Trekking to view one of mans closest relatives is an experience like no other. Unlike the Gorillas, the chimps are far more active, constantly moving, often at a high pace through their forest habitats. Often it is a harder task to find the chimps, but once you do find them, it is always an entertaining, fun and fascinating experience. There are several locations in Africa to view chimpanzees and to experience chimpanzee trekking.
In Rwanda, Nyungwe Forest home to around 500 chimpanzees is a superb place to trek within one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests and is also one of the oldest on the entire continent.
In Uganda, there are 3 areas in Uganda from where you can track Chimpanzees: Kibale Forest, Kyambura Gorge (near Queen Elizabeth National Park) and Budongo Forest (in Murchison Falls National Park). Kibale is by far the most popular and chances of a sighting are high. In Budongo and Kyambura, sighting chances are just slightly less, although it is not as busy in these locations and one feels a greater sense of achievement when you finally track down the chimpanzees from their knuckle-tracks and calls in the forest.
In Tanzania, the stand out location is the Mahale Forest (Mahale Mountains National Park). It is one of the most remote and beautiful parks in Africa, and home to around 700 chimps. Combined with beautiful mountains, lush forest, mind-blowing beaches and all on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, this park is sensational. Also in the west of the country lying on the shores of Lake Tanganyika is the better-known Gombe National Park, and where Jane Goodall performed her ground-breaking studies. The park is smaller than it's sister park to the south and home to around 100 chimps.
Chimpanzees are very active and often very vocal. You can be treated to a range of behaviours from eating to mating, fighting, playing and grooming. A troop of chimpanzees hooting in the forest and/or drumming on tree buttresses is a sight to see and hear!
We have travelled and explored extensively in Rwanda with the Rwanda Development Board and are extremely passionate about promoting travel to this stunning and diverse country.
Rob is one of only a handful of true Rwanda experts in the UK. He has explored most of the country in depth, spent time in all three of the main national parks over the years and has also stayed at almost all the best accommodation establishments. For honest expert advice contact Rob or call him on +44 7791 360170 or email him on [email protected] .
Please do note it is not just about the Gorillas here, so plan to not only visit Volcanoes National Park , but also its two sister parks - Akagera for wildlife including Lions, Elephant, Giraffe, Hippo and more; Nyungwe for the variety of primates including Chimpanzees and of course relaxing and exploring beautiful Lake Kivu . With plans to add a tourist lodge in Rwanda's newly established 4th National Park - Gishwati-Mukura National Park - conservation and tourism are thriving in Rwanda.
Mention the name Rwanda and most people remember the protracted civil war that escalated into a horrific genocide and claimed the lives of nearly a million people. However, over twenty years later this resilient and safe country is now truly thriving and has become one of the most economically vibrant and socially progressive on the continent. We do encourage our clients to explore Kigali, one of the friendliest and cleanest capital cities on the continent, and visit the Genocide Museum, to gain a background in this remarkable country to see how far it has come, and head off and explore as much as possible of this sensational country. We at Tailormade Africa love Rwanda!!
Geographically, it’s also one of Africa’s most remarkable countries. Labelled ‘The Land of a Thousand Hills’, its verdant forests offer one of the top wildlife experiences on the planet: meeting the mountain gorillas studied by Dian Fossey in the Volcanoes National Park. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event that should be on everyone’s ‘bucket list’.
Other Apes are on offer too: Rwanda is one of only three countries in the world where you can track both Gorillas and Chimpanzees. Found inside Nyungwe National Park – the largest and oldest montane forest in East Africa – this biodiverse park also shelters the endangered Golden Monkey endemic to the Virunga Mountains, the black-and-white Ruwenzori colobus and close to 300 species of bird.
To the east, you can explore the off-the-beaten-track savannah of Akagera National Park home to elephant, hippo and – after a 15-year absence – a newly re-introduced pride of lions and also rhino that are the subject of a fascinating conservation story led by the non-profit organisation African Parks .
You can hike to the summit of dormant volcano Mount Bisoke, pick up woven handicrafts from villages, watch tea pickers at work, and relax at a lakeside retreat on the shores of Lake Kivu – the eighteenth-deepest lake in the world – where Amato fishing boats ply the depths.
If you are travelling from the UK or mainland Europe there are various flight options: RwandAir flies directly to Kigali from London Gatwick three times a week alternatively Kenya Airways fly via Nairobi, KLM via Amsterdam and Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa, all from London Heathrow. Other airlines serving Kigali include Fly Dubai and Qatar Airlines.
