There are few places left on earth that might rightfully be called Eden, and Mahale Mountains National Park in western Tanzania is one of them. The park is named for the beautiful Mahale Mountains towering over the clear, blue waters and white sand beaches of the peripheral Lake Tanganyika, and it is home to some of Africa’s most captivating wildlife populations.
Within the forested western slopes of Mahale resides the park’s central feature: the world’s largest known population of chimpanzees. Approximately 1,000 individuals split between 14 groups inhabit the park alongside leopards, blue duikers, red-tailed monkeys, red colobus, and many Rift Valley bird species. A highlight of any stay is hiking up into the mountains to track the chimp groups, sitting among them as they go about their daily lives, grooming and conversing with one another. Chimps are also known to wander through Mahale’s luxury camps, stealing glimpses of themselves in the mirrors on their way down to the lake.
What makes Mahale Mountains National Park truly special is its unrivalled remoteness, which often leads to visitors having the entire lion, elephant, buffalo, and giraffe-filled park all to themselves. What’s more, Mahale is also only explorable by foot. There are no roads or other human made infrastructure within the park’s borders, and the only way to enter is by boat through Lake Tanganyika. But don’t let the absence of roads fool you. Walking is not the only thing to do here. As the world’s longest and second largest freshwater lake, Lake Tanganyika is an ideal setting for all variations of adventure, from kayaking and canoeing to fishing and diving to discover the 13-million year old depths below. In the middle of Tanganyika are multiple private islands, the most popular being the 130-acre Lupita Island. With white sandy shores and secluded beaches, these little slices of paradise turn the traditional notion of “beach vacation” on its head to include luxury island camps and the occasional hippo and otter sighting.