Tanzania national Parks

Tanzania National Parks – Combine the Best Experiences

Tanzania national parks can broadly be divided into North, South and West amongst which are the most famous safari destinations but also a few hidden gems.

19 Tanzania national parks and nature reserves in Tanzania cover about 37% of the country. These 155,000 square miles of protected areas are home to an incredible 310 mammal species, including the Big Five and over 910 different types of birds.

Which national parks are in Western Tanzania?

There are two national parks in Western Tanzania:

Gombe

Mahale

These Tanzanian national parks are most famous for their lush tropical rainforests and unique populations of chimpanzees. 

Gombe Strema National Park

Gombe Stream National Park

Situated 10 miles from Kigoma by boat across Lake Tanganyika,  Gombe Stream is a patch of tropical rainforest, a primate’s paradise. The park is famous as the site of Jane Goodall’s research and the main attraction is trekking to see chimpanzees. Visitors also swim or snorkel in the lake.

Size: 13.5 square miles / 35 km²

Notes: It is never crowded but takes extra effort to get here.

Gombe Stream National Park FAQ

Gombe Stream National Park is just 32 kilometres (about 20 miles) from the lake city of Kigoma. 

How much does a Gombe Stream National Park safari cost?

A Gombe safari costs roughly $900 per person per day (including a $100 entrance fee), and also taking into account extra expenses like transportation, accommodation, activities and meals.

Gombe Stream National Park is only 52 km² (roughly 20 square miles), so most tourists tend to spend 1-2 days there before visiting some of the other notable parks further north. 

Why is Gombe Stream National Park so famous?

Gombe Stream National Park is so famous because of its rich chimpanzee population and groundbreaking research done by Dame Jane Goodall on the genetic links between chimpanzees and humans.  

In 1960, when not much was known about chimpanzee behaviour other than they were similar genetically to humans, Jane Goodall first arrived in what was then Gombe Stream Game Reserve. She was 26 with no academic background and with only her mother, a cook and his family for assistance. Goodall’s research was funded by Dr Louise Leakey, a now renowned archaeologist and anthropologist who believed that research into chimpanzee behaviour would help us better understand our early human ancestors.

Goodall spent months tracking chimpanzees, in particular the Kasekela community, and she was eventually accepted into the troop. This is the only time in history that a group of chimpanzees has accepted a human as one of their own. With the chimpanzees completely relaxed with her company, Goodall had the opportunity to study chimpanzee behaviour as no one had before. 

Goodall’s findings resulted in improvement in conservation of the chimpanzees and their habitats which led to the establishment of the Gombe Stream National Park in 1968.

Chimpanzee Behaviour

Chimpanzees share numerous similarities (98% of their genes) with us. They live for over 50 years and show a range of emotions, including sorrow and joy. They are often seen tickling, hugging and even kissing each other as a sign of affection. 

Up until Goodall’s research, it was accepted that only humans could use tools. But she observed a chimp using a grass stalk to extract termites from a termite mound. 

Jane Goodall also revealed a darker side to chimpanzee behaviour. She documented females occasionally killing other’s young in an act of dominance, and that there are ongoing, violent wars between different chimpanzee groups.

What Do Chimps Eat?

Like us, chimpanzees are omnivores and not peaceful vegetarians. While spending hours amongst the group, Goodall witnessed the chimpanzees actively and strategically hunting and eating red colobus monkeys. Chimpanzees hunt and kill a third of Gombe National Park’s red colobus monkey population each year. 

Gombe Stream Research Centre

To coordinate research of chimpanzee behaviour, Gombe Stream Research Centre was established in 1965. The project started by Goodall in 1960 has been ongoing for 60 years making it the longest-running field study of any animal species.

The centre also trains new Tanzanian scientists, hosts visiting researchers and specialists and provides insight into threats like habitat loss, poaching and disease. The information gained from research at the centre supports conservation management.

When is the best time to visit Gombe Stream National Park for viewing chimpanzees?

