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. Tracking the chimps of Mahale is a magical experience.
Mahale is located in the Western Tanzania to the South of Kigoma town, it is bordering Lake Tanganyika-the World’s longest, second deepest and least polluted freshwater lake-harbouring an estimated 1000 fish species.
BEST TIME TO VISIT THE PARK
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. However, Mahale Mountains National Park is accessible all year round. A visit in the rainy season can also be a memorable experience, made remarkable by views of the neighbouring country DR Congo across the water and by incredible lightning storms that light up the lake at night.
Chain of Mountains (Mahale range)
Forest fauna and flora (Angola colobus, red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, forest birds, alpine bamboo, montane rain forest etc).
Beach along Lake Tanganyika
Sun set on the Lake horizon
Vegetation in Mahale
WHAT TO DO
Chimp tracking (allow two days)
Hiking to the Park’s highest point “Nkungwe” (8,069ft) held sacred by the local Tongwe people.
Sports fishing and many more water sports activities
Mahale is accessible by air, road and boat. There are several flights, car and boat options to suit most travelers and chimps lovers:
Direct flights to Mahale
This is the easiest way to reach Mahale. During the peak tourist season (June to October) the three tour operators with camps in Mahale schedule regular flights between the park and Arusha town. Between October and March flights arrive and leave twice each week. Between March, April and the first half of May Camps close therefore 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 to mention a few. Private charters can be arranged from major cities of Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, Mwanza or Zanzibar.
The airstrip at Mahale is suitable for light aircraft only with the capacity of up to 12 passengers.
Travel to Mahale via Kigoma
Kigoma can be reached via several routes:
By Air: Air Tanzania schedules daily flights from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma. The flight takes about 3 hours.
By Road: Road provides accessibility to Kigoma, but it can be rough and impassable, especially in the rainy season. From Arusha it takes 2 or 3 days to reach Kigoma by car, a 4-wheel drive vehicle is required.
By Rail: Trains from Dar es salaam leave 2-3 times a week. The journey takes about three days and two nights.
From Kigoma: Mahale can be reached by boat, by light aircraft or by car.
Transport to Mahale by speedboats or timber boats from Kigoma 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].
From Lagosa-Mgambo one may organize the park boats for a pick up.
Mahale is 45 minutes from Kigoma town by light aircraft. A few safari companies offer private charter flights from Kigoma to Mahale and other National Parks in western Tanzania.
Road; Either drive 2 hrs South of Kigoma via Simbo Village (160km ) crossing Malagarasi river to Herembe village (passable during dry season) or drive 122km to Sigunga Village upon arrangement with Park HQ for boat transfer to the Park maximum 1 or 2 hrs boat cruise respectively.
Mahale Mountains National Park is home to one of Africa’s most studied chimpanzee populations. The support that visitors give through payment of park entrance fees provides the Park with the means to safeguard and protect this unique population of chimpanzees and the beautiful forest that they inhabit.
Park rules and regulations
Keep to the authorized trails.
Do not disturb wild animals in any way. Do not make noise.
Be considerate to fellow visitors – do not disturb them or the animals they are watching.
Do not take any pets or guns into the park.
Do not uproot, pick, cut or damage any plant or be in possession of any part of a plant indigenous to the park.
Do not light any fire or discard any burning object.
Do not discard any litter.
Between 7.00p.m and 6.00a.m remain in the immediate vicinity of designated accommodation facilities (tented camps, tourist bandas, rest house or campsites).
A permit is valid for single entry within 24 hours only.
CHIMP VIEWING REGULATIONS
Maintain a distance of at least 10m from the chimps at all times. This minimizes the risk of you transmitting bacteria and viruses to them.
Always wear a mask (provided by your guide) over your nose and mouth when you are close (<50m) to chimps.
DO NOT eat or drink while you are near the chimps – move at least 250m away.
DO NOT leave personal belongings on the ground or where they are accessible to the chimps. They are curious animals and your belongings can transmit disease. If you need help carrying bags, your guide will be happy to assist you.
DO NOT leave any rubbish behind. It can be harmful to all kinds of wildlife and it can transmit diseases to the chimps.
If you feel the urge to cough or sneeze when you are near the chimps, please cover your nose and mouth to reduce the distribution of germs.
Try not to go to the toilet in the forest. If it is unavoidable, move at least 250m from the chimps and ask your guide to dig a deep hole.
It is not permitted to visit the chimps if you are sick or have infectious disease. Please be responsible and tell your camp managers if you don’t feel well. You are risking the chimps’ health by visiting them while sick. The manager will decide the best way.
No person under the age of 12 is permitted to visit the chimps. This is for their own safety and because young people are more likely to transmit infectious disease.
No more than 6 visitors (plus one guide) are permitted close to the chimps at any one time. If another group is with the chimps when you arrive, please wait at a spot chosen by your guide, at least 250m away from the animals.
Maximum viewing time is one hour. If the chimps are moving and viewing is interrupted, your time will be paused until they have been relocated, but tracking is not permitted for longer than 3hours after the initial chimp sighting, even if the one hour total has not been reached. This is to minimize disturbance to the animals and to the forest.
GENERAL SAFETY RULES
Mahale’s chimps have been studied and habituated for more than 40 years and are well accustomed to people. Nevertheless, they are wild animals and it is important that you avoid doing anything that may antagonize them or that they may see as a challenge or a threat.
When near the chimps, please remember to keep your voices low. This will also help you to observe the other wonderful and varied wildlife of the Mahale forest.
Do not point at the chimps or make any sudden movements.
Avoid direct eye contact with them because they may perceive this as aggressive or threatening behavior.
Do not use perfume, smoke or spit.
When near the Chimps: Stay in a tight group, try to sit or squat rather than standing, as this minimizes disturbance. Also be sure that your group does not completely surround the chimps.
In the unlikely event that a chimp charges towards you, move to the nearest tree, stand up and hold on tightly to the trunk. Above all, don’t panic or run, adhere to your guide’s instructions.
If the chimpanzees move closer to you than permitted distance (10 meters), don’t make any sudden movements to increase the distance. Simply move back slowly away from them.
Camera flashes must be switched off. Flash photography can disturb and antagonize the chimps.
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.
Bandas are suitable for budget travelers and students.