This 4,000-km² park is at the southern end of the Great East African Rift Valley. The park includes the valley floor and parts of surrounding plateaus. Rivers originating on nearby 1862-meter Mount Gorongosa water the plain.
Seasonal flooding and waterlogging of the valley, which is composed of a mosaic of different 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 stressed during Mozambique's long civil conflict at the end of the 20th Century.
The Carr Foundation/Gorongosa Restoration Project, a U.S. not-for-profit organization, 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. In January 2008, the Foundation signed a 20-year contract with the Government to co-manage the park.
In 2010 the National Geographic film on Gorongosa National Park, Africa's Lost Eden, was released.
Origins 1920-1940: The dramatic landscape and abundant wildlife of the Gorongosa region have long attracted hunters, explorers, and naturalists. The first official act to protect some of its splendor came in 1920, when the Mozambique Company ordered 1,000 km² 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.
Little is known about the reserve's early years, only that at some point a local man named Jose Ferreira began living in a thatched hut in Chitengo camp and guarding wildlife. In 1935 Mr. Jose Henriques Coimbra was named warden and Mr. Ferreira became the reserve's first guide. The same year the Mozambique Company enlarged the reserve to 3,200 km² to protect habitat for Nyala (an antelope) and black rhino, both highly prized hunting trophies.
A letter written by a Mozambique Company official in 1935 indicates that in its early years the reserve was managed for hunters not as a wildlife sanctuary. "A visit to Beira will soon be made by the British Cruiseliner Carlisle, which will consist of a hunting trip for the respective officers in the open plains of Gorongosa," a company official wrote to a local administrator.
"It is hereby recommended to the Administrator that he take adequate measures to ensure that these illustrious guests will not find the animals too dispersed or excited, which would make it difficult for them to have a successful hunt."
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).
1941-1959: After the Mozambique Company's charter ended, management of the reserve was transferred to the colonial government. Mr. Alfredo Rodriques was appointed Warden, replacing Mr. Coimbra. Over the next 14 years Mr. Rodrigues initiated the first steps towards banning hunting and establishing a viable tourism business.
In 1951 construction began on a new headquarters and other facilities at Chitengo camp, including a restaurant and bar. The same year, the government added a 12,000-km² protection zone around the reserve to mitigate the impacts of the road from Beira to Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe), which went through Chitengo. By the end of the 1950s more than 6,000 tourists were visiting annually and the colonial government had awarded the first tourism concession in the park.
In 1955 the Veterinary Services division of the colonial government assumed control of all wildlife management in Mozambique, including Gorongosa National Park. Gorongosa was named a national park by the government of Portugal in 1960.
Golden years 1960-1980: Recognizing that the reserve needed more formal ecological protection and more facilities for its rapidly growing tourism business, in 1960 the government declared the reserve and another 2,100 km² -- a total of 5,300 km² -- a national park.
Many 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. Revenue from hunting licenses and taxes on hunters elsewhere in Mozambique supported much of that development. At the same time, paving of the Beira-Rhodesia road and construction of the "drum bridge" over the Pungue River, in Bué Maria, helped to double the annual number of visitors.
In the late 1960s, the first comprehensive scientific studies of the Park were led by Kenneth Tinley, a South African ecologist. In the first aerial survey, Tinley and his team counted about 200 lions, 2,200 elephants, 14,000 buffaloes, 5,500 wildebeest, 3,000 zebras, 3,500 waterbucks, 2,000 impala, 3,500 hippos, and herds of eland, sable and hartebeest numbering more than 500.
Tinley also discovered that many people and most of the wildlife living in and around the park depended on one river, the Vunduzi, 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 km².
He and other scientists and conservationists had been disappointed in 1966 when the government reduced the park's area to 3,770 km² . The official reason for the reduction was that local farmers needed more land. Tinley saw the situation differently. Pointing out that wildlife had been eradicated from many nearby areas, he suggested that the real purpose of the reduction was to make more wildlife available to local hunters. "Their hunger is for protein, not land" he said.
Meanwhile, Mozambique was in the midst of a war for independence launched in 1964 by the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo). 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 1976, a year after Mozambique won its independence from Portugal, aerial surveys of the Park and adjacent Zambezi River delta counted 6,000 elephants and about 500 lions, probably the largest lion population in all of Africa.
