How to visit Gombe National Park on a budget [2024]

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Lisa & Pol
by Lisa & Pol
This post is linked to the following video :
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Trekking chimpanzees in Gombe (on a budget !) | Tanzania travel vlog [2024]

Filmed on : february 2024

Filmed in : Gombe National Park, Tanzania

africatanzaniagombe national parkkigomamwamgongo

We're backpacking Africa from Cairo to Cape Town, and on the way, there were a few opportunities for us to trek chimpanzees. However, we never really considered it until we reached Tanzania (crossing from Rwanda), reading about Gombe Stream National Park, the place where Jane Goodall made all her discoveries from. This is the story of how we managed to get to the park on a budget in February 2024.

The problem

Since Kigoma was relatively close to Rusomo (the border city), we decided to head there and figure out how to visit the park. Many reviews on Maps mention the awkwardness of getting to Gombe. The park is only accessible by boat, and apparently there is no convenient affordable public boat. Virtually all visitors choose to hire a private boat for 100$ or more.

That was not an option for us, so we relied on some information available on blogs and reviews that mentioned the infamous public boat. Many describe the overcrowding, the lack of shade, the rough sea, the uncertainty of the schedule. The price though was supposed to be very reasonable, a few dollars. We knew that this was part of the solution.

One thing is that the ticket to Gombe gives you access to 24h in the park, and if you overstay, you must pay a full new day. That part is very important because the schedule of the public boat is as follows (there is just one per day) :

Kigoma -> Gombe : 12:30pm -> 03:30pm

Gombe -> Kigoma : 08:00am -> 11:00am

The conclusion of every report on this was that it was not possible to visit the park using the public boat, because on the first day you'd arrive too late to trek, and on the next morning depart too early.

But looking closer at the map (a homemade simplified version is below), we realized two things :

How to get to Gombe National Park - Our map !
How to get to Gombe National Park - Our map !

First, that the boat was unlikely finishing in Gombe, and that it was probably stopping in Mwamgongo a bit further. Meaning that if the first day we took the boat to Gombe arriving in the afternoon, we would be able the next day to continue in the same direction, exactly 24h later, towards Mwamgongo. That would solve the issue of visiting Gombe using the public boat, paying just for one full day.

Secondly, it seemed that Mwamgongo was linked to the main road grid via a trail through the mountains. Meaning that if the boat was so terrible on the first day, we would be able to just hike our way out of the shore and get back to Kigoma via dala dala (local buses).

Quite happy and excited with our discovery, we decided to attempt that the next day ...

The solution

Below we describe the itinerary, prices and decisions we made in February 2024. Stuff changes, so make sure to confirm with locals the schedules and prices if you're attempting the same journey.

Quick recap : take boat to Gombe, sleep there, trek, take boat to Mwamgongo, sleep there, hike towards Mkongoro, get back home. Total price : 350$ for 2, everything included, over 3 days.

11:00am - Boda boda to Kibirizi Port from our accommodation in Kigoma 3000 TZS. The boda driver will know the place.

11:30am - Buying some water and food at the market just outside the port 5500 TZS. Gombe being already so expensive, we really wanted to save on the food there.

12:30pm - Board one of the two public boats (no idea what the difference is). 5000 TZS each. Some people will try to help you along the way, they will expect a tip. You most probably don't need help. There is a small fee (<500 TZS) to pay when you enter the port, in a building on the right side, a "right to use the port facilities" from what we understood.

The public boat is actually much more comfortable than what we anticipated
The public boat is actually much more comfortable than what we anticipated

The public boat goes from here at Kibirizi Port (-4.861037, 29.624523)

03:30pm - Reach Gombe stop - Welcomed by the ranger, buying the ticket, discovering that camping is discouraged (more expensive than the rooms although we have our own tent). We paid 311,40 USD for two, for one day entrance, the trek, the room and the credit card surcharge. No way around it ...

Gombe is the perfect combination of nature, wilderness and calm
Gombe is the perfect combination of nature, wilderness and calm

Evening - Enjoying the lake, baboons are watching you swim, super clear water, very wild. Perfect moment. We didn't buy their dinner to save some money and ate the food we bought at the market earlier.

Swimming in the lake, watched by baboons
Swimming in the lake, watched by baboons

08:00am - Start of the trek. We did have the breakfast for 5$, served at 07:30am. Our guide from the start was not very enthusiastic and pessimistic about our chances. We understood that not everyone gets to see the chimps, sometimes they don't find it. There is only 2 trackers for the entire park, that start looking for them 1h before you start. We were wondering where the money goes, the guide doesn't have shoes, water, machete, and his radio is half broken ...

A chimp in Gombe Stream National Park
A chimp in Gombe Stream National Park

01:00pm - End of the trek. For 3h30 nothing and when all hopes were lost we ended up finding a family of 3 chimps high in the trees. After some time they came down and we stayed with them for 1h. Amazing experience in the end ! But we were very disappointed for the most part with the quality of the experience (guide + trails).

03:30pm - Boarding the public boat. 1000 TZS each.

Waiting for the public boat on the second day, the sea is rough !
Waiting for the public boat on the second day, the sea is rough !

04:00pm - Arriving in Mwamgongo after 30 minutes of rough sea in our case, much less enjoyable than when the lake is calm. Boarding and offboarding is a challenge in itself (Lisa fell completely to the water when boarding).

Rice and beans never disappoint
Rice and beans never disappoint

Evening - Finding food : Rice, beans and chapati for 2300TZS each. Accommodation : free, as we have our tent. We wanted to camp outside but the village leader insisted that we sleep in the town hall (in our tent). We were a bit of an attraction in the village that day.

Trying to camp outside in Mwamgongo
Trying to camp outside in Mwamgongo

07:00am - Start of the hike through the mountains. Apparently a road in under construction, we bought water, bananas and mandazis. The sun hits hard, the start is very challenging, going up without end. Once the top is reached, very enjoyable, nice views. Some locals at the start, but no one left on the top. Maps.me is accurate.

The hike profile is scary !
The hike profile is scary !

12:00pm - End of the hike, after 5 hours of intense effort. Reaching roads, finding a boda (2000 TZS). And then a Dala Dala to Kigoma (1400 TZS each).

On our way across the mountains, mid-hike, aiming for Mkongoro
On our way across the mountains, mid-hike, aiming for Mkongoro

This is where we found the boda approximately (-4.669164, 29.686942)

01:00pm - Back in our accommodation in Kigoma, exhausted.

As you can see, visiting the park was an adventure ! It took us 3 days, but we made it. We hope that by sharing this information more budget travelers can have access to the national park and have the chance of seeing chimps in their habitat. Without a tent it should be possible to be hosted by someone in Mwamgongo for a small fee, but even with the tent, you might be moved to the inside of a building for your "safety".

To fully optimize, a better way to do it would be to get to Mwamgongo from Kigoma on the first day (boat or hike), sleep there, at 07:30am take the boat to Gombe, do the trek, and at 03:30pm board the boat back to Mwamgongo. Sleep there, and then the next day choose to take the boat or hike. This way, you could save the accommodation costs in Gombe, much more expensive than the fee paid in Mwamgongo (23,5$/person).

Lisa & Pol
Lisa & Pol
We're a Slovak-French couple in our twenties currently backpacking across Africa for a year. One of our goals is to inspire travellers to go explore this often forgotten continent. On this blog we're focusing on providing up to date info about prices and itineraries, especially geared towards backpackers on a budget. We also create content on Youtube and Insta if you prefer a more visual approach 😉
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