Mahale Mountains: Why it’s one of the best off-the-beaten-track parks in Tanzania for a safari
Mahale Mountain National Park gets its name from the range of mountains that is found within the boundaries of the park. The park lies on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in remote western Tanzania. Lake Tanganyika is the second largest lake, by volume, in the world.
The park’s ecology is virtually untouched, and the only way to experience it is on foot. One of the largest known populations of chimpanzees, numbering close to 2,000, occurs here. Because of the size and remoteness of the park, the chimps flourish (it is only accessible via boat ride from the town of Kigoma, a four- to five-hour trip).
After days of traditional safari, viewing the Great Migration or big cat predators from your vehicle or on guided walks, this remote wilderness on the shores of Lake Tanganyika offers an entirely new habitat, a different pace of experience, and arguably the best place on the planet to see wild chimpanzees.
Mahale Mountains: Got to feel like you’re on the edge of the world – this place is truly “off the beaten track”
The Greystoke Mahale camp where a traveler would stay caters to just a handful of people – 12 guests at a time. Its exclusivity, and hard-to-reach location make it a probable once-in-a-lifetime sojourn (and not an inexpensive destination). Rather than following a schedule of game drives and walks, this camp is a bit more “choose your own adventure”.
Greystoke lodge, image by Africa Geographic.
You can walk in the Mahale Mountains every day looking for the habituated chimpanzee families and the incredible birdlife. You can also opt to relax all day at the pristine lakeshore with a novel, head out for a paddle on the lake in a kayak, or swim in the warm, crystal-clear waters. You can also head out on the water in an old wooden dhow for a sundowner in the late afternoon. Due to the equatorial climate, the lake-shore feels like a tropical beach. The water is clear, calm, and safe, so a trip here is an incredible alternative to a beach vacation on Zanzibar, for example.
When is the best time to visit the Mahale Mountains?
The wet season in the Mahale Mountains doesn’t really separate into the “short rains” and “long rains” like in other parts of Tanzania. Therefore, the area is best from June through October. In November until May, the wetter climate can make the hiking in the Mahale Forest very difficult and the chimpanzees will spend most of their time in the canopy vs. on the ground. This Lonely Planet article provides some additional perspective on a Mahale experience.