The Mahale Mountains in western Tanzania are the ultimate location for a chimpanzee safari. The park is home to a large group of chimps habituated and studied since the 60s by the Universtity of Kyoto. Chimps aside, Mahale is also one of the most remote and scenically breathtaking areas in East Africa with mountains, forest and the crystal clear water of Lake Tanganyika combining to give this part of Tanzania a feeling unlike any other part of the country.
The Mahale Mountains lie on the edge of Lake Tanganyika, about 100 miles south of Kigoma. The forested mountains rise from the crystal waters of the lake to over eight thousand feet above sea level. Mahale National Park is over five hundred miles from Arusha, a flight of around 4 hours, but it's so breathtaking and unique that it's worth every minute to get there.
There are absolutely no roads or cars in Mahale and all access to the forest is by boat or foot. From Greystoke Camp (also known as Zoe's Camp), which was the first camp in Mahale and the one we'd recommend, you're lead into the forest each morning by a local Tongwe guide who knows the forest and the chimpanzee group as well as anyone alive. The walks can be an easy half hour stroll on days when the chimps come down to the lake shore, but up to eight hours when they remain high on the ridges (like the aptly named "skyway" path). Some days the animals are simply beyond reach of slow moving humans; these are animals that are effortlessly capable of traveling thousands of feet vertically in an hour. That said there is a very high success rate and in a three day stay, most people get some superb sightings. It's unusual for people to return without seeing a chimpanzee at all.
But it's not just about chimps; the forest at Mahale Mountains is a magical place to explore. Interlaced with rivers and waterfalls, it's home to eight other species of primate, including black and white colobus, red colobus and red-tailed monkeys. Numerous other mammal species have been sighted in Mahale, some such as bushpig are relatively common. Leopard, though not uncommon are rarely seen, but often heard. There are over 300 species of butterfly recorded and the western slopes of the Mahale Mountains are unique because they contain savanna adapted species of east or south Africa and forest adapted species of western and central Africa or the Congo Basin.