Get Up Close and Personal with Rare Golden Monkeys on a Trekking Adventure in Uganda and Rwanda
Golden monkey trekking is a fascinating activity that has become increasingly popular among tourists on gorilla safari packages in Uganda and Rwanda. Golden monkeys live only in the wild bamboo forests of the Virunga Mountains and Gishwati Mukura National Park south of Rwanda. Tourists can visit them in either Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park, Uganda’s Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, or the DRC’s Virunga and Kahuzi-Biega National Parks.
The golden monkey (Cercopithecus kandti) is a rare species of Old World Monkey (Cercopithecidae) that is mainly found in the highland bamboo forested regions of central Africa. They also occur in the 34 km² Gishwathi-Mukura National Park, northwestern Rwanda. However, their presence in Nyungwe National Park, southwest Rwanda, has never been confirmed. Unfortunately, golden monkeys are endangered due to harvesting trees and bamboo, clearance for agriculture, charcoal production, and livestock grazing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The golden monkey has a distinctive appearance, with reddish-gold fur on its back in striking contrast to the black coloration of its feet, legs, and tail. Male golden monkeys are larger, weighing between 4.5 and 12 kg (10-26 lb) and tall at 48-67 cm (19-26 in). Females are much smaller, weighing between 3.5 and 4.5 kg (8-10 lb). The golden monkey can live up to 19 years.
If you’re looking for a bucket-list gorilla trekking adventure in Uganda or Rwanda, a visit to see the golden monkeys in the wild is an easy addition to your itinerary. Experience the enchanting beauty of these rare primates and discover the wonders of the African wilderness like never before.
Trekking Golden Monkeys in Mgahinga, Uganda
Mgahinga National Park in southwestern Uganda protects Uganda’s side of the Virunga Mountains and is one of the only four destinations where tourists can see golden monkeys and mountain gorillas in their natural wild at close range. Mgahinga is the only place you can see golden monkeys in Uganda.
The total population of golden monkeys in Mgaihnga National Park is estimated to be between 3164 and 5059 individuals. One group is fully human habituated with about 30 individuals, and it’s available for daily golden monkey trekking excursions. The other group is reserved for research and the daily four-hour habituation experiences.
Although gorilla trekking would be the biggest attraction in Mgahinga, Uganda’s smallest national park arguably offers better golden monkey trekking adventures than it does with gorilla trekking. The number of tourists that can join the daily excursions to see golden monkeys is not restricted as with mountain gorillas, but the treks begin at 08:00 AM at Ntebeko Visitors’ centre.
There are two daily adventures to see golden monkeys on offer in Uganda’s Mgahinga. The first is the standard half-day golden monkey trekking adventure that offers visitors only one hour with the pretty primates, similar to the golden monkey experience in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park. The more captivating and unique to Mgainga is the golden monkey habituation experience.
Golden monkeys have been part of a long-time running study in the Virungas. The golden monkey habituation experience gives visitors a chance to spend four hours with the golden monkeys and follow scientists around while they study them. It’s an in-depth chance to learn so much about the unknown primates, their habitat, and the behind-the-scenes primate science.
Golden Monkey Permit & Price
To join the daily guided excursion to see golden monkeys in Mgahinga, you need to book the golden monkey trekking permit, which costs $60 per person for foreign non-residents & residents and UGX 40,000 for East African Residents (2021/22 rates). The in-depth golden monkey habituation experience permit costs $100 per person. The permit is an access ticket that armed rangers for protection against any threats in the jungle, an expert local tracker guide and the time you spend with the primates. The permit does not include park entrance—$40/$30/UGX20,000 per person for foreign non-residents/residents/EA citizens.
Trekkers are not restricted since golden monkey trekking excursions don’t attract many tourists. You can just walk into the park headquarters and get your permit. However, we advise visitors to book with us in advance to avoid disappointments.
Tracking golden monkeys in Mgainga is similar to tracking gorillas, though not as strenuous; you’ll spend just about the same undetermined time (probably 30 minutes to 2 hours) trying to find their location. Nonetheless, golden monkeys are more active and exciting to watch than gorillas and will keep you on your toes trying to keep up with their antics.
