The Mahale Mountains, located in a remote area by the lake Tanganyika, are one of the best places in the world for chimpanzee trekking. Around 700 chimps live in this area, which got famous after Jane Goodall’s research 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 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, sometimes they can be up to 2 hours away.
We were really lucky both days.
The first day we walked no more than 20 minutes before we spotted the chimpanzee family.
They were Christmas, a male chimp who was was named after his birthday 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 from the trees.
After a while they started moving, and although we tried to follow them these guys were quick! The rangers were always helpful, cutting the branches to make it easier for us to follow them.
After a while, the chimp family stopped by a lemon tree where we could take some of the best photographies and videos.
The second day the same chimpanzee family was really close to the lodge: we didn’t walk more than 5 minutes to find them.
As soon as we arrived, we spotted Christmas just was being lazy, laying on the grass. It’s amazing how similar they are to humans!
After few minutes he started calling Zola and Sama who were up on the tree, moving the tree branches, showing his teeth and making them signs to go down… with no success. After several tries, he finally climbed up the tree too.
They walked right past us a couple of times, and it was such a memorable experience.
Chimpanzee trekking rules
There are a few rules that should be followed during the chimpanzee trek:
- Wearing face mask at all times. This avoids any possible disease transmission to the chimps
- Keeping at least 10 meters distance from the chimps
- Being quiet and silent, so they don’t get scared
- Maximum time of the visit is 1 hour per day
Where to stay in Mahale Mountains Natural Park: Mbali 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” – an accurate name for this remote location.
We got to the Mahale airstrip on a charter flight. There, we hopped on a wooden boat for around 1 hour, sailing the lake Tanganyika until we got to this idyllic place. The staff were waving at us from the distance and they welcomed us with warm towels and drinks.
The cabin where I slept in was really big and had way more facilities than I could have ever imagined – think that everything in this place has to be brought on expensive charter flights followed by long a boat ride. The room had warm running water, a king sized bed and a nice decor. The laundry service worked perfectly, taking less than 24 hours. Every cabin is hidden in the nature – the only ones around are shy baboons. And the food was also 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.
Other activities in Mahale Mountains
To be 100% 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. It ended up being really awesome!
Mahale is not just a chimpanzee destination. The place is beyond beautiful and there’s a lot of things to do.
A regular day in Mahale starts with a breakfast by the lake, followed by the chimpanzee trekking. After lunch, these are some of the activities this place offers:
- Swimming: actually it’s 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 of the water was really nice and the views were 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 way in 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.
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