Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania, a gem among the country’s national parks, boasts an enchanting landscape bordering Gombe in the north. This park is renowned as the home to Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees, with a population of approximately 900 individuals. These remarkable chimpanzees have been habituated to human visitors, thanks to a Japanese research project initiated in the 1960s. Consequently, Mahale has become a sought-after destination for primate enthusiasts and those eager to experience the wonders of chimpanzee tracking.
Situated in Western Tanzania, south of Kigoma town, Mahale National Park shares its border with Lake Tanganyika, which holds the distinction of being the world’s longest freshwater lake, the second deepest, and one of the least polluted. This vast expanse of water is a sanctuary for an estimated 1000 fish species, making it a paradise for aquatic biodiversity.
The journey of tracking the chimpanzees of Mahale is nothing short of magical. Guided by experienced eyes, you will follow the trail of last night’s nests, perched high in the treetops, offering an intriguing glimpse into the chimpanzees’ nocturnal activities. Clues in the form of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung will lead you deeper into the lush forest. Amidst dappled sunlight, butterflies flutter, enhancing the sense of wonder.
The Mahale Mountains are a striking range located on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. They reach a height of 2,462 meters, culminating in Mount Nkungwe. This range, along with its diverse habitats, is protected within Mahale Mountains National Park. The area is renowned for its rich wildlife, including the famous chimpanzees.
Mahale’s forested haven is home to a variety of wildlife, such as the Angola colobus, red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, as well as an array of forest birds. The park’s unique environment includes elements like alpine bamboo and montane rainforest, creating a picturesque backdrop for your exploration.
Lake Tanganyika is a natural marvel, earning its place as the world’s longest freshwater lake, the second largest, and the second deepest. It spans four countries – Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi, and Zambia, with Tanzania claiming 46% of its northwestern border. The park’s proximity to this majestic lake offers a serene beach experience along its shores, allowing visitors to bask in its beauty and tranquility.
Immerse yourself in the local culture and witness the traditional fishing practices of the communities residing along the lake. Understanding the value of local knowledge for comprehending fisheries resources and climate-related changes in Lake Tanganyika is a unique opportunity in this region.
The park’s location along the shores of Lake Tanganyika provides breathtaking sunset views. These mesmerizing scenes along the water’s edge offer a chance to savor the tranquility of nature in its purest form.
For those who relish water adventures, Mahale offers the opportunity to book fishing safaris and engage in a variety of water sports. Delve into the depths of Lake Tanganyika and try your hand at sports fishing or partake in thrilling water activities.
The ideal time to visit Mahale Mountains National Park is during the dry season, which typically spans from May to October. This period is particularly advantageous for witnessing the chimpanzees in substantial groups, as well as for enjoying the radiant sunshine that illuminates the waters of Lake Tanganyika. Additionally, the lakeside beach invites relaxation during these months. Nonetheless, Mahale Mountains National Park remains accessible throughout the year, and visiting during the rainy season can create a unique and memorable experience. Here, the onset of rains is usually brief, occurring in the late afternoon or evening.
Reaching the remarkable Mahale Mountains National Park is possible through various transportation options:
The most convenient way to access Mahale is by taking direct flights, especially during the peak tourist season from June to October. Tour operators with camps in Mahale schedule regular flights between the park and Arusha town. Between October and March, flights are available twice a week. However, from March to May, when camps are closed, scheduled flights are not operational. In such cases, visitors can arrange charter flights through numerous charter flight companies in Tanzania.
From Kigoma, Mahale can be reached by boat, light aircraft, or by road. Visitors can arrange transport by speedboats or timber boats from Kigoma through the park or private operators in Kigoma. The speedboats take around 4 to 5 hours to reach the park, while timber boats may take 15 hours or longer.
An alternative option is the large steamship MV Liemba, which departs from Kigoma twice a month. It traverses the length of Lake Tanganyika, making several stops along the way, including Mahale. MV Liemba takes about 10 hours to reach Lagosa-Mgambo, which is Mahale’s point of access.
From Lagosa-Mgambo, park boats can be organized for pickups, and Mahale is only a 45-minute flight away from Kigoma town by light aircraft. Some safari companies offer private charter flights from Kigoma to Mahale, providing convenient access to this national park.
Traveling by road is another possibility. Visitors can drive from Kigoma to Mahale via Simbo Village, a route that crosses the Malagarasi River (passable during the dry season). Alternatively, you can drive to Sigunga Village, located 122 kilometers away, and then arrange a boat transfer to the park, with boat cruises typically taking 1 to 2 hours.
As a park that hosts one of Africa’s most studied chimpanzee populations, Mahale Mountains National Park upholds certain rules and regulations aimed at safeguarding both its unique chimpanzee inhabitants and the pristine forest they inhabit. Here are some of the key park rules:
When observing the chimpanzees, adhere to the following regulations:
While Mahale’s chimpanzees have been habituated and studied for over 40 years, it is essential to prioritize safety during encounters with these wild animals. Here are some general safety rules:
Mahale National Park offers several accommodation options:
Park Facilities: The park provides five self-contained tourist bandas, each featuring two rooms with twin beds and a private bathroom. Kitchen facilities are available for self-catering, and you can hire local cooks to prepare your meals.
Private Tented Camps: Mahale hosts three luxury tented camps, all owned and operated by private investors:
Embarking on a safari to Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania is a journey to cherish, allowing you to witness the captivating world of chimpanzees and immerse yourself in the natural beauty and serene landscapes of this exceptional national park.