The best time to visit Gombe and view chimpanzees in Gombe Stream National Park is at the end of the dry season (July-October) because they are easier to find when troops remain on lower slopes where there is fruit. With that said, chimp trekking can essentially be done year-round. If possible, stay at least two full days in Gombe in case you don’t find the chimpanzees on your first day.

Read more about the best time to visit Tanzania.

Almost all visitors to Gombe National Park go there for a chance to meet the chimpanzees. There are around 100 chimpanzees remaining in the park. This includes the Kasekela community who are mostly descendants of the group that Goodall studied. The Kasekala chimps are completely habituated to humans allowing you to get up close and watch their fascinating interactions.

Here are three important tips for tracking chimpanzees:

  • start early
  • be prepared
  • talk to your guide

Start Early

Guides are usually ready to get started as soon as possible to catch the chimps before they move too far up the mountain.  It is better to spend the night in the park before your trek. If you are staying in Kigoma, arrange your private boat transfers for early in the morning.

Please Note: If you take the public boat, you will need to spend 2 nights in the park to work around the limited boat times.

Be Prepared

Chimpanzee trekking is not an easy activity, you will need to have a decent level of fitness for the hike. Experienced guides track the troop down steep valleys and up the mountains. These are wild animals that do not follow roads or clear pathways so expect to be going through thick bush. Wear long trousers and your hiking boots. The humid climate makes for a hot and sweaty hike so bring plenty of water (hydration reservoirs that you insert into a backpack are great for that). 

There is no guarantee as to how long the trekking will take or if you will find the chimps. Some days are lucky and they are located in half an hour but other days you may walk four hours or longer. There won’t be time for stopping so best to eat your breakfast before setting off.

Talk to Your Guide

Guides spend hours with these animals, they recognise each individual and have interesting stories to tell. Remember the guides have a challenging job and do not receive high salaries, tipping is customary. 

Before your trip to Gombe, don’t forget to prepare with a Tanzania safari packing list and bringing the best clothes for an African safari. 

How do I get to Gombe Stream National Park?

There are several ways to get to Gombe Stream National Park. Most tourists begin their journey from Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma, which is a city located next to Lake Tanganyika and 32 kilometres from Gombe. 

To get to Kigoma, you can fly commercially from Julius Nyerere International Airport (DAR). There are only 6 of these flights scheduled each week at $150-$220 one way.

Alternatively, driving from Dar Es Salaam to Kigoma will take 22hrs or 18hrs from Arusha. You can also catch a bus or train along the central route. Public transport will take significantly longer than driving and developing country transport systems often have unforeseen challenges.

From Kigoma, the only way to Gombe is by boat. Again you have a choice when it comes to boats:

  • Lake taxi
  • Private boat

Lake taxi: This public ferry departs daily at 1 pm from Kibirizi Beach. It is cheap ($5) but uncomfortable. Expect a 4 hour long, crowded trip with multiple stops. Plus, the public boat does not operate on Sundays. 

Private boat: These are expensive ($200-$300) but take only 1.5hrs and you can choose your departure time.

Where can I stay in Gombe Stream National Park? 

There are lots of places where you can stay while visiting Gombe Stream National Park. Tourists have their pick of budget and luxurious accommodation in and around Kigoma, which is a 40-minute drive from Gombe. 

Here are 5 of my favourite accommodation options close to Gombe Stream National Park: 

  • Mbali Mbali Gombe Lodge
  • Sunset Vista Hotel
  • Mama Muni (Kigoma)
  • One Point Lodge
  • Kwa Sifa Norad

Budget Rest Houses 

Rest houses are more affordable but very basic and sometimes lack care and maintenance. This, however, brings down your entire safari cost a lot. Don’t expect too much for $20 per person a night. Kasekela Rest House sleeps 12 and has a restaurant that serves local and western dishes, Mitumba Rest House sleeps 5, the park provides a catering or self-catering option. 

Luxury Accommodation 

Kasekela Luxury Tented Camps ($50- $60 per person) or Jane Goodall Memorial House ($35 per person) are Gombe National Park’s higher-end offers.

Mbali Mbali Lodge (formerly Gombe Forest Lodge) has 7 luxury private tented rooms for a bigger budget. The price of $900 per person per night includes all meals, house drinks and boat transfers.

