Mbali Mbali Mahale: Our full report
Mbali Mbali Mahale, previously known as Kungwe Beach Lodge, is situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika ...... on the western border of Mahale Mountains National Park. It is one of the most remote areas in Africa, giving visitors a true sense of wilderness and the opportunity to trek the chimpanzees in the forests.
Mbali Mbali Mahale is approached via a boat ride along the beautiful shoreline of the Mahale Mountains. Jump into the shallows to reach the beach, or the boat can be moored at the camp’s jetty for a more sedate approach.
The camp stretches out along the private beach, with the spacious main area the first port of call for arriving guests. As the camp has recently been completely refurbished, the newly-built thatched lounge and dining area cuts quite an imposing figure on the beach, but this is the focal point of the camp. Inside houses a very open plan lounge, bar and dining area, with a mezzanine and deck providing further seating. There is a fire pit on the beach in front of the main areas, for evening drinks and occasional dining. The overall style is quite contemporary, with a rustic beachy feel and there is a nice mix of modern, traditional and unusual furniture pieces.
The thatched tented bedrooms run along the beach, either side of the main areas, and are nestled amongst the trees looking out over the lake. Although not hugely far apart, the lush vegetation provides good shielding from one’s neighbours.
The tented rooms are raised on a wooden deck and covered by a high thatched roof. Each has a small veranda to the front with a day bed and directors chairs – a perfect spot to watch the sun set over the lake in front. Six of the tented rooms have double beds, two have twins and one is a family tent that has a double and a single. There are spacious en-suite bathrooms to the rear of the tents.
The beach aesthetic is continued here, although with quite a neutral palette interspersed with touches of green colours. The tents are large and the overall look is quite ‘minimalist’, meaning they do feel perhaps a little empty. A few pieces of artwork, or curios, would really add some much-needed character.
The primary reason for visiting Mbali Mbali Mahale is for the chimpanzee trekking. The Mahale Mountains National Park is home to around 800 chimpanzees, broken up into 13 family groups. One of these families – M group – has been monitored by research scientists since the 1960s and are now still very much wild, but habituated to humans enough to allow guests to trek with them. Every morning, trackers head out into the forest to find the chimps and let the camp know their location, ready for the guides to lead guests out into the forest to trek.
The chimps move through the forest continually and prefer different vegetation and altitudes according to the fruiting seasons – so trekking is harder at some times of year than others. Mbali Mbali Mahale has two experienced guides who grew up in Mahale and know all of the chimpanzees individually – although we have not had the chance to yet stay at the lodge and experience the guiding firsthand. Once the trekking group has reached the chimpanzees, guests have a maximum of one hour with them before having to head back to camp.
When not chimp trekking, Mbali Mbali offers a range of other activities too, mostly focused around Lake Tanganyika. One boat safari is included per stay at the lodge – sailing along the coast in a traditional wooden dhow, while looking out for the lakeshore’s resident hippos, is a lovely way to relax after a strenuous chimp trek. Kayaking and catch and release fishing is also on offer, as well as the chance to visit a neighbouring fishing village.
While the crystal clear, warm waters of Lake Tanganyika are incredibly inviting, swimming from the beach is not currently possible due to the slim chance of encountering the aforementioned hippos or maybe a crocodile. Swimming off the boats in deeper parts of the lake is perfectly safe, but the lodge is keen to find a solution to allow guests to swim off the beach too. We understand they are planning on installing a pioneering underwater net to provide safe swimming directly from the beach or jetty, which will be an exciting – if not rather unusual – addition.
Mbali Mbali is aiming for a high end, contemporary lodge offering in Mahale, with the service to match. While we were not able to experience the lodge in full as we visited just before it re-opened, we are very encouraged by the caliber of the management team brought in to run things. It may not have the character and quirks of neighbouring options, but for those looking for more of a classic hotel-style experience on the remote beaches of Mahale, this could be a safe choice. Mahale Mountains are not the most straightforward to get to, but the unique experiences on offer are well worth the journey.
Country manager: Tanzania
- Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
- Ideal length of stay
- There are only two flights a week to Mahale (on Mondays and Thursdays), so stays are restricted to either 3, 4 or 7 night stays.
- Guests fly into Mahale Airstrip and are then transferred along the shoreline by wooden dhow to the lodge, a journey of approximately 1.5 hours.
- Accessible by
Food & drink
- Usual board basis
- Full Board & Activities
- Food quality
- When we visited Mbali Mbali Mahale in late 2018, we were not able to sample the food as the lodge was not yet open. But we understand that the menu will be a high quality mix of international dishes.
A leisurely breakfast is taken in the lodge before chimp trekking, with lunch either back at the lodge or possibly in the forest if the trek lasts all morning. Dinner is served on the beach under the stars, or in the thatched dining area depending on the weather.
- Dining style
- Mixture of group dining and individual tables
- Dining locations
- Indoor and Outdoor Dining
- Further dining info, including room service
- Room Service is possible on request.
- Drinks included
- Most drinks are included, with premium wine, spirits and Champagne an additional cost. Filtered drinking water is available.
- Attitude towards children
- Children of all ages are welcome.
- Property’s age restrictions
- Mbali Mbali Mahale accepts children of all ages. Note that children must be aged 12 and above to participate in chimpanzee treks.
- Generally recommended for children
- The lodge doesn’t have specific activities for children but they are likely to enjoy the guided forest walks, the beach, kayaking and boat trips out onto the lake. Mahale is remote: expensive and long to get to, so we think that children should be old enough to enjoy the chimpanzee trekking as well as the rest of the activities on offer.
- Children should be supervised at all times and those under 14 years are not permitted to stay alone in a room.
- Power supply notes
- There is a back up generator. The tents have 24 hour power, electric lighting and charging points.
- There is WiFi access at the lodge and a satellite phone in case of an emergency. Cell phone coverage is patchy at best.
- Water supply
- Water supply notes
- En suite bathrooms are fully plumbed.
Health & safety
- Malarial protection recommended
- Medical care
- First aid kits are carried by guides whilst on activities or excursions. Emergency evacuation is from Mahale Airstrip. Only day landings are possible.
- Dangerous animals
- High Risk
- Fire safety
Guided walking safari
- Disabled access
- Not Possible
- Laundry facilities
- Laundry is included.
Other lodges in Mahale Mountains National Park
Alternative places to stay in this same area.
Greystoke Mahale's lakeside location in the Mahale Mountains makes it one of Africa's most remote and original upmarket safari camps.