In search of chimpanzees

A once-in-a-lifetime adventure at the world-renowned Gombe Stream Research Center, Tanzania, and gorilla reserve in Rwanda


Detailed Itinerary

June 8 to June 20, 2018

You can also download the itinerary as a print-friendly PDF

Primates and Paleoanthropology Expedition

Friday, June 8—Welcome to Tanzania

Arrive Kilimanjaro International Airport, Arusha, Tanzania
Overnight at Arusha Coffee Lodge, breakfast included

Upon arrival at Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport, your flight will be met by our private drivers for your transfer to the Arusha Coffee Lodge. Accommodations at the Arusha Coffee Lodge consist of 18 plantation suites and 12 plantation rooms set in the midst of a working coffee estate almost a century old. Your rooms are a combination of modern comforts framed in the architectural style of the original coffee farm buildings dating back to the early 1900s.

Please note, as everyone will be coming in on a variety of flights, we have left this first day without costing in lunch or dinner. There is a very good restaurant at the lodge, and a safe 10-minute taxi ride will bring you to other restaurants around the city of Arusha. Budget about $30.00 for your meals today.

Saturday to Tuesday, June 9–12—Gombe and Chimpanzees

Private air charter to Kigoma on Lake Tanganyika, boat transfer to Gombe National Park
Overnight at Gombe Forest Lodge or TANAPA Rest House, full board

After breakfast, you will be transferred to the nearby Arusha Airport for private air charter—with picnic lunches and drinks packed aboard—to the town of Kigoma via the ancient caravan town of Tabora (total flying time 3 hours 30 minutes with a stop midway at Tabora for refueling and toilet break).

Upon arrival in Kigoma (near where Stanley famously met Dr. Livingstone), you will transfer to a motor boat for a sail (plan on about two hours) along Lake Tanganyika to Gombe National Park. After an adventurous day traveling to this remote area, you will be happy to check into your rooms at either Gombe Forest Lodge or TANAPA Rest House for the beginning of an amazing four-night stay.

Gombe National Park is a thin strip of ancient montane forest bordering the second deepest lake in the world, Lake Tanganyika. This park was made world-famous for the primate studies conducted by pioneering British researcher, Dr. Jane Goodall. Prepare yourself for a truly remarkable experience of chimpanzees and other wildlife in one of the most remote and untouched parks in Tanzania. Although we have planned a busy schedule for you, there will still be plenty of time for relaxation on the beach, (even snorkeling!), birdwatching, and watching red colobus monkeys and baboons.

During your stay, you will have two to three treks to study chimpanzees up close, along with a visit to the historic chimpanzee feeding station, a walk to a beautiful waterfall, and a hike to Jane’s Peak.

In addition to accompanying you on these adventures, Dr. Gilby will give informal presentations on the history of chimpanzee research at Gombe, recent revelations, and ongoing projects. Dr. Anthony Collins, the director of baboon research, has graciously offered to give a talk about the history of the long-term Gombe baboon project.

Chimpanzee trekking is conducted in the mornings, with afternoon hikes for the especially adventurous. Relax for the rest of the day or hike towards the spectacular waterfalls of Kakombe, an easy thirty-minute walk, or the slightly further valley of Mkenke. Other attractions include the boisterous olive baboons as well as blue monkeys, red-tail monkeys, and red colobus monkeys, all of which are often observed in camp. Bushbuck are occasionally encountered in the forest, while fish eagles and palm-nut vultures are often soar overhead. The park has a total of nine species of primates. The chimpanzees, habituated by five decades of study, can be approached to within several yards as they forage, groom, and wrestle across the forest floor.

Your accommodations:

Gombe Forest Lodge

In the lush shade of ancient forest trees just off the shores of Lake Tanganyika, lies the small yet intimate Gombe Forest Lodge. This lodge offers accommodations for just 14 guests at a time so there is a lovely sense of privacy and connection to the nature surroundings. Set on wooden platforms beneath mango groves on the lakeshore, the seven furnished tents of Gombe Forest Lodge are designed to provide modern comfort while minimizing the impact on the environment. Guests at the lodge fill their days with hiking through the trails, observing chimpanzees and birds, or exploring the lake by kayak. Enjoy sundowners around a campfire on the beach and unwind from the day’s adventures. The cozy dining area, just a couple of steps off the beach, is built on a wooden platform with an extended deck shaded by the forest. A small library, with a selection of books and novels, is also available.

