Gorongosa: A National Park Born From Its Ashes

Most of us associate Mozambique with endless beaches and turquoise waters. Yet, the country is home to a National Park that used to have one of the largest and most diverse wildlife populations in Africa – Gorongosa. It is perhaps because it was on the brink of a wipe-out until recently.

Central Mozambique was a hunting ground due to its large populations of black rhino and nyala, especially during the Portuguese Mozambican era. After Mozambique’s independence, the authorities proclaimed Gorongosa as a National Park in the 60s. It was the quiet before the storm.

Mount Gorongosa, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC

The following decades saw a devastating civil war throughout the country, which affected the wildlife population. Many animals were killed as a result of fires and poaching, while many others migrated to neighboring countries. Finally, an American NGO called Greg Carr weighed in to revive the wildlife through a restoration project. The organization was generous to invest over a million USD to build a sanctuary to reintroduce large mammals around Mount Gorongosa. Although it is still not of Serengeti-quality, Gorongosa has undergone successful healing, as the wildlife population has grown significantly in the last ten years. Get ready to step into a different safari experience in Mozambique.

Landscape

The reason for the abundant wildlife was the ideal geographic conditions that stemmed from prehistoric tectonic activities around the dormant Mount Gorongosa. The vast plains around the mountain experience seasonal flooding, which enriches the mineral content of the soil and the water sources.

Sunset at Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC

Gorongosa is nestled on the Rift Valley and Cheringoma Plateau, with a diversity of terrains, from limestone caves to waterfalls.

The most significant water source in the park is Lake Urema and is full all year round. Many waterfalls like Murombodzi feed into the lake, so it never dries up even during the driest season. Near the water sources, there is an abundance of evergreen fever and palm forests.

Wildlife

It is saddening that much of the wildlife from fifty years ago has diminished until the early 21st century. However, the population has grown drastically through conservation efforts, which made it possible to spot a large variety of animals, including the big five.

It is hard to believe, but hundreds of lions and elephants used to roam around in Gorongosa. To bring back the wiped-out population, the local communities and the international NGOs built a sanctuary. Currently, there are 70 lions and over 500 elephants and buffalo in Gorongosa.

African Elephant – Loxodonta africana, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC
African Lion – Panthera leo, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC

The reintroduction of antelopes was relatively easy, so you are likely to come across hundreds of waterbuck, eland, kudu, impala, duiker, reedbuck, and bushbuck.

Nyala – Tragelaphus angasii, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC

Some species are still quite rare in the park despite the conservation efforts. Wild dogs and rhinos are present in the park, but your chances of seeing them are quite low. Researchers are still conducting studies to discover species that went extinct during the civil wars, including Pygmy Chameleon, and Crawshay’s Mountain Zebra.

Lake Urema is an excellent spot for bird-watching, where you can see over 300 permanent species as well as migratory ones. The lake is also home to massive hippos and crocodiles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Hippopotamus – Hippopotamus amphibius, Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher License: CC

Activities

The activities in Gorongosa National Park include guided game drives as well as boat and canoe safaris.

Game drives will help you explore the different habitats from flood plains to the forests. The local community thrives on tourist income, so experienced local guides will do their best to introduce the habitat. There are three regular drives per day – early morning, midday, and late afternoon. The administration can also organize night safaris upon request.

On a Game drive Linda Paul Licence: CC

One of the unique features of Gorongosa is the Childrens’ Safari. Although children are not allowed to join the open-vehicled safaris, the ones over the age of 10 can still join the safaris with closed vehicles and under the guidance of at least one adult.

Each of these drives costs 35-40 USD per person and lasts for 3 to 3.5 hours. You should also note that self-driving is not an option for security reasons.

Lake Urema is home to the adventurous boat and canoe safaris for you to observe the abundant birdlife, crocodiles, and hippos, as well as animals coming to the lakeside to drink water. The prices range from 50 to 100 USD per person, depending on the number of people joining.

Climate And Best Time To Visit

Gorongosa has the typical conditions of the tropical climate, with a dry and a wet season.

The dry season lasts from May to October. There is very little rain in the area, which draws animals towards the water sources. The coldest temperature throughout the year is 13-14 in early mornings in July, while the hottest temperature recorded is 34 during the day in October.

Between November and April, there are heavy rains and afternoon thunderstorms. The temperature range fluctuates between 21 and 33 degrees during the wet season. Due to the worsening conditions of the roads after the rains, Gorongosa is closed between December and March.

Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique Judy Gallagher Licence: CC

For a decent wildlife experience, the best time to visit is between July and September, when the roads are dry enough for vehicles. It is also the time when animals congregate around the water sources. Although October is also ideal for game viewing, the extreme temperatures can make it an unpleasant experience.

Getting There

If you want to save up on travel costs, your best option is to add Gorongosa to your big Mozambique itinerary instead of doing it as a solo activity. In that case, you will most likely make your entrance at Maputo Airport.

The closest city to Gorongosa is Beira, which you can fly from Maputo. There are also direct flights from Johannesburg, although they are more expensive. From either Maputo or Beira, you can hop in the chartered airplanes of Gorongosa’s lodges – Montebello and Chitengo. The lodges can also organize transfer by car from these airports. If you want to drive to Gorongosa, the best option is to depart from Beira or Chimoio, which are both 2-3 hours away.

Maputo Airport Enrique Mendizabal Licence: CC

Tips And Things You Might Need To Know

  • Although children under 10 are not allowed on any safari tours, they can still spend time at the playgrounds of the lodges.
  • Malaria is a high risk in Mozambique, so you must consult your practitioner before the trip and buy the necessary medication.
  • We recommend that you spend an extra day at the Montobelo Spa for a relaxing break from your safari adventure.
  • You should also try Chokalango Restaurant for authentic Mozambican food made with organically grown products in the area.
  • Budget travelers can camp at Chitengo’s campsite for 10 USD per night.
  • The wet season comes with the danger of cyclones, so you must keep an eye on the broadcast if you are visiting in November or April.
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