Mahale Mountains National Park – Part 1

February 28, 2011  By: Africa Adventure Consultants

Mahale Mountains National Park in western Tanzania consistently ranks as one of the favorite places to visit in Africa amongst the staff here at Africa Adventure Consultants. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful. This hidden gem is tucked away on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, its crystal clear waters reflecting the mountain range that starts just beyond the beach.

The park is best known for its chimpanzee trekking. It’s a stone’s throw from Gombe where Jane Goodall did her pioneering research, however it is 30 times larger than tiny Gombe. The chimpanzees are well habituated to human visitors, though with the size of the park you might sometimes have to do some serious hiking before finding them.

At the tail end of my trip to East Africa in December, I was lucky to spend four nights at Greystoke Mahale, which is now on my ‘favorites’ list, too. It’s not an easy place to get to. After about 4 hours flying time from Arusha (depending on number of stops and routing), you’ll reach Lake Tanganyika. From there, you’ll board a dhow for the 90 minute boat ride to the camp, which on a calm day is a relaxing and visually stunning experience.

During my stay, there were only six total guests at Greystoke. We had varying fitness levels, which came into play when chimpanzee trekking. We were greeted at the airstrip by our guide Kakae, who accompanied us to camp. We had flown through some storm clouds en route, but the sun was out when we landed, and the waters were extremely calm. Lucky for me, as I don’t have the strongest ‘sea legs’. A multi-course lunch was served on the boat, complete with cold beverages.

Greystoke is set on a sandy beach and looks like a dream camp on a fantasy island. Thatched roof wooden bandas are exotic looking, but perfect for this remote paradise. With only six very private bandas, it feels like the most exclusive of retreats. The bandas as very well appointed with a four poster bed, a porch, a vanity and closet area, and a running water bathroom in the back. As an added bonus, there’s a lounge upstairs (and the stairs are pretty unique!).

The bar area is tucked away in vegetation on a rocky outcropping; perfect for watching the spectacular sunsets over the lake. The food and service are the icing on the cake. More on that later! I would not recommend this property for anyone that might have trouble getting around, as it requires navigating sandy beaches and narrow stairs both day and night. Additionally, chimp trekking does require a moderate level of fitness, and can be strenuous, depending on where the chimps are located on the day you are trekking.

As our boat came in to shore, we were greeted by a large number of the staff and made to feel instantly welcome. After we were oriented to the camp’s workings, our first afternoon was all relaxation. We had a swim in the placid waters of Lake Tanganyika (the staff will tell you when and where it is safe to swim) and enjoyed thumbing through the primate books in the library overlooking the shores. Dinner was a communal affair and they accommodated my dietary requests, which meant I got fish…from the lake…yum!!

Next up: chimpanzee trekking

Photos courtesy Gretchen Healey

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