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Discover the Fascinating Mahale Mountains National Park

by | May 2, 2024 | 0 comments

MAHALE MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK

Mahale Mountains National Park is located in the Uvinza District of Kigoma Region, Tanzania, on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika. It is named after the Mahale Mountains range that lies within its boundaries. This park stands out due to its unique characteristics. Firstly, it is one of the two protected areas in the country dedicated to the conservation of chimpanzees, the other being the renowned Gombe Stream National Park, made famous by the researcher Jane Goodall. Within the Mahale Mountains National Park, the largest known population of eastern chimpanzees thrives, thanks to its vast size and remote location. Interestingly, this park is also home to a coexistence of chimpanzees and lions.

One of the distinctive features of this park is that it can only be explored on foot, making it one of the few in Africa with such a requirement. There are no roads or infrastructure within the park boundaries and the only means of access is by boat on the lake.

Young mountain gorilla eating, Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

Historically, the Mahale Mountains were inhabited by the Batongwe and Holoholo peoples, with populations of 22,000 and 12,500 respectively in 1987. However, when the Mahale Mountains Wildlife Research Center was established in 1979, the local communities were forcibly relocated to make room for the park. Despite their deep connection and minimal impact on the natural environment, the park was opened in 1985.

Climate and Weather of Mahale

Mahale experiences two distinct seasons: the Dry season from May to October, characterized by abundant sunshine and clear skies, and the Wet season from November to April, marked by high humidity levels and increased rainfall.

Landscape

The park features a series of untamed, forest-covered peaks rising to nearly 2km/1mi above the edge of the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tanganyika. The topography of this iconic Rift Valley Lake, characterized by its steep cliffs and pristine sandy shores, is most effectively experienced during a boat trip on a traditional dhow.

Wildlife

The primary highlight of Mahale is the chimpanzees, which draw the most attention. However, the park also boasts a rich variety of wildlife in its forested areas. Visitors can easily spot groups of Ugandan red colobus, red-tailed, vervet, and blue monkeys, as well as a plethora of butterflies and numerous species of forest and aquatic birds. At night, the sound of bush pigs rummaging around the camps can often be heard, and occasionally, they can be spotted with the aid of a flashlight.

The eastern slopes of Mahale, which are difficult to access, provide a habitat for rarely observed groups of elephants, lions, wild dogs, roan antelopes, buffalos, and giraffes. The forested upper slopes of Mount Nkungwe are home to an unidentified subspecies of Angola colobus, which is exclusive to this area and is likely to be spotted only by those who embark on a day hike there.

Best Time for Wildlife Viewing

The optimal period for chimpanzee trekking falls within the Dry season, which spans from May to October. The likelihood of a successful sighting increases significantly from August onwards, as the chimpanzees typically remain in close proximity to the lakeshore lodgings. While the park remains accessible all year round, heavy rainfall can make the trails challenging to navigate, with the chimps frequently found on the remote higher slopes.

Size and accessibility

Mahale Mountains National Park spans an area exceeding 1,613 square kilometers, characterized by lush greenery and rolling hills.

By Road:

Traveling by car can be challenging due to rough roads, especially during the wet season. A 4WD vehicle is essential for the journey, which typically takes 2 to 3 days from Arusha to Kigoma. From Kigoma, a speed boat ride lasting approximately 4 to 5 hours will take you to Mahale Mountains National Park.

By Air:

For a quicker and more convenient option, flying from Arusha to Kigoma is recommended, with flight duration of about 7 to 8 hours. From Kigoma, a speed boat ride will transport you to Mahale. During the peak tourist season from June to October, tour operators offer regular scheduled flights from Arusha or Dar es Salaam to Mahale Airstrip, taking between 3 to 5 hours. In the low tourist season, fewer flights are available, but charter flights can be arranged for transportation.

Things to do in Mountain Mahale National Park

Tourist activities in Mahale Mountains National Park offer a unique adventure. The park is only accessible by air and boat, with no roads crossing through it. Exploring the park on foot guarantees tourists a complete wild-living and hedonistic wilderness experience. There are various activities to undertake in the park.

Chimpanzee Trekking

Chimpanzee Trekking is a major attraction in Mahale Mountains National Park. The focal point for visitors is the 60-strong Mimikere, or ‘M’ group, of habituated chimpanzees. Tourists can have close encounters with these close human relatives in the dense forests of the park. While you may not spot any chimps on your first try, it is rare to spend two or three days in the park without seeing any. The experience of viewing chimpanzees in their natural habitat is captivating, as they may brush past you on the trail or be visible in a clearing or high above in the treetops.

Hiking

Hiking is another exciting activity in Mahale Mountains National Park. The park offers brilliant hiking adventures, including the opportunity to climb Mount Nkungwe, the park’s imposing peak. Mount Nkungwe holds spiritual significance for the Tongwe people who once lived in the mountain. Hiking to the top rewards’ intrepid adventurers with a wealth of animals, birdlife, and breathtaking scenic views. The climb takes around 2-3 days, accompanied by an armed park ranger. Enroute camping adds to the mind-blowing experience of the whole adventure.

Lakeshore Activities

Lakeshore activities are also popular in Mahale Mountains National Park. Along the shores of Lake Tanganyika, tourists can engage in water sports such as kayaking and snorkeling. Taking a stroll on the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika is a spectacular experience.

Bird Watching

The Mahale Mountains National Park is a true haven for birdwatchers, boasting an impressive 355 recorded bird species. With its varied habitats, from lush forests to expansive grasslands, this park offers a diverse range of avian species to observe and admire.

Prepare yourself for an exciting bird watching expedition, armed with your trusty binoculars. Within the park’s boundaries, you’ll have the opportunity to spot a vibrant array of birds, including the striking kingfishers, elusive hornbills, majestic fish eagles, and the unique Tanzania forest weaver, just to name a few. Accompanied by knowledgeable guides, you’ll not only be able to identify these fascinating birds but also learn more about their captivating lives in the Mahale Mountains National Park.

 

Cultural Encounter

The Mahale Mountains National Park offers more than just its breathtaking natural beauty. It presents a unique chance to connect with the local communities and gain insight into their rich cultural heritage. Make sure to explore the neighboring villages and engage with the friendly locals. Immerse yourself in their customs, savor authentic local cuisine, and witness captivating traditional dances and music. This cultural immersion will foster a profound understanding and admiration for the harmonious relationship between the communities, wildlife, and the environment.

Sunset viewing

Witness the magnificent sunset over Lake Tanganyika by finding a peaceful location as the day comes to an end. The serene waters of the lake reflect the vibrant colors of the sky, creating a truly awe-inspiring sight. Take in the tranquility of the moment as the sun sets below the horizon, casting a golden hue over the landscape. This is an ideal way to conclude your day in Mahale Mountains National Park.

Conclusion

Embark on an unforgettable expedition in Mahale Mountains National Park in 2024/2025, where you will be mesmerized by its stunning natural landscapes, diverse wildlife, and the fascinating cultural traditions that envelop the area.

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