Accommodation for golden monkey trekking in Mgainga
Gahinga Lodge (High-end $800 pp) — Nestled in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes, Mount Gahinga Lodge is an exclusive vacation lodge with a tranquil charm enthralled by the dramatic backdrop of three of the extinct Virunga volcanoes. Its rustic charm creates an absorbing atmosphere of tranquillity, and its closeness to the park offers an excellent base to see golden monkeys and gorillas in Mgahinga National Park.
Birdnest Bunyonyi (Mid-range $180 pn/r) — Idyllically set on the shore of Uganda’s most beautiful lake, Birdnest offers luxury resort hotel accommodation near Kabale town. It is about a 1.5-hour drive to Mgainga.
Lake Mutanda Resort (Mid-range $155 pp) — Mutanda Lake Resort is a charming little lodge sitting on a peninsula at one of the most beautiful lakes in Uganda. Although located about a 1.5-hour drive away from Mginga, this enchanting little getaway heaven provides an excellent base to track golden monkeys in Mgainga, gorillas in the south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and explore the Nepal-like attractions around this misty lake.
Chameleon Hill Lodge (Mid-range $125 pp) — Vibrantly glows atop a hill overlooking Lake Mutanda’s tranquil rift valley in the shadows of the Virunga Mountains. This charming little retreat is a perfect base for trekking gorillas in southern Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and exploring the slope of the Virungas in Mgahinga National Park.
Tailor-made safari package
Golden Monkey Trekking in Volcanoes, Rwanda
Volcanoes National Park is commonly known for mountain gorilla trekking adventures in Rwanda. However, the Virunga Mountains park also offers excellent trekking excursions to see golden monkeys in the wild, similar to those in Mgahinga.
If you’re visiting Volcanoes to see the gorillas, stay another day and spend an hour with the adorable golden primates. Rwanda does not offer golden monkey habituation experiences, although visiting the monkeys is similar to a standard trekking experience in Uganda.
There are two human-habituated golden monkey groups in Volcanoes National Park, with the largest consisting of about 80 to 100 individuals. Daily trekking excursions head out at 8:00 am from the park headquarters at Kiningi, so visitors should be there by 7:00 am for the briefing before the trek.
Fortunately, the number of trekkers is not restricted, so you could walk into the park office and buy your permit at $100 per person per trek. Still, we recommend paying for yours in advance to avoid any disappointments, especially if you’re travelling with a tour operator.
Accommodation for golden monkey trekking in Rwanda
Bisate Lodge (High-end $1750 pp) — Located in the foothills of Mt. Bisoke, on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, this oasis of vacation lodging offers an eco-luxury experience accompanied by unique insights into the remotest parts of Rwanda.
Virunga Lodge (High-end $1210 pp) — Perched on a 2,300-meter (7,500-foot) ridge between Lake Ruhondo and Lake Bulera, this remote lodge offers a bush-chic experience and breathtaking views.
Singita Kwitonda Lodge (High-end $1950 pp) — Set right on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, Singita Kitonda’s eight luxurious suites feature a private heated plunge pool, wellness treatment area fireplaces, and large timber-framed windows that welcome breathtaking scenery and volcano views inside.
Gorilla’s Nest (Mid-range $750 pp) — Surrounded by swaying eucalyptus trees, One&Only Gorilla’s Nest awakens a wild spirit of adventure. A place that encourages you to gaze into the mirror through eye-opening encounters with majestic mountain gorillas and experience the story of Rwanda.
Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (Mid-range $970 pp) — Surrounded by the tropical Volcanoes National Park rainforests, Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge’s guests can unwind in their choice of stone cottage or suites, each with a large sitting room, fireplace, stylish ensuite bathroom, and private veranda.
Mountain Gorilla View Lodge (Budget $280 pp) — Sensitively designed and built using local, sustainable resources, the lodge’s 30 cottages are well spaced from each other and come complete with fireplaces and en suite bathrooms.
Golden Monkey Trekking Vs Gorilla Trekking
In the lush forests of Africa, two unique primate encounters await adventurous travelers: the elusive golden monkeys and the iconic mountain gorillas. While both experiences offer a glimpse into the captivating world of primates, they differ in their challenges, behaviors, and photographic opportunities.
Golden monkey trekking presents an exciting quest reminiscent of the pursuit of mountain gorillas. However, guests often find it less demanding due to the monkeys’ predictable foraging patterns and return to familiar sleeping areas. Unlike mountain gorillas, who construct new nests daily and forage further afield, golden monkeys maintain a stable routine.