Access into Rwanda is easy and all points are easily accessible due to the fact that Rwanda is a small country. Agakera National Park is roughly a 2-hour drive at 100 km from Kigali, Nyungwe is a 5 to 6-hour drive at just over 200 km and Volcanoes National Park is a 2.5 to 3-hour drive at just over 100 km. Lake Kivu is just over 100 km from Kigali: a 2.5 to 3-hour drive.
Mountain gorillas live at high altitude (1,700 metres) in the Virungas, Volcanoes National Park. There are currently 10 habituated gorilla families each of which can be visited by a maximum of 8 visitors per day. Viewing time is limited and people are permitted to stay with the gorillas for a maximum of 1 hour only. Gorilla trekking involves walking long distances through thick vegetation and up steep, wet and muddy terrain which may prove a challenge for some visitors.
We recommend you pace yourself: walk slowly and drink plenty of water. On the track, carry as little as possible in a waterproof bag: hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, camera, etc. No one should, however, feel deterred from making this trip as mostly, average fitness levels will be sufficient for the treks. Porters are available to help you carry your daypack for a small fee. Children under 15 years of age are not permitted on gorilla treks.
Being a rainforest, Virunga Volcanoes experiences a changeable climate and you can generally expect rain or sunshine, or both, on any day of the year. At 1,700m above sea level, it is also generally quite cold, especially in the mornings and evenings. Warm clothing is therefore recommended. Please bring sturdy, waterproof walking shoes or hiking boots, gators (if possible) and a light raincoat. We recommend long, thick, waterproof trousers and a long-sleeved top to protect against stinging nettles. A pair of thick gloves is helpful when you are grabbing for holds in thorny vegetation. If you feel safer with a walking-stick, pack a folding one. The park can provide wooden walking sticks if necessary.
To minimise the possible transmission of human diseases you are required to maintain a distance of 7m (22 ft) from the gorillas. If you are unwell with a cold, flu or any other contagious illness please do not visit the gorillas. Spitting in the park is strictly prohibited. Should you need to cough please cover your mouth and turn away from the gorillas. Eating and drinking near the gorillas and smoking anywhere within the park is strictly forbidden. Photography is permitted, but you may NOT use flash. Please keep your voice low when with the gorillas and do not make any rapid movements that may frighten them. Should a gorilla charge or vocalise towards you, do not be alarmed. Stand still, look away from the gorilla and follow your guide’s directions. The safety of visitors is of the highest priority for the park guides and there is no need for concern about your personal security. To enhance your enjoyment make sure you carry at least 1 litre of drinking water with you. You are permitted to bring small snacks to eat during your hike but do not litter.
Fees for mountain gorilla tracking permits are US$1500 per person for foreign non-residents, foreigner residents in East African countries, foreigner residents in Rwanda and for Rwandan citizens - this is inclusive of park entrance fees. Tracking only takes place in the morning and always starts at the Volcanoes National Park HQ in Kinigi at 0700 hrs every day. Many of the park’s team of trackers and anti-poaching officers speak English or French.
Rwanda is a destination for all seasons, however, visiting Rwanda to trek the mountain gorilla is best during the drier season from June to September. This is also the optimum time for tracking chimpanzees. Temperatures hardly vary throughout the seasons due to Rwanda's position just south of the Equator. Days are warm and nights are cool, especially at altitude.
Rwanda is an elevated country in the African Great Lakes region of the continent. The geography of the country is dominated by mountains in the west and savannah to the east with numerous lakes throughout the country.
The population of Rwanda is young and predominantly rural with a density amongst the highest in Africa. Rwandans are drawn from one cultural and linguistic group called the Banyawanda although within this group there are three subgroups: the Hutu, the Tutsi and the Twa. The country has been governed by a strict administrative hierarchy since pre-colonial times and there are five provinces delineated by borders which were introduced in 2006. Rwanda is one of only two countries with a female majority in the national parliament.
Since the genocide of 1994, when Rwanda's economy suffered greatly, the country has now strengthened. The economy of Rwanda is based mostly on subsistence agriculture and coffee and tea are the major cash crops for export. Tourism is a fast-growing sector and is now the country's leading foreign exchange earner. Rwanda is one of two countries in which mountain gorillas can be visited safely. Music and dance are an integral part of Rwandan culture: particularly drums and the highly choreographed intore dance. Traditional arts and crafts are produced throughout the country including imigongo: a unique cow dung art.
