Wild Western Tanzania – Part II

September 12, 2019  By: Kent

Where to Lose the Crowds and Walk with the Chimps

We last left off with the Redding family in Katavi National Park. Far from the crowds, Katavi is home to massive concentrations of hippos and crocodiles but few tourists. After days of game drives and walking safaris, the Reddings journeyed to Mahale Mountains National Park in search of another great species: the chimpanzee.

Mahale doesn’t get many more visitors than Katavi and is even more remote as there are no roads inside the park and the only way in and out is by boat. (There’s a small landing strip for planes just outside the park where guests then transfer to a motorized dhow for the rest of the journey into camp.) The chimps we were hoping to see call the mountains along the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika home. Tanganyika is the longest and second deepest lake in the world! Here, there are only two small permanent tented camps.

We stayed at my favorite camp in Africa and one of my ‘Top 10 Safari Camps to Visit Before You Die,’ Greystoke Mahale. This small camp has just 7 guest bandas and in my eyes has the prettiest setting in the world with majestic mountains, a white sand beach and beautiful water as far as the eye can see. The sunset bar is perfect, and the common areas are right on the beach. The food here was the best on our safari thanks to the great chefs and managers, Babs and Fabio.

Lake Tanganyika, where Greystoke Mahale is situated, is home to many fish species including hundreds of types of cichlids that range from valued food fishes to beautiful fish enjoyed by snorkelers. While Mahale is also home to some elephants, lions, leopards and other interesting game like giant forest hogs and giant pangolin, these are often difficult to locate.  Instead the big draw here is primates, especially chimpanzees. The chimpanzee population in Mahale has been observed and habituated by researchers for years, meaning that visitors can spend time up close and personal with these fascinating creatures who share more than 98% of our DNA. Because Mahale’s chimps have been habituated for so long, we know much about their family histories (with maternal family trees available). Myriad behaviors have been observed and documented including courtships, family dramas, political intrigue and wars.

As we hiked through the dense green mountain forest, our outstanding guides Butati and Mwiga shared personal observations and stories about the chimps and their antics. On our three walks we saw many individuals, including Primus, the current alpha male; Juju with her 9-month-old unnamed baby; and adolescents Jura and Orion. My son Tate was disappointed we didn’t see troublemaker Christmas, who has been known to slap both guides and visitors for fun.

Chimps like Christmas don’t know the rules, but guests are not supposed to touch the chimps or even get too close to them. As visitors in their home environment, we even wore surgical masks during the time with them to prevent the spread of germs from humans to apes.

Besides chimp trekking, we enjoyed other fun activities at Greystoke Mahale including extra forest hikes and water activities in the huge lake such as swimming, boating and kayaking. Visits to the nearest village (several hours round trip) can also be arranged.

I could go on and on about Katavi and Mahale.  In short, they are hard to get to but well worth the trip – especially if you want to get away from it all!

If you want to follow in our footsteps to get way off-the-beaten-path in Tanzania, check out our ‘Tanzania Wildest’ sample itinerary – guests traveling in 2020 get one free night stay – a $760 value for adults!

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