Expert Reviews – Mahale Mountains NP

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Beach Bum Chimps
Overall rating
4/5

You don’t go to Mahale Mountains for lions, elephants and all the rest. At this park the focus is firmly on a close encounter with some very well habituated chimpanzees. And for chimps Mahale is superb – maybe the best place in the world to see them – maybe...

With sheer sided mountains covered in forest tumbling down to gold sand beaches and the turquoise beaches of Lake Tanganyika it’s hard to think if a more impressive setting. In fact were it not for the fact that swimming is banned off the beaches due to the chance of becoming a crocodiles lunch then Mahale Mountains would work just as well as a beach break getaway as a wildlife watching destination.

In most ways I loved my four days here and the hour a day I spent with the chimpanzee’s were some of the most magical moments I have ever spent with any animal. Occasionally the chimps seem to register your presence and give you a long, curious glance, but most of the time the chimps act like you’re not there and will almost brush up against you if you happen to be standing in their way. For wildlife photographers it’s near perfect (particulay when the chimps climb higher up the mountains to where the vegetation thins out somewhat). One tip is give yourself at least a couple of days here. On my final day we ‘only’ found six chimps and they were all asleep in very dense undergrowth. If that had been my only day here it would have been quit disappointing.

So, the chimps are wonderful, the setting perfect and the camps highly relaxing and comfortable so what’s wrong with Mahale? Well, chimp visits are limited to one hour (though as I left I was informed I could have paid extra for three hours with the chimps – a real shame nobody told me that in advance even though I had asked) and most of the time you’ll be back at your camp before lunchtime. This meant that for a good part of the day there was actually nothing much to do. As mentioned you can’t swim off the near perfect beaches and whenever I enquired about going for a walk or doing something else camp and park staff were quite reluctant. I had work to do so was otherwise occupied but had I not then I would have been bored for a good part of each day. Getting to Mahale is also either very time consuming or very expensive (and normally both) so while I adored my stay there when I look at how much it ended up costing me I would probably instead choose to go and see chimps in Uganda’s Kibale Forest instead.

As remote as it gets in Tanzania
Overall rating
4/5

With its soaring green hills abutting Lake Tanganyika and troop of habituated chimpanzees, Mahale Mountains National Park is often described alongside the more famous Gombe National Park. But, the much bigger Mahale is way more beautiful and remote and by far the more satisfying destination if you can afford the extra time and cost to get there. Because of the hills and the heat, finding the chimps is usually tough work, but because they are completely habituated sightings are essentially guaranteed – and the hour you get to spend with them is sure to be magical. Mine certainly was. I actually managed two chimp encounters in one day because late in the afternoon the troop came down to feed near the lodges. Except for chimpanzees, you don’t come here to see wildlife (though with luck you’ll also spot a leopard, black-and-white colobus, or hippo), but soaking up the sublime lakeside beauty and splendid isolation is almost as wonderful as the chimp tracking. Because of its location, Mahale gets very few visitors: I was one of just five.

But despite the low numbers, facilities are excellent. Visitors can also climb and camp on the mountains and Tanganyika’s famous cichlids would make the park a great snorkeling destination if it weren’t for the crocodiles. Almost all visitors come as part of a fly-in safari that combines Mahale with Katavi National Park and often Ruaha National Park too. It’s possible to come by boat, either public or charter, and those travelling independently should try to schedule their visit around the historic MV Liemba.

Like being in the middle of a Jane Goodall documentary.
Overall rating
4/5

Mahale National Park is located on the shores of Lake Tanganyika – a stunning jungle setting, a long way from anywhere. This is one of the best places in Africa to see chimpanzees. It is an expensive trip, because of its remoteness, but I felt it was worth every dollar. I chose Mahale over Gombe as Mahale is bigger, more remote, and with more chimps. The two Mahale lodges offer similar “chimp viewing packages”, and both are located on the lake shore; Kungwe is marginally cheaper than Greystoke. As well as chimps, there is a dazzling array of birdlife and a number of other primate species. But you are here for the chimps, and I was fortunate to have a magical experience. As they sat around me, with the excellent guide explaining what was going on, it really did feel like I was in the middle of my very own Jane Goodall documentary.

Average Expert Rating

  • 4.6/5
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