Mahale Mountains National Park
Two distinct features make Mahale Mountains National Park unique on the safari circuit. Firstly, it is, alongside Gombe National Park, home to heavily researched and habituated troops of chimpanzees. Second, it is the only place where chimpanzees and lions coexist.
Another unusual feature of the park is that it is one of the very few in Africa that must be experienced by foot. There are no roads or other infrastructure within the park boundaries, and the only way in and out of the park is via boat on the lake.
The terrain is mostly rugged and hilly, and is dominated by the Mahale Mountains chain that runs from the Northwest to the Southeast across the park. The highest peak (Mount Nkungwe) rises to 2,462 m above sea level. However, the lakeshore around the Mahale Mountains National park is a beach of the finest white sand.
Many parts of the Mahale Mountains National Park were once inhabited and under cultivation and nowhere does one have to look far to find the evidence of this. The Kasoge Forest was formerly covered in cultivation, and old cultivation mounds are still evident in the flatter areas. Many exotic and cultivated plants remain in Kasoge to this day. The most obvious are oil palm, mango, guava, lemon, sisal and the invasive Senna. The latter has become the focus of an eradication campaign by Tanzania National Parks
Within the vast Mahale Mountains, the national park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks – which will be provided for you by your safari operator or tour guide.
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. Walking boots, long trousers and small backpack (for cameras and binoculars) are always wise for safaris to see the chimpanzees.
Sightings of the chimps in the Mahale Mountains National Park cannot be guaranteed, but it is normal to see them on most days and you would be unlucky not spot them over the course of a few days. More usually, you’ll be able to sit and watch them foraging, grooming, tussling, bickering and taking care of their young. Sitting in the forest, watching chimpanzees getting on with their daily lives is an unforgettable animal encounter that makes the safaris in Mahale Mountains National Park one of the most unique and spectacular in Tanzania.
The Chimpanzees are the main attraction.
Chain of Mountains across the Mahale range offer exceptional hiking.
The park is much bigger than Gombe; the more famous chimp park next door.
Sandy beaches along Lake Tanganyika
Sun set on the Lake horizon
Very exclusive and doesn’t get crowded
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Mahale Mountains National Park Flora & Fauna
The main attraction in Mahale Mountains National Park is its population of chimps. There are roughly 800 to 1, 000chimps in the park, and about 60 of them are very habituated to people. Your guide will take you, on foot, along the forest trails to find them. Chimps aside, eight other primate species have been recorded and at least five are likely to be encountered on a visit. These are yellow baboon, red colobus, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey and vervet monkey.
However, the Eastern slopes of Mahale support savannah and woodland species such as elephant, lion, wild dog, roan antelope, buffalo and giraffe, but they are rarely seen by visitors. Warthogs also often walk around the camp area.
While no real study of Mahale Mountains National Park’s birdlife has been completed, around 230 species have been recorded. Most of them are forest birds, which are quite difficult to spot. This is especially true since walking in the forest unguided is not allowed and the guided walks are focused on chimpanzees, but migratory birds are present from November to April and native species can be seen along the way.
Mahale Mountains National Park Location & Map
The Mahale Mountains National Park lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the Kigoma Region of Tanzania. Named after the Mahale Mountain range within its borders, the park has several unusual characteristics.
Getting to Mahale Mountains National Park can be complex but it is well worth the travel. During the peak tourist season between June and October the three tour operators with camps in Mahale schedule regular flights between the park and Arusha town, where there is a very well service airport. Between October and March flights arrive and leave twice each week. Between March, April and the first half of May these camps close, meaning there are no scheduled flights.
However it is also possible for visitors to arrange their own charter flights. Tanzania has a large number of charter flight companies such as Air Excel, Northern Air and Regional Air. Private charters can be arranged from the major cities of Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, or Zanzibar to Kigoma and on toward Mahale’s airstrip.
From Arusha it takes 2 or 3 days to reach Kigoma by car, a 4X4 drive vehicle is required.
Trains from Dar es salaam leave 2-3 times a week for a three day and two nights journey.
From Kigoma, transport to Mahale by speedboats or timber boats from can be arranged with the Park or private operators in Kigoma. The speedboats take between 4 and 5 hours to reach the park while timber boats can take up to 15 hours or more. A large steamship – MV Liemba – leaves Kigoma twice a month [on Wednesday afternoon], carrying passengers and cargo the length of the Lake to Zambia. It makes numerous stops along the way, including one for Mahale, which is referred to as Lagosa (the old name) or famously known as Mgambo. MV Liemba takes around 10 hours to reach Lagosa-Mgambo from Kigoma, and it passes Mahale again on its return journey [either Sunday or Monday morning]
The dry season from May to October is the best time for tracking chimpanzees at Mahale Mountains National Park. At this time, the chimps tend to stay close to the lakeshore and are easier to find. The park stays open throughout the year but, in heavy rain, the trails might be difficult to walk
Fast Facts On Mahale Mountains National Park
Total Land Area
1613 sq km About the same size as Faroe Islands
Elevation above sea level
About 401 stacked giraffes
Nearest Major City & Airport
About 100 km East
When To Visit Mahale Mountains National Park
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun
Jul Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Gombe Stream National Park
Kitulo Plateau National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park
Katavi National Park
Rubundo Island National Park
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