villages around the lake live from fishing and agriculture, and it is with the fishermen of Lake Jipe themselves that you’ll be heading out onto the lake.
A typical feature of the lake is the – sometimes huge amounts of – reeds on its shores. The wind determines how much reeds you’ll find exactly but no matter what, the main strategy of the fishermen to get onto the open part of the lake is ‘forward and onward’ so if there’s a lot of reeds, you’ll have to go through them. And THAT… is exactly what turned our trip into a memorable adventure.
Our Lake Jipe visit
We drove to Jipe without much preparation that morning, but we knew a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy that lived in Jipe and called him on the way. It still took quite some time to get everything arranged, as the reeds were extremely dense and the fishermen weren’t sure it would be possible to get through them. We finally left with almost 2 fishermen per boat instead of the usual 1, and we were soon to discover that even with twice the manpower, this wasn’t going to be an easy task.
I can’t say I was particularly reassured as we approached the lake and saw the condition of the boats and I’m still not sure if my second fisherman was actually there to push away the reeds or to scoop water out of our boat non-stop instead. But – spoiler alert – we made it back without having to swim. Not that I’d have been much wetter had that been the case but with the crocodiles and all… probably for the best anyway.
It took us about 2 hours to get through… half of which consisted of getting pushed or walking OVER the dried reeds on the water surface instead of rowing by. Two hours of squeezing the entire lower body in order to keep the boats stable for those in the boats, two hours of sweating their butts off for the fishermen outside of the boats. In some areas you could just see large ‘bushes’ of reeds rolling around over the water surface, with potential passage ways quickly opening and closing again.
And then finally, there it was. The open lake, with still some reeds here and there but views all the way to Kenya in front of us and the Pare mountains in our back. We didn’t go during hippo spotting season so there wasn’t any of that, but we spent about an hour on the lake and took the time to eat on a kind of reed ‘island’ in the middle of the lake and it was just beautiful.
After lunch, it was time to head back as the fishermen want to try to use the same paths that we used to come and if we wait too long, these might close again. The view was now determined by the Pare mountains right in front of us, and it was simply beautiful.
It still took us almost an hour and a half to get back to the starting point and by that time it was too late for us to still head out to the nearby waterfall. And honestly… we were tired and stiff from sitting in that tiny boat for several hours, getting dragged over reeds or trying to avoid being slapped in the face by one. Apparently it’s beautiful and not a very long walk, so I’d definitely recommend you check it out if you have the time. When there’s less reeds on the lake, the boat ride can easily be 2 hours shorter, leaving more than enough time.
Is Lake Jipe worth a visit?
As I mentioned, during our visit we weren’t able to see hippos or crocodiles in the lake, or elephants in Tsavo National Park but the presence of the reeds turned our trip into a nice adventure. I can imagine that when there’s less reeds, it becomes more of a simple boat tour on a lake but with what I’ve heard about the waterfall, I still think this can be a really nice day trip. The views are just beautiful, and this is what these fishermen do almost every day of their lives. Heading out to the lake to go fishing and provide food for their family, finding their way through the reeds for more than an hour if they have to. So if you’re interested in not just the most spectacular sights that have very little or nothing to do with how the people here actually live, I’d definitely recommend adding Lake Jipe to your itinerary.
How to get to Lake Jipe & how much it costs
Anyone who’s been following this blog in the past and knows me a little bit, knows I’ll always organize things myself if possible. But for this trip, I genuinely think you’ll lose too much time trying to get it organized if you don’t go with somebody who knows the area and at least speaks Swahili. And by that I mean you might actually not have enough time left to properly do your excursion and get back before the dark. The sun goes down around 6.30 – 7 PM in Tanzania and it’s not recommended to be traveling around in the dark. Transport also stops around that time or just a bit later. None of our 9 fishermen (for 5 visitors) spoke English and even speaking Swahili, it took us quite some time to get them to accept a reasonable salary (by reasonable I mean more than decent but still much less than half of what they’ll initially ask you). We were also there to try out this trip to see if we could add it to our tour business’ offer and it’s only when they heard this that we got a fair price. Be aware there’s also no direct public transport to Lake Jipe from Moshi so you’d have to change busses a few times, making the drive much longer than 2 hours.
With all this I’m pretty sure you won’t be (much) cheaper off organizing it yourself and you’ll lose a lot of time, so I’d recommend using a tour operator to organize this trip for you. At Mawenzi Adventures we organize it if you’d like to book it in combination with a safari or other excursions, and there’s a few other companies that organize it just as a day trip so you should be able to find one for sure.
If you use a tour operator that sells good quality tours, pays their taxes, offers good salaries to their staff and pays the fishermen properly, this package should cost somewhere between 80 and 120 USD per person, depending on your group size. Count around 80-100 USD for groups of 4 people and more and between 100-120 USD for groups of 2 to 3. Of course the cost of transport and your guide are shared, so the more people in the group, the cheaper it gets. These prices should include private transport, an English speaking guide, the entrance fee to Jipe village, the salaries of the fishermen, the entrance fee to the waterfall, lunch and drinking water.
How about you? Had you heard about Lake Jipe? Would you go there?
I’d love to hear from you below in the comments!