Mahale Mountains National Park Tanzania

Background of Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park is one of the most rewarding destinations visitors should explore during their Tanzania wildlife tours.  The park is dominated topographically by the Mahale range, a stretch of the Rift Valley Escarpment that rises sharply from the shore of Lake Tanganyika to the 2,462m Nkungwe Peak, and six other peaks that exceed 2,000 meters in elevation. Even without the forested peaks, the crystal-clear waters and deserted sandy beaches that characterize this part of Lake would be thoroughly alluring, but as it is, the setting is scenically reminiscent of a volcanic island beach resort somewhere deep in the Indian Ocean; with the added bonus that these forests are inhabited by a rich variety of wildlife.

Mahale is famously known for chimpanzee tracking; one of Africa’s most magical wildlife adventures. It shelters a population of about1,000 chimpanzees divided across a dozen communities including the habituated Mimikere group of around 60 individuals. Mahale National Park is actually one of the top chimpanzee-tracking destinations in Africa(others are Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park Tanzania and Kibale National Park Uganda).

Besides chimpanzees, eight other primate species have been recorded and at least five are likely to be encountered on a visit. These are yellow baboons, red colobus, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, and vervet monkey. The nocturnal lesser and greater galago are more likely to be heard than seen. The eastern slopes of Mahale range support populations of elephants, lions, wild dogs, roan antelopes, buffalos, giraffes, bush backs and water backs. Mahale National Park is also a stunning destination for Tanzania birding tours with more than 350 bird species recorded. Some of the more conspicuous birds to look out for are giant kingfisher, crested Guinea fowl, and African Fish eagles, bamboo warbler and Stuhlman’s starling.

Location and size of Mahale National Park

Covering about 1613 km², Mahale Mountains National Park is some 30 times larger than Gombe Stream National Park. Mahale is found in western Tanzania and lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Kigoma, the closest major town in the park, is about 130km north of Mahale, and this remoteness makes getting to and from the park half the fun.

History of Mahale National Park

The Mahale  Mountains National Park got its name from Mahale mountains. The Mahale mountains were traditionally inhabited by the Batongwe and Holoholo people. When the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Center was established in 1979 these people were expelled from the mountains to make way for the park, which opened in 1985. The people had been highly attuned to the natural environment, living with virtually no impact on the ecology.

Tanzania Safari Attractions in Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park is endowed with various tourist attractions including animals in Mahale National Park Tanzania such as chimpanzees, birdlife in Mahale National Park Tanzania, Lake Tanganyika in Mahale National Park, Mahale mountain ranges in Mahale National Park and other attractions outside Mahale National Park.

1) Animals in Mahale National Park Tanzania

Mahale National Park shelters a variety of animal species which makes it one of the best destinations for the visitor during their Tanzania wildlife safaris. The park’s star attraction is the chimpanzee. The montane forests of Mahale hosts about 1000 of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees some of which have been habituated for tourism. Besides chimpanzees, eight other primate species have been recorded and at least five are likely to be encountered during a Tanzania tour in the park. These are yellow baboons, red colobus, blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and vervet monkeys. The nocturnal lesser and greater galagos are more likely to be heard than seen. The eastern slopes of Mahale support populations of elephants, lions, wild dogs, roan antelopes, buffalos, giraffes, bush backs and water backs.

Chimpanzees in Mahale Mountains National Park

If ever you are truly motivated to undertake a Tanzania chimpanzee tour,  Mahale National Park is the best place to be. Certainly having the opportunity to see the human closest relatives that share 98% of our DNA-in their natural habitat is quite a thrilling adventure a traveller would ever experience during a safari in Tanzania.

Chimpanzees or simply chimps have their bodies covered by black hair, except for the face, fingers, toes, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. The arms of a chimp are longer than their legs and can reach below the knees. A chimp’s head is rounded with a prominent and prognathous face. The faces of the younger chimps may be pinkish or whitish. Chimpanzees have forward-facing eyes, a small nose, rounded non-lobed ears, a long mobile upper lip and, in adult males, sharp canine teeth. Chimps lack the prominent sagittal crest and associated head and neck musculature of gorillas.

Chimps are highly intelligent and communicative creatures popularly known for their pant-hoot calls. These evocative calls are divided into four distinct, successive phases starting with an introduction, build-up, climax to let-down. This introductory phase begins with soft, breathy, low-frequency ‘hoo’s’ that transition into the build-up phase that involves a series of increasingly rapid, low-frequency in-and-out pants. The calls quickly build into the climax, consisting of loud, high-frequency screams that eventually slow into the let-down phase, similar in structure to the build-up, but with decreasing amplitude and pace until the call is complete.

