Golden monkey trekking or hiking up the Virunga mountains to see golden monkeys in the wild bamboo forests of Uganda and Rwanda is a popular tourist activity on gorilla safari packages. Tourists that flock to this region often to see the mountain gorillas spare a day of adventure hike to view golden monkeys 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 species of Old World Monkey (Cercopithecidae) barely known and restricted to the highland bamboo forested regions around the Virunga Mountains straddling the borders shared between Uganda, Rwanda and DRC in central Africa.
The only other place where the golden monkey is known to occur is in the 34 km² Gishwathi-Mukura National Park, northwestern Rwanda. Although also reported in Nyungwe National Park, southwest Rwanda, presence has never been confirmed.
Golden monkeys occur only in moist montane forests, mostly in bamboo and forest mixed with bamboo. In the Virunga Mountains, this subspecies depends on bamboo (Sinarundinaria Alpina) for 60% of its feeding time. They also eat leaves and fruits. They cover an estimated home range of about 250 hectares at an altitude range of 2,100-3,550 meters.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the current conservation status of the golden monkey as endangered, threatened by harvesting of trees and bamboo, clearance for agriculture, charcoal production, and grazing of livestock.
The golden monkey’s face is hairy, and its cheeks are adorned with ombre bristles that look like a bushy beard. Around the mouth and nose, whiskers are white—like a little goatee. Its nostrils face downward. Its eyes are vigilant—almost owl-like—and a deep brown. The monkey’s “golden” name comes from the reddish-gold fur on its back, which is in striking contrast to the black colouration of its feet, legs, and tail. Females are a bit lighter in colouration than males.
A male golden monkey can weigh about 4.5-12 kg (10-26 lb) and stand at 48-67 cm (19-26 in) in height. Females are much smaller, weighing between 3.5 and 4.5 kg (8-10 lb). The golden monkey can live up to 19 years.
Golden monkeys live in patriarchal social structures of about 30 to 100 individuals. Although males lead the group, females play an integral role in maintaining group cohesion and communication; they usually don’t leave. Males sometimes venture off and wander. Groups stay close to food and retain the same sleeping and feeding areas. That has earned these cute tiny primates a reputation as passive creatures, making them an excellent attraction for golden monkey trekking adventures in their natural home.
If you’re visiting Uganda or Rwanda for a bucket-list gorilla trekking adventure, venturing to see the golden monkeys in the wild is no doubt an easy addition to your bush vacation holiday.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
The trek to find the golden monkeys is similar to finding mountain gorillas. However, guests may discover golden monkey trekking less challenging because the tiny primates usually maintain the same foraging range and return to the same sleeping area for days. Mountain gorillas build new nests every evening in different locations and forage away from the previous day’s site.
On the other hand, when you find the primates after an undetermined time tracking them (usually 30 mins to 2 hours), the hour you spend with golden monkeys is more active than the one you spend with the nonchalant mountain gorillas. Golden monkeys are curious and cheeky like chimpanzees but not as aggressive. The little primate can walk close up to you, then jump up into the tree and move on; you’ll often have to swiftly move through the tangled jungle to keep up with their antics to enjoy viewing the golden monkeys.
Mountain gorillas usually sit in the same position for hours, grabbing and chewing at plants close by, farting and grunting. They’ll only move when they’ve eaten all the edible greens around them. Occasionally, a juvenile will curiously come close to the visitors but will move back in line as soon as their father grants his disapproval.
Photography is easier with giants positioned in one place. The golden monkeys are trickier to photograph because of their active movements.
The number of visitors to see golden monkeys is not restricted. Still, it’s rare to have more than a handful of people in an excursion group. Gorilla trekking is limited to eight purple per group, and usually, permits are sold out months in advance.
There is no minimum age for golden monkey trekking. So, if you’re travelling with children, golden monkey viewing is an excellent chance for a primate experience with the kids. However, young children may find the trek challenging, not teenagers though!.
Standard golden monkey permits cost $50 in Uganda and $100 in Rwanda compared to gorilla permits at $700 in Uganda and $1500 in Rwanda.
Trekking to see golden monkeys is open the whole year, but the best time is during the drier seasons, from June to August and December to January. The trails are easier to navigate at this time, and spending a precious hour with the golden monkeys might be more pleasant when it isn’t raining.
However, the dry seasons also peak in Uganda and Rwanda, which means most descent lodges are fully booked. Even though it’s not difficult to get the golden monkey permit during the peak season, we highly recommend booking your accommodation in advance, especially between June to September.
March, April, May, October and November are low seasons, and the rainfall is high. The trails during this time are challenging, and the forest is misty. Nonetheless, lodges are empty with discount offers for ardent adventurers that don’t mind the weather.
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.
What you should pack for the experience!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.