Best Gombe Safari tours
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Gombe Stream is one of the best places in Africa to track chimpanzees. First researched in the 60’s by Jane Goodall, the primates are remarkably habituated. The project now ranks as the world’s longest running study of any wild animal population. The experience is one that you are unlikely to forget.
Gombe’s chimps are the main attraction, but the park is also home to a troop of habituated olive baboon that can usually be found on the lakeshore. There are several other monkey species present, including red colobus monkey, which are sometimes hunted by the chimps.
Best Safari tours in Gombe
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 ‘panthoot’ 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, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee
How to get to Gombe National Park
The only way to get to Gombe 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.
Tanzania National Parks on Map
Where does Gombe Stream National Park Fit Into Your Tanzanian Adventure?
Gombe Stream sits on Tanzania’s remote western safari circuit, with Lake Tanganyika, Katavi National Park and the Mahale Mountains National Park.
This circuit is seldom visited due to its remote location and access by flight or boat only.
However, visitors are rewarded by untouched wilderness, great wildlife densities and a secluded safari experience away from some of Tanzania’s busier parks.
Western Circuit Safari
Bordering four countries, Lake Tanganyika is the longest freshwater lake in the world.When standing on the lake’s sandy beaches – staring across the glassy blue waters to the horizon – this great expanse of water appears more like an ocean than a freshwater lake. Perfect for a beach holiday after trekking through the forest, as Gombe Stream only has one accommodation option, you will likely stay in Lake Tanganyika. Katavi National Park is just over 4,000-sq-km of pristine wilderness and is known for its high density of large mammals, including hippo, elephant, and lion. Bordering Lake Tanganyika, the Mahale Mountains National Park is a primate paradise. The park is home to just under 1,000 chimpanzees, the rare Red and Angola colobuses, and the red and blue-tailed monkeys. They are the main attractions while you trek through the forest.
Things to do in Gombe National Park
Head out on a guided forest walk to catch a glimpse of our closest relative, as well as up to 82 other wildlife species that call the parks home.Approximately 150 chimpanzees live in the park.
A chimp sighting is never guaranteed. However, with experienced guides, the chance is good. Once you have located the troop, you will have up to one hour to observe them.
Sundowners on Lake Tanganyika & Snorkelling and Diving
You will need a permit for chimpanzee tracking, and at the time of writing, a chimpanzee permit for Gombe National park is the cheaper option at $100.
Where to Stay in Gombe National Park
Mbale Mbale Gombe Camp
Nestled under the canopy of ancient mango trees lies Gombe’s only tented camp.
Mbali Mbali Gombe Camp is a luxurious and intimate safari camp with a maximum of fourteen guests.
The seven tents are protected under thatched roofs, offering shade over the private deck, perfect for unwinding, away from the afternoon heat.Each tent is perfectly situated to ensure solitude, with a strip of forest between each tent.
Four-poster beds with mosquito nets ensure a great night’s sleep, and every tent includes a flush toilet and hot showers.
Set on the sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika, there is a spacious communal lounge that includes a library, bar, dining room and jetty leading to the lake.
Lake Shore Lodge
Lake Shore Lodge sits on the golden sandy bay close to Gombe Stream. This serene, privately owned lodge has a range of accommodation on offer that caters to all budgets.
You can drift off to the crashing in your luxury beach front chalet or set up your DIY camp surrounded by the ancient mango trees.
The varying accommodation is suited to a range of people. You can bond as a family by camping or romantically escape to the lodge’s honeymoon suite.
This features a private dining deck, a sunken bath, and twin shower.
When to go
The best time to visit Gombe Stream National Park is from June to September, during the dry season. Trekking through the forest is easier at this time of year, and the likelihood of seeing the chimps increases.
Gombe has one continuous wet season from November to April, and we advise you to avoid this time, as nature walks are less enjoyable in the mud and rain and likely lead to cancellation.
Gombe Safari tours FAQ's
A Gombe safari costs roughly $900 per person per day (including a $100 entrance fee), and also taking into account extra expenses like transportation, accommodation, activities and meals.
Gombe Stream National Park is only 52 km² (roughly 20 square miles), so most tourists tend to spend 1-2 days there before visiting some of the other notable parks further north.
Gombe Stream National Park is so famous because of its rich chimpanzee population and groundbreaking research done by Dame Jane Goodall on the genetic links between chimpanzees and humans.
In 1960, when not much was known about chimpanzee behaviour other than they were similar genetically to humans, Jane Goodall first arrived in what was then Gombe Stream Game Reserve. She was 26 with no academic background and with only her mother, a cook and his family for assistance. Goodall’s research was funded by Dr Louise Leakey, a now renowned archaeologist and anthropologist who believed that research into chimpanzee behaviour would help us better understand our early human ancestors.
