Trekking to see chimps in Mahale is unlike in many other locales – it is simply more adventurous and fun then anywhere else I seen.
For the start, the terrain. It is simply mountainous so one spends most time going up and down various ridges, which makes it for quite an intense hike. Plus you are hiking in a humid tropical forest – so there is lack of sweating throughout. Chimpanzees of course occupy variety of habitats throughout sub-Saharan Africa, but most other places I’ve been to, the trekking is done in more of a flat terrains. Trekking here adds on a level of difficulty – good part is that the trails in Mahale are extremely well developed, mapped, and relatively easy to navigate (= you can always head toward the lake if lost 😊!).
Second, both days we went trekking (starting at a reasonable 8 am time), it took us 5-6 hours to complete the trip. So one gets to really enjoy the variety of forest vegetation. The lower part of the Mahale NP used to be home to some villages decades ago and the forest shows it: one sees a secondary forest which is a mixture of indigenous trees, interspected with occasional palm oil, lemon, avocado trees. Chimpanzees and other monkeys apparently still like to eat some of these fruits! On the other hand, one can admire huge fig and mahogany trees as well – this is rare in this part of Africa but due so the microclimate of Mahale, such forest thrives here.
Meeting the chimps is an exhilarating experience. And each one you do it is somewhat different. First time, we met them up in the hills and observed them for an hour or more resting, playing, fighting, eating, and generally making lots of noise (see pics).
On another day, the group went very far, beyond the “official” territory with trails, so we had to hike all the way to Lubungu river. We felt quite tired by then but we were at the right place at right time: some chimps just decided to cross the riverbed back to their usual territory. Something I’ve never seen before and unusual. The crossing was quite a careful adventure, with each chimp carefully scoping the area first (with one on guard). [pics].
In addition to chimp trekking, Mahale offers also plenty of opportunities just for hiking. Some of these hikes can actually be combined with chimp trekking – on our 2nd day we went to visit first some beautiful swimming holes and waterfalls – which felt very refreshing. Water is here much cooler than in the lake and definitely a dip is needed after hiking up the steep river bed.
We did not ascend the highest peak of Mahale, as it typically takes a 2-day trip and we did not have so much time. Next time it is a must do experience!