The dwarf amongst Tanzania’s national parks, Gombe Stream National Park is only 52 km² in size. Situated on the eastern shores of Lake Tanganyika, the park was established in 1968 and is a mix of beautiful lush hilly rain forests, deep ravines and occasional grass lands.
It is the home of the Kasekela Chimpanzee troop, made world famous by Jane Goodall who conducted primate research in Gombe for many years. Being a national park with very few roads and vehicles, this is the place to be if you want a different experience and like walking or hiking. The park’s altitude is between 750 and 1500 meters. The waters of Lake Tanganyika, gently rolling onto tropical white beaches, form an ideal background for stunning sunsets after a day of trekking the chimps.
Gombe Stream National Park, different from most national parks in Africa, is mainly visited by those who have a keen interest in primates. These forest inhabitants often have the same interest in you as you in them.
The most notorious inhabitants of the rainforests are the chimpanzees, although there are very healthy populations of baboons, red-tailed monkeys and vervet monkeys as well. Occasionally one might come across a hunting leopard or a lost hippopotamus. So don’t visit this park if you are only looking for big game. Gombe might also be the best place in Tanzania to come across the forest pig. The park is getting increasingly popular amongst birders as the area is home to more than 200 different species. The best time to visit the park is between July and October, although you might have to hike far to find the chimps. In the wetter season from February to June, the chimps will not venture too far and might be easier to find.
The main activity is of course a visit to the chimpanzees. Apart from walks through the bush you have the possibility to experience lake-based activities like snorkeling, fishing or boating.
If you are fit and like hiking, a visit to either the Kakombe or Mkenke waterfalls is a nice alternative from lazing on the beach. For those who are interested in a more cultural experience, a visit to a nearby fishing village can be organized.
Location (4° 40′ S, 29° 38′ E)
The Park is situated 16 km north of Kigoma, in western Tanzania. Covering only 52 km² (20 sq miles), it is a narrow strip of mountainous country bounded in the east by the crest of the eastern Rift Valley escarpment, and in the west by Lake Tanganyika. The western boundary actually excludes the lakeshore, allowing local people to walk along the beach, and fishermen to camp there. The northern and southern boundaries are ridges separating the Park from the villages of Mwamgongo and Kasinga.
View Lake Tanganyika in a larger map
The Park is dissected by 13 steep-sided valleys carved out by swift-flowing streams running from east to west. The altitude varies from 773 meters above sea level (at the lake shore) to over 1500 meters at the top of the escarpment (i.e. 2,535 to 4,920 ft).
Getting to Gombe Stream National Park is probably the most challenging (and expensive) aspect of your trip. The park can only be reached by boat from Kigoma and you should prepare yourself for a three hour journey by slow boat or a one hour trip by chartered, faster boat. Daily charter flights will fly from Dar-es-Salaam and Arusha to Kigoma, from where your boat to Gombe Stream National Park departs.
TANAPA (Tanzania National Parks) runs Kasekela Rest House (4 beds) and Kasekela Hostel (6 beds) in the little park; the total amount of beds is limited to 10 in total. These accommodations are rugged and you should be entirely self-reliant.
Situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Forest Lodge has been designed with every comfort in mind, whilst minimizing the disturbance and impact of such a stunning environment. The camp’s spacious tents, set on wooden platforms, are shaded by huge mango trees along the lakeshore, each tent featuring a writing desk and en-suite facilities with hot and cold running water.