​Expert Reviews – Gombe NP

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Expert
Philip Briggs   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Dry season

Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.

4 people found this review helpful.

Jane Goodall’s Chimp Reserve
Overall rating
4/5

Tanzania’s smallest national park, set on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, is most famous for the pioneering chimpanzee research project that was initiated there by Jane Goodall in 1960, and now stands as the world’s longest-running study of an individual wild animal population. The main reason you’d visit is to track chimps, which is an utterly marvellous experience, even if most of the celebrity chimps featured in Goodall’s books and films are now long dead. In my experience, very few places anywhere in Africa offer comparably good chimp tracking, and while Mahale Mountains National Park, further south on Lake Tanganyika, has more of a wilderness atmosphere and more varied wildlife, Gombe has the advantage of greater accessibility on a budget (you can actually get there using daily passenger boats from nearby Kigoma, the main port and transport hub in this part of Tanzania). Other wildlife includes a beachcomber baboon troop that has also been studied for decades, three species of monkey – red-tailed, blue and red colobus, the latter frequently hunted by chimps – and a checklist of 287 bird species including fish eagle, palm-nut vulture and Peter’s twinspot, all of which frequent the camp.

Expert
Stuart Butler   –  
United Kingdom UK
Visited: September

Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.

3 people found this review helpful.

Jane Goodall’s Chimpanzee’s
Overall rating
3/5

If you’re reading this then you’re probably trying to decide which of Tanzania’s two ‘chimpanzee parks’ (the other being Mahale Mountains) to visit. The answer probably comes down to simply how much time you have available and, perhaps more importantly, how much money you have at your disposal. The chimps here, which were originally studied by famous primatologist, Jane Goodall, are amazingly well habituated and hardly bat an eyelid at human presence. There’s a good chance they’ll walk right past you, maybe even brushing against you as they go. So in that sense there’s little to choose between here and Mahale. However, without doubt Mahale is scenically more impressive and has better accommodation. But, for budget travelers in particular, Gombe is easier and cheaper to get too and has cheaper accommodation. You can take a local boat known as a lake taxi straight to the park for a few dollars from nearby Kigoma town. However, for me if time were no object (or money) then I would probably choose Mahale over Gombe simply because of its scenic beauty and sense of isolation, but really there’s not a lot to choose between the two.

Expert
Ariadne van Zandbergen   –  
South Africa ZA
Visited: Dry season

Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.

2 people found this review helpful.

Jane Goodall’s Land of Primates
Overall rating
4/5

Gombe National Park, known for the pioneering research project of Jane Goodall in the 1960s, is, unsurprisingly, one of the best places in Africa to track chimpanzees. Despite Gombe’s small size, sightings aren’t guaranteed. But their distinctive pant-hooting calls helped us locate them four days in a row. Each time we got to spend a precious hour with these charismatic primates and each time was totally different. The first day we found them feeding on fruits high up in the canopy. The second day they challenged us as we followed them marching through dense undergrowth. We got great images the third day as we spent an hour watching them grooming and interacting on the forest floor. The fourth and last day was most exciting as we witnessed them on a manic colobus monkey hunt. Afternoons were spent swimming in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Tanganyika with jungle-clad mountains rising up from the white-sandy beach. On the fifth day, around sunrise, we joined a local passenger boat back to Kigoma, the gateway town for Gombe. Imagine our delight as we saw the chimps casually walking from the forest onto the beach as out boat pulled away.

Expert
Tim Bewer   –  
United States US
Visited: August

Tim is a travel writer who has covered 10 African countries for Lonely Planet's Africa, East Africa and West Africa guidebooks.

1 person found this review helpful.

Meet the chimpanzees in Jane Goodall’s old stomping ground.
Overall rating
3/5

Gombe is synonymous with Jane Goodall, who did her pioneering chimpanzee research here – research that continues today. The 100 or so chimps that live in the park are fully habituated and pay visitors nearly no mind during the hour you are allowed to spend with them. The juveniles in the group that I encountered spent most of the time wrestling each other while their mothers sat back and watched them the same as we did. Because of the steep hills and narrow trails, tracking gets tiring and during the rains it can be quite difficult. Gombe is far too small (52 sq km – the smallest national park in Tanzania) to host other wildlife of serious interest, though, there are a few monkeys, baboons and small antelope. Some people spend the afternoon after tracking back in the forest, but I opted to just take it easy strolling the beach rather than following the guide back up the mountains to a viewpoint and waterfall.

Gombe sits on Lake Tanganyika and the only way to reach it is by boat: most boats take an hour and a half, although a good speedboat can halve this. Because the choice of lodging is limited to either camping, simple rooms in the park’s resthouse or an overpriced tented lodge, it’s worth considering Gombe as a daytrip from the city of Kigoma which has some good accommodation. But if you take this option, depart very early in the morning because people who begin tracking too late often end up not finding the chimps. And with the time and money needed to visit here, that’s a risk you shouldn’t take.

Expert
Lizzie Williams   –  
South Africa ZA

Lizzie is a reputed guidebook writer and author of the Footprint guides to South Africa, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

1 person found this review helpful.

A unique park to see the chimpanzees made famous by primatologist Jane Goodall
Overall rating
5/5

Gombe is a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep river valleys and tropical rainforest on Lake Tanganyika. Trekking to see chimpanzees here is a remarkable experience; although sightings are not guaranteed, they are habituated to humans, the guides usually know where to find them, and no scientific expertise is needed to recognise their distinctive pants, hoots and screams. Besides chimpanzees, other primates include a troop of ‘beach-combing’ olive baboons, and red-tailed and vervet monkeys. I found the lake itself enchanting – we sat on the beach at sunset and watched the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city. Gombe is not easy to get to – it’s a bumpy and arduous boat ride from Kigoma – and only appeals to those with a keen interest in primates, but is one of the few places in the world to see chimps in the wild.

Average Expert Rating

  • 3.8/5
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