Goodall spent months tracking chimpanzees, in particular the Kasekela community, and she was eventually accepted into the troop. This is the only time in history that a group of chimpanzees has accepted a human as one of their own. With the chimpanzees completely relaxed with her company, Goodall had the opportunity to study chimpanzee behaviour as no one had before.
Goodall’s findings resulted in improvement in conservation of the chimpanzees and their habitats which led to the establishment of the Gombe Stream National Park in 1968.
Chimpanzees share numerous similarities (98% of their genes) with us. They live for over 50 years and show a range of emotions, including sorrow and joy. They are often seen tickling, hugging and even kissing each other as a sign of affection.
Up until Goodall’s research, it was accepted that only humans could use tools. But she observed a chimp using a grass stalk to extract termites from a termite mound.
Jane Goodall also revealed a darker side to chimpanzee behaviour. She documented females occasionally killing other’s young in an act of dominance, and that there are ongoing, violent wars between different chimpanzee groups.
Like us, chimpanzees are omnivores and not peaceful vegetarians. While spending hours amongst the group, Goodall witnessed the chimpanzees actively and strategically hunting and eating red colobus monkeys. Chimpanzees hunt and kill a third of Gombe National Park’s red colobus monkey population each year.
Gombe Stream Research Centre
To coordinate research of chimpanzee behaviour, Gombe Stream Research Centre was established in 1965. The project started by Goodall in 1960 has been ongoing for 60 years making it the longest-running field study of any animal species.
The centre also trains new Tanzanian scientists, hosts visiting researchers and specialists and provides insight into threats like habitat loss, poaching and disease. The information gained from research at the centre supports conservation management.
There are several ways to get to Gombe Stream National Park. Most tourists begin their journey from Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma, which is a city located next to Lake Tanganyika and 32 kilometres from Gombe.
To get to Kigoma, you can fly commercially from Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR). There are only 6 of these flights scheduled each week at $150-$220 one way.
Alternatively, driving from Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma will take 22hrs or 18hrs from Arusha. You can also catch a bus or train along the central route. Public transport will take significantly longer than driving and developing country transport systems often have unforeseen challenges.
From Kigoma, the only way to Gombe is by boat. Again you have a choice when it comes to boats:
- Lake taxi
- Private boat
Lake taxi: This public ferry departs daily at 1 pm from Kibirizi Beach. It is cheap ($5) but uncomfortable. Expect a 4 hour long, crowded trip with multiple stops. Plus, the public boat does not operate on Sundays.
Private boat: These are expensive ($200-$300) but take only 1.5hrs and you can choose your departure time.
You can do a lot of things in Gombe Stream National Park. Aside from viewing the chimpanzees, tourists also enjoy engaging in activities involving nature, exercise, and experiencing the local culture.
Swimming and Snorkeling
Lake Tanganyika is the longest and deepest lake in Africa. Calm beaches along the shore of Gombe National Park are perfect for swimming. You can also book a snorkelling tour to see the endemic cichlid fish.
Take a gentle walk along the shores of the lake or hike the Kakombe Valley trail to the Waterfall. Hiking is best in the dry season (May-October).
Visit Mwamgongo Village
Located next door to the park, cultural tours around Mwamgongo Village offer a glimpse into the culture of traditional dance and the local woman’s crafting of pottery, fabric, mats, grass hats and baskets.
Catch-and-release fishing trips can be booked with experienced crews and all equipment included. The lake is also perfect for kayaking tours when the weather is calm or to take a traditional dhow cruise to see Tanganyika’s spectacular sunset.
Aside from the chimpanzees, there are lots of other animals you can see in Gombe Stream National Park as well.
Animals and Birds
Primates are the main attraction of these rainforests. Besides the chimpanzees, troops of olive baboons walk the beaches foraging for food while vervet monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and red colobus monkeys climb and leap through the canopy.
Mammals in the forest include bushpigs, bushbuck, duiker, civets and white-tailed mongoose.
There are over 200 bird species in the park. Iconic Fish eagles and three different kingfisher species hunt on the lake and colourful little Peter’s twinspots are regulars at the Visitor Centre. True to name, vegetarian Palm-nut vultures are often seen in palm trees on the lake shores.
The forests are also home to a wide range of amphibians and reptiles like pythons, as well as to 400-500 species of butterflies.
Where to stay? Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options close to Gombe Stream National Park:
- Mbali Mbali Gombe Lodge
- Sunset Vista Hotel
- Mama Muni (Kigoma)
- One Point Lodge
- Kwa Sifa Norad
Jane Goodall: The primatologist who unlocked the secrets of chimpanzees