TANAPA Rest House (alternative)

The maximum number of travelers on this program is 18, and the Gombe Forest Lodge offers a maximum of 14 guests, so we have reserved additional lodging to accommodate our group. In addition to the Gombe Forest Lodge, we will use the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) Rest House. This modest facility offers clean, but very basic accommodations, and for more experienced travelers (who also wouldn’t mind saving $1,500 per person)—and who are prepared to bring along their sense of adventure—this is a good option.

Gardens at Arusha Coffee Lodge
Restuarant at Arusha Coffee Lodge

Arusha Coffee Lodge

Gombe - Photo credit Don Johanson


Chimpanzees in Gombe - Photo credit Don Johanson
Chimpanzees in Gombe - Photo credit Don Johanson

Chimpanzees in Gombe
Gombe photos by Donald Johanson

Wednesday–Friday, June 13, 14, 15—Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and the “Big 5”

Boat transfer to Kigoma, private air charter to Manyara Airstrip
Overnight Ngorongoro Serena Lodge, full board

Today you will have another boat transfer from the Gombe National Park to Kigoma for private air charter to the Lake Manyara Airstrip (about 3 hours 10 minutes with a stop midway). You will be met at the airstrip for transfer to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge for three overnights.

The fabled Ngorongoro Crater is justifiably considered one of the most spectacular spots on earth. Actually, this is a caldera, a sunken volcanic core, not a crater. It is about 120 square miles and provides a home for an amazing variety of animals. Fresh water year-round keeps a large population of buffalo, elephant, zebra, wildebeest, and antelope resident, as well as the rare black rhino. There are five known prides of black-maned lions here, competing with cheetah and hyena for their share of the food supply. No matter what you see, they all look spectacular against the backdrop of the dramatic caldera walls. Many have described Ngorongoro as one of the wildlife wonders of the world. In the late afternoon, when the light softens, the magic of Ngorongoro becomes particularly beguiling.

The Serena Lodge is one of the finest hotels on the Ngorongoro Crater rim as it is beautifully designed to blend in with the dramatically beautiful surroundings. Serena is not as opulent as some other local lodges, but we find it is one of the most comfortable and offers well-trained and friendly staff. Needless to say, all rooms have nice views of the crater itself, but it is the attention to the small details of service that makes this hotel our choice.

You will have a full day tour of the Ngorongoro Crater on the 14th, complete with a picnic lunch and drinks.

On the 15th, you will be transferred to Olduvai Gorge for a tour of this world-famous fossil site. Evidence of Homo habilis, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo erectus, and their tools, have been found in this portion of the Great Rift Valley. After this fascinating tour, you will be transferred back to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge for dinner.

Saturday, June 16—Rose-lipped maidens, light-foot lads

Road transfer to Kilimanjaro International Airport, air to Nairobi, Kenya
Overnight Karen Blixen Coffee Garden, breakfast included

You will have a private road transfer from the crater to Kilimanjaro Airport for the scheduled flight to Nairobi where you will be met and transferred to the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden for overnight.

The Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and its cottages are located on the original Swedo-African Coffee Company owned by Danish author Karen Blixen and her husband Bror. The original house that today serves as a restaurant was the farm manager’s house, built near the main house called Bogani House, portrayed in the film, Out of Africa. There are 14 colonial-style cottage suites, with spacious 100-year-old gardens. All the cottages have large bathrooms, a fireplace, satellite TV, and mini-fridge. There is also a large swimming pool.

Sunday, June 17—Rwanda

Air to Kigali, Rwanda, road transfer to Virunga National Park
Overnight Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, full board

You will be picked up from the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and transferred to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for your flight to Kigali, Rwanda. Upon arrival at Kigali International Airport, you will be met by our representatives, briefed about your trip and introduced to your professional driver/guides. If you wish, there should be time for a visit to the Genocide Memorial Museum—a permanent memorial to those who fell victim to genocide in 1994 and pays tribute to the victims of this tragic chapter in world history.

