GORONGOSA NATIONAL PARK
Gorongosa national park is found at the southern end of the Great African Rift Valley in the heart of central Mozambique, Southeast Africa. The more than 4,000 square kilometres (1,500 square mi) park comprises the valley floor and parts of surrounding plateaus. Rivers originating on nearby Mount Gorongosa (1,863 m (6,112 feets)) water the plain.
Seasonal flooding and waterlogging of the valley, which is composed of a mosaic of soil types, creates a variety of distinct ecosystems. Grasslands are dotted with patches of acacia trees, savannah, dry forest on sands and seasonally rain-filled pans, and termite hill thickets. The plateaus contain Miombo and montane forests and a spectacular rain forest at the base of a series of limestone gorges.
This combination of unique features at one time supported some of the densest wildlife populations in all of Africa, including charismatic carnivores, herbivores, and over 500 bird species. But large mammal numbers were reduced by as much as 95% and ecosystems were stressed during Mozambique’s long civil conflict at the end of the 20th century.
The Carr Foundation/Gorongosa Restoration Project, a U.S. non-profit organization, has teamed with the Government of Mozambique to protect and restore the ecosystem of Gorongosa National Park and to develop an ecotourism industry to benefit local communities
Origin of the park
The first official act to protect the Gorongosa region, Portuguese Mozambique, came in 1920 when the Mozambique Company ordered 1,000 square km set aside as a hunting reserve for company administrators and their guests. Chartered by the government of Portugal, the Mozambique Company controlled all of central Mozambique between 1891 and 1940.
In 1935, Mr. Jose Henriques Coimbra was named warden and Jose Ferreira became the reserve’s first guide. That same year the Mozambique Company enlarged the reserve to 3,200 square km to protect habitat for Nyala and black rhino, both highly prized hunting trophies. By 1940 the reserve had become so popular that a new headquarters and tourist camp was built on the floodplain near the Mussicadzi River. Unfortunately, it had to be abandoned two years later due to heavy flooding in the rainy season. Lions then occupied the abandoned building and it became a popular tourist attraction for many years, known as Casa dos Leões (Lion House).
improvements to the new park’s trails, roads, and buildings ensued. Between 1963 and 1965 Chitengo camp was expanded to accommodate 100 overnight guests. By the late 1960s, it had two swimming pools, a bar and banquet hall, a restaurant serving 300-400 meals a day, a post office, a petrol station, a first-aid clinic, and a shop selling local handicrafts.
The late 1960s also saw the first comprehensive scientific studies of the Park, led by Armando Rosinha, Director of Gorongosa, and Kenneth Tinley, an Australian ecologist. In the first-ever aerial survey, Tinley and his team counted about 200 lions, 2,200 elephants, 14,000 African buffalo, 5,500 wildebeest, 3,000 zebras, 3,500 waterbucks, 2,000 impalas, 3,500 hippos, and herds of eland, sable antelope and hartebeest numbering more than five hundred. The great development of Gorongosa until 1975 was made by Armando Rosinha
Tinley also discovered that many people and most of the wildlife living in and around the park depended on one river, the Vundudzi, which originated on the slopes of nearby Mount Gorongosa. Because the mountain was outside the park’s boundaries, Tinley proposed expanding them to include it as a key element in a “Greater Gorongosa Ecosystem” of about 8,200 square kilometers. He and other scientists and conservationists had been disappointed in 1966 when the government reduced the park’s area to 3,770 square kilometers.
Meanwhile, Mozambique was in the midst of a war for independence launched in 1964 by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo). Fortunately, the war had little impact on Gorongosa National Park until 1972, when a Portuguese company and members of the Provincial Volunteer Organization were stationed there to protect it. Even then, not much damage occurred, although some soldiers hunted illegally. In 1974, the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon overthrew the Estado Novo regime. When the new Portuguese authorities decided to abdicate power in their overseas territories, Mozambique became an independent republic. In 1976, a year after Mozambique won its independence from Portugal, aerial surveys of the Park and adjacent Zambezi River delta counted thousands of elephants in the region and a healthy population of lions, numbering in the hundreds. It was the largest lion population recorded in the greater Gorongosa region to date.
