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Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale epitomises a remote tropical paradise. Famous for its chimp trekking you will find yourself immersed in the magical sights and sounds of Mahale’s stunning tropical forest.

Fast Facts

Major Attractions
  • Large concentration of chimpanzees
  • Waterfalls
  • Swimming  and snorkeling in Lake Tanganyika
  • One of the most remote National Parks in Tanzania
Activities
  • Trekking - chimpanzee
  • Walking safari - waterfalls, streams
  • Snorkeling and swimming
  • Boat safari
  • Fishing safari
Size
  • 1, 613sq km(623 sq miles)
Location
  • Mahale Mountains National Park is located in one of the most remote locations in Tanzania, on the western border with the Congo, against the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Mahale Mountains National Park forms part of the western circuit of Tanzania.

ABOUT

Unique, tranquil and enthralling Mahale Mountains National Park is a remote and untouched paradise. Set deep in the heart of the African interior, Mahale is very different from other National Parks in Tanzania in that there are no roads or vehicles. It offers its visitors the chance to experience the unrivaled peace and tranquility of one of the Earth’s last remaining truly pristine wilderness areas.

Mahale Mountains National Park is a breathtaking combination of deserted beaches, crystal clear waters, emerald green forest and vast and dramatic mountain scenery. It is one of Africa’s most stunning, exclusive and unforgettable destinations. The Mahale Mountains form a beautiful backdrop to the sandy bays and rocky shores of Lake Tanganyika. The mountains are  cloaked in forests that are home to a wealth of wildlife, including leopards, warthogs, porcupines, otters, an array of reptiles and birds, and no less than nine primate species that the park is famed for.

One group of Mahale chimps, the Mimikire clan have been habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960’s. This group of chimps is currently led by the alpha chimp called Alofu. His clan numbers around 56 chimps. The chimps are free living and wild, traveling where and where they want, they are however, relaxed near people making it possible to track and observe them from quite close quarters.

Tracking the chimps in Mahale is a magical experience. During your hike to reach the chimps you will find yourself immersed in the magical sights and sounds of Mahale’s stunning tropical forest. Large, vibrant butterflies flit above the crystal clear streams, birds flutter and call amidst the undergrowth and monkeys hoot and grunt as they play and crash about the forest canopy.

Even though the chimps are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse wildlife, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red tailed and blue monkeys and a kaleidoscopic array of colourful forest birds.

Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest, second deepest and least polluted freshwater lake and harbours an estimated 400 fish species. You can take a dip in its turquoise blue waters.  Amazingly,  Lake Tanganyika contains 17% of the Earth’s fresh water and is home to over 400 fish species. Visitors to Mahale often take the opportunity to snorkel in this beautiful lake and view the abundant marine life.

WILDLIFE 

Beside it’s world famous chimps the Mahale forest is home to a breathtaking array of birds, mammals and reptiles, including 9 different primates. The primates that inhabit this park are the eastern chimpanzee, the western red colobus, Angolan pied colobus, olive baboon, yellow baboon, vervet monkey, blue monkey, red tailed monkey, greater galago, and the lesser galago.

You can expect to see elephant, warthog, giraffe, zebra, roan antelope and buffalo in the eastern woodlands. Here, too, are their predators such as spotted hyena, African wild dog, leopard and lion. Occasionally lion will hunt in the forest and have been known to kill chimpanzee.

The lush forest trees are the merry domain of giant squirrels and red-legged squirrels. You can expect to view excitable troops of vervet, red colobus, blue monkey and white spot-nose monkey, as well as potentially a new subspecies of Angolan black-and-white colobus monkey found only on Mt Nkungwe in Mahale National Park.

The forest is also filled with an array of stunning birdlife that will delight any bird enthusiast. You can expect to see red-collared widowbird, speckled mousebird, crowned eagle, bee-eater, roller, guinea fowl, Ross’ turaco, white-browed robin-chat, red-winged starling and violet backed starling parrots.

Snorkeling in Lake Tanganyika, you will find yourself among hundreds of spectacularly colourful cichlids found nowhere else on earth.  You may even be surprised to spot the odd otter near the lake.

GEOGRAPHY

The terrain is mostly rugged and hilly, dominated by the Mahale Mountain chain that runs from north-west to south-east across the middle of the park. The highest of these peaks rises to 2462 meters (8077 feet) above sea level, thus the range of altitude here is more than twice that of Gombe Steam.

Miombo woodland covers about three-quarters of the park, with narrow strips of riverine forest restricted to watercourses. But the mountain range affects vegetation as it affects climate. Where the mountain chain converges with the lake, there is a broad blanket of lowland forest up to about 1,300 meters (4,265 feet). Above 1,800 metres there is a mixture of bamboo bushland and montane forest. Above 2,300 the forests give way to the montane grassland.

CLIMATE

Mahale Mountains National Park has two seasons: the dry and rainy season. The dry season begins at the end of May and continues through October. During this period, the lake is normally calm at night.  The rainy season is from October through to January, then from March to May. Annual rainfall ranges from 1,500 to 2,500mm per annum. At night, both in the dry and rainy season it becomes quite cool, the minimum temperature being about 15 degrees celsius in July and August.

NOTE

There are no roads within this park making access remote and tricky. Mahale Mountains National Park is primarily accessed by boat or dhow on Lake Tanganyika after arriving at the airstrip from either Arusha or Ruaha. Combining a visit to Katavi National Park with Mahale is a great way to explore and expand your western Tanzania experience.

The safaris take place on foot through dense forest. A good general level of fitness is required especially if you may have to trek further uphill into the denser jungle.

WHEN TO VISIT

The hike to reach the Mahale chimpanzees can vary from a leisurely wander of 20 minutes to a more strenuous hike lasting up to three hours. There is no guarantee to where the chimps will be.

Towards the end of the dry season (August to October) Mahale’s chimp safaris are at their easiest, as the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery, and the chimps are usually closest to the shore.

As a general trend, the chimps prime dietary fruit grows higher in the mountains of Mahale in June, July and August. From September onwards the chimps tend to feed at lower altitude making the chimp trek shorter.

Accommodation at Mahale Mountains National Park

Greystokes Mahale 1

Greystoke Mahale

The bandas at Greystoke Mahale are tucked back into the forest line, so that your only view is of the beach and the lake.

Kungwe Beach Lodge3

Kungwe Beach Lodge

Overlooking the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika with breathtaking sunsets, on a stretch of golden sandy beach, Kungwe Beach Lodge is the perfect blend of comfort and luxury in a romantic setting.

Optional Activities in Mahale Mountains National Park