A day’s tracking at Gombe Stream National Park is enough to see the whole park and your guide will take you along the best trails, where you will almost certainly see chimpanzees very close-up. The scenery is stunningly beautiful, you’ll cross up to 13 streams with gushing waterfalls as you explore the rainforest – up hills, along ridges and down valleys. Picturesque mountains meet the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest freshwater lake with white, sandy beaches and water so crystal-clear that you can easily see hundreds of thriving fish. When the sky is blue, you can look across the lake to the DR of Congo.
Dr Jane Goodall Made Gombe Famous
You might have heard of the British primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall, who played a major role in making Gombe the famous chimpanzee sanctuary that it is today. She arrived in Gombe in 1960 and founded a pioneering research program to study the behaviour of a group of wild chimpanzees she called the “Kasekela Community”. At that time, very little was known of chimpanzees in their natural habitat. This important research is still taking place in Gombe and is the longest running study of its kind in the world. It is a life-enriching experience when you encounter these habituated chimps as they go about their daily lives, and hard to put into words. This quote from Dr Jane Goodall will give you an idea of what you are about to experience:
“Chimpanzees have given me so much. The long hours spent with them in the forest have enriched my life beyond measure. What I have learned from them has shaped my understanding of human behaviour, of our place in nature.” Dr Jane Goodall.
Chimp Behaviour to Look Out for
One of the most satisfying and fascinating experiences is to witness a day in the life of a wild, habituated chimpanzee. You’ll be astounded at how similar they are to us. When they make eye contact with you, you’ll see a flicker of understanding – what are they thinking? Your guide is trained to find the chimps and to explain their behaviour to you. You’ll learn why they pant, hoot or scream; mothers and aunts will be carrying babies; some chimps will be aggressive or submissive, others will play and groom each other. They might be using tools to access food, some may be having…well, you know.
While you penetrate deep into the rainforest in search of the chimps, there is plenty of other wildlife to marvel at. You have a good chance of seeing several other primates, including blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, red colobus and Gombe’s “beachcomber” baboons that tend to venture really close to camp and are fun to watch. One highlight is witnessing the flight and iconic call of the fish eagle as it hovers, approaches its prey and grabs a fish with its talons. There are lots of bushpigs in the forest, camouflaged pythons, as well as 200 species of birds. Look out for crocodiles and hippos in Lake Tanganyika.
Of course the most popular thing to do in Gombe National Park is Chimpanzee tracking. You can hike in the forest and search for the many birds that frequent the area. As Lake Tanganyika is right on your doorstep, you can swim and snorkel in the lake, or take an ancient dhow out on the water to fish. If you are tired from tracking the chimps, why not relax and unwind on one of the lake’s soft, white beaches? There are two magnificent waterfalls that you can walk to in the area. Or take a cultural tour to nearby Ujiji where Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Stanley met in 1871, giving rise to the popular saying “Dr Livingstone, I presume”.
Accommodation at Gombe Stream National Park is limited but there is a luxury tented lodge right on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, plus a lovely guest house and a basic, but comfortable, self-catering hostel. You can also stay in a campsite on one of Lake Tanganyika beaches.
Best Time to Visit
Gombe can be visited at any time of the year, but July to October is best as it is the dry season. At this time of year, the chimps stay on the lower slopes which makes trekking that much easier and there are far fewer mosquitoes. The rainy season is from November to April when the temperatures are high, but the air is clear. The chimps will have moved away from the lake and higher up the slopes, but bird watching is particularly good.
How to Get There
From Kilimanjaro International Airport or Dar es Salaam, take an ongoing domestic flight to Kigoma. Gombe National Park is not an easy or cheap place to reach, due to its unspoilt environment and location. You can only access the park by boat from Kigoma town. A dhow trip takes less than an hour, or you can charter a private motorboat. It’s a fantastic boat trip!