When one looks out over Lake Bangweulu, the grey blue waters disappear into the horizon, blending in completely with the colour of the sky and it’s difficult to tell just where the horizon is. ‘Bangweulu’ means ‘The Place Where the Water Meets the Sky.’
The lake is exploited more as a fish source than for its tourist potential. This is unfortunate, as it’s beauty is breathtaking. There are rumours of developing a tourist resort and having a luxury cruise boat for hire. But for the moment this is a an interesting stopover for the intrepid vehicle traveller or backpacker.
The main catches in the Lake are Cychlids (bream, tigerfish, yellow belly) and catfish. About 57 000 metric tons of fish are harvested from the Lake each year. Although fish stocks are not in danger, catches are declining and the favoured species are becoming thinner.
The fisheries of the Bangweulu are one of the largest in Zambia. This has lead to some of the highest population densities around the lake where commercial fishermen have settled. Nevertheless the fishing industry is not economically well developed and inadequate controls and marketing facilities threaten both sustainability and profitability of the industry as a whole. Many of the fishermen trade their catches purely on a barter system for essential commodities.
Samfya is the largest town on the Lake, developed in the mid 1900’s as a fishing village. It is very shabby, unordered and scattered, but you can get basic supplies as well as fresh fish. There is a post office, clinic and adequate fuel supplies.
Where to stay
There isn’t much tourist access to the Lake apart from Samfya Holiday Beach, about 1km before town. It is possible to camp there but toilet facilities are dubious. A new hotel has just been built nearby with small and basic but adequate rooms facing the lake. There is also the Lake Bangweulu Water Transport Guesthouse for cheap accommodation and corresponding standards.
The Postal Services Corporation runs a transport boat from the mainland to the three main islands in Lake Bangweulu; Mbabala, Cishi and Chilubi.
The Kwanga Ceremony of the Njumbo tribe takes place in Samfya in October. If you are there at the time it's worth finding out about for a fascinating insight into local customs and traditional dancing. Any of the locals should be able to tell you the exact date as it changes from year to year, or ask at the Tourist Board in Lusaka. Tel: 225174.
One can hire a motor boat from Water Transport into the spectacularly rich Bangweulu Swamps, which surround the Lake for hundreds of kilometres. This may take a day or two to arrange, so plan early. Fuel prices make it quite expensive, and be sure to take a guide.