There are so many parks and reserves in Tanzania to choose from but we felt that Mahale Mountains National Park deserves a special mention. It is for this reason that you’ll also find it in our key areas of Tanzania section as well.
The national park is set amongst the forested slopes of the Mahale Mountains. The park was originally created to protect the thousands of chimpanzees that inhabit this region in the west of Tanzania. As well as the chimps, it is also renowned for its fantastic sunsets over Lake Tanganyika making it a special place for keen photographers as well as safari enthusiasts.
There is something almost other-worldly about Mahale as you approach it. Part of the mystery and what makes it feel almost prehistoric is that there are no roads in the national park, just trails for trekking. The park must be accessed by boat or air making this an exclusive experience but also pricy. However, it is absolutely worth it if your budget permits. There are several high-end camps and we have our particular favourite which you can find out about in the key areas and featured lodges section.
Mahale’s breathtaking array of habitats include rainforest, grasslands, alpine bamboo and woodland. It is sometimes easy, when looking for the chimps, to overlook the fact that there are some 50 species of wildlife recorded here. Whilst these animals are predominantly representatives from various monkey and ape families, the clear waters of the freshwater Lake Tanganyika are home to some 90 unique species of fish. When out on the boat, the water is so crystal clear that you can even see hippo and crocodile swimming below water. This is also the home for leopard although they are heard more easily than seen due to the thick forest.
It is highly unlikely that you won’t see chimps over a 3-4 night stay. However, depending on the time of year, you might be trekking for as little as 2 hours to the best part of a whole day, so prepare yourself for that. As the season moves on, the chimps tend to move further down the mountain making it easier to view them. August through to mid-October is the best and easiest time of year to see them. However, like all safari, there are never any guarantees. All visitors trekking the chimps will be given a mask to wear to stop any disease passing from human to chimp and there are strict rules to ensure that once found, you spend up to a maximum of one hour in their company.
This is all about trekking the chimps. The park is accessed by boat after a flight. Most visitors get out onto Lake Tanganyika as well to marvel at its crystal clear waters and what lies beneath its depths.
Best time to visit
The dry season of mid-June through to mid-October is perhaps the best time to visit as the chimps are more likely to come further down the mountain during this period making sightings easier as there is less need for long treks. However, the chimps can be seen at other times but it is likely to require more trekking before they are spotted. An obvious combination with Mahale is Katavi national park, being the closest national park to Mahale. Katavi offers everything offered by parks such as Ruaha and Nyerere Selous but the wildlife here is more abundant with enormous elephant herds which defy belief.
How to get there
The wonderful thing about Mahale is just how inaccessible it is. Only accessed by boat and flight with no roads in the park. However, with this comes a hefty price tag to visit making this whole experience exclusive and well worth it if your budget permits. It is worth noting that flights from Arusha are not daily which means that stays here are usually of a 3 or 4 night minimum duration.