Mahale Mountains National Park is the home of Chimpanzees and is the star attraction. There are roughly 800 chimps in the park, of which about 60 individuals of the Mimikere group are very habituated to people. The research and habituation in Mahale is a Japanese project that goes back as long as Jane Goodall’s research in neighboring Gombe NP.
Mahale’s chimps are the main attraction, but the park supports a diverse forest fauna, including readily observed troops of red colobus, red-tailed and blue monkey, and many colorful forest birds and butterflies. Warthog can sometimes be seen around the camp.
The main attraction in the Mahale Mountains is its population of chimpanzees. There are roughly 800 chimps in the park, and about 60 of them are very habituated to people. Your guide will take you, on foot, along the forest trails to find them. The park is a chain of wild, jungle-draped peaks towering almost 2km above the shore of the azure water of Lake Tanganyika. The geography of this classic Rift Valley Lake with its steep escarpment and white sandy beaches is best appreciated on a dhow trip. A hike to a beautiful waterfall in the rainforest is another activity on offer.
Chimps aside, 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 support populations of elephant, lion, wild dog, roan antelope, buffalo and giraffe, but they are rarely seen by visitors.
The Dry season from May to October is the best time for trekking chimpanzees. At this time, the chimps tend to stay close to the lakeshore and are easier to find. The park stays open throughout the year but, in heavy rain, the trails might be difficult to walk.
More than 350 bird species have been recorded in the Mahale Mountains so far, but this is expected to only be 80% of all species present. Most of them are forest birds, which are quite difficult to spot. Some of the more conspicuous birds to look out for are giant kingfisher, crested guineafowl, and Ross’s turaco. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
Birdlife is plentiful year-round, but the best time for birding 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. Chimp trekking is better in the Dry season, from May to October, since they are easier to find.
Not surprisingly, the altitude in the Mahale Mountains varies a lot. This affects the average temperatures, which get progressively cooler the higher you go. The other main influences on conditions are the two clear-cut seasons: the Dry (May to October) and the Wet (November to April). The former brings plenty of warmth and blue skies, while in the latter, the humidity skyrockets along with the rainfall. Due to its location close to the equator, the climate in Mahale ranges from warm to hot and humid. This doesn’t change much throughout the year. Average temperatures are about 27°C/81°F during the day. Evenings cool down to about 17°C/63°F.
Mahale’s Dry season is from May to October. The Wet season is from November to April. The rains come in the form of afternoon thunderstorms and seldom last the whole day.
Dry season – May to October
May – Although occasional rain is still possible, this is the end of the Wet season.
June, July, August & September – Clear and sunny skies with common afternoon temperatures of 27°C/81°F. This is a time of little, if any, rain. The coldest nights are in June through August with temperatures of about 14°C/57°F.
October – The Dry season comes to an end. It will likely rain some of the time.
Wet season –November to April
November, December, January, February, March & April – Although it is slightly cooler in the Wet season, the heat can be oppressive due to the high humidity. Rainfall all day long is very uncommon, but on most days there will be some rain in the form of afternoon thunderstorms.
Tracking chimpanzees is considerably easier at the tail end of the Dry season (from July to October). This is when the animals favor 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.
It is possible to track chimpanzees all year in the Mahale Mountains. However, the chances of finding them improve towards the end of the Dry season (from July to October) when the chimps favor the lower slopes. If you have two or three days, your chance of seeing them is reasonable at any time of the year.
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. The best way to get to Katavi is by a flight from Arusha
Travel to and within Mahale Mountains National Park is very safe in our opinion. The Mahale Mountains is a very remote park and you’ll most likely get here by plane and private boat on an organized safari. This makes the destination particularly safe. Your guide will ensure your safety while on safari at all times.
Several vaccinations are recommended – your local doctor or travel clinic can provide you with advice. Malaria is present in the park and protecting yourself against it is recommended. This is best done through antimalarial medication, using a mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective) and covering up exposed skin in the evening.
Chimp trekking is very safe. In general, the chimpanzees don’t pay any attention to humans and you can watch them go about their daily activities with little fuss. To ensure your safety, you’ll get a briefing before your chimp trek. You should pay attention to any directions from your guide while you’re with the chimps too.