It is interesting to note that these calls are produced for a purpose. Pant-hoots some time signal social rank as chimpanzees tend to alter the production and duration of pant-hoot calls based upon their dominance rank with respect to other individuals. High-ranking, dominant males produce longer and more frequent pant-hoots than individuals of a lower social status. Pant-hoot calls are also produced upon the arrival of fruit trees to indicate the location of abundant resources and when joining and greeting other members of their social group.

These highly sociable in Mahale National Park, they leave in 15 groups with one strong Mimikere numbering up to 60 individuals. At the core of social structures are males, which roam around, protect group members, and search for food. The social nature of these apes does not only limit to group members only.  Chimps tend to form temporary groups known as fission-fusion society. This society can be an all-male troop that may be organized to hunt for meat while a group consisting of lactating females serves to act as a nursery group fo the young.

Male chimpanzees exist in a linear dominance hierarchy. Top-ranking males tend to be aggressive even during dominance stability. This is probably due to the chimp’s fission-fusion society, with male chimps leaving groups and returning after extended periods of time. With this, a dominant male is unsure if any “political manoeuvring” has occurred and must re-establish his dominance.

While the M group chimps are well habituated, spotting these human’s closest is a tantalizing challenge as chimps tend to spend most of their time high in the trees which make a close encounter with them a truly golden moment. Every trace of dung or half-eaten fruit pulling you further into the jungle. Watching these cheeky chimps go about their daily business, fighting, grooming and caring for their young is absolutely unforgettable. It is possibly one of the most intimate wildlife experiences known to man.

2) Birdlife in Mahale National Park Tanzania

More than 350 bird species have been recorded in the Mahale Mountains and most of them are forest birds. Some of the more conspicuous birds to look out for while on a Tanzania birding safari in Mahale include hornbills, giant kingfisher, crested guineafowl, African Fish eagles and Ross’s turaco.

In general, the birdlife is plentiful year-round, but the best time for Tanzania birding tour in the park is from November to April. During these months, you can see resident birds in their breeding plumage, as well as migratory birds from northern Africa and Europe. From March to April, the rains can make birding difficult because forest trails become slippery.

3) Lake Tanganyika in Mahale National Park

Mahale Mountains National Park lies on the shore of Lake Tanganyika. Tanganyika is an African Great Lake and the second deepest lake in the world (about 1,470 meters). It is also the second-largest lake by volume and the world’s longest freshwater lake. The incredibly clear Lake Tanganyika adds aquatic biodiversity. While the lake harbours an estimated 1,000 fish species, it is also the only Tanzanian nature reserve where both the Nile crocodile and the slender-snouted crocodile feel at home.

The first known Westerners to find the lakes were the British explorers Richard Burton and John Speke, in 1858. They located it while searching for the source of the Nile River. Speke continued and found the actual source, Lake Victoria. Later David Livingstone passed by the lake. He noted the name “Liemba” for its southern part, a word probably from the Fipa language, and in 1927 this was chosen as the new name for the conquered German First World War ship Graf von Götzen which is still serving the lake up to the present time

After a morning of chimpanzee trekking tour, travellers on Tanzania safaris can return to the shores of Lake Tanganyika, where sugar-white beaches slope into gin-clear waters. Travellers can also enjoy swimming in the waters of Africa’s deepest lake and other activities such as kayaking, boat safaris, scuba diving, sport fishing, and snorkelling.

There is also an amazing view at the Lake, especially during the night where a visitor will have an opportunity to view the light on the lakes by the local fishermen as most fishing, is done at night as virtually all fishing methods.

4) Mahale mountain ranges in Mahale National Park

The Mahale Mountains are a mountain range in western Tanzania, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. The Mahale ranges are one of the most spectacular places in the world with several huge peaks and steep slopes with montane and middle –altitude forests. Mount Nkungwe is one among the peaks on the range of Mahale Mountains National Park. Nkungwe is a Mountain with seven peaks, Mhesabantu 2,100 m absl, Nkungwe 2,462 m absl, and Sisaga 2,335 m absl, Humo, Sibindi, Mfitwa, and Pasagulu. Where visitors are enjoying the scenic beauty of the mountains.

