A four-square-kilometre crater lake north of Taveta, Lake Chala has one shore in Kenya and the other in Tanzania. Very deep and remarkably blue, it is a bewitchingly beautiful landscape, completely unsuspected from the plains below. Chala is still paddled over by a few friendly fishermen in their dugouts and is spiritually significant, with lake monster stories part of local folklore. From the 100m-high crater rim, it’s a steep descent to the lake and good walking shoes are advised. You might spot monitor lizards, baboons and vervet monkeys, and if lucky, a dik-dik or bushbuck. The bird list numbers more than 250 species, including peregrine falcons, which nest in Chala’s cliff-faces. A border runs through it. Lake Chala is located some 55km northeast of Moshi town on the south-eastern flank of Mt Kilimanjaro and on the Kenyan border. In fact, the international boundary between Tanzania and Kenya runs through the middle of the lake!
Lake Chala is a water-filled caldera that was formed after volcanic activity (probably from Mt Kilimanjaro) caused it to collapse. The crater itself is 3km in length and 2.4km wide, with a surface area of about 4.2km². The depth of the lake is between 70 to 90m with the walls almost vertical and as high as a 100m in some places.
The lake, which is filled and drained by underground streams fed by the waters running off Kilimanjaro, is bilharzia-free. It was also once believed to be free of crocodiles. However, a crocodile killed a young British traveler swimming here in 2002, and you are very strongly advised not to enter the water. While locals swear the crocodile responsible was killed a few!
Depending on the time of year the colour of the water changes from turquoise, deep blue to green. It is said that the lake is fed via underwater streams from Mt. Kilimanjaro and drains again into neighbouring Lake Jipe also via underground tunnels. The critically endangered Lake Chala tilapia (which actually belongs to the cichlid family) is found only in Lake Chala.
In the early 1900’s crocodiles were introduced to the lake. However, over the years local fishermen have killed them and it is highly likely that none exist there today.
Local fishermen can be seen in their dugouts drifting silently along, they come to fish there almost daily.
Myths and legends surround the lake and the local people believe a whole Maasai village disappeared into the lake. It is said that the sprits of those people still haunt the lake today…
Lake Chala and the surrounding area is spectacularly interesting, not just because of Kilimanjaro that can be seen on clear days towering in the background but also because it thrives with life. Walking around you can spot plenty of birds (about 200 species) and small mammals such as blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, baboons, dik-dik and kudu. Being so close to Tsavo National Park you might be able to see large herds of elephants that migrate back and forth between Kenya and Tanzania.
Probably a must-do when at Lake Chala is to go on a walk down the steep crater walls to the water. The walk is very scenic with great views of the lake and vegetation. Swimming is possible but it is advised to stay close to the shore. Another interesting walk is the river bed tour. There is a seasonal river nearby where the water has eroded the walls into beautiful shapes.
This is also a good place to spot baboons and other wildlife
Accommodation is possible at Lake Chala Safari Camp. There are luxury tents and well-equipped campsites with hot water ablutions. Visit Lake Chala on a day trip or stay overnight to experience the tranquility of the lake and wake up by birdsong. A visit to Lake Chala makes an excellent day trip.
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