Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100km (60 miles) south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean island beach idyll. Silky white coves hem in the azure waters of Lake Tanganyika, overshadowed by a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore: the remote and mysterious Mahale Mountains. Mahale Mountains is home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees: a population of roughly 800 (only 60 individuals forming what is known as “M group”), habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience. The guide’s eyes pick out last night’s nests – shadowy clumps high in a gallery of trees crowding the sky. Scraps of half-eaten fruit and fresh dung become valuable clues, leading deeper into the forest. Butterflies flit in the dappled sunlight. Then suddenly you are in their midst: preening each other’s glossy coats in concentrated huddles, squabbling noisily, or bounding into the trees to swing effortlessly between the vines.
The area is also known as Nkungwe, after the park’s largest mountain, held sacred by the local Tongwe people, and at 2,460 metres (8,069 ft) the highest of the six prominent points that make up the Mahale Range. And while chimpanzees are the star attraction, the slopes support a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, and a kaleidoscopic array of colorful forest birds. You can trace the Tongwe people’s ancient pilgrimage to the mountain spirits, hiking through the montane rainforest belt – home to an endemic race of Angola colobus monkey – to high grassy ridges chequered with alpine bamboo. Then bathe in the impossibly clear waters of the world’s longest, second-deepest and least-polluted freshwater lake – harboring an estimated 1,000 fish species – before returning as you came, by boat The park like its northerly neighbor Gombe is home to some of the Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees, a population of roughly 900, they are habituated to human visitors by a Japanese research project founded in the 1960s.Covering about 1,600km² of the Mahale Mountains, this 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 arerelaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters
The dry season (May -October) is the best period. During this period, chimpanzees are likely to be seen in big groups, the sunshine illuminates the fish in the Lake and the beach is an inviting place to relax Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience 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. Towards the end of the dry season (August to October) Mahale’s chimp safaris are at their easiest, as the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery and the chimps are usually at their closest to the shore. Walking boots, long trousers and small backpack (for cameras and binoculars) are always wise for safaris to see the chimpanzees.
Charter flight from Arusha, Dar or Kigoma. Charter private or national park motorboat from Kigoma, three to four hours. Weekly steamer from Kigoma, seven hours, then hire a local fishing boat or arrange with park HQ for pickup in park boat, another one or two hours
What to do
Chimp tracking (allow two days); hiking; camping safaris; snorkelling; fish for your dinner.
When to go
Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October/November.
Three seasonal luxury tented camps. Two small resthouses, large campsit