A sight resembling an idyllic Indian Ocean island beach can be found deep in the interior of Africa, unreachable by road, and approximately 100 km (60 miles) south of the location where Stanley gave the famous greeting “Doctor Livingstone, I presume.” The isolated and enigmatic Mahale Mountains are a line of untamed, jungle-covered peaks that soar about 2 km above the shore of Lake Tanganyika, surrounded by a network of smooth, white bays.
Like its northern neighbor Gombe Stream, the Mahale Mountains are home to some of Africa’s last remaining wild chimpanzees, a population of about 800 that have become accustomed to human visitors because to a Japanese research study that was established in the 1960s. Mahale’s chimp tracking is a fantastic adventure. The guide’s eyes focus on the nests from the previous night, which are gloomy clusters perched high in a gallery of trees that cover the sky.
Fresh excrement and pieces of half-eaten fruit serve as important hints that go further into the forest. In the filtered sunlight, butterflies flit. Suddenly, you find yourself among them as they concentrate on each other’s shiny coats at close quarters, argue loudly, or run into the trees to swing carefree between the vines.
The region is also known as Nkungwe after the park’s tallest mountain, which is also the highest point—at 2,460 meters (8,069 feet)—and is revered by the Tongwe locals. This mountain is one of the six major peaks that make up the Mahale Range. While chimpanzees are the main draw, the slopes also sustain a variety of forest wildlife, such as easily observable battalions of red colobus, red-tailed, and blue monkeys, as well as an assortment of brightly colored forest birds.
You may hike through the montane rainforest region, which is home to an endemic race of Angolan colobus monkeys, to high grassy hills spotted with alpine bamboo, where the Tongwe people once made their pilgrimage to the mountain spirits. Afterward, take a dip in the astonishingly pure waters of the longest, second-deepest, and least-polluted freshwater lake in the world, which is home to an estimated 1,000 different species of fish. Then, travel back by boat.