From Mpulungu, Zambia to Tanzania along Lake Tanganyika on the 101 year old MV Liemba

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Apr 2014

    Default From Mpulungu, Zambia to Tanzania along Lake Tanganyika on the 101 year old MV Liemba

    With the permission of TangaEric, here is this motorbiker's brilliant account of a recent trip on the oldest passenger ferry in the world - MV Liemba - up Lake Tanganyika from Mpulungu, Zambia to Kipili, Tanzania.

    Here is the link to the original post with photos on Horizons Unlimited:

    For those going from Zambia to Tanzania or the other way around, here is a trip I recommend to anyone.

    I recently rode from Namibia back to Zanzibar, where I live. I passed through Botswana and Zambia before entering Tanzania on Lake Tanganyika. While I planned my trip, I read about the MV Liemba, a 101 year old passenger ship that plies Lake Tanganyika between Kigoma Port in Tanzania and Mpulungu Port in Zambia.

    The old ship is wrapped in history. It was assembled around the year 1913 by the Germans after transporting it from Germany to Lake Tanganyika in 5,000 crates. The crates were carried by porters for the last 50 or so kilometres to the lake. After a few years, the ship dominated the Lake Tanganyika as a war ship. As the war was being lost, the Germans sank the ship and took her guns off to be used elsewhere. Some 8 years later the ship was salvaged and recommissioned. Long story short, she is now the world's oldest passenger ferry....and actually still in very good condition. It's worth reading up on her and checking out the videos on YouTube.

    As despite my long time living in Tanzania I had never seen Lake Tanganyika, I found this my opportunity to do so. I decided I would try to cross the border from Zambia into Tanzania by using the MV Liemba. I contacted Lake Shore Lodge (
    The best way to experience Lake Tanganyika) and Louise responded with excellent information concerning the ship and her schedule. She sent me the contact of Anthony Stephen ([email protected]), who seems to be responsible for the running of this ship. He is fully aware of her schedule and provided me with constant updates as I rode northward toward Mpulungu Port in Zambia to meet with the Liemba.

    I arrived at Mpulungu a couple of days early so as to be sure to be there should the Liemba arrive earlier than scheduled. The first night I was in the area I went and camped at Isanga Bay Lodge (, a nice little lodge in a beautiful spot on Lake Tanganyika. They have a beautiful little campsite on the lake shore, but the road getting there, some 30 km of 4 x 4 track, was almost non existent in some places, had deep ruts and was very rocky for a big part of it. I don't recommend it for a heavy adventure bike and I did it on a R1200 GS ADV was a tough ride and I decided to hire the lodge's boat the next morning and move to Mpulungu over the lake rather than around it using that track again. The word is that the road will soon be graded.

    On the scheduled day of it's arrival, the Liemba arrived in Mpulungu at around noon. By then I was already in the port and had been waiting for her for a few hours. I stamped my passport out at immigration in the port and did my bike paperwork in the customs office there. I was happy to see she was still looking good, despite her 101 years!!! Mechanical equipment can deteriorate very rapidly in Africa, mostly due to mismanagement and lack of interest, but the Tanzanian government has done an excellent job at keeping her sea worthy and comfortable to be on.

    The Liemba took a couple of hours to offload her cargo and my heavy bike was eventually efficiently placed on a net and hoisted on board the bow of the ship. It cost me $30 for the port crane to do the job, and got a receipt for it. The port staff were very friendly, as were the Liemba crew. I secured the bike to the railings and a few hours later, at about 17.00 hrs Zambian time, the Liemba sounded her horn and sailed toward Tanzania. I had booked a first class cabin, which as a Tanzanian resident cost me approximately $15, for the 14 hour trip to Kipili Port in Tanzania where Lake Shore Lodge was located.

    The ship usually takes 2 days to go from Mpulungu to Kigoma in Tanzania, but I decided I would get off earlier at Kipili. I met a few German and Spanish volunteers also experiencing the voyage on the Liemba and after a stunning sunset over the lake as the bow of the Liemba split the waters of Lake Tanganyika ahead of her, I had some well appreciated inexpensive cold [IMG]file:///C:\Users\Star\AppData\Local\Temp\msohtmlclip1\01\c lip_image001.gif[/IMG]s and an excellent inexpensive meal in her canteen. It was a full moon night and the lake was calm, so there was no rolling on the Liemba. I retired to my cabin, consisting of a clean floor, two bunks with clean sheets, and a spotless sink, at around 22.00 hrs. While the rest of the ship was in good shape for it's age, the one thing that was appalling were the toilets....for some reason Africans have a tough time taking care of toilets!

    From a logistics point of view, the great thing about the Liemba is that there are a Tanzanian immigration officer and a customs officer on board. So as soon as she sailed from Mpulungu, I was able to stamp my passport and into Tanzania and did the same with my bike. This meant I did not have to get off the ship at the first port of call, Kasanga, some two hours into the trip. The ship stopped every couple of hours in a different port throughout the night and eventually sailed into Kipili port at around 10.00 hrs the next morning. I had had a decent night sleep, only having been awoken at each port of call to all the noise of offloading and loading cargo at the various ports we stopped at.

    Kipili Port had a nice jetty the Liemba came alongside at. I paid for the transport of my bike on the ship, which was $50 (I did not negotiate but I believe I could have), and the ship crane offloaded my baby gently onto the jetty. I paid $2 to the port and got a receipt and rode out to Lake Shore Lodge for a quick swim in the lake before I set off toward the Tanzanian coast. The track from Lake Shore Lodge to Sumbawanga, some 100 or so kilometres, was a beautiful ride rising from 700 m in altitude at the lake to some 1,400 m by the time one gets to Sumbawanga.

    Obviously my trip was a lot more than this part of it, but as I have not seen much description about motorcyclists opting to travel on this piece of living history, I thought I would put it out there.


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jun 2016
    Cape Town

    Default Re: From Mpulungu, Zambia to Tanzania along Lake Tanganyika on the 101 year old MV Li

    On our way there. Driving from Maputo to Nairobi. Leaving tomorrow. Be in Lake Tanzganyika around the 10th July. Looking forward to it. Thanks for the post.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2012

    Default Re: From Mpulungu, Zambia to Tanzania along Lake Tanganyika on the 101 year old MV Li

    Thanks very much Wazungu Wawili. It is a dream and I hope one day it'll be reality.


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