Gombe Stream National Park is the site of Jane Goodall’s chimp research. Along with Mahale Mountains Naitonal Park, this is also a very good place to view chimps. Trekking tends to be more difficult than Mahale due to the faster rising terrain. The beauty of Gombe is there is only one safari camp in the area, however, the beach is pebbles instead of sand and there are not the variety of water activites that are on offer at Mahale.
Gombe Stream National Park is located in western Tanzania, along Lake Tangayika just south of the border with Burundi. The park is Tanzania’s smallest, just a small strip along the lake that encompasses just 20 square miles. Access is by flying into Kigoma and then transfer one and a half hours by speed boat to Gombe Stream. Like Mahale there are twice weekly scheduled flights that continue on to Kigoma after stopping at Katavi and Mahale. It is also possible to fly from Dar es Salaam to Kigoma or from Arusha via Mwanza to Kigoma so there are more flexible options and potentially cheaper flights to reach Gombe which might make it a more affordable chimp trekking opiton than Mahale.
Gombe is all about chimp trekking. There is excellent olive baboon viewing and potential for a couple other primates as well as secretive forest mammals like bush bucks. Along the lake are excellent birds like African fish eagles and palm-nut vultures.
Gombe Forest Lodge is open all year except for March and April when there are heavy rains. The driest months June through October may have the easiest trekking conditions but it is best to plan timing for the best game viewing on your traditional safari and then the chimps will be excellent to add at anytime of year.
Gombe is not the easiest or cheapest place to get to. The only way to get there is by boat from Kigoma town. Depending on your itinerary, you might book your international flight to Kilimanjaro International Airport (JRO) in Arusha town or Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR) in Dar es Salaam. In most cases, your tour operator will pick you up from the airport or, if not, you can take a taxi. Your tour operator will also book your ongoing domestic flight to Kigoma Airport (TKQ) and will charter a private motorboat to Gombe. The boat trip takes less than an hour. It is also possible to take a public motor boat or ‘lake taxi’ from Kigoma to the park. This trip takes about four hours.
Gombe Stream National Park, located on the western border of Tanzania and the Congo, is most famous for Jane Goodall, the resident primatologist who spent many years in its forests studying the behaviour of the endangered chimpanzees. Situated on the wild shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream is an untamed place of lush forests and clear lake views. Hiking and swimming are also popular activities here, once the day’s expedition to see the chimpanzees is over. Gombe Stream’s main attraction is obviously the chimpanzee families that live protected in the park’s boundaries. 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, in addition to a wide variety of tropical birdlife.
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylizations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream becomes a spine-chilling outburst which is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee. 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 behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community – that was only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe – is still regularly seen by visitors.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp’s eyes, assessing you in return – a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers. The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, whereas the red-tailed and red colobus monkeys – the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy. The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre.