Mahale Mountain National Park In addition to being one of the best places in the world for up-close encounters with chimpanzees, Mahale Mountains National Park, nestled on the Lake Tanganyikan shoreline in western Tanzania, is absolutely stunning. Forested mountains cascade down to the lake shore, the mist-covered peak of Mount Nkungwe rises up in the background and crystal-clear waters teeming with fish lap against white sand coves.
Mahale Mountain National park, Tanzania’s most remote and one of its most alluring, is first and foremost a chimpanzee sanctuary. About 1700 chimpanzees live within its 1613 sqkm area, but the focal point for visitors is the 60-strong Mimikere, or ‘M’ group, which has been the subject of research for more than four decades. While the M group chimps are well habituated, spotting human’s closest relatives is almost always a challenge. Don long trousers, sturdy boots, a hat and a surgical mask (these are distributed to all visitors by park guides at the beginning of a tracking expedition) and prepare yourself for some sweaty, steep climbing through often-dense vegetation.
You may not spot any chimps on your first try, but it is rare to spend two or three days in the park without seeing one. The experience itself is captivating: almost without warning, a chimp brushes past you on the trail, several individuals become visible in a clearing just ahead or high above in the tree tops. Time stops, and the one-hour viewing period permitted by park authorities is over in a flash.
In Mahale National Park During the wet season, from November until May, the chimpanzees spend much of their time in the trees and can be difficult to find. In the height of the rains from March through May, the trails become unpleasantly muddy. In the dry season months of June to October the undergrowth is less dense and the chimps frequently come down near the main lodge area to feed.
In between chimp tracking expeditions, Lake Tanganyika beckons for snorkelling, kayaking and hippo- and crocodile-spotting forays. The forest around the main lodge area is full of birds, with guinea fowl, hornbills, kingfishers and many more all readily seen on short walks. In the evening, the setting is magical as the sun sets over the Congo Mountains in the distance, and tiny lights from fishing boats flicker across the lake.
Getting there: a 4 to 8 hour boat trip depending on the boat from Kigoma or a 2 hour flight from Arusha or Dar-es-Salaam