As big fans of anything wildlife related, we have a tendency to google what animals can be found in its original habitat for every country we visit and then make an effort to go see them. East Africa is of course well known for its safaris and hunt of the Big Five, but when you are into primates, this is certainly the area to go see them! Both the biggest primate in the world, the Mountain Gorilla, as well as the chimpanzee can be found in these countries. But which should you choose?
Gorilla trekking – Rwanda
There are not many places in the world where you can see gorillas in the wild, but the volcanoes on the border of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda are your best bet to see them. As gorillas live in family groups, and build a nest to sleep in for the night, they are easy to keep tabs on. Rangers ‘live’ with these families, and communicate to the base camp where they can be found. You will be appointed a family when you arrive, which can mean you can be very unlucky when your assigned family decided to camp out at the top of the volcano the night before! It does mean however that provided you can make it up the volcano, you are 100% guaranteed to see the gorillas in the wild.
- When? – June to september & december, as other times of the year it can be VERY wet. Which is not a deal breaker, but scrambling up the volcano is really much more difficult when it is slippery.
- Where? – Uganda or Rwanda, the Volcanoes NP is on the border of these 2 countries
- Cost? – A permit to see the animals is VERY expensive. When I was there years ago already around 600 dollars, nowadays the Ugandan side asks 700 dollars while Rwanda has put a whopping 1500 dollars on it to defer the masses and spend a lot of it on conservation. This includes the rangers and guarantees you an encounter with gorillas as they rangers move with them and guide groups to the different families. To get there, is quite easy as the roads lead to the bottom of the range. Accommodation and other cost around the gorilla trek can differ greatly, so once you decided to go, you can easily scale down on the other cost.
Chimpanzee trekking – Tanzania
Chimpanzee trekking is done in Uganda and Rwanda as well, but Tanzania also offers the possibility, which is what we decided to go for. Chimps have a very different way of living, and are continuously on the move, making them harder to catch. Add to that the African heat, having to wear long sleeves and pants to avoid bites AND a mouth mask to ensure no human diseases are transmitted to the chimps and you know it will be a strenuous exercise. But once you do see the chimps, and their human-like clownesque behaviors, it is truly a sight to be seen!
- When? – June to october, as the same holds for chimps as gorillas. The drier season is a better match to clambering through the dense forests while it will be hot of course.
- Where? – Uganda, Rwanda & Tanzania. Chimps move around a lot, and are found spread across the two bigger lakes, Kivu and Tanganyika, in Eastern Africa.
- Cost? – Permits to go chimp trekking are quite a bit cheaper then gorilla trekking, varying from 50 to 200 dollars depending on the location. I guess this is in part due to the fact that you are not guaranteed a sighting (more days = more chance = more permits = more dollars), and a lot of the work is done by yourself. To get to many of these places however (especially the more remote in Tanzania) is often more difficult and thus costly. It requires a separate flight + boatride to get to the National Park which of course adds to the bill. But on the flip side of that lies true remoteness and tranquility you do not find easily anymore nowadays!
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Yes, to see these primates in real life is expensive and requires effort, but the rewards are far greater than the cost. On top of that, you can rest assured that the cost of it will only go up in the future as conservation and wildlife preservation is coming higher and higher on the agenda of every country, as it is becoming a great source of income. We would not have wanted to miss it for the world, but if you had to pick one, we would say your safest bet is the gorilla tracking. The guarantee of actually seeing them, and relative ease to get to them (besides the final scramble up the volcano) outweighs the cost. Add to that the fact that their numbers are small, makes the experience all the more unique. No mass tourism here or real life zoo experience, it is a true one-on-one with the worlds largest primates, and it is worth it!