Expert Reviews – Gombe NP
Stuart is a travel writer and author of numerous Lonely Planet guidebooks, including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania.
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Jane Goodall’s Chimpanzee’s
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 Stream 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.
Tim is a travel writer who has covered 10 African countries for Lonely Planet's Africa, East Africa and West Africa guidebooks.
Meet the chimpanzees in Jane Goodall’s old stomping ground.
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.