Mahale National Park – A Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Mahale Mountains National Park is nestled 128km South of Kigoma on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika and covers 1613km. Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the World 1470 km and the World’s largest freshwater lake. The park’s breathtaking array of habitats includes riverine and montane forests, savannah grasslands, alpine bamboo, and miombo woodlands.
The Albertine Rift Program undertook surveys of the Greater Mahale Ecosystem in the mid-2000s with the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI), to estimate chimpanzee numbers for the area as well as assess the other diversity of the landscape. About 1,078 chimpanzees live within its 1,613sqkm area. One group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan of about 60 individuals has been habituated by researchers since 1965.
There are other 8 primate species recorded in the park, these include the Red colobus, Black and White colobus, Yellow baboon, Vervet monkeys, Red-tailed monkey, silver back monkey, and two nocturnal species, the Great and Lesser bush-babies.
Other wildlife in Mahale Park include squirrels, porcupines, and mongoose. On the more open savannahs, African favorites such as Lions, Giraffes, Wild dogs, and Zebras, Waterbucks, Bushbucks among others.
Things to do in Mahale Mountains National Park
There are about 60 habituated chimps for chimp trekking taking on 6 people per group. Chimpanzee trekking features as the major thing to do in Mahale Mountains National Park, the focal point for visitors doing chimpanzee trekking is the 60-strong Mimikere, or ‘M’ group, that has been habituated and thus tourists can have close encounters with these close human relatives in the dense forests in the park. You may not spot any chimps on your first try, but it is rare to spend two or three days in the park without seeing any chimpanzees, The experience of chimpanzee viewing in their habitat itself is captivating as a chimpanzee brush past you on the trail almost without warning and several other chimpanzees are visible in a clearing just ahead or high above in the treetops.
Birdwatcher’s Paradise at Kabezi Area
There are about 350 bird species recorded especially forest birds. Mahale Mountains has a record of over 350 bird species, including migratory, water, and forest birds. The best time for bird-watching in Mahale is from November to April when you’ll find resident birds in their breeding plumage and migratory birds traveling from northern Africa and Europe. Look out for the Crested Guinea Fowl, Giant Kingfisher, Palm Nut Vulture, and Scaly Francolin, among many others.
Go for sundowners on the old wooden dhow, lazily following the shoreline. Onboard, you can enjoy romantic sundowners and watch the sunset over the lake on a 1.5-hour tour.
Sport fishing on Lake Tanganyika and Boat cruise.
Sport fishing is done with a catch-and-release method between 7 am to 5 pm after acquiring a fishing permit. The best time for sport fishing on Lake Tanganyika is on a nice sunny day when the water is calm. If you’re interested in spending a day angling on this deep and ancient lake with over 400 fish specie. Take a boat cruise along Lake Tanganyika – look out for the Nile crocodiles while taking in the fresh air and relaxing at the Lake enjoying the view of the Great Rift Valley slope.
Snorkeling in Lake Tanganyika
with over 250 species of fish unique to the lake, this is a great spot for snorkelers and keen divers, as brightly colored cichlids (endemic fish), and clear waters make perfect viewing conditions.
Hiking Mount Nkugwe.
Mount Nkugwe Mahale’s highest peak is 2,462m with seven peaks. Mount Nkungwe is a 2 – 3 day hike as you hike your way through to the peak accompanied by an armed park ranger en route camping. The peak is a place of spiritual significance for the Tongwe people who once lived in the mountain. There are chances to view animals and birdlife with amazing scenic views.
Get to experience the fishing community in their fishing boats lit with kerosene lamps, lighting up the night, it’s a beautiful spectacle known as the “fishing fire. The best time to take this hike is during the dry season, from June to October. In the rainy season, the slope of the mountain becomes too wet and dangerous to climb.
Learn more about the local villages of Holoholo and Batongwe. Ujiji and Kigoma towns also provide historical tours about German colonial rule. At Mahale Mountains National Park, visitors can meet the Holoholo (a branch of the Bantu) and Batongwe in nearby villages. Kigoma, the district capital, is also worth a visit for its historical value. Kigoma was a hub for the slave and ivory trade in the 19th century, developing into a transportation hub and railway terminus from Dar-es-Salaam in the 20th century. Interestingly, it was where the reporter, Stanley, found the presumed-lost-in-Africa, Dr. Livingstone, in the late 1800s.
Where to stay at Mahale Park
Greystoke Mahale – Luxury Option
The camp is located on a wide, golden beach along the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, sheltered by the dense forests of the Mahale Mountains rising behind the lodge, about 15km from the airstrip by boat and about 30 minutes by small aircraft to Kigoma. There are 6 wooden bandas under shady grass thatch, with extraordinary and luxurious interiors fashioned from seasoned dhow timber. The suites are open-fronted, with dressing rooms, adjoining bathrooms and upstairs chill-out decks, electric solar lighting, and large beds with crisp sheets and mosquito netting. The lodge has a dining area with a bar and library and a second bar area on a headland overlooking the lake.
Mbali Mbali Mahale – Midrange Option
The rooms tucked into the lush trees sit ten luxury canvas safari tents, perched on raised wooden platforms above the sandy lake shores. King-sized Zanzibarian four-poster beds draped with light cotton sheets and mosquito netting add a lovely layer of safari comfort. The furnishings are simple and light, and the triple room is perfect for families. Sleeping on the edge of the forest canopy sitting on your deck looking out over Lake Tanganyika, and the rustling of monkeys and birds all around you is sheer bliss.
The best time to visit the Park
In the dry season months of June to October, the undergrowth is less dense and the chimps frequently come down near the main lodge area to feed. This is the ideal time for visiting Mahale Mountains National Park.
During the wet season, from November until May, the chimpanzees spend much of their time in the trees which can be difficult to find. However, November to April is ideal for bird watching as these are breeding months and migratory bird species from Europe and North Africa are existent as well. From March through May, the trails become unpleasantly muddy.
How to get to Mahale Mountains National Park
By air – June to October months has three-five hours of regularly scheduled flights from Arusha and Dar es Salaam. Charter flights can also be arranged on request. Air Tanzania schedules daily flights from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma. The flight takes about 3 hours.
By boat – Mahale Mountains National Park is not easily accessible by road, and the journey requires multiple modes of transportation. From Kigoma, take a boat or ferry to the park; The boat ride can take 4 to 5 hours, depending on weather conditions.
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