Once found after an exhilarating tracking time of 30 minutes to 2 hours, the hour spent with golden monkeys is filled with activity. These curious and cheeky creatures, akin to chimpanzees but more gentle, may approach visitors closely before darting into the treetops with unmatched agility. To relish the experience fully, one must keep pace with their playful antics, navigating the tangled jungle with swift movements.
In contrast, mountain gorillas prefer a leisurely lifestyle, often sitting for hours, leisurely munching on nearby plants, and communicating with gentle grunts. Their movements are deliberate, and photography is relatively easier when they remain in one place.
Who can trek
The number of visitors allowed for golden monkey viewing is not limited, making it a more intimate and personal experience compared to gorilla trekking, which restricts group sizes to eight people. Consequently, golden monkey excursions rarely have more than a handful of participants, ensuring an immersive and intimate encounter.
Families with children will find golden monkey trekking an excellent opportunity for a primate adventure. Unlike gorilla trekking, there is no minimum age requirement, making it accessible to all. While young children may find the trek challenging, teenagers can enjoy this unforgettable experience without difficulty.
Moreover, golden monkey permits are more budget-friendly, costing $50 in Uganda and $100 in Rwanda, in stark contrast to gorilla permits, which can reach $700 in Uganda and $1500 in Rwanda. The allure of golden monkey trekking lies not only in its affordability but also in the captivating interactions with these lively primates.
In conclusion, whether you choose to venture into the golden monkey’s playful world or witness the majesty of mountain gorillas, both primate encounters promise moments of awe and wonder, immersing you in the beauty of Africa’s diverse wildlife. Embrace the unique challenges and rewards of each trek, and let these incredible primates leave an indelible mark on your heart and memories that will last a lifetime.
Best Time To See Golden Monkeys
Trekking to see golden monkeys is possible throughout the year, but the best time to go is during the drier seasons, from June to August and December to January. The trails are easier to navigate during these months, and spending time with the golden monkeys is more enjoyable when it’s not raining.
However, it’s important to note that the dry seasons in Uganda and Rwanda are also peak seasons for tourism, which means that most desirable lodges are fully booked. While obtaining a golden monkey permit during this time is relatively easy, we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, particularly between June and September.
On the other hand, the low seasons, from March to May and from October to November, are characterized by high rainfall, misty forests, and challenging trails. However, for adventurous travelers who are okay with the weather, these seasons offer the opportunity to enjoy the trails without the crowds and at discounted rates at lodges that are often empty.
Your Trekking Packing List
Your packing list to see golden monkeys in the wild should include things to keep you dry, warm, and protected from the jungle and its tinny inhabitants. In fact, it’s not different from what you need for gorilla trekking because you’ll be staying and hiking in high-altitude rainforests where it gets chilly and can rain anytime.
Bring a pair of lightweight waterproof hiking shoes, a jacket and a backpack. During the treks, your body should be covered up to protect you from the bugs and prickly thorny branches, so carry a long-sleeved shirt and trousers with pockets to carry your phone. If you can wear a cape, bring one to cover your head.
I don’t have to advise gadget enthusiasts on what to carry, though; you must bring a zoom lens for your camera. Golden monkeys can hide in the bamboo forests, and you’ll have to zoom in to catch a good shot. If you don’t carry a professional camera, at least bring a pair of binoculars.
It will get chilly in the evenings at the lodge where you’ll be staying; bring a sweater or warm jacket. It’s also a great idea to bring a pair of warm socks to keep your legs warm, especially in bed.
Golden Monkey Trekking Safaris in Uganda & Rwanda
Golden monkey trekking is a most popular activity usually added to the gorilla trekking safari in Uganda or Rwanda. Suppose you hope to see the golden monkeys and the mountain gorillas on the same trip in Uganda. In that case, we highly recommend visiting Mgahinga National Park, the only park in Uganda hosting both primates. You’ll also see both primates in Volcanoes National Park.
Primate adventures with Nkuringo Safaris Ltd are entirely customised to the traveller’s preferences, so we’ll work with you to select the best accommodation that fits your budget, then book your transfers and permits. Our gorilla and golden monkey safaris are private and all-inclusive, meaning that we take care of managing your experience so that you spare all your energy in being present to create unforgettable memories.
Send us an email at email@example.com, call our agent in the UK at +44 1932 260618, or fill out the online inquiry form to get a free quote at no obligation.