In a clear tribute to the Park's growing worldwide reputation and importance to wildlife conservation in Mozambique, the Frelimo government selected Gorongosa in 1981 to host the country's first National Conference on Wildlife.
Civil war 1981-1994: The peace didn't last. South Africa began arming and supplying a rebel army to destabilize it. In December 1981, for the first time, Gorongosa National Park felt the full fury of war when Mozambique National Resistance (MNR, or Renamo) fighters attacked the Chitengo campsite and kidnapped several staff, including two foreign scientists.
The violence increased in and around the park after that. In 1983 it was shut down and abandoned. For the next nine years Gorongosa was the scene of frequent battles between opposing forces. Fierce hand-to-hand fighting and aerial bombing destroyed buildings and roads. The park's large mammals suffered terrible losses. Both sides in the conflict slaughtered hundreds of elephants for their ivory, selling it to buy arms and supplies. Hungry soldiers shot many more thousands of zebras, wildebeest, buffaloes, and other hoofed animals. Lions and other large predators were gunned down for sport or died of starvation when their prey disappeared.
Thousands of people living in or near the park were being brutalized towards the end of the war when the rebels controlled much of Gorongosa District. Some people sought refuge in the Park. Desperate for meat, they hunted at will, further reducing the park's wildlife.
The civil war ended in 1992 but widespread hunting in the park continued for two more years. By that time many large mammal populations--including elephants, hippos, buffalos, zebras, and lions--had been reduced by 90 percent or more. The park's spectacular birdlife emerged relatively unscathed.
Post war 1995-2003: A preliminary effort to rebuild Gorongosa National Park's infrastructure and restore its wildlife began in 1994 when the African Development Bank (ADB) started work on a rehabilitation plan--with assistance from the European Union and International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Fifty new staff were hired, most of them former soldiers. Baldeu Chande and Roberto Zolho, employed by the park before the war, returned to take leadership positions. Chande was director of the emergency program and Zolho was wildlife coordinator and warden. "We have established that all species that were here before the war are still here" Chande told a reporter in 1996. "None is extinct but many are in very small numbers". Over a five-year period this ADB initiative reopened about 100 km of roads and trails and trained guards to slow illegal hunting.
New beginnings 2004 to present: In 2004 the Government of Mozambique and the US-based Carr Foundation agreed to work together to rebuild the Park's infrastructure, restore its wildlife populations and spur local economic development--opening an important new chapter in the park's history.
Between 2004 and 2007 the Carr Foundation invested more than $10 million in this effort. During that time the restoration project team completed a 6,200-hectare (23 square mile) wildlife sanctuary and reintroduced buffaloes and wildebeests to the ecosystem. They also began the reconstruction of Chitengo Safari Camp.
Due to the success of this initial three-year project, the Government of Mozambique and the Carr Foundation announced in 2008 that they had signed a 20-year agreement to restore and co-manage the park.
The dedicated team of scientists, engineers, business managers, economic experts and tourism developers now working to restore Gorongosa National Park are confident that with hard work, the involvement of the local population, and revenue from eco-tourism, this spectacular place will regain its former glory.
Gorongosa National Park protects a vast ecosystem defined, shaped, and given life by all the rivers that flow into Lake Urema. The Nhandungue crosses the Barue Plateau on its way down to the valley. The Nhandue and Mucombeze come from the north. Mount Gorongosa contributes the Vunduzi. Several smaller rivers pour down off the Cheringoma Plateau. Together they comprise the Urema Catchment, an area of about 7,850 km².
Most of the rivers are seasonal, reaching the valley floor only during the rainy season, between November and April. The rest of the year they are intermittent rivers that appear and disappear into the earth. Only the Vunduzi and the Nhandungue feed Lake Urema the entire year. The Nhandungue receives help from the Muera, a smaller stream that feeds it even at the height of the dry season. Like the Vunduzi, the Muera comes from Mount Gorongosa. Thus water born on the mountain is the key to life in the valley below.
On calm, clear days, the lake's surface reflects Mount Gorongosa's huge green bulk, as if in gratitude, and rightly so: it's a commanding presence the indigenous people hold sacred. An isolated, 600-km² massif, 1,863 m high, it's large enough to create its own weather system. Two meters of precipitation fall annually on the mountain. Lush forests and grasslands on its upper reaches soak up much of that water and dispense it down slope all year long.
