Gombe is the smallest of Tanzania's national parks: a fragile strip of chimpanzee habitat straddling the steep slopes and river valleys that hem in the sandy northern shore of Lake Tanganyika. Its chimpanzees – habituated to human visitors – were made famous by the pioneering work of Jane Goodall, who in 1960 founded a behavioural research program that now stands as the longest-running study of its kind in the world. The matriarch Fifi, the last surviving member of the original community, only three-years old when Goodall first set foot in Gombe, is still regularly seen by visitors.
An excited whoop erupts from deep in the forest, boosted immediately by a dozen other voices, rising in volume and tempo and pitch to a frenzied shrieking crescendo. It is the famous ‘pant-hoot’ call: a bonding ritual that allows the participants to identify each other through their individual vocal stylisations. To the human listener, walking through the ancient forests of Gombe Stream, this spine-chilling outburst is also an indicator of imminent visual contact with man’s closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.
Chimpanzees share about 98% of their genes with humans, and no scientific expertise is required to distinguish between the individual repertoires of pants, hoots and screams that define the celebrities, the powerbrokers, and the supporting characters. Perhaps you will see a flicker of understanding when you look into a chimp's eyes, assessing you in return - a look of apparent recognition across the narrowest of species barriers.
The most visible of Gombe’s other mammals are also primates. A troop of beachcomber olive baboons, under study since the 1960s, is exceptionally habituated, while red-tailed and red colobus monkeys - the latter regularly hunted by chimps – stick to the forest canopy.
The park’s 200-odd bird species range from the iconic fish eagle to the jewel-like Peter’s twinspots that hop tamely around the visitors’ centre. After dusk, a dazzling night sky is complemented by the lanterns of hundreds of small wooden boats, bobbing on the lake like a sprawling city.
What to see and Do
Best known for its habituated chimpanzee population, Gombe Stream National Park provides visitors with a unique opportunit to witness these incredible primates (sharing 98% of our human DNA) in their natural habitat, being conserved and protected to sustain their fragile existence. After the invaluable work of Jane Goodall, who dedicated her life to the conservation of the Gombe Stream chimps from the 1960s, wildlife programmes have broadcast from within the park, frequently featuring one of the families that can be visited in the park today.
Besides chimpanzees, primates inhabiting Gombe Stream include beachcomber olive baboons, red-tailed monkeys and vervet monkeys.The park is also home to over 200 bird species, as well as providing a home to a vast number of bushpigs. There are 11 species of snakes, and also a number of hippos and leopards, as well as bushbuck, Palm-nut vultures and Fish eagles.
Truly biodiverse, Gombe Stream is an undiscovered paradise where visitors can trek into the forest to observe chimpanzees, or swim and snorkel in Lake Tanganyika with almost 100 kinds of colorful cichlid fish. Gombe Stream is the perfect place for a walking safari, allowing guests to cool off along the way with a dip in one of the many streams that dissect the park.
Gombe Stream National Park is located close to the equator, making the climate warm and humid throughout the year. Evenings remain warm, unlike parks found in the north, cooling down to a temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius, while average daily temperatures get to be about 25 degrees.
Variations in climate are common due to the wide range in altitudes, and temperatures therefore rise and drop according to height. Areas open to tourists are mainly found where the altitudes are lower, therefore cooler.
The dry season is from May to October, which is when the chimpanzees are likely to be seen in big groups, however they tend to move around more at this time. The wet season continues from November to April, bringing the rains in the form of afternoon thunderstorms that seldom last the whole day.
Where to Stay
Gombe Forest Lodge offers complete privacy by catering for just 14 guests at a time. Spacious safari tents, carefully positioned under the shade of huge mango trees face Lake Tanganyika. The tents are positioned on raised wooden platforms and are decorated with distinct African flair and locally produced furniture.
Gombe Luxury Tented Campis located near the Mitumba stream at the northern end of Gombe Stream National Park. The location of the camp is exceptional, placed right on the lakeshore with an extensive private beach. All the tents are designed and constructed under big shady trees with views that make the most of what this unique beach front forest location.