For those who enjoy remoteness, beautiful landscapes and wildlife Mahale Mountains National Park is surely one of the most spectacular places to visit in all of Africa. This is not idle sales talk. Some would argue that it is one of the most spectacular travel destinations in the whole world. Distance and cost notwithstanding, you owe it to yourself to somehow drum up the budget to get there at least once in a lifetime! Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest lake (673 km) and is about 1½ km deep and contains about 16% of the world’s fresh water! It is second only to Lake Baikal in Russia in volume. It is the purest fresh water on the planet.
The lake is home to hundreds of species of fish including the brightly colored fish known as cichlids. Hippo and crocodile are common across its full extent.
Chimpanzees may be the main draw, but they are by no means the whole picture. Pristine forested mountains tower up behind intimate sandy beaches and bays and rocky promontories of the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika.
Wildlife The forests at Mahale have a wealth of wildlife besides the 1,000 or so Chimpanzees. There are 6 species of monkey (yellow baboon, vervet, blue, red tailed,
Angolan colobus and red colobus), duikers, bush pig, leopard, bushbuck, myriads of birds etc.
Chimp watching. To get to the only habituated group of Chimps, the M Group, one climbs up through the mountain forests on a network of simple cleared paths to get into touch with the chimps, and when one does the experience is extraordinary to the point of being bizarre.
The chimpanzees go on with their lives – walking, sleeping, fighting, politicking, eating etc. as if you are not there. They take virtually no notice of visitors. This is perfect, because you never feel that you are intruding. After spending the strictly controlled 1 hour with chimps you return to your accommodation facility to wash off the sweat, have a delicious lunch and spend the rest of the day at leisure; or perhaps do one of a number of other activities.
- Swimming and snorkeling
- Cultural visits by boat can be arranged to border communities
There are Park bandas and 2 permanent tented camps in Mahale, and two permanent lodges. Both lodges are on beaches overlooking the lake and are beautiful, comfortable and unique in their own way.
Mahale is accessible by air, road and boat.
By Air. The easiest way to and from Mahale is via scheduled flights. The flight from Arusha takes 3 hours, usually with a refueling stop en route. There is a 1 ½ – 2-hour boat ride from the lodges to and from the airstrip at the Park boundary. Outside this season flights still operate but confirmation will be needed with the operators. It is also possible for visitors to arrange their own charter flights with private companies. Private charters can be arranged from most of the major cities of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar.
Mahale can be accessed by road that follows Lake Tanganyika from Kigoma.
Mahale can be accessed by boat and private boats can be hired in Kigoma for the journey. The famous German built ship the M.V. Liemba travels the length of Lake Tanganyika twice a month in each direction, and one of the ports of call is Lagosa at Mahale Mountains.
Mahale is often combined with the nearby Katavi National Park. Most of the regular scheduled flights to and from Mahale have the option of routing via Katavi. This makes it easy to combine chimp viewing with watching the big game heartland of Katavi plus the many wildlife options in Northern Tanzania.
While in Kigoma you may visit the Dr. Livingstone Monument in Ujiji the place where Richard Burton and John Speke first reached the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1858. It is the site of the famous meeting held on 27th October 1871 when Henry Stanley met Dr. David Livingstone, and reputedly uttered the famous words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”. A monument known as the “Dr. Livingstone Memorial” was erected on the site to commemorate the meeting. There is also a modest museum. There is a former slave route near the market. In 1878, the London Missionary Society established their first missionary post on the shore of Lake Tanganyika at Ujiji.