WPCS 2.2.0

Primate Trekking

"Trekking to find the Great Apes in their natural habitat"

As you creep quietly through the forest, acutely aware of each snap and crunch below your feet, your heart begins to beat a little faster. 

Up ahead something is moving slowly through the undergrowth. You can’t quite see what it is, but if the huge branches bending out of the way are anything to go by, it’s something large. 

Your heartbeat quickens once again – and then, suddenly, it appears – a 500-pound silverback gorilla has wandered out into a clearing, his gaze now fixed intently on you. 

Call it a long-lost connection, call it a meeting of distant cousins – call it whatever you like. Meeting a gorilla family in its natural habit is an experience that rivals almost anything we humans can encounter.      

What is primate trekking? 

Safari experiences come in many different forms, and while many will immediately think of East Africa’s open plains and the Big 5, primate trekking offers something entirely different and equally unforgettable. 

Primate Trekking offers you the opportunity to hike through stunning locations in East Africa and to spend time near humans’ closest relatives. Whether you’re looking to do gorilla trekking or chimpanzee trekking, these are animal encounters that will stay with you for the rest of your life.  

While traditional safaris might afford you a comfortable vehicle to sit back in while you search for animals, there is no such luxury when seeking primate species. Primate trekking can be strenuous, sometimes involving walking for up to 6 hours a day in difficult terrain. Is it easy? Certainly not. Is it worth it? Absolutely. That moment when you come face to face with our distant relatives is truly moving and for many, it ranks as the most powerful animal experience they’ve ever had.

Where can I do primate trekking? 

The tracking of primates is much more controlled than regular safaris, for the simple reason that there are far fewer animals and their habit is considerably more inaccessible. 

In Uganda, it’s possible to see chimpanzees in the Kibale Forest National Park, the Murchison Falls National Park, Kyambura Gorge in the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, all of which are also home to the wonderfully bizarre-looking red-tailed monkeys.

In Tanzania, we offer chimpanzee tracking in the Mahale Mountains National Park, close by to the splendid Lake Tanganyika. 

When it comes to those gentle giants, the gorillas, we offer trekking in Uganda in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and also in the much lesser known Mgahinga National Park, where, if you’re lucky, you might also catch a glimpse of some rare golden monkeys.   

Outside of Uganda, we also offer mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda and lowland gorilla trekking in the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. 

Is primate trekking ethical? 

There is plenty of debate about any human interaction with wild animals and this is particularly true when it comes to primates, as their numbers are far from steady. The mountain gorilla population has seen some dramatic fluctuation over recent years. Jane Goodall, the pioneering primatologist who spent years living and working in Tanzania did wonders to raise awareness for the collapsing chimpanzee population. 

However, it cannot be denied what a crucial role eco-tourism plays when it comes to the conservation of these incredible animals. Your visit to the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest essentially preserves the entire wilderness area, which might otherwise be eroded to establish agriculture, e.g. tea plantations. Eco-tourism creates employment for the locals and teaches them the worth of their natural heritage and the wild animals they share space with. 

Chimpanzees and gorillas are both on the endangered list and because of this, interaction with them anywhere in Africa is tightly controlled. Time spent with both is limited to just one hour, with physical interactions completely off the table, unless they make first contact. This system may sound incredibly short and un-interactive, but to help maintain their way of life, it’s imperative. 

With these guidelines in place, both Uganda and Tanzania have managed to create an ethical method of seeing both gorillas and chimpanzees, that protects their natural way of life against excessive human interaction. Whatsmore, permit fees taken from tourists form the backbone of the fight against poaching, which continues to damage primate populations across Africa.   

What do I need for a gorilla or chimpanzee trek and how much is it?  

You will need a gorilla permit before getting anywhere near them and the same goes for a chimpanzee tracking permit. Both should be booked well in advance as they have become incredibly popular and spaces fill up quickly weeks, even months in advance. 

Gorilla permits work out to around $700 per person per trek in Uganda and are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, regardless of the weather and how you’re feeling in the morning. Treks depart in all weather, rainy season or dry season, without exception. 

Chimp permits in Kibale Forest National Park work out to around $200 per person per trek, while in the Kyambura Gorge they are $70 per person per trek.

Apart from your permits, it’s important to be prepared. As we mentioned earlier, this is no walk in the park and treks can be strenuous and often in difficult environments. You must come prepared for the terrain, which means good quality hiking boots, waterproofs, suncream, insect repellant, plenty of water and a packed lunch. 

We recommend you have a fairly decent level of fitness and come with no infectious diseases that might be passed on to the primates. If you are showing signs of a cold or flu, you might well be denied participation, and as frustrating as this might seem, it’s pretty clear why this rule is in place. 

Another rule that could either make or break your wish to go primate trekking is that only those over the age of 15 years old can. As great as it would be for your children to see primates in their natural world, the difficulties with terrain as well as the need for restrained behaviour while around them, means that this is an adults-only excursion.    

An Experience to Remember  

Whether you’re looking to combine a primate trek with a more traditional safari or simply focus on our ancestral cousins, there is no experience quite like it anywhere in the world. 

The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the Kibale National Park, the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda all offer not only a wide range of animals, both primate and otherwise, their forests and thick vegetation offer some sublime walking experiences that will certainly leave you feeling like you’ve seen the heart of Africa. 

In Tanzania, the Mahale Mountains National Park, sitting beside the twinkling Lake Tanganyika, is the perfect location to spend some time and is just a short plane ride to Tanzania’s big-hitting locations further north.

Witnessing primates in the wild, and particular mountain gorillas is a once in a lifetime experience and one which is firmly planted on many a bucket list. East Africa is the place for a primate experience and once you’ve come face to face with a gorilla family in a tropical forest, watched the young play unsteadily just like human children, while the parents dote lovely on the juveniles, the unseen connection between human and primate suddenly becomes so much clearer and all the more powerful.  

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