A once-in-a-lifetime journey to meet the African great apes in Uganda and Rwanda
Africa is a continent of remarkable diversity, teeming with life and natural beauty that never fails to astound. Among its extraordinary residents are the great apes, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom. These magnificent creatures are celebrated for their intelligence and intricate social structures, captivating the hearts and minds of wildlife enthusiasts and adventurers from around the world.
The term “great apes” refers to a group of large primates that share a common ancestry with humans. Scientifically classified as Hominidae or hominids, this group includes gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans. Africa is the exclusive home to three of these great ape species (except the orangutans), making it a fascinating destination for wildlife enthusiasts and conservationists alike.
If you’re seeking an unforgettable wildlife adventure in Africa that will leave you in awe, the Great Apes of Africa Expedition is the perfect choice. This exciting journey will take you deep into the pristine rainforests of Uganda and Rwanda, where you’ll have the unique opportunity to come face-to-face with these African great apes in their natural habitats.
On the African Great Apes expedition, you will have the chance to interact with some of the most dedicated minds in great ape conservation. You’ll trek alongside a spirited chimpanzee troop during their daily foraging, venture into the heart of Uganda’s impenetrable jungles to meet a gorilla family and admire the beautiful yet endangered golden monkeys in the Virunga mountains of Rwanda. This immersive experience promises a symphony of breathtaking encounters with the iconic great apes of Africa, etching unforgettable memories in the story of your exploration of the natural world.
The Best Places to See Great Apes in Africa
Uganda and Rwanda are prime destinations for observing these magnificent great primates in their natural habitats. These countries offer pristine rainforests, expertly guided treks, and conservation efforts that ensure you can watch these incredible ape creatures up close while contributing to their protection and preservation. Here are the top rainforest destinations in Uganda and Rwanda where you can interact with the great ape species:
Kibale National Park: Commonly known as the “Primate Capital of the World,” Kibale Forest National Park in western Uganda is home to 13 primate species, including chimpanzees. The park offers the best chimpanzee trekking experiences in Africa, with easy access from the Airport and excellent accommodation choices.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for protecting the highest population of mountain gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, in southwestern Uganda, is the best destination in Africa to see mountain gorillas in their natural sanctuary. It provides an enchanting backdrop for gorilla trekking expeditions.
Volcanoes National Park: Located in the Virunga Mountains, Volcanoes National Park in northeastern Rwanda is a top great ape attraction, offering intimate encounters with mountain gorillas. It also offers golden monkey trekking experiences and interactions with primate conservationists at the Ellen DeGeneres Campus for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.
The Great Apes Expedition
The Great Apes of Africa expedition begins in Entebbe, a peninsula town off the shores of Lake Victoria in central Uganda. Here, visitors will have the chance to take a canoe into the shore marshes of Mabamba Sanctuary in search of the elusive shoebill bird, a unique experience to start the African apes journey.
Kibale National Park (2 Nights)
After departing from Entebbe, you’ll take a scenic 5-6 hour drive to Kibale Forest National Park, where you will check into Turaco Treetops Lodge for a two-night stay.
The next day, you will wake up early to join the local trackers and rangers for a chimpanzee trekking excursion that typically lasts 3-5 hours. Once you locate the troop of chimps, the rangers will guide you in spending an hour observing their social behaviors and following their foraging expeditions in the lush rainforest.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (3 Nights)
After your stay in Kibale, you will be transferred to Kasese Airport, which is about two hours away. From there, you will take a bush flight over the beautiful landscape of southwestern Uganda and bring you to Kisoro Airport. It’s a 2-hour drive from the airport to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Once you arrive, you’ll check into Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge, which will be your home for three nights. The lodge offers breathtaking views and a genuine connection with the forest.
Early the following morning, you’ll join expert rangers and a tracker on a gorilla trekking excursion to the impenetrable jungle to find a habituated gorilla family. The trek can be physically and emotionally challenging due to the uneven, damp, and steep terrain. However, once you find the mountain gorillas, you’ll spend an hour observing them at a close distance as they feed and socialize. Gorillas are gentle and captivating creatures, and this experience is sure to stay with you for a lifetime.