5) Attractions outside Mahale National Park

Ujiji is the oldest town in western Tanzania, located about 6 miles (10 km) south of Kigoma also known as kavele, this was an Arabic settlement during the slave trade, used to be the terminus for the old caravan route from the coast.

Ujiji has also historical significance for explorers, it is a place where burton and speke first reached the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1858. And the place where Dr living stone met Stanley in 1871, a monument known as Dr. living stone memorial has been constructed to commemorate the meeting. There is a slave route near the market.

Near the shore of Lake Tanganyika lies an ancient and traditional fishing market. At night when the lake relatively calm, visitors may enjoy the romantic side of the softly lit lake.

Tourist Attractions in Mountains National Park Tanzania

Most travellers come here for chimpanzee trekking safaris but the park also offers other amazing Tanzania safari activities. These include walking safaris, mountain hiking tours, kayaking, sport fishing, boat safaris, snorkelling, swimming, and cultural tours. Entry fees at Mahale Mountains park are $80 for Non-East Africa Citizens of or above the age of 16 years and $20 for children between the age of 15 years 10. Tanzania expatriates and  East African citizens of or above the age of 16 years pay $40 and children between the age of 5 and 15 years pay $10.

1) Chimpanzee trekking in Mahale National Park

The main reason most people make a considerable effort to visit Tanzania’s Mahale Mountains National Park is to see chimpanzees. Mahale’s size and terrain mean chimp tracking can take time, and it requires steep strenuous walking, but almost everyone who visits has a successful sighting. Mahale is widely regarded as one of the best places in the world to see wild chimpanzees.

Only one group of up to six people are allowed with the chimps at any one time. This means that you might have to wait for several hundred meters back from the chimps before you get a turn. Each group is allowed only one hour a day with the chimps and this is strictly enforced (with calls of ’10 minutes remaining’, ‘five minutes remaining’). If one hour is not enough (and most people find it is) then it’s possible to pay an extra US$100 for a ‘photographer’s experience’ and get three hours with the chimps. You’ll also have to pay a negotiable extra fee to your guide.

Face masks (provided) must be worn at all times when in the presence of the chimps. Children under the age of 12 and anyone suffering from a cold, flu or other illness are not allowed to visit the chimps, as some have died in the past after they caught the flu from a park visitor.

A Tanzania chimpanzee safari is considerably easier at the tail end of the Dry season (from July to October). This is when the animals favour the lower slopes of the mountains, and the forest tracks are firm underfoot. In the wetter months, the chimps are harder to find. That said, brimming waterfalls and an explosion of butterflies make an exploration at this time worthwhile.

2) Mountain hiking in Mahale National Park Tanzania

An ascent of the highest peak in the Mahale Mountains ridge, Mt. Nkungwe (2462 m), is one of the most spectacular activities available and it’s done in the company of an armed ranger guide. The usual arrangement is two days up and one down, camping midway and again near the peak. Whilst camping on the mountain at night, it is often possible to see the spectacle of ‘fishing fire’, as the kerosene lamps carried by small fishing boats light up across the Lake.

Trekkers must bring their own camping gear and food. The climb requires a reasonable degree of fitness, but the trail is in decent shape. A two-day option requires a willingness to scramble and hack your way through the bush. The best time for climbing is during the dry season (May – October).

3) Sport Fishing in Mahale Mountains National Park

This activity is done for pleasure is also known as a catch and release, it is done when the Lake weather is Calm. This activity is done at designated sites with the tour guide experienced in fishing. Tourists are advised to purchase fishing permits before embarking on the activity. Sportfishing is allowed only between 7 a.m and 5 p.m.

Sportfishing fees in Mahale Mountains National Park

Adults (of or above 16 years of age) US$ 25

Children (between the 5 and 15 years of age) US$ 10

Hiring a fishing rod (per rod) per day-US$ 20

4) Boating Safari/Cruising in Mahale Mountains National Park

Boat cruises are a great way to relax and see wildlife while staying in a water vessel and moving from one place to another for pleasure. This activity is conducted within Lake Tanganyika.  Boating Safari fee-US$20.

5) Birding in Mahale Mountains National Park Tanzania

Mahale National park is endowed with 350 species of birds both migratory and residents. The Kabezi area in the north sector of the is the best for Tanzania bird watching tours in Mahale.

