Beside world renowned beaches, culture and wildlife, East Africa also has one unique feature that should be accorded more buzz on travelogues and tourist journals; it’s the tens of stunning waterfalls that mark territorial borders, breeding grounds for rare and unique species, haven to endangered strains and much more. Perhaps we are yet to match Venezuela’s Angel Falls, or South Africa’s earth-moving Augrabies, but there are a number of falls on and off the beaten path that will awaken your adventurous gene and nudge your wandering spirit to keep discovering!
Kalambo Falls marks the south eastern border between Tanzania and Zambia, and on the skirting of Lake Tanganyika. It’s the second highest fall in Africa, after South Africa’s Tugela Falls. Kalambo water falls invokes an image of an absorbed maiden, dancing gracefully until she ominously misses a step! In a blink of an eye, the water loses composure, it’s course vanishes and is forced to take a leap down in furious chasms-never to regain its graceful wander until it empties into Lake Tanganyika, a few miles downstream. The site around Kalambo gorge is one of the richest archaeological sites in Africa, it’s also a popular breeding ground for the rare, giant marabou stork, giving it more vantage points for those brave enough to venture into the under-explored.
Also known as Kabalega Falls, the Murchison is rightfully referred by some as the most spectacular site on the Nile River. The scenic setting of the falls right in the middle of a national park makes it even more charming. Whether viewed from a boat cruising up the Nile or from atop the cliff, one cannot help but wonder at the mighty gush of snow-white droplets creating a thunderous sound underneath the mist. One of the most notable characteristics of these falls is the giant surge created as the 49 meter wide Nile squeezes about 300 cubic meters per second (11,000 ft³/s) of water through a 6 meter crevice! The impact is so powerful that you can actually feel a gentle tremor in the earth.
For the love of his dad, Scottish geologist and naturalist Joseph Thomson chose to name the stunning waterfalls “Thomson” in 1883. The torrential falls plunge down a gorge at 72 meters on Ewaso Narok River, not too far from the equator. This makes it one of the highest falls in East Africa at an altitude of 2360 meters above sea level. You can either view the falls from a view-point above or walk down into the ravine and look up.
Sipi Falls is a set of three picturesque falls on the slopes of Mt. Elgon in Uganda. The falls, all separated by the wild mountainous terrain plunge down boulders of rocks in a jet, forming magnificent natural pools before joining the many rivers and streams in the area. Each of the three falls have caves behind them, adding to the thrills of this adventurous escape. A hike up the falls will not be complete without an expedition to the coffee farms that will include you roasting and brewing your beans for an un-forgettable coffee experience! For the pros, abseiling is also a popular activity at Sipi. The area is also roamed by diverse wildlife and an abundant birdlife, making it quite the chill-point on the foothills of Africa’s once tallest mountain.
Fourteen falls beckons with a monstrous roar at the end of a dusty or muddy seasonal road snaking in between vast stretches of pineapple plantations. Towards the horizon, Kilimambogo hills come into sight and there, right at the foothills of this panoramic stretch, the all-in-one fourteen falls comes to life. The 27 meter deep fall short of taking the medal for Kenya’s rejoinder to Zimbabwe’s Victoria falls, nonetheless, the appeal is just as much and the enchantment as consuming. I must however point out that, the once sparkling gallons of water are now a pathetic mold of a dirty and murky flow, with a pungent white foam floating permanently down the pool.
This epic fall is located in the middle of Udzungwa Mountains in eastern Tanzania. The mountains are part of the ancient ranges of the Eastern Arc, with a very unique bio diversity that include rare avian species, primates, flora and fauna. The falls, which plunge down a rocky cliff to form an ice cold natural pool 550 meters below add to this setting, making a tour of Udzungwa national pack all-inclusive. If bold enough, you can swim or try climbing the rock behind the waterfalls. Red, white and blue monkeys will usually join the sporadic rhythm of a unique bird population, for a mysterious chirp and chatter that seems to mock humans for their intrusion!
This article first appeared in Wolfgang Thome’s ATC News blog