Mahale Mountains & Gombe Stream National Parks
Mahale Mountains & Gombe Stream National Parks
If chimpanzees are your passion, then this is where you need to be. Mahale offers some of the best chimp viewing in Africa, and Gombe Stream is closely linked with Jane Goodall, it is here that she began her important research and study of chimps.
Mahale National Park is remarkable, remote and quite different to what you might expect from an African landscape. It lies on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, about as far west as you can go in Tanzania. The white, sandy shores of the lake have the stunning backdrop of verdant mountains covered in lush, tropical forest criss-crossed by crystal clear streams and waterfalls.
The main attraction is undoubtedly the chimps, and Mahale is widely considered to offer the finest chimp experience in Africa. It is here that you have the opportunity to come across the famous ‘M’ clan, who have been habituated by researchers since the 1960s and whilst they are still wild, they are relaxed around humans. As well as the chimps, the forest is home to an array of fauna and flora including red colobus, red-tailed monkeys, vervets, warthogs and even leopard are present, if you are lucky enough to see them.
Down by the lake, beneath the beautiful clear waters are hundreds of colourful tropical fish. You can explore the waters by boat or kayak and swimming and snorkelling in the lake is highly recommended.
With an area of just 56 sq km, Gombe is Tanzania’s smallest national park. Why go there? Gombe is associated with Jane Goodall, the world-famous primatologist. There are just over 100 chimpanzees in Gombe National Park, many of them are habituated. Whilst a chimp trek is never easy, as you traverse the park, up hills, down valleys, there is no denying that it’s a very rewarding experience. As well as chimps, there are red-tailed and red colobus monkeys here along with about 200 species of birds.
Visitor numbers to Mahale and Gombe National Parks are low as they are more remote and expensive to get to, this offers you a more exclusive and off the beaten track safari experience, with a hint of pioneer thrown in.
Things to do in Mahale Mountains & Gombe Stream National Parks
- Chimp Trek – a rewarding and memorable experience. It’s not always easy so a level of fitness is required, but it is well worth the effort.
- Sunset on a dhow – spend some time on Lake Tangyanika on a traditional wooden dhow, sunset cruises are spectacular, or simply sail along the shoreline and cast a line for fish.
- Canoeing – if you fancy taking to the water under your own steam then explore by canoe and paddle power, it’s particularly special to do this early in the morning and watch the sunrise.
- Waterfalls – hike the forest paths on the lookout for birds and exquisite butterflies. When it gets hot take a dip in an ice-cold pool under a waterfall – bliss!
- Birding – with over 400 species recorded here, birding is excellent, particularly in the wet season.
- Relaxing – you might find you want to just lie on the warm sands of the lake shore and soak up a little sun and sip on a cold drink.
- Fishing – is a relaxing way to pass some time on the Lake, alternatively you can watch the experts bring in their daily catch.
- Snorkelling – the clear waters and myriad of tropical fish just call out for you to don a mask and fins and dive right in.
- Combine it with a trip to Katavi – with the remoteness and expense of reaching Mahale and Gombe, we would recommend combining it with a visit to Katavi, for an all-round, remote safari experience, quite unlike any other. You won’t see the crowds here.
When to visit Mahale & Gombe
Chimpanzees are usually the main attraction here, they don’t follow any regular migration pattern, they just go where there is food to be found. As a general rule June to August they will be found at higher altitude, meaning a longer/harder trek to reach them. From September onwards they are found lower down. April and May are the height of the rainy season and lodges tend to close.
Excellent Good Fair
MAY TO OCTOBER
- Little or no rain makes for more pleasant chimp tracking
- The chimps are usually easier to find as they are on the lower mountain slopes from about July through to October
- There are very few mosquitos at this time of year
- There aren’t any cons that we can think of. You may come across other visitors on your chimp trek but as a general rule, these are not busy parks.
- Some lodges are still closed in May
NOVEMBER TO APRIL
- The park is lush and green and the rains fuel an abundance of waterfalls
- This is the peak time for birding with many migratory species moving in
- Butterflies and insects are abundant during the rainy season
- You will have to walk further to see chimps at this time of year as they forage higher up the slopes
- Watch your footing as tracks can be wet and slippery
- With the rains you get heat and humidity that can be uncomfortable
- April sees heavier rainfall and the majority of lodges will be closed
Where to stay in Mahala & Gombe
There are only a couple of accommodation options in Mahale. The renowned Greystoke Mahale being the more upmarket option, with a price tag to match. Nkungwe Beach Lodge, is right on the shores of the lake – it’s simplicity is part of the attraction and is in keeping with the relaxed beach surroundings. Gombe Forest Lodge is the accommodation of choice in Gombe Stream, a small classic tented camp.