There is a unique sense of place in the Mahale Mountains National Park of western Tanzania, and more African safari travellers are discovering how special the area is.
Mahale Mountains National Park is inaccessible by road, adding to its growing reputation of remoteness. Access is either by air - a vegetation-lashed airstrip that seems to disappear in to the mountain adding to the sense of adventure - or by boat.
From the airstrip it is a spectacular boat ride to the park headquaters or to one of the three accommodation sites. From the boat the lush forest seems impenetrable with no sign of human habitation save for the few tourist lodges situated on the lake shore.
As the boat docks on the beach the feeling of isolation becomes real and the attraction of Mahale finally sinks in - mountains, dense forest, secluded beaches and warm, crystal clear water beckons.
Sacred Mountain Refuge
Sacred to the Tongwe people who live along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania the Mahale Mountains were once a refuge from the slavers who patrolled the region in search of victims. Signs of the refuges can still be found in the higher reaches of the mountains.
Although the Tongwe no longer live in what is now the national park their villagers can be seen all along the lake shore outside the park boundaries - in the shadow of their sacred mountain. Subsisting on the lake they still live very much to their traditional ways.
Still less well known than Gombe Streams [immortalized through the work of the legendary Jane Goodall] to the north, Mahale is fast staking its claim as the best chimpanzee experience - and one of the best safari experiences - in Africa.
More than Just Chimpanzees
It is easy to think that a trip to Mahale Mountains National Park is only about the chimpanzees as many tourist brochures and websites promote the concept but the Mahale experience is about the place, the rejuvenation of the senses and the overwhelming feeling of peace.
There are other places besides Mahale to experience chimpanzees but for an overall safari experience a Mahale safari will top any previous journeys in Africa.
All places in Africa are special but I left Mahale with a clearer understanding of what it is that makes this continent so unique and draws so many people to its wilderness regions.Greystoke Mahale Camp. Your place on the beaches of Lake Tanganyika, with Mahale Mountains in the distance.