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Located halfway down the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park covers an area of around 1,600 square kilometres, around 30 times the size of the better known Gombe Stream National Park further to the north.
The park is comprised of gorgeous forested mountains, with several peaks in excess of 2,000 metres, plunging down to pristine white sand beaches, backed by palm trees and the remarkable Lake Tanganyika, the longest freshwater lake in the world.
Part of the Great Rift Valley system, the lake sinks to an incredible 1500-metre depth, making it the second deepest lake in the world with seven times the volume of water of Lake Victoria. The lake is around 50 million years old, and contains an astonishing amount of endemic fish, with nearly 500 different species.
You can spend your days kayaking, snorkelling and swimming in the lake, or roaming the stunning white beaches, with the towering presence of the mountains in the background.
The mountains hold treasures of their own, and most people come to Mahale Mountains National Park to search for chimpanzees in the dense forest.
The forests of Mahale Mountains are home to an estimated 700 to 1,000 chimps, divided into ten or more groups. One of these groups has become habituated to the presence of humans, thanks to the long term presence of a team of Japanese researchers from Kyoto University, who have been working here since 1967. Jane Goodall also famously worked in the area to promote the conservation of chimpanzees.
You can join guided hikes in the forest in search of these chimps, with the treks taking anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day of challenging trekking along steep mountain trails. Coming face to face with a group of chimps makes it all worth it - sitting in the presence of our closest relatives, as they tumble around the forest floor, or simply gaze back at you, is an unforgettable moment.
It’s possible to track chimpanzees all year round in Mahale Mountains National Park, however the best time to see them is the hot dry season between July and October. During these months, the chimps venture down to the lower slopes in search of fruits.
The green season from November to March offers the best photography conditions with gushing waterfalls and beautiful clear views over the lake. There are scores of butterflies and migratory birds return home, making for excellent bird watching. However, the rainy season also makes the forest trails muddy and slippery, with the chimpanzees becoming more difficult to track as the move to higher ground. Many lodges close around April and May at the height of the wet season.
The Mahale Mountains National Park features on our Luxury Western Tanzania Safari, with three nights spent exploring the ancient lake, beautiful beaches, thick forests and intriguing wildlife of the national park. As tailor made holiday providers, Wayfairer can include Mahale Mountains National Park on any bespoke Tanzania tour, or extend your time here according to your preferences.
Our favourite place to stay in Mahale Mountains National Park is Greystoke Mahale Camp. This wonderfully remote camp is only accessible by boat, and you’ll arrive to a charming camp set on the white sandy shores of the stunning lake, with the towering mountains in the background. There are just six wooden bandas, made from locally sourced materials, and each evening you can relax on your private deck with magical views of Mahale.