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The best primate destinations in Africa

Primates are our closest relatives, and it is these shared characteristics that makes watching them so fascinating. From their gregarious nature, family squabbles and eating habits (some good, some bad), spending time observing our cousins is a remarkable experience. Throughout Africa there are numerous primate species, and some attract more attention than others. Be it the huge silverbacks of Mgahinga or the vervets of Kruger, primates not only make for some fascinating encounters, but they also enable some stunning photo opportunities. Rwanda Rwanda’s primate experience is epitomized by the gorilla. With a plethora of luxury lodges in and around Volcanoes National Park, your trekking accommodation will be more lavish than that found in the adventurous Uganda. Nowhere is more opulent than Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge which is found on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. Aside from the incredible hospitality and service, each of the eight suites have their own private plunge pool. With easy access from Kigali, you can easily undertake a three or four day Rwandan safari and include a gorilla trek or two. Permits are normally $1,500 per person per trek, however currently they are reduced to $1,000 per person per trek until March. Volcanoes is home to ten habituated gorilla families, including the first family Diana Fossey studied during her time spent in Rwanda. Spending time with any of the families is a wonderful experience and whether you spend one hour trekking or four, the experience you have will never be forgotten. Another primate experience in Rwanda is chimp trekking which can be undertaken in Nyungwe National Park. Although the experience is not as well-known as the chimp experience in Kibale, Uganda, if you have time for a longer itinerary, Nyungwe should not be overlooked. Uganda Mirroring Rwanda, gorillas and chimps are the main primate attraction in Uganda, however a visit to any National Park will also undoubtedly bring you face to face will olive baboons and vervet monkeys. The gorilla trekking experience is the same as in Rwanda, however Uganda has two areas where gorilla trekking is possible. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the most popular destination with over twenty different gorilla families, whilst Mgahinga National Park only has a single family. Uganda is all about adventure, and gorilla trekking is certainly an adventure of a lifetime. Bwindi’s apt name is from the thick and dense foliage that provides some great photo opportunities of the gorilla families within their habitat. Mgahinga on the other hand has open clearings that gives rise for some beautifully lit scenes, especially of the three silverbacks that rule the area. Mgahinga is also the area where “silver meets gold” as the golden monkey trekking can also be undertaken in this National Park. These smaller primates might not be as domineering as a giant silverback, but their antics are still worth witnessing and photographing! Chimp trekking can be undertaken in a number of different areas throughout Uganda, however Kibale offers the best experience, with Kalinzu Forest in close second. Both offer great opportunities to observe our second-closest relative as they forage, feed and clamber amongst the trees. Chimps tend to spend more time amongst the canopy so photographing the chimps can be more difficult than the gorillas, therefore it is paramount if you want to get some great photos, book a couple of treks to ensure you have enough time to get what you want. Also keep an eye out for the black and white colobus monkeys as well as the blue monkey. Southern Africa Whilst gorillas, chimps and golden monkeys are restricted to Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC, Southern Africa is also home to a number of primate species, and you do not need a permit to view these animals. The chacma baboon and the vervet monkey can be found in most National Parks in Southern Africa, be it Mana Pools in Zimbabwe or the Greater Kruger in South Africa. Due to their quantity, these primates are often viewed daily and quickly become taken for granted when on safari, but that does not mean their behaviour is any less interesting. Their prevalence and often relaxed nature allow some great photo opportunities at sunrise and sunset, and time spent with them is not limited so you can take your time to get that perfect shot. You may even be lucky enough to find some of these mischievous primates at the lodge’s waterhole or even in and around the communal areas! Tanzania Although Uganda and Rwanda steal the headlines for chimp trekking experience, in the West of Tanzania, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika is a lodge run by Nomad Tanzania that offers unprecedented access into the lives of chimps. Greystoke Mahale offers an intimate and private experience on the golden shores of Lake Tanganyika with tropical rainforests behind. Each morning you are there, you can opt for a chimp trek where you and a guide will venture in the rainforest in search of the habituated chimps that call Mahale home. The chimps’ antics are certainly worth watching as are the other members of the forest that include the red-tailed monkey and hundreds of different bird and plant species. The afternoons are for relaxing. From boating on the turquoise waters to more forest hiking or simply reading a book, any time spent at Greystoke Mahale will leave you refreshed and invigorated. Madagascar Although not situated in the continent itself, one cannot mention primates without referring to the lemurs that inhabit Madagascar. With beautiful beaches, you can combine primate viewing with some rest and relaxation in a dream-like coastal resort. Although logistics of getting to and around Madagascar can be tricky, the effort is certainly worth it. Perinet Reserve is home to the ring-tailed lemurs that are famous for inhabiting the island. Staying at the Andasibe Hotel would give you the perfect base to explore the lemur’s natural habitat and if you want to combine beach and lemurs then heading to the island of Nosy Bay is a must. Marc Harris is Managing Director of Africa Odyssey. Africa Oydssey is run by a team of award-winning experts offering tailor-made African safari holidays. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

Marc Harris

Marc Harris is the Founder and Managing Director of Tanzania Odyssey and Africa Odyssey. Marc founded the companies in 1999 after a 2 year stint exploring and guiding all over Africa and still enjoys regular visits to this amazing continent. We are safari experts, long-established specialists in all aspects of African safari itinerary planning and ground management across sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, whether you are dreaming of the ultimate walking safari through the heart of Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park or a champagne breakfast in the Masai Mara, whether you wish to encounter wild gorillas or enjoy the ultimate Indian Ocean island beach break, we will design the perfect itinerary for you.

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  1. The $500 reduction on a gorilla trek is interesting but how many days are included in a trek? And how physically tough is a trek?

    1. Hi Ed,

      Yes and Uganda have almost halved their permits (from 750 per trek to 400 USD).

      Treks can take anywhere between 3-6 hours including one hour with the gorillas.

      After your briefing, groups are sorted by fitness, so those that are fitter generally have the tougher trekking routes. Sometimes it can be very easy, other times it can be tricky, slopes may be steep, paths slippery and muddy. It is a great experience and thoroughly recommended!

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