The Mahale Mountains, in a remote location by the lake Tanganyika, are one of the best places in the world for chimpanzee trekking. Around 700 chimps are living in this area, famous thanks to the work of Jane Goodall, who worked with them in Gombe, further north.
Chimpanzee Trekking in Mahale Mountains National Park
About the experience
We did 2 treks, one each day.
Every morning, the rangers from the lodge go into the mountains to follow the steps of the chimps to find their exact location. The chimps can be just 15 minutes away from the lodge, however they can be up to 2 hours away other times.
We were lucky both days.
The first day we walked no more than 20 minutes when we spot the chimpanzee family formed by Christmas, the male who was born in Christmas day; Zola, the female, and Sama, the baby. They were up on a tree “fishing”, using a stick to collect termites and insects for eat. After a while they started moving and we tried to follow them – but this guys are fast! The rangers were always helpful cutting the branches to make it easier for us to follow them. They stopped by a lemon tree where we could take some of the best photographies.
The second day the same family was really close to the lodge: we didn’t walk more than 5 minutes to get to their position. As soon as we arrived we spot Christmas, laying on the grass. It’s amazing how similar they are to humans! After a few minutes, he started calling Zola and Sama, who were up on the tree, by moving the branches, showing his teeth and making them signs to go down… with no success. After trying several times, he finally climbed up the tree too – probably angry, but the baby
They walked right past us a couple of times, it was such a memorable experience.
There are a few rules that should be followed during the chimpanzee trekking:
- Wear face mask at all times. This avoids transmitting any possible disease to the chimps
- Keep at least 10 meters distance away from the chimps
- Be quiet so they don’t get scared
- Maximum time of the visit is 1 hour a day
Where to stay in Mahale Mountains Natural Park: Mali Mbali Mahale Lodge
We stayed 3 nights at Mbali Mbali Mahale lodge, a beautiful and secluded property by the lake Tanganyika.
Mbali Mbali literally means “far, far away” – it’s an accurate name for this remote place.
We caught a charter flight to get to the Mahale airstrip, close to the lake Tanganyka. There, we hopped on a wooden boat for around 1 hour until we got to this idyllic place. We could see the staff waving at us from the distance and they welcomed us with warm towels and drinks.
The hut where I slept in was really big and had way more than I could have ever imagined – think that everything in this place has to be brought on expensive charter flights followed by a boat ride. The room had warm running water, a king sized bed and a nice decore. The laundry service worked perfectly, taking less than 24 hours. Every hut is hidden in the nature – the only ones around are shy baboons. And the food was really amazing.
There are only 2 lodges in this area, so you can expect both privacy and exclusivity.
Actually, this place must be booked with many months in advanced. It’s one of the best places in the world to spot the chimps in the wild.
More info: Mbali Mbali official website
Other activities in Mahale Mountains
To be completely honest, before the trip I was more excited about the game drives in Katavi than the chimp trek. The organizers made a great job not giving us a clue about what we were going to experience.
Mahale is not just a chimpanzee destination. The site is beyond beautiful and there’s plenty to do.
A regular day in Mahale starts with a breakfast by the lake, followed by the chimpanzee trekking. After lunch, there’s plenty of activities to do:
- Swimming: actually is not safe to swim on the private beach – there can be crocodiles! It’s possible to sail offshore to swim safely where the lake Tanganyika is deeper. The temperature was really nice and the views are wonderful.
- Kayaking: after trekking, this is the best sport you can practice in Mahale!
- Traditional fishing: you can have a hands on experience and learn how to fish in the traditional Tanganyika lake.
- Visiting the hippos: only possible by boat!
- Enjoying the sunset: sunsets in Mahale are something else. The sky turns from yellow to orange and then to pink and mauve. Absolutely beautiful.
- Night barbecue: nothing better than a tasty dinner under the stars.
- Stargazing by the bonfire: in clear days you can see the milky way while playing party games by the bonfire. It was memorable!
Tips for photographing the chimps in the wild
Looking for tips on how to photograph these lovely animals?
- Bring a zoom lens with you. The chimps are just 10 meters away or more.
- Use a luminous lens. The chimps are close, but they often choose to stay in the dark.
- It can be useful to use a monopod to avoid trepidation, especially if you’re planning to film videos.
Related post: Photography gear for a trip to Africa
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