Jane Goodall’s Gombe
Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks: Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania’s national parks, covering an area of 52 sq km is 16 kms north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania.
Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who 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, 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.
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, while 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 which makes Gombe an excellent spot for bird lovers!
When is the best time to visit?
The park is generally good to visit all year round. However, the chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) and may be easier to find. Also better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December). At least 2 days are required to see them although even 1 day can be enough in most cases – this is not a zoo so there are no guarantees where they’ll be each day but we have never had any clients who havent seen the chimps, most of them even during the first day.
What is there to do?
Many of Gombe’s 100-plus chimps are well habituated and it can be difficult and sweaty to climb up and down the hills when tracking them down. The earlier in the morning you head out the more the sightings can be guaranteed. While chimp tracking you can go and see Jane’s old chimp-feeding station and the viewpoint on Jane’s Peak with amazing views. Passing Kakombe and Mikenke Riverine waterfalls during your hike will take your breath away.
Other acitvities in addition to walking in the forest are swimming and snorkeling with colorful fish in the lake (no hippos, crocodiles or bilharzia) or hike along the shore. The beaches here are untouched with amazingly clear water and a tranquility hard to find anywhere else in the country.
You can also visit nearby fishing villages and watch renowned dhow builders at work. In Ujiji close to Kigoma town you can visit the famous site of Henry Stanley’s famous ”Dr Livingstone I presume”.
How about accomodation?
To get to Gombe Stream NP you need to take a boat on the crystal blue waters of Lake Tanganyika. The boat ride takes from 1 hour to 3-4 hours depending on the type of boat you use. But whatever your choice is the boat trip in itself is worth the visit; with majestic views of the mountains of the Rift Escarpent, the sandy shores with baboons running around looking for food and the still and clear blue waters will mezmerize you.
If you want to stay in Gombe, you have 2 options; Mbalimbali’s Gombe Forest Lodge is set idyllically on the shores of Lake Tanganyika a short boat trip from the park entrance and accomodates only 14 guests at a time, guranteeing the extra private touch.
The other more affordable option is staying at TANAPA bandas or camping; there are camping spots very close to the park entrance just footsteps away from the shore. The bandas are clean and self catered rooms set just a short boat ride from the park entrance in a completely secluded area. TANAPA offers meals (breakfast, lucnh and dinner) for purchase but we reccomend bringing a local cook and food from Kigoma to prepare your meals. We higly reccomend staying at the bandas but make sure you book far in advance beacause there are only a total of 10 rooms.
Some pics of these adorable creatures at Gombe