6) Snorkelling in Mahale Mountains National Park

This is the practice of swimming on or through a body of water while equipped with a diving mask, a shaped tube called a snorkel, and usually fins. In cooler waters, a wetsuit may also be worn. This activity is conducted for 3hours within the lake and cost US$10.

Mahale has fine snorkelling and swimming off its powder-white beaches, but unfortunately, humans aren’t the only ones to enjoy such beachside beauty – a large crocodile population here means that swimming and snorkelling are only allowed in certain places, and maybe banned at times.

5) Kayaking in Mahale National Park Tanzania

Kayaking is a small narrow boat that is propelled by means of a double-bladed paddle. The use of a kayak for moving across water. It is distinguished from canoeing by the sitting position of the paddler and the number of blades on the paddle. It’s done when the lake weather is calm

6) Cultural tours around Mahale National Park

Visits to the nearby villages of Holoholo and Batongwe people can also be arranged. Kigoma town and the historical town Ujiji also worth a detour. Kigoma is the capital of the Kigoma District and the economic centre of the region. Ujiji is a historic town dating back to the days of German colonial rule in Tanganyika. In the 19th century, Dr Livingstone travelled to Ujiji in a bid to stop the slave trade.

Tanzania Safari Accommodation in Mahale Mountains National Park

The park has five self-contained tourist bandas. Each banda has two rooms with twin beds and a private bathroom. Kitchen facilities are available for self-catering and cooks can be hired locally to prepare your meals. Visitors may bring their food staff and drinks. Currently, the park has three luxury tented camps owned and run by private investors.

1) Greystoke Mahale Camp-Luxury

The camp sits in the shadow of the Mahale Mountains National Park, on the edge of thick forest that stretches up to distant peaks.

Accommodation at Greystoke Mahale Camp include;

6 thatched bandas with ensuite bathrooms, upstairs relaxation deck, and uninterrupted lake views. The bathrooms feature a flush toilet, a powerful shower, and hot water. With room for just 12, it is a small, attentive and simple camp. The bandas are scattered along a soft-sand beach. Built from reclaimed dhow wood, they are two stories high.

The bedroom is located on the ground floor and opens onto a huge lake facing deck. There is a changing room to the rear of the ground floor. The upstairs eyrie has a bed and some cushions on the floor and constitutes the banda’s seating area. With views of the lake and beyond, it is a wonderful place to sit, relax and read. Please be aware that there is no internet access at the camp.

Capacity: 14 beds.

The Oldest Camp in the Park, owned by Nomad Tanzania Limited. it’s a Luxury wooden bandas on a pristine sandy beach,

Facilities and services at  Greystoke Mahale Camp include;

Dining and bar; the camp features a large central dining area, a communal dining table, and there is an open-air bar.

Library

The guest area, casually named ‘The Mess’, is loosely modelled on traditional Tongwe architecture. It consists of a bar, dining area, library and small raised platforms that have been converted into cosy sitting areas and boast superb views of the Lake. Guests can indulge in a variety of sumptuous dishes and private dinners by candlelight on the beach can be arranged. Adventures include chimpanzee safaris, kayaking, and fishing.

2) Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge-Luxury

Mbali Mbali Mahale sits on a stretch of sheltered golden beach, deep in the heart of the African interior.  Boasting a backdrop formed by the dramatic Mahale Mountain range, and the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika in the foreground, this secluded and romantic hideaway is the perfect blend of relaxation and luxury.

Begun its operation in 2000 Owned by Kigoma Hilltop Lodges and Safaris have been strategically placed at the edge of the cooling forest canopy of the Mahale Mountains National park. All rooms are under thatch on raised platforms and have a private deck providing views of Lake . and contains the central dining and lounge facilities. All guest rooms are within easy walking distance along the beach to the main lounge and dining areas.

Accommodation at Mbali Mbali Mahale Lodge include;

10 Beach Tents, modernly furnished have been strategically placed at the edge of the cooling forest canopy of the Mahale Mountains National park. All rooms are under thatch on raised platforms and have a private deck providing views of Lake Tanganyika and the beach. All guest rooms are within easy walking distance along the beach to the main lounge and dining areas.

All Rooms contain the conveniences to ensure a relaxing and comfortable stay, luxury bed linens and full bathroom amenities including an indoor rain shower and double vanity.

Each well-appointed Beach tent has been strategically positioned to offer guests privacy, while still allowing easy access to the beach and communal areas.  Each Beach Tent is on a raised platform; it delivers 24-hour electricity and hot and cold running water.  The tents provide self-contained mosquito nets around the beds and bathroom.

