What Should You Expect On A Mahale Mountain Chimp Trek? The chimpanzee, one of the planet’s most famous and critically endangered species, is the closest living relative of humans and can be found in the rocky hills of the Mahale Mountains. In-person encounters with these intelligent, social apes are possible as an add-on to a safari or Kilimanjaro climb. You don’t need to leave Tanzania to experience one of nature’s most ephemeral and rare experiences. Here is what to expect:
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
Chimp trekking is a fantastic adventure. A tracker guide makes a trail through the underbrush as you awaken at dawn to explore Mahale’s mist-cloaked forests. He’ll track them down and bring you there using his extensive understanding of chimpanzee behavior.
The Mahale Mountains are home to about 1,000 chimpanzees, but only the Mimikire clan, also known as the M-group, is accustomed to human contact. Your guide is looking for that group. Once you’ve located them, you have an hour (strictly enforced for the chimps’ protection) to observe them grooming, fighting, foraging, arguing, swinging through the trees, and taking care of their young. To shield the chimpanzees from contagious diseases, all visitors are required to wear surgical masks.
The chimps may interact with you even though you are asked not to touch or engage with them! M-group members are very at ease around people and have no problem looking you in the eye, brushing their shoulder against yours as they pass, or even sitting on your foot.
There are no guarantees, even though the majority of trekkers do see chimpanzees. You might be able to reach them after a leisurely 20-minute stroll, or you might end up having to hike for the better part of the day. To maximize time spent with the primates, Focus East Africa Tours guests typically have two opportunities for chimpanzee trekking built into their schedule.
How difficult is chimpanzee trekking?
Mahale trekking is not recommended for the weak of heart. Expect to walk anywhere from 1 to 6 hours per day, occasionally through treacherous, humid mountain terrain. The difficulty largely depends on where the chimpanzees are: they might stay close to your lodge, be in the lowlands, or move around constantly during the day. On Mahale, a moderate level of fitness usually works well. A pair of grippy, lightweight hiking shoes is a must.
Why it’s worth it
The extent to which chimpanzees have revolutionized our understanding of the natural world cannot be overstated. Jane Goodall observed chimpanzees using tools (sticks for termite “fishing”) and plants for medicinal purposes not far from here, at Gombe Stream. These discoveries fundamentally altered the way we perceive what it means to be human and what it means to coexist with other species on the planet.
But it’s also fascinating to observe chimpanzees in their natural environment. Young chimps may enjoy practicing grooming with their siblings or engaging in daredevil midair stunts for entertainment. You can observe the intricate social structures and politics that exist in chimpanzee society. For example, does the dominant male eat the last of his food or share it in an effort to win over a female?
We share over 98% of our DNA with these amazing primates, so it’s difficult not to see a reflection of ourselves in them. Your guides can recognize people by their personalities, which helps you understand them and their lives better. Many visitors experience an emotional weight from seeing these highly intelligent animals up close that lingers with them long after they leave Mahale.
When you’re not chimpanzee trekking, you’re at the Greystoke, a luxurious lodge with grass thatch located where the Mahale forest and Lake Tanganyika’s beach converge. Only by boat can you get to this location, but when you do, the staff welcomes you with your favorite drink. If you’d like, you can get sushi that has just been caught there.
You could be excused for thinking you had anchored in the Caribbean or the Amalfi Coast rather than the center of Africa, given the white sands and turquoise waters. However, this secluded lakeshore paradise—conjuring images of a luxurious Robinson Crusoe—offers jungle-chic lodgings and simple access to the forests where chimpanzees forage.
You can take a sundowner on the candlelit sands or unwind in the hammock at your beach house while the sun sets over the water. It’s crazy. It’s peaceful. It’s pure bliss for those who love nature.
During your free afternoons at the lodge, there are numerous opportunities to explore. Wander the Lake Tanganyika shoreline, go fishing, birdwatching, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, or ride the waves on the camp’s personal dhow. Spend your time however you want!
Mahale is as far from any major population centers as it is possible to get in Tanzania. It is not accessible by car. To get to the park, visitors must first take a charter flight and then a boat across Lake Tanganyika. It can take anywhere between 20 minutes and 2 hours to travel by speedboat or a traditional wooden dhow, depending on the weather and availability.
Given these logistical considerations and the constrained number of trekking permits available, a Mahale extension needs a few months’ planning time. However, it can be included in almost any safari or Kilimanjaro climb. Few wildlife encounters can compare to the levels of luxury and awe offered on a Mahale chimpanzee trek.