Situated in the Rift Valley is the magnificent Lake Victoria, by far the largest fresh water lake in Africa. Also in the Valley is the equally impressive Lake Tanganyika and a number of other less commercialised National Parks including Gombe, Katavi, Rubondo and Mahale.
Located in such remote places, these destinations take two modes of transportation to reach, but upon visiting this area no one is ever disappointed. Due to the habitats’ fusion of Western and Eastern African Cultures the Rift Valley has a very unique rainfall, and thus a climate much different than the rest of Tanzania making a visit to this area a truly memorable experience.
Safaris to these alternative destinations are often combined with the Northern or Southern Circuits, primarily because tourists tend to know little about the region. Nonetheless these alternative parks are magnificent, all with their own individual and unique attractions.
Gombe Stream National Park is Tanzania’s smallest park and is the natural haven for chimpanzees. Due to the renowned work of Dr. Jane Goodall which took place in Gombe the chimps found here are less wary of human beings than anywhere else in the world and so gives visitors the chance to view these amazing creatures close up.
Katavi and Mahale
Other attractions to these alternative destinations include a rare breed of antelope as well as many other animals, fish breeding, and the exquisite beauty of Rubondo Island National Park.
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Mahale Mountains National Park
In the extreme west of Tanzania are two national parks that aren’t well known: Mahale Mountains National Park and Katavi National Park. (Read more about Katavi here… ) These reserves are exceedingly remote, tricky to access, and costly to visit – but they’re very different from anything else in Tanzania, and totally magical. Mahale is also probably the best place in the world for chimp safaris!
Perhaps the best guidebook to Tanzanian safaris describes Mahale Mountains National Park as “quite simply one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in Africa”. The lakeshore here is a beach of the finest powder-white sand, behind which rises a range of imposing mountains, clad in verdant tropical vegetation. Big electric-blue butterflies flit above the streams and the forest is alive with sound. It’s not only beautiful, but it also harbours Tanzania’s densest population of primates: yellow baboon, red colobus, blue, red-tailed and vervet monkeys are never far away – and then, of course, there are the chimpanzees.
Covering about 1,600km² of the Mahale Mountains, this national park is home to around 1,000 chimpanzees. Most significantly, one group of Mahale chimps – the Mimikire clan – has been habituated by researchers since 1965. Currently led by an impressive alpha male, Alofu, the M-group, as they are commonly known, has around 56 chimps. They go where they want and when they want but are relaxed near people, so it’s possible to track and observe them from very close quarters. For the good of the chimps’ health, all human visitors on chimpanzee safaris are required to wear surgical masks – which will be provided for you.
The hike to reach the Mahale chimpanzees can vary from a leisurely wander of 20 minutes to a more strenuous hike lasting up to three hours. Towards the end of the dry season (August to October) Mahale’s chimp safaris are at their easiest, as the forest paths are at their driest and least slippery, and the chimps are usually at their closest to the shore. Walking boots, long trousers and small backpack (for cameras and binoculars) are always wise for safaris to see the chimpanzees.
We can’t guarantee sightings of the chimps in the Mahale Mountains, but it’s normal to see chimpanzees on most days; you’d be exceedingly unlucky to stay here for several days and not find them. More usually, you’ll be able to sit and watch them foraging, grooming, tussling, bickering and taking care of their young. Sitting in the forest, watching chimpanzees getting on with their daily lives is an unforgettable animal encounter – and that what makes the chimp safaris in Mahale so amazing.
Katavi National Park
The far west of Tanzania gives home to two of Tanzania’s lesser known national parks: Katavi National Park and Mahale Mountains National Park. This western circuit is extremely remote, tricky to access and pretty costly to visit. As a result few people make the effort to come here and so it has remained an untouched, unique experience, and absolutely worth visiting.
Katavi National Park is a name to conjure with. It is one of the best parks in Africa and many safari operations would love to start camps here. However, the logistics and costs are so difficult, that there are only a couple of small, permanent safari camps sharing this 4,500km² of wilderness. You sometimes run across more prides
Rubondo Island National Park
The largest island national park in Africa, Rubondo Island lies in the southern part of Lake Victoria (the second-largest lake in Africa, after Lake Tanganyika). The island is 26km in length, and varies in width from 3km to 10km. The grassy Masa hills in the southern part of the island form a high point of 1,486m above sea level.
Rubondo has been almost untouched by tourism. It has, though, become a sanctuary for threatened wildlife and has seen many species introduced over the years.
Gombe Stream National Park
isTanzanias smallest park (52 sq km) and is home of the world famous chimp reserve. It is located 16 km north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
There are plenty of baboons around, but the focal point of Gombe are the chimps. It’s reconciling their interests with those of tourism that has occupied the founder of the reserve, Jane Goodall, for 25 years. Here, in the 1960’s, Goodall carried out major research conclusively the unique relationship between man and chimpanzee, as we share 95% of our genes with them (some people may share more than others!) and they have similar hearing, smells and other senses to humans.
Finding the chimps is largely a matter of luck as they can theoretically be anywhere from the top of the 8000 ft mountains to the lakeshore at 2500 ft. However, the trackers at the camp know the animals well and are nearly always in touch with their movements from day to day.
The length of walk can vary enormously – they are sometimes literally at the back of the camp and other days they are nowhere to be seen – but on average you should expect to walk for at least 2-3 hours.
If you fail to spot a wild chimp, don’t get too disheartened, the landscape and flora and fauna is fantastic in and around the reserve. From Jane’s Peak you can see a stunning view of the entire park and Kakombe Waterfall.