Mahale's grand scale, isolated character, magnificent scenery and idyllic beaches make it a rewarding wilderness destination on any level.
There are few natural environments more seductive than Mahale. It is achingly beautiful and unspoilt. Tropical mountains rise up from the pale sandy beaches of Lake Tanganyika, rivers tumble down waterfalls to the shoreline, through forest valleys, providing stunning hiking terrain. Over 90 unique species of fish swim meanwhile in the gin-clear waters of the lake.
The Mahale Mountains rise on the far western border of Tanzania, some 90 miles south of Kigoma. This is absolutely the best place in the world for tourists to view wild chimpanzees, and staggeringly beautiful besides. The Mahale Mountains lie on Lake Tanganyika on the far Western border of Tanzania. The park is 1613 square kms, rising up from the lakeshore through tropical forest to 2,462 metres at Nkungwe Peak. It is home to nine species of primate, including some 700-1000 chimps, forest antelopes, leopard and a great variety of birds and butterflies. There are no roads or cars for fifty miles. Getting there is by boat or on foot!
In Victorian times, it is estimated that as many as two million chimpanzees roamed wild through Africa. Estimates of the modern day population by contrast, range from 120,000 to 200,000. Being on the eastern extreme of their range, Tanzania is marginal in terms of significance in chimp numbers but holds the distinction of being the source of virtually all behavioral knowledge gathered to date on this primate species, and as is far and away the best place to experience close encounters with wild but accessible chimpanzees. In the Mahale forest, activities concentrate on M group, currently an extended family of about fifty wild chimpanzees living in the valleys behind camp, which have been habituated to human contact by a Japanese primatologist research team. The project has been running for over 30 years now, and the chimpanzees therefore are very, very relaxed in the presence of humans. They are totally wild, but absolutely accessible. The habituated chimpanzees range over thirty square miles, are easily tracked by the skilled guides and trackers, and most visitors to camp will see them every day, after more, or less, hiking in the forest. The walking can be long, but is not over-strenuous. Most fit people under seventy can manage, and they're rewarded by extraordinary encounters with their closest living relatives. The chimps ignore the intrusion and you will achieve an intimate insight into their daily life, where the mood varies from the Zen-like calm of family life and sexual politics, to the high-tension power struggles of the dominant males and the wild excitement of their hunts for Colobus monkeys.
Children under ten are not generally allowed to view the chimpanzees, and anyone with an infectious illness will be asked to stay behind.
The crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika lap the shores of Mahale. A mile deep and five hundred miles long, it's the second deepest lake in the world, almost certainly the purest, and the most spectacular pool you'll ever swim in. The 200 species of indigenous tropical fish allow for excellent fishing and snorkeling and water-bird life is prodigious. "Liquid" expeditions are taken most days after "chimping", in the camp's magnificent flagship, a 45 foot mahogany dhow, The Isabella. Other camp toys include canoes and timber barques.
About Mahale Mountains National Park
Size: 1,613 sq km (623 sq miles).
Location: Western Tanzania, bordering Lake Tanganyika.
Charter flight from Arusha, Dar or Kigoma.
Charter private or national park motorboat from Kigoma, three to four hours.
Weekly steamer from Kigoma, seven hours, then hire a local fishing boat or arrange with park HQ for pickup in park boat, another one or two hours.
What to do
Chimp tracking; hiking; camping safaris; snorkeling or fish for your dinner
when to go
Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October/November