Western Tanzania is the rough, remote frontier land with vast trackless expanses, minimal infrastructure and few visitors. This is precisely what attracts a trickle of travelers, many of who plan their itineraries around the schedules.
But it is the wildlife-watching that brings most people. Gombe- Jane Goodall’s former stomping grounds, and Mahale Mountains National Parks are two of the world’s best places for chimpanzee encounters, while the vast floodplains of Katavi National Park offer an almost primeval safari experience.
Unless you charter a plane as part of a tour, you’ll need plenty of time and patience to travel here. But, for that certain sort of traveler, Tanzania’s west is Tanzania’s best. If you are considering destinations of the beaten path in Tanzania, here is where you should be going…
Katavi National Park
Tanzania’s third-largest national park, Katavi is situated in the remote southwest corner of the country and is known as Africa’s most wild area with unadulterated bush settings, and rich wildlife.
Katavi is home to the greatest concentration of hippos and crocodiles in Tanzania and additionally has buffaloes, elephants, antelopes, leopards, lions, zebras and over 400 species of water birds.
Its forest tapestry is unique comprising large areas of acacia and miombo woodland, expansive lakes home to all manner of wildlife, and extensive floodplains irrigated by a network of seasonal rivers and waterways.
The surrounding reserves of Lukwati, Luafi and Rukwa, form one of the most impressive ecosystems in Africa. Only a thin percentage of travelers visit Katavi with its dense and remote location becoming a challenging factor for comfort and a smooth experience.
Mahale National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park, nestled on the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania, is known as Tanzania’s first chimpanzee sanctuary.
About 1700 chimpanzees live within its 1613sqkm area, but the focal point for visitors is the 60-strong Mimikere, or ‘M’ group, which has been the subject of research for more than four decades. Long trousers, sturdy boots, a hat and a surgical mask are quintessential for the steep climbing through often-dense vegetation.
The experience itself is captivating: almost without warning, a chimp brushes past you on the trail, several individuals become visible in a clearing just ahead or high above in the tree tops. In between chimp tracking expeditions, Lake Tanganyika beckons for snorkeling, kayaking and hippo- and crocodile-spotting forays.
Gombe Stream National Park
Gombe is the smallest of all the Tanzania’s national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, whom in 1960 founded a behavioral research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world.
Guided walks are available that take visitors deep into the forest to observe and sit with the extraordinary primates for an entire morning — an incredible experience and one that is the highlight of many visitors’ trips to Africa.
Besides chimpanzee viewing, many other species of primates live in Gombe Stream’s tropical forests. Vervet and Colobus monkeys, baboons, forest pigs and small antelopes inhabit the dense forest as well as a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
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