Cahora Bassa, Tete Province, Mozambique
Cahora Bassa is likely one of the best fishing destinations on the African continent. This relatively young reservoir was formed when the Cahora Bassa Dam was built cross the Zambezi River in 1974. The huge dam was begun by the Portuguese as an irrigation, flood control and power generation dam while Mozambique was still under the control of Portugal. By the time the reservoir had filled, Mozambique had gained its independence. Much of the power generated had already been contracted to South Africa and, when civil war broke out almost immediately, the entire electrical transmission system was extensively damaged. The Cahora Bassa was thus born at a time of great turmoil within impoverished Mozambique, and the country has struggled ever since to balance the changing needs of government, existing contracts and the needs of those displaced by the rising water. This is likely the only reason this pristine giant of a lake has not yet been ‘discovered’ by the larger tourism trade. Most visitors come to enjoy the beautiful white-sand beaches and resorts along the country’s Indian Ocean coast and never think to look into the interior. Those that do, however, are beginning to spread the word: Cahora Bassa is a destination in its own right.
Covering nearly 700,000 acres beginning at the border with Zimbabwe, the large lake with its five basins and many islands has allowed several species of sport fish to thrive. In their wake have arrived the first tourism businesses along the shore: fishing resorts. Most fishermen come to catch the hard-fighting tiger fish which reaches impressive size in the lake. Other species caught include a variety of bream species, including Mossambica, three-spot and red-breast, as well as barbel/catfish and their larger cousins the vundu, cornish jack, tilapia and labeos. About 1500 local fishermen earn their living from small-scale commercial fishing, usually from dugout canoes. One rumored species in the lake is the Zambezi shark, with local fishermen reporting sightings and occasional attacks, although its presence hasn’t yet been proven. These rumors may well prove to be true, as the Zambezi is a variety of the bull shark, known to travel many miles inland and can survive in fresh water. It is entirely possible that a small population was trapped behind the dam and is now native to the Cahora Bassa.
The fishing-focused resorts on the Cahora Bassa are growing more luxurious and are well on their way to becoming full-fledged tourism attractions. Most come with single or double sleeping areas, private baths, plenty of hot water, small swimming pools, lounges and well-appointed common areas and excellent meals. Boat cruises on the lake are becoming more of a focus, as the unspoiled environment is one of Africa’s famed wilderness areas. Unique flora such as the majestic baobab trees line the lake shore while hippos frolic in family groups in the water and crocodiles sun themselves on the banks. Notable African game such as buffalo, kudu, warthog, grysbok and bushbuck, along with the occasional elephant, can also at times be seen from the water. Sunset cruises are especially popular, as spectacular sunsets are the norm across the wide expanse of water.
Cahora Bassa is quickly becoming a favorite with photographers and bird watchers, who can always find an unusual target to focus upon along the shoreline. One of the more unusual businesses along the north shore of the lake is a ‘crocodile farm’ which encourages tours. The farm collects up to 50,000 crocodile eggs from the banks of the Cahora Bassa each year under license from the government, incubates them and harvests the skins of the animals when fully grown. This farm is also in the business of teaching sound ecological management to the local people and handles particularly aggressive crocodiles which become a problem on the lake.
Cahora Bassa lake is Africa’s fourth-largest artificial lake. Located in the Tete Province in Mozambique, the lake is sometimes misspelled as Cabora Bassa. Misspelled or not, the entire country will know exactly what you mean when referring to the lake and dam. The large water control and power generation project has been the source of repeated news reports, from arguments over ownership to disagreements over contracts. Within the last few years, most ownership of the dam has reverted to Mozambique, with Portugal retaining only 15%. Five 425-megawatt generators supply power primarily to South Africa over an 870-mile- long, dual 530-kilowatt transmission line and also to Maputo, Tete, and the Moatize coal mines near the town of Tete. Not all of the power potential is yet being used, and many small villages still lack any type of electricity. It is hoped that the growing tourism industry will bring both modernization and employment opportunities to the local people.
With the large numbers of tourists regularly visiting the Indian Ocean coastline to enjoy the pristine sandy beaches, luxury hotels, excellent surfing, sailing and snorkeling, there will be many who wish to add a visit to the interior to their itinerary. Once Mozambique begins to actively promote the region, tourist accommodations will spring up along the shoreline quickly. Balancing the needs of the local people, the concern for the environment and the need for power generation will be a delicate task, and the tourism industry is progressing quite slowly at present. This is to the advantage of the many adventurous fishermen who come to do battle with the toothy tiger fish. For now, the only accommodations on Cahora Bassa are those at the fishing resorts. Lodging can also be found in Tete, about 100 miles southeast of the dam on passable roads. There may be real estate opportunities near the lake but one would have to inquire locally for that information. So, if you wish to see unspoiled African wilderness complete with the animals and birds one usually marvels at in zoos, come to Cahora Bassa. The elephants are on the banks and the hippos and tiger fish are in the water. Bring the tackle and the camera; you’ll need both!
Things to do at Cahora Bassa
- Vacation Rentals
- Swimming Pool
Fish species found at Cahora Bassa
- Tiger Fish
Cahora Bassa Photo Gallery
Cahora Bassa Statistics & Helpful Links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa
Surface Area: 676,822 acres
Shoreline Length: 153 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,030 feet
Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,027 feet
Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,073 feet
Average Depth: 69 feet
Maximum Depth: 515 feet
Water Volume: 46,151,470 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1974
Water Residence Time: 197 days
Drainage Area: 21,980 sq. miles
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