The price of comfort has not been at the cost of the environment. Mbali Mbali Mahale is powered by solar energy and much care has been taken to reduce our carbon footprint.

Ten Beach Tents with a combination of twin or double room configurations.

Room Facilities

  • Balcony / Deck
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • En-Suite
  • Laundry Service (Complimentary)
  • Lounge Area
  • Pure Cotton Linen
  • Shower
  • Tea / Coffee
  • Verandah

Property Facilities

  • Bar
  • Battery Charging Facilities
  • Eco-Friendly
  • Internet Access (Complimentary)
  • Laundry Service (Complimentary)
  • Library
  • Restaurant

3) Bandas-Budget

There are five self-contained tourist bandas, each banda having two rooms with twin beds capable of accommodating four pax. Kitchen facilities and cooking utensils are available for the preparation of own meals. Visitors can also opt to hire a local cook with experience of cooking from tourist camps

4) Mahale Mango Bandas-Budget

Mahale Mango Bandas is a low-cost hostel-like accommodation particularly suitable for students and backpackers on a primate tour to Tanzania. TANAPA, the Tanzanian National Park Authority, manages the bandas.

Accommodation At Mahale Mango Bandas

Mango Bandas is actually sited at Mahale National Park headquarters, where 8 self-contained, solidly constructed bandas have concrete-floored front porches shaded by a continuation of the weather-proof sheet roofing supported on metal poles have been reserved for backpacker visitors on a Tanzania chimpanzee tour.

It is also known as Mango House (more like hostel!) under the official TANAPA banner. The bandas, double-fronted concrete block buildings with barred windows, consist of two rooms with twin beds, basic bed linens, and an en-suite bathroom. There are closeable, wood-framed windows, individual mosquito nets, and electric lights. Bathrooms contain a sink with cold running lake water, a murky flush toilet, and a bush shower, for which hot water can be supplied by arrangement with the management.

Large, circular wall mirrors add a convenient touch. Set amongst tropical rain forest and connected by paved paths, in all, the eight bandas provide overnight lodgings for a maximum of twenty guests on your primate holiday in Africa, who are advised to book in advance to be sure of the availability of rooms though allocations are also known to be provided on arrival on a first come first basis subject to availability.

Since renovation and AfricanMecca’s last visit to the bandas, a surprisingly light and airy shared dining room has been provided with wooden tables and chairs, a television and stacked plastic chairs for lounge use.

Dining At Mahale Mango Bandas

There are shared kitchen facilities for guests prepared to cater for themselves on their Mahale Mango Bandas chimpanzee safari. AfricanMecca proposes that in order to avoid carrying one’s own cooking utensils and food supplies on the complex journey to Mahale, as well as to surmount the problems of food storage, it may be possible to hire a local cook from Kigoma town who will arrange this for you.

However, you must be prepared to eat simply, using local produce in typically Tanzanian native dishes, such as Ugali, (a semolina-like dish of cornmeal served with a relish of boiled spinach leaves, beans, fish, goat meat, onion or tomato-based salsa). Traditionally, this is usually served in one large bowl passed around a low table. A portion of the thick semi-solid porridge is taken with the right hand, dipped into the relish, and eaten as the bowl continues its circuit round and round the diners.

The fruit is the usual dessert. Breakfast is typically tea and fresh-baked flatbread. Various fried pastry packages filled with rice, vegetables, and spices, such as samosas, are available to pack for a trip in Mahale. Fish and shellfish are available from the Tanganyika lake, and bottled beers may also be obtained. Bottled water is highly recommended. Fluffy boiled cassava, plantains, and boiled peanuts in their shells are also common as are fused soups or stews of green peppers, coconut milk with sweet potatoes, onion, tomato, and curry spices.

How to Get to Mahale Mountains National Park

Mahale is not the easiest or cheapest place to get to. Depending on your itinerary, your entry point to the country will be either Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) in Arusha town or Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam. In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airport and make ongoing arrangements.

The best way to get to Katavi is by a flight from Arusha. The only public, the scheduled flight is the twice-weekly service between Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale operated by Safari Air Link.

Zantasair works with its sister company Mbali Mbali lodges, to offer twice-weekly shared charter flights between northern Tanzania and western Tanzania, incorporating Katavi and Mahale National Parks.