The park like its northerly neighbor Gombe is home to some of 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.
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-harboring an estimated 1000 fish species.
The best time to visit the park is during the dry season (May -October). 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 neighboring country DR Congo across the water and by incredible lightning storms that light up the lake at night.
Apart from the Chimpanzees other attractions include the 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). , Beaches along Lake Tanganyika and the sun sets on the Lake horizon.
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. Camping safaris, Snorkeling, 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 chimp 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.