Western Circuit National Parks

Gombe Stream National Park

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 stylizations. 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 mans closest genetic relative: the chimpanzee.

Size: 52 sq km

Location: 16 km north of Kigoma on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania

Getting There: Kigoma is connected to Dar and Arusha by scheduled Flights, to Dar and Mwanza by a slow rail service, to Mwanza, Dar and Mbeya by rough dirt roads, and to mpulungu in Zambia by a weekly ferry. From Kigoma, Local lake-taxis take up to three hours to reach Gombe, or motorboats can be chartered, taking less than one hour.

What to do: Chimpanzee trekking; hiking, swimming and snorkeling, visit the site of Henry Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone I presume” at Ujiji near Kigoma, and watch the renowned dhow builders at work.

When to go: The chimps don’t roam as far in the wet season (February-June, November-mid December) so may be easier to find; better picture opportunities in the dry (July-October and late December)

Accommodation: 1 new luxury tented lodge, as well a self-catering hostel, guest house and campsites on the lakeshore.

Mahale Mountains National Park

Set deep in the heart of the African interior, inaccessible by road and only 100km south of where Stanley uttered that immortal greeting “ Doctor Livingstone, I presume”, is a scene reminiscent of an Indian Ocean beach idyll.

Size: 1613 sq km

Location: Western Tanzania, bordering Lake Tanganyika.

Getting there: Charter flight from Arusha, Dar or Kigoma. Charter private or national park motorboat from Kigoma, 3 to 4 hours. Weekly steamer from Kigoma, seven hours, then hire a local fishing boat or arrange with park HQ for pickup in park boat, another 1 or 2 hours.

What to do: Chimp tracking (allow 2 days); hiking; camping safaris; snorkeling; fish for your dinner.

When to go: Dry season (May-October) best for forest walks although no problem in the light rains of October / November.

Accommodation: Two seasonal luxury tented camps, two small rest houses, large campsite

Katavi National Park

Isolated, untrammeled and seldom visited, Katavi is a true wilderness, providing the few intrepid souls who make it there with a thrilling taste of Africa as it must have been a century ago. Tanzania’s third largest national park, it lies in the remote southwest of the country, within a truncated arm of Rift Valley that terminates in the shallow, brooding expanse of Lake Rukwa.

Size: 4471 sq km.

Location: Southwest Tanzania, east of Lake Tanganyika. The headquarter at Sitalike lie 40 km south of Mpanda town.

Getting There: Charter flights from Dar or Arusha. A tough but spectacular day’s drive from Mbeya (550km) or in the dry season only from Kigoma (390km). It is possible to reach Mpanda by rail from Dar via Tabora, then to catch public transport to Sitalike, where game drives can be arranged.

What to do: Walking safaris, game drives and camping safaris. Near Lake Katavi, visit the tamarind tree inhabited by the spirit of the Legendary hunter Katabi (for whom the park is named)-offerings are still left here by locals seeking the spirits blessing.

When to go: The dry season (May-October). Roads within the park are often flooded during the rainy season but may be passable from mid-December to February.

Accommodation: One seasonal luxury tented camp overlooking Lake Chada. A rest house at Sitalike and campsites inside the park. Basic but clean hotels at Mpanda.

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