Africa > Mozambique

Lake Cahora Bassa, Mozambique

lakeLake Cahora Bassa
surface area2,049 km2
maximum depth157 m
average depth31 m
lake typeReservoir
length292 km
width38 km
catchment area1,068,237 km2
altitude317 m
volume63 km3
inflowsZambezi River
outflowsZambezi River
shore length2,177 km
residence time275 days
frozenNever freezes
dam height171 m
dam year1974
average discharge2,653 m3 / sec.

Lake Cahora Bassa Information and Facts

Cahora Bassa is the fourth largest artificial lake in Africa, only preceded by Lake Volta (Ghana), Lake Kariba (located between Zimbabwe and Zambia) and Lake Nasser (Egypt) in terms of surface area. The reservoir is the result of the largest hydroelectric scheme in Southern Africa.

History of the Dam

The project of building a hydroelectricity generating station in the Overseas Province of Mozambique, which then belonged to Portugal, was conceived in the ’60s. Construction of the barrage began in 1969 with the main purpose of generating power for South Africa.

During Mozambique’s efforts to proclaim itself as independent, the construction site was attacked numerous times by Frelimo guerillas. Their argument was the fact that the completion of the dam would widen the reservoir; therefore the crossing of the lake would take much more time on canoes.

After the signing of the independence agreement in 1974, the filling of the dam began in December. Because the dam was so carefully constructed, people believed that it would aid the area’s flooding problems. Although the Zambezi has received a more regulated flow rate since the barrage was completed, the severe flood of 1978 proved them wrong, affecting 100,000 people and causing nearly 50 deaths.

During the Mozambican Civil War between 1977 and 1992 many transmission lines were damaged and nearly 2000 towers needed to be renovated because of the upheaval in the area. The renovations were mostly done by South Africa’s Trans-Africa Project, between 1995 and 1997. The same company helped with reconstruction work, when massive rainfalls caused the flooding of the Limpopo River, destroying ten main towers, cutting power from South Africa.

Until 2007 the barrage was under the management of the Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa company, under the joint ownership of Portugal (82%) and Mozambique (18%). Later that year, Portugal sold most of its share to Mozambique, only keeping 15% equity stake. This agreement ended decades of conflict between the two countries.

The dam now supplies power mainly to South Africa, contributing also to Tete, Maputo and Moatize coal mines.

Visiting Cahora Bassa

For those who love unspoiled destinations, Cahora Bassa is the perfect place. Getting to the reservoir’s surroundings is fairly easy. On the good quality paved road from Tete to Zimbabwe one needs to turn off towards Songo, the closest town to the reservoir, constructed in 1969 to house the workers building the dam.

There are plenty of lodges and campsites in the reservoir’s surroundings for accommodating tourists. The lush green surroundings and the mountainous scenery along with the tranquility of such a remote location offer the ideal relaxing place.

Bird-watching and fishing are the most popular activities in the area. A kapenta fishery was developed, supposedly originating from Lake Kariba, where it was introduced from Lake Tanganyika. The most popular catches are tiger fish, sharptooth catfish, vundu, bream, longfin eels, and the Zambezi parrotfish. Among the most frequented birds one can admire the fish eagle and the pearl spotted owl.

Guided boat and land tours are also a common way to visit the dam walls. Plenty of animals can be seen on the shores of the reservoir, such as elephants, impalas, crocodiles and hippopotamuses.

Although the entrance to the dam is restricted, one needs permission from the proprietor of the O Sitio restaurant, located in the town of Songo.

Lake Cahora Bassa Fish Species