Greystoke Mahale

Mahale National Park, Lake Tanganyika, Tanzania Book from US$1,310

Reviewed by Gemma Pitcher
Primate paradise: fascinating chimpanzee tracking at one of the most stunning beach camps in Africa
Picture a beach as white and palm-fringed as a desert island, but set on an inland lake with water as clear as Evian. Above loom misty dark-green hills, the forest home of one of the world’s last populations of wild chimpanzees. These chimps - our closest relatives on earth - have been acclimatised to mankind over 40 years of research by a team of primatologists, and now allow humans to approach within grinning distance.

On the shores of the lake sits an effortlessly stylish safari camp, with a winged waterfront dining pavilion, six simply but thoughtfully furnished bandas, dhows for trips on the lake, and some of the most imaginative cuisine in Tanzania. It's run by Nomad Tanzania along very eco-friendly lines, making as little impact on the surrounding forest as possible. However much you've travelled before in your life, this will blow your mind; and however much you travel afterwards, the memories will never fade.

Highs

  • Face-to-face encounters with wild chimpanzees in the tropical rainforest of Mahale Mountains National Park
  • Swimming in the crystal-clear waters of the lake, or lounging on the white sand beach
  • Sunset boat trips in the camp’s 45-foot sailing dhow
  • Eating freshly caught sashimi on the boat’s deck, chased down with shots of finest vodka

Lows

  • Trekking in search of the chimps often means a steep, hot walk of an hour or more
  • New park regulations mean you can't go within 10 metres of the chimps, nor stay longer than an hour
  • Getting there means a long flight in a small plane

Best time to go

Greystoke is open from mid May to mid March, and is closed the rest of the year. The dry season is June to October, and the short rainy season December to February. The beach is best enjoyed during the dry season, but the rains present no problem to following the chimps. The rainy season, with its more ‘even’ light, is better for forest photography.

Our top tips

Mahale Mountains National Park is most popular with second time safari visitors, who’ve done the straightforward game viewing most often associated with Tanzania and now want something a little bit different. Americans and Brits dominate, with a smattering of Europeans and South Africans. Bill Gates loves Greystoke too, landing on the lake in his own seaplane!

Visitors should be able to hike comfortably for at least 3 hours.

Great for...

Beach
Eco
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Safari / chimp lodge
  • 6
  • All inclusive
  • Allowed but not ideal
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Snorkelling equipment
  • Fishing equipment
Room:

Rooms

Greystoke Mahale has 6 open-fronted wooden bandas (huts), set back a little into the forest at the edge of the beach. Each has comfortable beds with feather pillows and linen sheets, a dressing room and an upstairs 'chill-out deck' made out of recycled dhow timber, with sofa, kerosene lanterns and views over the woods to the lakeside.

Your bathroom, reached via a short boardwalk, has a flush toilet and powerful shower. Warthogs and civet cats sometimes emerge from the forest to snuffle and squeak around outside the tents - or drink from the foot bath!

Features include:

  • Extra beds
  • Internet access
  • Terrace

Eating

Eating (and drinking!) is a big part of the Greystoke experience. Many of the ingredients are gathered from the area around the camp - wild ginger for cooling post-trek cocktails, for instance, or giant mussels harvested from the lake floor to be grilled for lunch.

Breakfast - fish cakes, a fry-up, or scrambled eggs - is cooked alfresco on a charcoal grill. Delicious flapjack ‘power bars’ are prepared for the trek into forest, with fizzy wild ginger beer served on the beach when you get back.

Lunch is a spread of hot and cold dishes buffet; when we visited, we had several different kinds of curry served with naan bread, poppadums, rice and bhajis.

Dinner is taken either around a long table on the beach, dramatically lit by lamps and flaming torches, or at a private waterside table if you're feeling romantic. Dishes are truly imaginative and superbly presented - whole roasted fish wrapped in banana leaves, or thick creamy soup served in a hollowed-out pumpkin. For a truly out-of-this-world taste sensation, try lounging on cushions on the deck of the camp’s boat as the sun sets, and eating freshly caught lake-fish sashimi, loaded with red-hot Japanese horseradish and chased down with shots of purest Russian vodka!

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Communal dining
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

Greystoke's raison d'être is chimping - trekking into the forest in search of the 50 chimpanzees living in this neck of the woods. They’ve been followed for forty years by a team of Japanese researchers, and so are quite habituated to humans approaching. Guides know the name and life history of each chimp, and explain the intricate political structures of the group as you sit watching them groom, feed, or play with their babies in the patches of sunlight that dapple the forest floor.

You can track the chimps in the morning and/or the evening, walking into the woods behind the camp in groups of 6. Sightings are likely but not guaranteed, as their position in the forest changes every day - sometimes they are just minutes from the beach, and sometimes a few kilometres’ hard walking into the hills. Park rules mean that you can only spend one hour with the chimps each day to avoid disturbing their social behaviour too much. Walking can be strenuous, with homo sapiens scrambling over rocks as their primate cousins swing effortlessly through the trees overhead.

You may also see bushbuck, leopard, countless birds and butterflies. Other things to do include:

  • Swimming, after a hot trek, in Lake Tanganyika - one of the deepest, clearest and least polluted in the world
  • Lounging on giant deckchairs or sunbeds on the beach, or on the cushions in the mess-cum-library, which has primate reference books, field guides and novels
  • Sailing out onto the lake on the camp’s 45-foot sailing dhow, or zooming off in their smart speedboat. Sunset drinks are served on deck and hippos can sometimes be seen grazing on the lakeshore or even underwater
  • Snorkelling along the lake shore in search of rare tropical fish (over 250 species of cichlid inhabit the lake)
  • Fishing off the back of the boat for the evening’s dinner…rod and line provided!

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Hiking
  • Private guided tours
  • Safaris
  • Sailing
  • Snorkelling
  • Swimming
  • Trekking
  • Wildlife

Kids

Children aged 8-12 are allowed at the camp, but not permitted on the chimp tracking expeditions, which rather defeats the point of coming. Each banda can fit an extra bed, or children can share a banda (enquire about pricing in this instance). Kids aged 12+ are treated as adults.

Family friendly accommodation:

Extra Beds Available

Kid Friendly:

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