If you are reading this, than you are interested in going to Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania. I noticed when planning my own trip to Gombe Stream National Park two years ago that there was limited info online about public transport options to get there so I have decided to make this post, including the things I would have done differently - so you can plan your best trip!
Trains are available to Kigoma from Dar es Salaam, Tabora and Mwanza. I have heard that it is quite lovely, although time intensive. There are 2 main train lines, but you will need the Central line which links Dar es Salaam to Kigoma, via Tabora. You can also reach Kigoma by train from Mwanza via Tabora. I have heard that due to the transfer that is required on these journeys, there can be extremely long delays (i.e. > 24 hours).
I apprehensively opted for ground transportation, despite hearing tales of harrowing, dusty bus rides because it is the most economic way to get there.
I took the Saratoga company's "Pride of Kigoma" bus from Mwanza, which departs at 5:30am from the Mwanza main bus station and arrives at approximately 9:00pm at the Bera petrol station in Kigoma. Note the ticket offices are in separate locations (which your taxi or piki driver will be able to take you to, just tell them Saratoga)
The public option is essentially a motorized, wooden boat costing 4000 Tsh per person, one way. Note that this boat does not run on Sundays. It departs from Kigoma at 12:00pm, and though the journey is only 16 km north, it takes around 3 hours because it makes a few stops along the coastline to inland villages. My arrival time at Gombe was around 3:00pm – 3:30pm. The boat leaves Gombe Stream National Park for Kigoma at 7:00am, though I saw it actually pass Gombe closer to 8:00am.
Also, note that the water taxi does not depart from the Kigoma marina. In order to get to there, tell your taxi or boda boda driver to take you to Kibirizi beach. You will arrive at a large sandy beach with multiple wooden boats, cargo and a few shops. You can buy water, juice, biscuits or bread before your journey. There is a washroom on the north side of the beach past the shops – just ask them for the key (important as the boat has no toilet). When you get to the boats, tell them you need the boat to Ujiji (you will get off at the Kasekala stop which is Gombe). However if you say you are going to Gombe Park they will also know which boat to put you on (Kasekala and Gombe are interchangeable).
I was initially leery of hiring a private boat due to the outrageous quoted prices (300-350 USD round trip – only 32km!). Note that this is only the starting price! Tanzanian culture includes haggling, so bargain hard and use Swahili if possible, as this can help indicate you are not a naive tourist and not willing to pay a ‘muzungu’ price (foreigner price). Although the cost may be ridiculous, there is no denying that hiring a private boat is way more convenient.
If you hire a private boat, you can go any time you wish and return at whatever time is good for you. This is important because the national park fee (100$ per 24 hours) begins the moment you step foot onto the beach. This is problematic if you wish to take the public boat because it arrives at 3:00-3:30pm and departs at 7:00am – this means you have to pay for two 24hour park passes and 2 nights of accommodation if you plan to take the public boat back to town. With a private boat, you could arrive in the morning and leave the following morning, paying for one night in the lodge and one park pass.