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Monday, October 27, 2008

Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

After decades of civil war Mozambique is on the road to recovery. In the 1960s and 70s Mozambique was a prime tourist destination. It's unique combination of Latin African culture, unspoilt tropical beaches and magnificent wildlife drew tourists from around the world. South Africans flooded to Southern Mozambique in particular. Hollywood stars such as Gregory Peck and John Wayne visited Mozambique and when they did they visited it's crown jewel, Gorongosa National Park.

1. Gorongosa "Yesterday"
Before the war of independence from Portugal and the civil war that followed it Gorongosa was home to elephant herds and buffalo herds exceeding those of the Serengeti and more predators than Kruger National Park. During the wars poaching to finance the war (ivory), feed soldiers, or just for local communities to survive, devastated the animal population. Estimates are that 95% of the large mammal population was lost. The human population was also devastated. By 1992 over 1 million Mozambicans had been killed and they continue to suffer from high rates of HIV and diseases such as Malaria. But things are finally looking up for Mozambique.

2. Gorongosa Today
Gorongosa National Park re-opened in 1995 and it's rehabilitation is benefiting both wildlife and local communities. Greg Carr, an American IT multi-millionaire turned philanthropist is helping to make this happen by partnering the The Carr Foundation, a U.S. not-for-profit organization, with the Government of Mozambique. The project is to protect and restore the ecosystem of Gorongosa National Park and to develop an ecotourism industry to benefit local communities.

Carr wanted a humanitarian aspect to his project and believes that a restored park will lift the region out of poverty. Communities surrounding the park need to benefit from tourism and, in Vinho village, a subsistence farming community where many of the park workers live the foundation has invested in infrastructure including a $100,000 school and a $200,000 clinic. Now the park boasts newly-built accommodation at Chitengo Camp with a good restaurant serving local and international dishes. Game drives are run twice daily and the park officials also lead hikes to the impressive Mount Gorongosa.

The park does not yet have the abundance of large mammal wildlife that some other parks have but it has spectacular scenery, great diversity of ecology and amazing birdlife. Importantly your visit may help local communities more than a visit elsewhere. Besides- who else do you know who can say they've been to Mozambique let alone Gorongosa!

3. The famous Casa des Leos, or the "House of Lions"
4. Vinho Village
Park Facts:
Location: The southern end of the Great Rift Valley. Central Mozambique. (About 100km/60m from Beira on the coast)
Size: 3,770 square kilometers/ 1,456 square miles
Ecology: Diverse. Gorongosa is an Eden of grassland, miombo forest, flood plains, waterways. In the outer reaches of the park granite outcrops rise majestically out of the bush. A spectacular limestone gorge with rain forests marks the southern end of the Great Rift Valley and Mount Gorongosa dominates the horizon.
Accommodations: Chitengo’s rondavels (traditional round cabins) have been restored and visitors have increased from less than 1,000 in 2005 to around 8,000 this year. The camp boasts a good restaurant serving local and international dishes.

5. Diverse landscapes

From Bush to Beach:
A visit to Mozambique would not be complete without a stay on it's magnificent coastline. Most well traveled is the southern coastline including Bazaruto Archipelago but The Quirimbas Archipelago – a string of remote tropical islands in the far north of the country is the newest draw. Over the past few years ever-more luxurious lodges have opened on the exclusive islands. Fortunately like at Gorongosa, there are also grass-roots initiatives taking place.

Get ahead of the curve: Visit Mozambique and contribute to the restoration of this beautiful country.

1. Gorongosa "Yesterday": Game viewing bus (Antonio Jorge), Pungwe River, Chitengo Safari Camp
(Antonio Jorge), Elephants (Celestino Goncales)
2. Gorongosa Today: Chitengo Safari Camp Cabanas, Cabana (Antonio Jorge), Game viewing vehicle, Lion (Richard Baker)
3. The famous Casa des Leos, or the "House of Lions" once inhabited by a pride of lions (Celestino Goncales)
4. Vinho Village, benefiting from hard work and philanthropy
5. Diverse landscapes: Lake Urema (Jeff Barbee), Grassland, Mountain

Further Reading:
Gorongosa National Park
One Man's Plan To Save A Natural Treasure (CBS News, 60 Minutes)
Wanderlust Magazine Article
Carr Foundation

CBS 60 Minutes Feature:

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