On the second day in Bwindi, your guide will take you on a leisurely cultural forest walk with the Batwa people. This pygmy community used to inhabit the rainforest before it was declared a national park. The Batwa people will showcase their native cultures and give you an insight into their daily lives, cultural practices, and encounters with the great apes.
Volcanoes National Park (3 Nights)
After an exciting time exploring the charismatic gorillas of Bwindi, you’ll continue your African Great Apes Adventure with a 4-5 hour drive to Volcanoes National Park in northwestern Rwanda, which includes crossing the border. During your three-night stay at Mountain Gorilla View Lodge, you’ll have the opportunity to trek the golden monkeys in Volcanoes National Park for one day.
Additionally, you’ll visit the Ellen DeGeneres Campus for the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, where you’ll have the chance to meet some of the most fascinating minds in the conservation of mountain gorillas and community sustainability. You’ll learn about the work they do to protect the great apes of Africa and gain valuable insights into what it takes to ensure their survival.
Kigali (1 night)
Your African Great Apes expedition concludes in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, where we’ll stay at Haven Boutique for a night, offering comfort and luxury. Kigali is known for its warm hospitality, vibrant culture, and stunning scenery, making it a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring the beauty of Africa.
The Best Time For this Expedition
The ideal time for the Great Apes of Africa Expedition is during the dry seasons in Uganda and Rwanda, which generally fall between June and September and from December to February. The trails are less muddy during these periods, and ape sightings are more predictable. However, it’s important to note that great ape encounters are possible year-round.
Permits and Logistics
Obtaining permits for great ape trekking is an essential aspect of this expedition. These permits are necessary to protect these endangered species and to regulate the number of visitors in their habitats.
The gorilla permit costs $700 per person, while the chimpanzee trekking permit costs $200. The Golden Monkey permit is $100 per person. You can book these permits with Nkuringo Safaris or directly with the wildlife authority. However, logistics with the wildlife authority can be daunting for foreigners.
It’s advisable to secure these permits well in advance, as they are in high demand, and only a limited number are available each day.
What to Expect
This expedition is rated moderate to strenuous, requiring travelers to be physically fit and prepared for multiple hours of walking or hiking over uneven terrain. During the primate tracking, guests will trek up to 8 hours through thick jungle at elevations that may reach 10,000 feet. The treks can be challenging, hiking steep, uneven, wet, and muddy terrain. The minimum age restriction for travelers is 15 years old. There will be several long driving days, lasting up to 7 hours with multiple stops.
However, travelers will stay in lodges with great amenities and idyllic locations. A Nkuringo Safaris Expert and Expedition Leader will accompany you on this trip, and local guides will join you along the way.
Nkuringo Safaris will take care of your accommodation and meals, booking you into lodges with idyllic locations and comfortable amenities. You will be accompanied by an expert tour guide who will transfer you in a 4×4 safari truck between places, ensuring you reach your activities on time and find the best local guides for your ape excursion.
What to Pack
Efficient packing is crucial for the Great Apes of Africa Expedition due to limited space on transfer tracks and bush plains. Here’s a list of recommended items:
Clothing: Lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants for trekking. A waterproof jacket or poncho, as rain showers are expected. Sturdy, waterproof hiking boots with ankle support are a must. Remember to bring a hat and sunglasses for sun protection.
Gear: A good quality waterproof backpack for day treks, a refillable water bottle, and a small first aid kit. You may also need a camera with a zoom lens to capture the great ape moments from a distance.
Travel Accessories: A universal adapter for electrical outlets, insect repellent, and a high SPF sunscreen.
Documents: Ensure your passport, visas, and permits are safely stored in a waterproof pouch.
Medications: Personal medications, prescriptions, and a basic travel medical kit.
Toiletries: Compact toiletries and quick-drying towels.
Optional Extras: A good book, travel journal, and a small, portable power bank for recharging devices.
When acquiring gear, many items can be found in outdoor stores like Nordstrom, Awaytravel, and Monos. Alternatively, you can buy from the travel shops in Entebbe, your entry city. There’s no need to invest in expensive equipment if you don’t have it already.