Our biggest challenge with going to see the chimps in Gombe National Park was finding accurate details online about how to get there and how much it might cost! Now that we’ve been, I thought it’d be helpful to have all those details out there for future travelers. Don’t worry, though, I’ll definitely add plenty of photos and fun details about our own trip…including a couple of quick chimp videos! Who doesn’t like chimp videos?
First off, our trip was in May 2019, so take that into account for whenever you come across this post. 🙂 Now, to get to Gombe you first need to get to the town of Kigoma on the west coast of Tanzania. It’s right on Lake Tanganyika. From Dar es Salaam there are two main ways to get there: train or plane. The train takes at least 48hrs, and that’s if it doesn’t break down. Not for us. Instead we chose flying.
There’s literally only one flight a day back-and-forth between Dar and Kigoma. It’s on Air Tanzania and some days it does a 30min stop in Tabora, others it goes straight. Times vary but generally start around 12pm from Dar. Their website is quite good with showing pricing and timing, though take off times can DEFINITELY change so make sure to check your flight again online the day before. I think our flight changed three times…and we never got notice that it happened. Also, do arrive two hours early (particularly on the way back) as they have been known to not allow folks on the flight who check in “late”. And by late, I mean truly an hour early! How crazy is that? The flight is easy, though, on a prop jet that holds around 75 folks. When we went the cost for the cheap seats (i.e. everything except the first 3 rows) was $120-150/pp one way. There’s no reason to pay for the more expensive seats as they are literally the same, just with a curtain pulled to separate them from everyone else.
Once you’re in Kigoma, the easiest thing to do is go to the TANAPA office – headquarters for Tanzanian National Parks. You can walk in town or take a taxi or bajaji (3-wheeled vehicle also called a tuk-tuk in India or Thailand). Note: there is a sign pointing the way, but it’s still a bit hard to find walking unless you ask. Inside, the folks are super friendly and nice, as well as speaking fine English. They have a little booklet about Gombe showing info and prices – you don’t pay anything until arriving in Gombe. Here’s the advertised pricing:
We decided that the easiest thing was to simply book through them as then everything was “official”. What did that mean? Well, it meant that we reserved their boat for the ride over/back and they called and got rooms for us in the park. The boat was $350 + 18% VAT fee (despite the brochure above saying $354 and that VAT was included) which we paid at the park. The price was round-trip. You could absolutely get a boat for $250 by going to pretty much any hotel or simply walk down the street and someone would ask if you wanted a ride over. That happened at least 3-4 times to us and they all said $250, so I think that’s accurate. Our thought was that we were willing to pay the National Park upcharge to be sure that 1) the boat would be there, 2) it would be reliable, and 3) it would show up again to take us home the next day!
We booked the boat for the next day at 11, but the Parks folks called us and asked if we could change the time a few hours to let another group join us. We figured that’d be fine as we could then split the costs! That $350+VAT was for the boat, not per person, and now was only half as much. Plus, we then had folks to chat with on the ride over!
Oh, there is another option: the lake taxi. It’s super cheap – only about $2pp!!! – but supposedly goes at weird times, doesn’t have shade, and takes four hours to reach Gombe rather than 1.5-2. We never really looked into this option as our time was limited, but I bet we would have if we were still on our big trip needing to save money. Anyway, during our ride over we came across this boat which was super crowded and had lost it’s engine! Not sure if it was the lake taxi, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Our driver asked and we agreed to tow them over to a beach where they could work on their motor. REALLY glad that wasn’t us!
Arriving in Gombe, we immediately came to the payment station where an employee took our credit card and the first costs came out. Here’s what we were actually charged (VAT=18%):
- Entrance fee of $118 each for Anner and I ($100+VAT) and 11,800Tsh for David (10,000+VAT for our local guide and a TZ resident) – this is listed as Conservation Fee on the image above
- Boat hiring fee of $413 ($350+VAT), of which $205 was covered by our boat-mates
- Special Camping fee of $59 each for Anner and I ($50+VAT) for staying in the luxury tent camp
- Rest House fee of 11,800Tsh for David (10,000+VAT)
- Guide/Rangers Fee of $23.60 ($20+VAT)
Bringing us to a grand total of $799.60 + 23,600Tsh (which is about $10) before the money back from our boatmates. That covered our night’s lodging, our boat ride there/back, and our ranger to take us on a hike that first evening (we arrived too late to go chimp hunting, but did a nice hike to a waterfall). What that did NOT include was the cost of meals, drinks, or the guide for the next morning’s chimp hike. The second guided hike was another $20+VAT. Like the boat, you pay for guides by the trip, not by the person.
For lodging, we were lucky to be there in the off-season which meant we had our choice of staying in the luxury tents, similar to those on the Serengeti, or in the concrete Guest House. We splurged on the tent. There are only 4 or 5 and at least one only had a single bed, so we were lucky, but we could have stayed in the Guest House with David. Other folks arrived after us and ended up in the Guest House as there weren’t tents for them. Here’s where we stayed:
If you really, really wanted to, you could do everything in a day and not have a lodging charge at all (arrive early by boat, do morning and afternoon hikes, boat home). It would definitely save money, but you wouldn’t get the joy of spending time right there in the park overnight knowing the chimps were nearby.
Here’s an important note: you have to pay for your meals in cash (USD or Tsh) while everything else can go on credit cards. We didn’t know that, but luckily had just enough. Breakfast and lunch were $10 each for Anner and I with dinner being $15 each and water and sodas being another $1-2 each. David, as a resident, cost much less. Essentially, with tip, we spent $100 for three meals and drinks for three. You could also bring your own food and skip the meals, but nobody did on our trip. We did bring snacks, though, which was good as there’s no place to buy any – the restaurant serves when it serves and that’s it.
Finally, we added some tip money for our guide, the chimp trackers, and our boat captain (20000Tsh, 10000Tsh, 25000Tsh = $25). So, all in and paying for our friend David as well, our overnight in Gombe ran approximately $750 (sure helped splitting the boat costs). That’s pretty darned good for the experience of seeing chimps in the wild!!!
Speaking of, I know I promised some quick chimp videos. Here you go!