Burigi-Chato NP: New, Wild, Wonderful
An Interior Expedition
An Interior Expedition
I recently explored Burigi-Chato, one of Africa’s newest national parks. My friends and I were the only visitors in the park. If we weren’t the first visitors, we were certainly among the few venturing here thus far. It was a wonderful experience exploring one of Africa's hidden corners. After five days of camping, trekking, and wildlife watching, I'm still dreaming of going back.
Burigi-Chato is one of Tanzania's six new parks created in 2019. When it comes to conservation, Tanzania is an unsung hero. After independence, founding father, President Julius Nyerere made a pledge: In accepting the trusteeship of our wildlife, we solemnly declare that we will do everything in our power to make sure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious inheritance. Tanzania has made good on Nyerere's vision. By 2014 Tanzania had set aside over 25% of its land area as national parks, marine parks, forest reserves and conservation areas. Now, Tanzania has over 115,000 square miles of nature reserves, slightly larger than the state of Arizona.
I love nothing better than to explore new spaces. Burigi captured my imagination. This was once tin he great Kingdom of Karagwe a legendary domain with a history of iron working that goes
back to 500 Ad. With iron weapons and strong leaders Karagwe was able to fend off raiders and slavers from the coast over a span of centuries. The kingdom held strong for centuries but eventually declined by the early 20th century with the pressure of European colonialism. But even in the 10th century Karagwe was a force to be reckoned. While on his quest for the-source-of-Nile, explorer John Speke paid homage to Karagwe's King Rumanika, who allowed Speke to go hunting where now it Burigi-National Park. Then years later, Rumanika's successor Ndagara II was less hospitable . When Henry Morton Stanley showed up in 1890, the king told Stanley keep moving or else there would be trouble. Stanley lingered only long enough to jettison two cases of Remington ammunition in the deepest part of Lake Burigi.
During the 2020 pandemic shutdown, I studied maps, scrutinized Google Earth, read all I could, imagined, envisioned and wondered about Burigi- Chato. I was intent on exploring Burigi-Chato, but it wasn’t going to be easy. There is no guidebook, no map, no scheduled flights, and no visitor facilities in the new park. All was to be done from scratch. As the weeks went by and the pandemic waned, a plan finally came together. Aminiel Nnko, my partner in all things safari, started calling his contacts around Tanzania. Gary Ficek, my long-time adventure pal from Oregon, agreed to join us for support and he volunteered his son Alan and his brother JoJo.
After months of planning and puzzling, Aminiel, Gary, Alan, JoJo and I assembled at the Moshi Tanzania train station to board the night train from Moshi to Dar es Salaam to catch the only flight going anywhere near Burigi Chato. The train had recently restarted, having been mothballed for thirty years. The train short on amenities but long on hospitality. With a reasonably good sound system, the train departed Moshi to the tunes of Bongo Flava and by dawn rolled into Dar with the songs of Swahili Taarab. We boarded an Air Tanzania Bombardier Dash 8 and flew to Chato, a vishing village near Burigi-Chato. While we were flying to Chato, safari guide Ernest “Mr. Six” Sitta drove a safari truck loaded with camping gear from Mwanza to the Chato airstrip--a long day's journey. Once wheels down in Chato, we piled into Mr. Six’s truck and off we went.
Our first stop was Biharamulo where the Burigi Park Headquarters is located. We checked in at the delightful Grancina Guest House for fried Tilapia and a quiet night's sleep. Next morning, we pulled into the park headquarters at 0730, as the rangers formed for a briefing in starched uniforms and gray berets. There we met Lydia Mandala, the park Conservation Officer who agreed to show us around Burigi. Lydia proved to be our map, mentor, guidebook, historian, animal tracker and all-around safari guide.
We arrived in Burigi late in the afternoon and set up our basecamp. The following five days were sublime, days in fresh air, breezes and sunshine, hiking new terrain and exploring new spaces, and camaraderie with like minded friends. With few people around and no electric lights, the night-time stars are dazzling. It’s peaceful and quiet, just the wind, the birds, zebras braying and hippos snorting at night. The time raced by. We located campsites, marked animal viewing areas, scouted scenic hiking areas, and explored the lake by boat. We accomplished much, and yet could have stayed much longer.
With almost 2,000 square miles of wildland, Burigi-Chato is ideal for animal tracking, birdwatching, hiking and camping. There are big cats, elephants, plains antelope, zebras, giraffes and many tropical birds. The area has only been protected for a few years now, so the animals are still very wild and they seldom sit still for photos. That will all change soon as the animals begin to realize that the hunters and poachers are gone for good and the new visitors pose no threat. The landscape is varied and interesting with savannas, forests, rolling hills and wetlands. On the east side of the park, narrow Lake Burigi runs north and south for 20 miles.
On our daily hikes we found archaeological sites with remnants of stone tools, grinding stones, and in one location we found an old spear head of rusted iron. The park has not been fully mapped or explored. So, out walking you never know what you might find.
There is nothing touristy about Burigi-Chato, this is authentic Africa at its best. It is my fervent hope that travelers will begin to visit and appreciate this natural treasure. As a new park, little known, Burigi’s viability depends on visitors. Park fees are essential to fund conservation needs. When tourists purchase goods and services, local communities begin to value and protect the park. As a conscientious traveler, if you choose Burigio-Chato you are choosing to support both wildlife conservation and the betterment of the communities that live around this wonderful place.
It will be a few years before Burigi-Chato has fixed lodges and many more years before it is heavily tourist. There is no fixed itinerary or set departure. Still it can be done and if you are an extra adventurous soul who would like to explore now contact me and will make a plan.