Flora and fauna
The rain and seasonal inundation of the valley, along with many different soil types, creates a unique mosaic of distinct ecosystems. The plains are dotted with acacia savanna, dry forests in sandy areas, wetlands or pans seasonally filled by the rains, and thickets on termite-built mounds. The plateaus contain miombo and mountain forests and a spectacular rainforest at the bottom of a series of limestone gorges.
Wildlife: lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, hippo, crocodile, zebra, sable, kudu, nyala, waterbuck, impala, bushbuck, reedbuck, oribi, lichenstein’s hartebeest, warthog, bush pig, serval cat, civet, genet, chacma baboon and vervet monkey.
The park’s birdlife is fantastic. About 400 species have been sighted. Many are endemics or near-endemics prized by birders. The green-headed oriole, for example, is found in southern Africa only on Mount Gorongosa, and the moustached warbler has been sighted at Chitengo and on the mountain.
Central Mozambique has a tropical savanna climate, with an annual rainfall of 1000 – 1400 mm. Summer temperatures average 30º-40º C, with high humidity (November - March). Winter months average 15º–25º C (April - September).
Chitengo Safari Camp offers modern cabanas with air conditioning, restaurant and swimming pools; the camp is open throughout the year except for the period from mid-Dec to the end of Jan.
Photo safaris at the park are possible from April to November (dry season). During the rainy season (December to March) the safari road network is closed due to flooding.
You can use a 10-seat game viewer with a wildlife expert guide to visit places like the Lion House or the Hippo House. You can also visit the park using your own vehicle, following the instructions provided in the map and leaflet that will be given to you at the main gate.
Mozambique’s national language is Portuguese. Many people in its main cities (Maputo, Beira, Chimoio) also speak English. In and around Gorongosa National Park, local residents speak either Sena or Chi-Gorongosi (a local dialect), although many also know some Portuguese. Staff in Chitengo speak English and Portuguese widely, and some speak other European languages.
Flights from Johannesburg to Maputo on SAA and LAM (Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique) and connecting flights from Maputo to Beira and Chimoio on LAM depart daily. Direct flights from Johannesburg to Beira on LAM and SA Airlink also depart daily. From Lisbon (Portugal) TAP and LAM fly directly to Maputo several days per week. Gorongosa National Park’s Chitengo Safari Camp is 200 km (about a 3-hour drive) from the airport in Beira. Chitengo is 135 km (about a 2-hour drive) from Chimoio.
For private air charters there is a licensed airstrip at Chitengo Safari Camp, with a landing length of 1200 m of hard earth. Advanced notification and authorization by the aeronautical authorities is required (from December to April the airstrip is closed due to the rains).
Rental cars and driving in the park Maputo and Beira have Imperial and Avis rental car agencies. Rates vary, depending on the agency, the car you rent, and if you need a driver, but typically they are about US$125 per day.
You can drive to the park on the EN1 highway from Maputo or via the EN6 highway from Beira, which intersects the EN1 highway at Inchope. Both are tar roads. The 40 km of EN1 from Inchope to the turn-off to the park is high-quality tar. From there it’s another 11 km east on a graded dirt road to the park gate. The 18-km dirt road from the gate to Chitengo is drivable in a two-wheel drive vehicle with good clearance. During the rainy season (November–April) the road is only passable using a four-wheel drive vehicle, and in particularly heavy rains may not be passable.
Even during the dry season, it is recommended to drive a 4x4 vehicle on the park's roads and Game Drive Network. Driving a 2x2 sedan is not recommended for game drives because of the risk of getting stuck or damaging your vehicle. Four-wheel drive is essential for driving to the base of Mount Gorongosa or exploring any other rugged terrain.
Bus (“chapa”) from Beira Buses leave Beira hourly for Chimoio or Inchope, but they do not come all the way to the Park. You will need to get off at Inchope and take the bus to Vila Gorongosa. Ask the driver to let you off at the turn-off to the park, about 40 km north of Inchope. From there, you will need transportation to Chitengo, a distance of about 29 km. You will need to call the park (+258 23 535010 or +258 82 3020604) from Inchope (preferably from Beira or Chimoio) to request a ride.
