During your visit to the beautiful Lake Tanganyika, you’ll have the chance to meet Tanzania’s chimpanzees in the wild. To spend a morning with one of these troops is sure to be joyous, emotional and perhaps even life-changing; it’s definitely one of Tanzania’s best safari experiences.
We arrived at our safari lodge in western Tanzania by traditional wooden dhow. It was a most elemental and romantic sight: coming into a beach backed by tropical forest and stepping ashore as Livingstone or Stanley might once have done. There was a thatched gazebo with loungers on the sand and small welcoming party to meet us. We’d finally arrived in this little corner of paradise.
Mahale Mountains National Park is some of the continent’s last remaining wild chimpanzees. The population of roughly 900 is habituated to humans and offers perhaps the best viewing of these gregarious primates in Africa. Greystoke Mahale sits on a pristine, white beach overlooking the turquoise water of Lake Tanganyika, with the forested slopes of the Mahale Mountains rising to almost 3,000m behind.
We were led to our banda, which was tucked back into the forest; our view was of beach and the beautiful lake beyond. In the distance, we could make out the mountains of the Congo in the haze. Our delightful room was open-fronted, with heavy canvas curtains to pull closed if we so chose.
The banda had been constructed from sustainable materials sourced on Lake Tanganyika. ‘All the wood was reclaimed from wrecked or retired dhows bought – after much haggling – from villagers along the lakeshore,’ explained Kakae, our guide. ‘We’ve used fisherman’s old canoes and makuti thatch from palm fronds gathered outside the park for the roofs.’
‘It’s almost time for you to meet the chimps,’ said Kakae. ‘But before we go, I must please ask that each of you wear a light surgical mask over your nose and mouth when we’re near them. I will hand them out to you. This is purely because of germs. Chimps share so much of our DNA and are very prone to catching our coughs and sneezes.’