Gombe National Park covers an area of 52 sq. km. and was first recognized as an important wildlife and chimpanzee habitat in 1943 when it was designated a Game Reserve. It has mountainous forested terrain that slopes steeply down to its sandy shoreline on Lake Tanganyika, and the defining attraction for the visitor are the chimpanzees living there.
The chimpanzees were originally the object of research by the renowned scientist and conservationist Dr. Jane Goodall, who was herself the protégé of the yet more celebrated anthropologist Dr. Louis Leakey. Her studies started in 1960, and she later married Derek Bryceson who was a Tanzanian MP and the second Director of National Parks after independence in 1961. Gombe was upgraded to National Park status by the Tanzania Government in 1968.
Things to do
It is possible to watch chimpanzees at close quarters during forest hikes, and it is a rare treat to be able to sit down quietly in a corner of a pristine forest and have chimpanzees romp, play, and interact all around you as they go about their daily activities. All activities have to be conducted under the close supervision of a Park Ranger.
In addition to the joys of walking in pristine forests and watching chimps, there are lots of other wildlife to enjoy including red-tailed monkeys, red colobus, blue monkeys (part of the gentle monkey family who is gentle by nature from birth), olive baboon, and vervet monkeys.
Hiking is done up into the forest and even up to the peak by using natural trails managed by the Park. All hikes are guided by National Park Guides and Rangers.
Considered by many as the cleanest and purest water on earth, the lake waters are wonderful to swim in, but more than that, Lake Tanganyika has the greatest diversity of Cichlid fishes in the world, and the largest specimens. Cichlids are generally brilliantly colored freshwater fishes that are a joy to watch either by snorkeling above them or using scuba gear to swim down amongst them.
Boat excursions are also possible as arranged by the Park authorities or by private boat owners.
There are hiking trails managed by the Park authorities for getting around in the forest.
The Park can be accessed by boat from Kigoma, and boat bookings are done through the Park or with private boat owners.
Kigoma is a substantial town and is accessible by air from the larger Tanzanian towns. There is a rail link from Kigoma to Dar es Salaam and a ferry service from Zambia. Access by road is, of course, possible but the distances are large.
The park also has a campsite and a rest house for use by visitors which are booked through the Park. There is also a private tented lodge in the Park.
Gombe fits easily into one’s safari plans as it is possible to fly from Kigoma to almost anywhere else in Tanzania. Being so close to Kigoma Gombe can become an extension visit to a regular southern circuit safari. It is a lot less expensive than a visit to the Mahale Mountains for those wanting chimp viewing on a budget.