TANZANIA TANZANIA MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Mahale Mountains National Park
The setting might have been transplanted from an uninhabited Indian Ocean island: soft, sandy beaches lapped by the transparent turquoise waters of the world’s longest and least polluted lake, all set below a backdrop of swaying palms, sweaty jungle and steep slopes rising to the wild 2,460m Mt Nkungwe.
But the few tourists who manage to reach this remote and mysterious park on Lake Tanganyika are seldom there for the scenery. Mahale Mountains, a full 30 times larger than its northerly neighbour Gombe Stream, is home to almost 1,000 wild chimpanzees, which have been habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. And while chimpanzees are the star attraction, the forested slopes also support several species of monkey and a kaleidoscopic array of colourful forest birds, making Mahale one of East Africa’s most alluring off-the-beaten-track wildlife sanctuaries.
Vegetation and habitats
Where to stay
Vegetation and habitats
- The accessible western footslopes of Mahale are covered in dense brachystegia woodland interspersed with riparian forest and open grassland.
- Inaccessible only to hardy hikers, the upper slopes of the mountain support bands of tropical rainforest, clumped bamboo forest, and protea-studded montane grassland.
- Mahale is possibly the best place to track wild chimpanzees. The 80 individuals in the habituated Mimikere Community are just as approachable as their counterparts at Gombe.
- Other forest primates likely to be seen on the footslopes are yellow baboon, red-tailed and blue monkeys, and red colobus. An endemic race of the dashing Angola colobus inhabits the higher altitude forests below Nkungwe Peak.
- Conspicuous among a checklist of 230 bird species are the dazzling Ross’s turaco and raucous trumpeter hornbill. Mahale is the only Tanzanian locality for the rare bamboo warbler, and its forests host an endemic race of the globally threatened Kungwe apalis.
- Practically inaccessible, the more lightly wooded eastern slopes of Mahale support the likes of lion, elephant, sable antelope and possibly African wild dog, but these creatures seldom stray into the part of the park utilised by tourists.
- The most popular activity is chimpanzee tracking, which is best undertaken in the morning, though afternoon walks are also available.
- A more ambitious excursion is the ascent of Nkungwe, a tough but rewarding hike through varied montane vegetation and stunning scenery.
- Swimming in this astonishingly clear lake, with the forested peaks of Mahale looming almost 2km higher, is an utter delight.
- The park can be visited at any time. Chimps are generally easier to find in the dry season (July-Oct) when they stick to the lower slopes close to the camps.
- There is no road access to Mahale. The easiest way to get there is by charter flight from Dar es Salaam, Arusha or Katavi. Alternatively, boat charters are available from Kigoma, the largest port of Lake Tanganyika.
- To get there using the weekly lake ferry between Kigoma and Zambia, ask to disembark at the small port of Lugosa (also known as Magambo or Buhingu), from where it’s a 15km walk or motorboat ride to the park boundary.
Where to stay
- Two luxury tented camps lie on the lakeshore south of the park headquarters.
- Inexpensive hutted accommodation and camping sites are available at the Mango Tree Rest Camp.
Checklist of conspicuous and noteworthy mammals: bushbuck, warthog, common chimpanzee, yellow baboon, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey, red colobus, Angola pied colobus, giant forest squirrel.