What can I do in Gombe Stream National Park?

You can do a lot of things in Gombe Stream National Park. Aside from viewing the chimpanzees, tourists also enjoy engaging in activities involving nature, exercise, and experiencing the local culture.  

Swimming and Snorkeling

Lake Tanganyika is the longest and deepest lake in Africa. Calm beaches along the shore of Gombe National Park are perfect for swimming. You can also book a snorkelling tour to see the endemic cichlid fish.

Hiking

Take a gentle walk along the shores of the lake or hike the Kakombe Valley trail to the Waterfall. Hiking is best in the dry season (May-October).

Visit Mwamgongo Village

Located next door to the park, cultural tours around Mwamgongo Village offer a glimpse into the culture of traditional dance and the local woman’s crafting of pottery, fabric, mats, grass hats and baskets.

Other Activities

Catch-and-release fishing trips can be booked with experienced crews and all equipment included. The lake is also perfect for kayaking tours when the weather is calm or to take a traditional dhow cruise to see Tanganyika’s spectacular sunset.

What other animals can I see in Gombe Stream National Park?

Aside from the chimpanzees, there are lots of other animals you can see in Gombe Stream National Park as well. 

Animals and Birds

Primates are the main attraction of these rainforests. Besides the chimpanzees, troops of olive baboons walk the beaches foraging for food while vervet monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and red colobus monkeys climb and leap through the canopy.

Mammals in the forest include bushpigs, bushbuck, duiker, civets and white-tailed mongoose. 

There are over 200 bird species in the park. Iconic Fish eagles and three different kingfisher species hunt on the lake and colourful little Peter’s twinspots are regulars at the Visitor Centre. True to name, vegetarian Palm-nut vultures are often seen in palm trees on the lake shores.

The forests are also home to a wide range of amphibians and reptiles like pythons, as well as to 400-500 species of butterflies.

 

Gombe Chimpanzee Excursions

Itinerary

Book a day trip to Gombe Stream National Park from KIAfrika Adventure . Start your trip at sunrise by boarding our dhow boat from the hotel’s private beach. Meet your guide as you cruise along the shores of Lake Tanganyika to the main entrance of Gombe Stream National Park. Spend the day in Gombe with the chimpanzees and return back to Kigoma before sunset. Our services include a tour guide, return boat transfers from Kigoma Hilltop Hotel, all payments to TANAPA for park fees, and a packed lunch.

Need More Information? 

There are two options for visiting Gombe National Park for chimpanzee trekking. If you would like to maximize your time in the park then it is better to stay at our partner property,

 Mbali Mbali Gombe Lodge (approx. US$700 – $900pp/night all inclusive)

In the lush shade of ancient forest trees just off the shores of Lake Tanganyika, lies the small yet intimate Mbali Mbali Gombe Lodge. With a maximum capacity of 14 guests, Mbali Mbali offers a personalised, care-free luxury experience. With private luxury safari tents, delicious fresh Tanzania cuisine and friendly service, Mbali Mbali is Gombe’s most exclusive lodge. Mbali Mbali offers an all-inclusive experience which includes all accommodation, transfers, food, activities, WIFI, washing and drinks.

 

 

Gombe National Park Bandas (approx. US$100pp/night – meals included)

 On a long sandy beach, surrounded by towering mountains and giant native trees, sits four exclusive lakefront Bandas. Overlooking a private veranda, each Banda includes a large bed and a private toilet and shower. The Banda’s are well spaced for privacy, and whilst they are not as luxurious as Mbali Mbali, they are more than comfortable. Your private chef will cook basic, but tasty local dishes and WIFI is available at the National Park head office a few metres away. 

 

 

Need budget accommodation at Gombe?

The National Park also offers affordable hostel-style accommodation for those on a budget (approx. US$35pp/night). You can also self-cater to save money.

The minimum participating age for chimpanzee trekking as determined by TANAPA is 15 years old at Gombe National Park.