Visiting hours: The park’s main gate opens at 6AM and closes at 6PM.
Fees and permits
Park entry fee
Per person (Non-Mozambican) - 200 MT/US$8
Per person (Mozambican) - 100 MT/US$4
Per car - 200 MT/US$8
Per trailer - 50 MT/US$2
‘Explore Gorongosa’ Private Safari ‘Explore Gorongosa’ is a private ecotourism outfit which runs exclusive luxury walking safaris based out of the comforts of a luxurious custom-designed tented camp. These intimate, personal mobile safari experiences led by expert guides cater for a maximum of eight guests and provide the ultimate in safari service and personal comforts. They offer a well-rounded safari experience which explores the whole gamut of Gorongosa's wilderness, and various set-departure special interest safari expeditions around a specific theme such as birding.
Wildlife Game Drives (3 hours) Trained guides can take you on early-morning and sunset game-viewing drives to view wildlife on the approximately 100 km of game roads from Chitengo. The drives will traverse various ecosystems, including floodplains, miombo forest, and lowland savanna. Due to safety reasons, children under 6 years are not allowed in the open game-viewing vehicle.
Self Game Drives If you prefer to drive your own vehicle you can do a wildlife self game drive. Get tickets at the Chitengo Camp reception and do not forget to hand it in at the gate before you enter the road network. You will be given a brief course on the safety rules for self driving on Park roads. If you want to be accompanied by a guide, there will be at an extra cost of 240 MT (US$10). Be sure your vehicle is four-wheel drive with good ground clearance. Sedan cars are not recommended for game drives.
Trip to Vinho Community (2-3 hours) Take a 30 - 45 minute walk with a guide to the community of Vinho just outside the park boundary. It is a 2-km walk to the Pungue River, with some birding along the way. At the Pungue River there will be a short trip in a small boat. You may greet many of the park employees as they commute from Vinho on their way to work. You will also visit the school and hospital in the community.
Bué Maria Sundown (2-3 hours) This approximately 2-3 hour visit takes visitors to Bué Maria which overlooks the Pungue River to experience the sunset.
Eat and drink
Chitengo Safari Camp has a reasonably priced bar and restaurant serving authentic Mozambican breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Breakfast is included in the price of the cabanas. Features many locally grown organic vegetables to support the local communities near Chitengo. Breakfast 6AM-9:30AM, Lunch: 12:30PM-2:30PM, Dinner: 7:30PM-9PM
Constructed in 1941, Chitengo hosted thousands of visitors from all over the world until 1983, when Mozambique’s civil war shut it down. It was mostly destroyed during the war, but re-opened in 1995. Is now been restored with many modern conveniences. firstname.lastname@example.org, tel +258 23-535010
- Cabanas. There are 9 modern and comfortable double cabanas in a tranquil area of Chitengo, for a total of 18 separate rooms, each with 2 single beds or 1 double bed. All have mosquito netting, en-suite toilets, air-conditioning, and thatch chairs. Maximum occupancy: 2 persons.
Campsite has bathrooms and showers with hot water, a grill area, firepit, an area to wash clothes, and a covered gazebo.
Gorongosa National Park is mostly wilderness surrounded by rural areas with only a few small, scattered villages. Whether you’re traveling by air, car or bus, you’ll want to make careful travel arrangements well in advance.
Gorongosa National Park does not sell fuel. Buy fuel only from stations that look respectable and have a functioning electric pump. The closest reliable stations are in Vila da Gorongosa, Gondola, Nhamatanda, Beira, Dondo, Chimoio and Caia. Fuel at other locations may be dirty or mixed with water or other chemicals.
The park's small health clinic provides basic first-aid, including anti-venom for some kinds of bites and primary anti-malarial treatments.
Gorongosa National Park is a recognized malaria area, so a course of prophylactic medicine two weeks before departure (or as prescribed by your pharmacist or physician) is recommended.
For serious medical problems, the park provides transportation to the health clinic in Vila Gorongosa, a 1.5 hour drive away (about 60 km).
Bottled mineral water is available at a reasonable price, so you’ll only need to bring purification tablets if you're on a tight budget.