You will then have a two- to three-hour drive on excellent roads, through “the land of a thousand hills” to Musanze. The scenery is stunning with hills and valleys of this green, lush country. Upon arrival, you will check into the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge.

The lodge is located on the foothills of Mount Karisimbi, one of the volcanic mountains that make up the Virunga Massif. The lodge is about a ten-minute drive to the main entrance of the Volcanoes National Park where gorilla trekking starts. Mountain Gorilla View Lodge is an eco-lodge with 30 chalets. To ensure the least disruption of the surrounding environment, the eco-lodge was constructed with locally available material and each chalet comes with a comfortable lounge with fireplace.

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

Ngorongoro Crater. Photo credit William Warby via Wikimedia Commons

Ngorongoro Crater
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Oldupai Gorge in Tanzania. Photo credit Noel Feans via wikimedia.

Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Gorilla in Virunga National Park. Photo credit LuAnne Cadd via Wikimedia Commons

Gorilla in Virunga National Park
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Rwanda - Photo credit Don Johanson

Elephants in Kenya
Photo by Donald Johanson

Monday, June 18—Among the mountain gorillas

Gorilla trek
Overnight Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, full board

After an early breakfast, you will drive to the National Park headquarters at 6:30 am for the official briefing that starts at 07:00 am. Your guided trek will start at 8:00 am.

Volcanoes National Park protects the steep slopes of this magnificent mountain range—home of the rare mountain gorilla—and the rich mosaic of montane ecosystems, which embrace evergreen and bamboo forest, open grassland, swamp, and heath. You may spot a wide variety of bird life, but the high point will be spending an hour with the gorillas as they go about their daily life, feeding, playing, resting, and raising their young.

After trekking, you will return to the lodge for lunch. In the afternoon, weather and energy permitting, your guides will accompany you through the rural countryside and villages of Kinigi and Musanze where you can experience the local culture as well as visit the Iby Iwacu Cultural Village.

Tuesday, June 19—Pursuing the endangered golden monkeys

Golden Monkey trek, visit the Karisoke Research Center
Overnight at Kigali Serena Hotel, breakfast included

This morning you will have a trek to see the rare and beautiful golden monkey. Golden monkeys are listed as endangered—and the park currently has two troops of golden monkeys that are habituated—with about 80 members. Golden monkeys live in the bamboo vegetation towards the base of the volcanoes, and habituation has helped them to overcome their initial shyness to accept daily visits by researchers and tourists.

Treks to see golden monkeys and gorillas are conducted in a similar manner—small groups of no more than eight people get to spend one hour with the monkeys once you find them. These monkeys are very active creatures and jump from tree to tree, which is really interesting though a little difficult to photograph!

After the trek, you will drive to the Karisoke Research Center, founded by Dian Fossey, and hear from scientists researching the mountain gorillas, with a tour of their lab. After this tour, you will return to the lodge for lunch. After lunch, you will be transferred by road to the Serena Hotel, which is a relaxed yet elegant five-star hotel that is located on one of Kigali’s charming boulevards. The Serena Hotels is situated in Central Kigali and is 10 km from the international airport.

Wednesday, June 20—Good-bye Africa!

Air to Nairobi
Dayroom at Eka Hotel, Departures

Today you will be transferred to the Kigali airport for the flight back to Nairobi where you will be met and taken to day rooms at the Eka Hotel. Eka Hotel is only a 15-minute drive from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, so it will be a convenient resting place before your international flights. The Eka Hotel features a gym, swimming pool, and a nice restaurant.

Your program includes the transfer to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for your late evening departure flight.

This itinerary presupposes that everyone will book their international air tickets into Arusha, Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport, and depart from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. Most of the international carriers such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines do not charge extra for tickets arriving in Arusha and departing from Nairobi. Other airlines who service both airports include Qatar, Emirates, and British Airways.

If you prefer to book your international air ticket round trip into and out of Arusha, we are happy to book the flight from Nairobi to Arusha for you. We are also happy to book any travel before or after this program.