Gombe is the smallest national park in western Tanzania situated on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. It is near the Burundi border and covers an area of 52 sq. km. When the British researcher Henry Stanley met the legendary Dr Livingstone at Ujiji village in 1871 with the famous words “Dr Livingstone, I presume”, it was here that Dr Livingstone convinced Stanley to join him on a search for the source of the Nile, a quest that took them through the Gombe Valley. However the park’s star attraction is chimpanzees. The park was brought to the world’s attention by the researcher Jane Goodall who has carried out major research on the unique relationship between man and chimpanzee since 1960 as humans share genes with them.
Gombe was created to protect thousands of chimpanzees which have become endangered species because of the rapid habitat destruction. Chimpanzees are elusive giants and one has to be lucky to spot them. However, tour guides know the animals well and are always in touch with their movements from day to day. Therefore visitors on chimp tracking have better chances to see and hear them in the forest.
The habitat at Gombe consists of steep narrow valleys, rain forest, grasslands, alpine bamboo and woodland. Although chimpanzees are Gombe’s main attraction, other wildlife in residence includes baboons, sykes monkeys, savanna monkeys, bushbuck, bushpig and gray duiker. Birdlife include pied and giant kingfisher, the crowned eagle, African broadbill and many more.
Gombe receives visitors throughout the year, however the park is best visited during the dry season which stretches from May to October and late December. In the wet season, February to June and November to December, the chimps are easier to find as they do not roam too far into the forest.
Kigoma town can be reached using charter flights from Dar es Salaam and Arusha, by slow rail service from Dar es Salaam and Mwanza, by road from Mwanza, Dar es Salaam and Mbeya which is quite a journey, by ferries from Burundi or Zambia. From Kigoma, local lake-taxis take up to 3 hours to reach Gombe Stream, or visitors use charter boats which can take less than one hour.