Scientists have identified three main vegetation types supporting the Gorongosa ecosystem’s wealth of wildlife. Seventy-six percent is savanna combinations of grasses and woody species that favor well-drained soils. Fourteen percent is woodlands several kinds of forest and thickets. The rest is grasslands subjected to harsh seasonal conditions that prevent trees from growing. All three types are found throughout the system, with many different sub-types and varieties. Tree cover increased throughout the park in the decades following the Mozambican Civil War, likely due to the dramatic declines of large herbivores such as elephants during that period.
Mount Gorongosa has rainforests, montane grasslands, riverine forests along its rivers, and forests and savanna woodlands at lower elevations. Both plateaus are covered with a kind of closed-canopy savanna, widespread in southern Africa, called “Miombo”, after the Swahili word for the dominant tree, a member of the genus Brachystegia. About 20 percent of the valley’s grasslands are flooded much of the year.
The Park is in a 4,000-square-km section of the Great African Rift Valley system. The Rift extends from Ethiopia to central Mozambique. Massive tectonic shifts began forming the Rift about 30 million years ago. Other warping, uplifts, and sinking of the Earth’s crust over millennia shaped the plateaus on both sides and the mountain to the west. Mozambique’s tropical savanna climate, with an annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, has added another factor to the complex equation: constant change in soil moisture that varies with elevation. The valley is located 21 kilometers west of Mount Gorongosa at 14 m above sea level.
Gorongosa is home to a large diversity of animals and plants—some of which are found nowhere else in the world. This rich biodiversity creates a complex world where animals, plants and people interact. From the smallest insects to the largest mammals, each plays an important role in the Gorongosa ecosystem. The park includes termite mounds used as shade by bushbuck and kudu.
Many of the park’s large herbivore populations were greatly reduced by years of war and poaching. However, almost all naturally occurring species—including more than 400 kinds of birds and a wide variety of reptiles have survived. With effective management and reintroductions of key species, wildlife populations will regain their natural numbers and help restore the park’s ecological balance.
In 2018, 14 African wild dogs from South Africa were reintroduced to Gorongosa National Park. The wild dogs had become extirpated from the park during the 1977-1992 civil war.
HOW TO GET HERE.
Most travelers from abroad will fly to Mozambique via Johannesburg. You can then fly directly from Johannesburg to Beira (3 hours from Gorongosa) or connect through Maputo and continue on to Beira or to Chimoio (2 hours from Gorongosa). Several international cities also offer direct flights to Maputo. From Maputo, you will then have to take a connecting flight to Chimoio or Beira.
These are some cities that offer direct flights to Maputo en route to Gorongosa: Airline schedules are subject to change, so please check with your travel agent or the airline.
There are direct flights to Maputo from Lisbon and many African cities several times per week. From Maputo, you can fly to Beira on Mozambique Airlines (LAM), which is a 3-hour drive from Gorongosa. Or, you can fly to Chimoio on Mozambique Airlines (LAM), which is a 2-hour drive from Gorongosa.
When you land in Maputo, you will need to complete a Mozambique entry form and go to the Immigration desk where they will ask you to show your visitor’s visa and passport.
Next, you’ll collect your luggage and go through customs – read more about customs. You will then go to the domestic terminal and recheck your luggage for your connecting flight.
From Maputo, you can fly to Beira (3h 30m-4h drive to Gorongosa) or Chimoio (2h-2h 30m drive to Gorongosa). You may have to stay in Maputo overnight if you miss your connection.
Your next leg is a short flight from Maputo to either Beira. It is a 3h 30m-4h (200 km) drive from Beira and a 2-hour drive from Chimoio (135 km) to Chitengo, the main camp inside Gorongosa National Park. Request a transfer in advance and our park staff will be happy to meet you at the airport and drive you to the park in an air-conditioned shuttle van. Contact us to request a transfer. Keep in mind, the park closes at 6pm, so we can’t pick up travellers after 2:30pm in Beira or 4pm in Chimoio. LAM Mozambique Airlines flies to both cities, and Fastjet also has flights to Beira from Maputo.
