Perched on a peninsula jutting into the majestic Lake Tanganyika on Tanzania’s western border, Mahale Mountains National Park is one of the country’s lesser known and most remote wilderness areas. But, make no mistake, this hidden gem is remarkably scenic and unique in its appeal. The rugged Mahale Mountains stretch up from the idyllic white beaches of Tanganyika, with the patches of verdant rainforest playing host to the world’s largest population of chimpanzees, numbering well over one thousand.
The park can only be reached by air or boat from the towns of Kigoma or Arusha. There are no roads, so walking is the only way to explore the pristine terrain. The effort is well worth it for wildlife enthusiasts , who have the chance of seeing lion, buffalo, giraffe and leopard amongst others in a pristine environment.
Walks through the lowland forest will allow close encounters with a variety of monkeys, forest birds, and most notably, chimpanzees. Researchers have studied the chimps here for decades, and this is arguably the easiest place in Africa to view them at close quarters, with sightings virtually guaranteed on the guided treks. As an interesting side-note, Mahale is the only place where lions and chimps co-exist, so ticking both species off your list is a special accomplishment.
Multiple day walking safaris, camping along the way, increase your chances of seeing a wide variety of wildlife and habitats. The adventurous at heart can scale the slopes of Mt Nkungwe, the highest peak in the Mahale ridge, during a two or three day hike through the forests and rocky patches, with a variety of wildlife to keep participants interested.
From the 2 500 metre summit, hikers will be rewarded with fantastic views over the lake and the entire reserve.
The park protects a long stretch of the coastline of Tanganyika - the world’s longest, second deepest and least polluted freshwater lake.
The wide white beaches of the lake are reminiscent of a tropical island, and visitors can enjoy swimming, kayaking and snorkelling in the company of more than 1 000 species of fish.
Although Mahale is never overcrowded, May to October (the dry season) is the peak tourist period and the best time to view chimps, while the sunny weather is perfect for idyllic days at the lake.
Those with a love for history can take a boat trip to to Ujiji, Tanzania’s oldest town, which is just over 100 kilometres north of Mahale. The town features a monument at the site of the famous meeting between Henry Morton Stanley and explorer David Livingstone in 1871, where the phrase ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’, was reputedly uttered.