Gombe Stream National Park Trip Itinerary:

 

At 06:00 am we pick you from the hotel in Kigoma for your Gombe day trip. Transfer to Kibirizi port where you will take boat to Gombe stream National Park the journey of about one hour and half. As we arrive at Gombe you will register at the park headquarters and assign a guide to who will take into the forest for chimpanzee trekking.

Walking in the forest searching for the chimpanzee is very fascinating. From a distance you will hear the sounds made by chimpanzees communicating to each other. Our Gombe Stream National Park day trip guide will help us tracking the chimpanzee to their hiding and feeding areas.  As we continue with the tracking of chimps we shall walk up to hill to Kakombe waterfalls. At this point we shall enjoy the stunning view of the park and Lake Tanganyika which border with the park. We will also take our picnic lunch while also continuing to enjoy this amazing view and scenery of Gombe Stream National Park.

After lunch break we shall continue our with the trek down the hill searching for different families of chimpanzees and other primates. Our guides will also help us to spots different bird and explain to us about different types fruits eaten by chimps.

In the afternoon at 16:00 hour we shall depart Gombe by boat to Kigoma town and then transfer to the hotel in Kigoma town

End of the Gombe Stream National Park Day Trip

Gombe Day Trip Price

Solo Traveler: US $ 700

2 – 3 travelers: US $ 435 per person

4 – 7 travelers: US $ 300 per person

Gombe Stream National Park Day Trip Includes

Return Boat Transfers Kigoma – Gombe

Transfer from Hotel to the Port

Park entrance fees

Fees for Trekking guide

Picnic lunch boxes

Pure drinking water 1 liter per person

4 Days Chimpanzee Tracking Safari At Gombe Stream National Park, Tanzania

  • Full Board
  • from $ 2400per person

Your Itinerary

DAY 1 – ARUSHA TO GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK

This morning transfer from your Arusha hotel to the airport for a light aircraft flight to Kigoma. Drive to the Hilltop Hotel and board your characterful dhow for a scenic 1.5 hour cruise on the lake, passing jungle clad mountains on the shore as you head to your lodge. After a warm welcome by the staff, lunch will be served before an afternoon chimpanzee trek or forest walk.

Gombe National Park encompasses a strip of ancient montane forest bordering Lake Tanganyika and was made world-famous by primatologist Jane Goodall for her pioneering studies into chimpanzee behaviour. Gombe Forest Lodge. is the only lodge in the park and has just seven tented suites ensuring an intimate experience.

Hotel: Gombe Forest Lodge.
Meals: Lunch and dinner

DAY 2 – GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK

This morning head into the forest for another chance to see chimpanzees. Free to roam wherever they please, these fascinating creatures are habituated to people, so it is possible to view them close up. Watch in amazement as they go about their daily lives of foraging, grooming and playing. Other primates found in the region include olive baboons and red-tail monkeys, whilst overhead keep an eye out for Fish Eagles and Palm-nut Vultures.

Return back to the lodge for lunch with the afternoon free to relax and enjoy this wonderful and serene environment. The sandy lakeside beach is the ideal place to relax or perhaps you would like to take a swim, snorkel or kayak in the crystal-clear waters of the lake. If you are still feeling active, Kakombe waterfall can be hiked to in around 30 minutes.

Hotel: Gombe Forest Lodge.
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

DAY 3 – GOMBE STREAM NATIONAL PARK TO KIGOMA

After breakfast, enjoy the lake scenery on a dhow cruise back to Kigoma and transfer to Kigoma Hilltop Hotel. Later, visit the Livingstone Memorial at Ujiji, the site where Stanley uttered the immortal words ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume?’ on their meeting in 1871. Back at the hotel, enjoy the picturesque views over Lake Tanganyika, before dinner and overnight.

Hotel: Kigoma Hilltop Hotel
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and dinner

DAY 4 – KIGOMA TO ARUSHA

Today, transfer to the airport for the early afternoon flight back to Arusha.

Meals: Breakfast and picnic lunch

Your safari includes:

  • Return scenic flights to Kigoma
  • Top quality lodge
  • Most meals
  • Airstrip transfers
  • Boat transfer
  • Chimpanzee treks
  • Park fees