If your plane arrives too late to book a transfer the same day, you will need to stay in Beira or Chimoio overnight. See below for a list of hotels we recommend.
You can easily catch a taxi from the airport to your hotel or ask your hotel if they have a shuttle from the airport. Please contact us to arrange a transfer from your hotel to the park the next day.
If you prefer to drive yourself from Gorongosa, see below for a list of rental car agencies. Currently, self-drive is not allowed in Gorongosa National Park. We offer morning and afternoon guided safaris in our raised safari vehicle.
Take off on a one-of-a-kind birding adventure.
Join our twitching guides on a birding trip or full day safari. They’ll expertly lead you through a birder’s paradise, replete with breeding colonies, resident species (some endemic), and seasonal migrants. Gorongosa’s diverse ecosystems and various flora and fauna support a broad number of birds, increasing the likelihood that you’ll add a number of species to your life list!
E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Lab Tour
Learn about Gorongosa’s unique approach to conservation.
The E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Lab is a modern scientific facility in the heart of the national park — one of the first of its kind in Africa. It offers long term research and training opportunities in biodiversity documentation, ecology, and conservation biology to Mozambicans, visiting researchers, and students. The Lab’s work helps guide restoration efforts in Gorongosa National Park and other protected areas of Mozambique.
Drift along the scenic Pungué River.
Drifting quietly with the Pongee’s current, you’ll pass sandy beaches, reed beds, and riverside forests. Fantastic birdlife and photo ops abound on this scenic canoe trip. At the end of your excursion, you’ll be met with morning coffee or evening sundowner drinks.
Visit Lake Urema — the heart of Gorongosa.
Spectacular Lake Urema is home to enormous crocodiles, pods of honking hippos, and unbelievable aquatic birdlife. A boat safari is the only way to access this vast water wilderness — the beating heart of Gorongosa.
Get up close and personal on a guided bush walk.
One of the best ways to experience Gorongosa’s wilderness is by foot. Our guides will take you on an exciting bush walk where you’ll get up close and personal to botanical wonders, learn about animal signs and tracks, walk along animal paths, and truly become one with nature.
Community Bicycle Tour
Learn all about Mozambican culture — by bike!
Many of the staff here are local community members — join them on a cycling trip through the communities that surround the Park. Along the way, you’ll learn about Mozambican hospitality and culture, as well as how Park projects are supporting sustainable livelihoods. Included in the price is a community levy, so your trip directly impacts the communities you visit!
Mount Gorongosa Excursion
Visit Mount Gorongosa’s rainforest and Coffee Project.
Spend a day exploring Mount Gorongosa — the majestic backdrop to the Park’s floodplain. After a drive up the mountain, you’ll visit the Gorongosa Coffee Project and meet local farmers who are planting shade-grown coffee to revive the rainforest. A short hike will take you to one of the mountain’s breathtaking waterfalls to take a dip in its deep, clear pools. You’ll round out the day with a picnic lunch on the banks of one of the mountain’s gorgeous rainforest streams.
Full Day Safari Drive
Spend a full day discovering all Gorongosa has to offer.
Enjoy a full day excursion through Gorongosa’s vast landscape. Our safari guides will take you on a breathtaking journey through the Park’s varied ecosystems, uncovering stunning landscapes and wildlife. During your trip, you’ll stop at a scenic spot for a picnic lunch, admire a dreamy sunset at day’s end, and search for nocturnal animals on your return to Chitengo.
Guided Safari Drives
Explore Gorongosa National Park on a guided safari drive.
Our qualified safari guides will take you on an open game drive to explore a variety of habitats, wildlife, and birdlife. You’ll have the opportunity to view spectacular floodplains, explore mystical fever tree and palm forests, and discover resident wildlife, including antelope, primates, and birdlife. With luck, you may even encounter lions, elephants, buffalos, hippos, and crocodiles!