Chimpanzee Safaris

Chimpanzee Safaris

Tanzania has three national parks that have chimpanzees: Gombe and Mahale on the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, and Rubondo Island in the south – west of Lake Victoria.

Chimpanzee safaris are not directly operated by Swala Safaris. However, Swala will put together an attractive package for those who would like to do some chimpanzee tracking. If you try to arrange a safari on a do-it-yourself basis, it may be more complicated than you envisioned. Flight timetables may change and there may be problems with arranging the logistics of getting to the chimpanzee parks. Getting a chimpanzee safari to mesh with any other safari that you may have, such as in the Serengeti or in Zanzibar, can also be difficult.

The National Parks of Gombe and Mahale lie on the eastern side of Lake Tanganyika. Kigoma is the main town on the Tanzanian side of the lake. Gombe is about 20 kms from Kigoma. Mahale N. Park lies about 150 kms south of Kigoma.

 Gombe Stream National Park

It is 52 sq. kms park of altitude varing from 770 to 1,500 metres above sea level. Gombe National Park is associated with Jane Goodall who started her research on chimpanzees in 1960. It is more accessible than Mahale Park and has approximately 100 chimpanzees. Chimp tracking involves a fair amount of time and effort and is best shortly after sunrise; in the latter part of the dry season – July to October – they take less than an hour to locate (more during the wet season).

Gombe also has other primate species, including the olive baboon, the common vervet, the red colobus, the red-tailed colobus, and the blue monkey. Chimp tracking must be done with a guide. There are no restrictions on walks along the beach or on swimming in the crystal clear waters of the lake. Over 200 species of birds recorded.


The lodge in its cost include park fees, guide fees, transfer by boat from Kigoma to Gombe, airport transfers at Kigoma, and accommodation with meals at Kasekela.

Mahale Mountains National Park

It is a 1,613 sq. kms park in Lake Tanganyika (Highly Recommended!). Mahale National Park is not as well – known as Gombe N. Park. It is more remote and much larger. It has from 700 to 1000 chimpanzees. Research by Japanese scientists has been going on since 1965.

Mahale is not just a large scale version of Gombe. It is one of the most beautiful parks in Africa: mountains, lush forests and deserted sandy beaches. It is magical. Chimpanzee tracking may involve more walking than at Gombe. Seeing chimps is almost guaranteed on a three day visit.

Mahale makes an excellent addition to a safari to Katavi National Park. The camps at both parks are operated by the same group. You will need a week for this all-inclusive package. Please contact Swala Safaris for details.

Places to stay; Best to arrange as a package through Swala Safaris.


One of the principal ports on the eastern side of Lake Tanganyika. The MV Liemba is based at Kigoma for onward passage to the ports in the south and Bujumbura in Burundi.


A short taxi drive away from Kigoma. Unfortunately a little disappointing. Ujiji is famous for the meeting between Livingstone and Stanley.

Hotels are:

Lake Tanganyika

Getting there. By far the best method is by plane.

Lake Tanganyika safaris do not come cheap, unless you have lots of time. The usual way of getting there is to fly. There are regular flights to Kigoma, but nothing direct to Gombe. There are charter flights to Mahale.

By Boat: Gombe National Park is from a half hour to a two hour ride in a small boat with outboard engine.

Mahale National Park requires a longer trip on the 800 ton M.V. Liemba, then transfers by smaller boat and eventually you get there; it takes about 15 hours.

By Air: The national airline (Air Tanzania) and Precision Air have flights five days a week to Kigoma. From Dar es Salaam. Check with Swala Safaris on the latest schedule and fares.

Rubondo National Park

Rubondo National Park. 475 sq. kms. Highly Recommended! Minimum stay three days, preferably four.

Rubondo National Park is for the discriminating. It has few visitors. Flights are available from Mwanza ($70) and Serengeti. The entire island is a national park, being about 25 kms long by 8 kms wide. Some of the animals were introduced to the island in the 1970’s by Frankfurt Zoological Society. The descendants of these animals now live in natural conditions. Apart from chimpanzees, Rubondo has elephants, hippos, sitatunga, giraffe, and colobus. Over 600 fish eagles (H.vocifer) are resident. The call of the fish eagle is perhaps what one most closely identifies with the African wilderness.

Rubondo has a wonderful climate, forest-fringed beaches and unusual wildlife viewing. Birding is excellent. Chimpanzees were introduced onto the island in the 1970’s. It takes about six hours to locate them with a 50% chance of success. Optional activities include boat trips (crocodiles and hippos often seen). The sitatunga antelope is common on the island.

Place to stay. There is only one camp. Rubondo National Park has some rather grotty huts to stay in and a camp site.

Rubondo Island Camp: Ten luxury tent set in a wonderful location.

Rubondo makes an excellent addition to a safari to Katavi National Park and/or Mahale. You will need at least a week to visit two of the parks and ten days if you want to visit all three. Please contact Swala Safaris for details on the fly – in safaris to Rubondo.