On the last Saturday of every month from around 8.00am to 12.30pm all Rwandans, from all walks of life, take a break from their everyday chores and come together with neighbouring communities and villages to work together for the benefit of the whole society. Work often includes chores such as general cleaning, breaking fallow ground for farming, unblocking trenches and roadside drains and sweeping streets. Once the work has been completed, communities hold a short meeting to discuss society issues and then head home. Their afternoon is then free to continue their daily lives and revert back to personal engagements.
Due to a combination of tropical location and high altitude Rwanda enjoys a year-round temperate climate. Temperatures rarely stray above 30 degrees Celsius during the day and 15 degrees Celsius at night through the year. The upper slopes of the Virunga mountains can be cooler however generally, variations in temperature throughout the country are insignificant.
Most parts of the country receive in excess of 1000mm of precipitation annually with the wettest months being February to May and the driest months being July to September.
Nyungwe National Park may not be as well-known as its sister park, Volcanoes, but if there is one place that will encourage you to extend your stay in Rwanda then this is it. In fact, really as a trio of parks with Akagera, it makes the perfect Rwanda safari experience! Nyungwe is surely one of the world’s most beautiful and pristine mountain rainforests and is also one of the oldest on the entire continent. Nyungwe is a remarkably rich centre of biodiversity and protects one of the largest areas of mountain rainforest anywhere in East or Central Africa at nearly 1000 square kilometres. To add to this the park is also the most important catchment area in Rwanda, providing water to 70% of the country, and its central ridges form the watershed between the mighty Nile and Congo drainage systems, within this Mount Bigugu, claimed to be the most remote source of the Nile.
The main attraction in the park is Chimpanzee trekking . Nyungwe is home to habituated chimpanzees and 12 other primates species (including a 400-strong troop of habituated Ruwenzori Black & White Colobus), it’s also a birder’s paradise with over 300 species, including 16 endemics, and is home to 75 different species of mammal. Nyungwe is also home to one of East Africa's last intact populations and boasts two wild chimp communities. Thus, with around 500 Chimpanzees it's not surprising that chimpanzee tracking is a popular activity in Nyungwe, especially when the park's trees are in full bloom during the summer, as well-trained guides lead visitors through the park's forests. Trekking the chimps is quite an experience through this majestic forest, and although very different and not as intimate as the Gorilla trekking, it is a must! We would recommend reading more about the differences between Chimpanzee and Gorilla trekking here.
This stunning rainforest is filled with other nature and wildlife experiences too. Hiking the Congo-Nile divide for the most adventurous or even biking the beautiful terrain, and experiencing the canopy walk are all on offer here. Hanging 60 meters above the forest floor between giant trees and towers, this is East Africa's only Canopy Walkway and is an exhilarating way to experience the forest! We recommend Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel to stay at if spending time at Nyungwe. At present this is really the only accommodation option in the park whilst the high-end Nyungwe House undergoes a refurbishment in 2018, with it's planned re-opening in October.
Exploring through the forest, you will witness a landscape that won’t be soon forgotten, this is an area that really is magnificent, and again that off-the-beaten-track experience we love!!
To reach Nyungwe National Park is around a 4-5 hour drive from the capital Kigali, which is a distance of around 200kms. Most people will normally make a stop in the town of Butare to break up the journey and visit the National Museum of Rwanda, which is well worth a visit to learn more on the cultural history of the country and the region.
You will normally arise at dawn around 0430 hrs for your transfer to the Forest for the Chimpanzee trekking experience.
This is in very hilly terrain (high ridges and deep valleys) and the Chimps themselves are only semi-habituated and tending to move far and wide over a large area. This does make the tracking hard and unpredictable and sighting the chimps hard to guarantee, but if you do it is well worth it with the Chimpanzees normally very active and loud as they frolic in the treetops.
For other options, we recommend Colobus Monkeys trekking, the thrilling adventure of the Canopy Walk, guided Forest Hikes including the breathtaking waterfalls, birding trail and many more exciting possibilities. One also has a chance of seeing some of the other primates who call Nyungwe home including Black and White Colobus, Grey-cheeked Mangabeys, Blue Monkeys, L'Hoest's Monkeys and many more.
After breakfast, transfer to the park HQ for a half day forest trek in search of the Angola Colobus Monkeys which can be found here in troops of several hundred; the largest can be up to 450 individuals. This fair to moderate trek can be adapted to guests’ fitness and lasts up 6 hours. It's an absolutely amazing experience, to see so many Colobus monkeys at the same time; often 50-60 at a given time. Besides their incredible numbers, Angola Colobus differ from the more common Eastern colobus by the extent of white hair and leaner frame.
Other primates likely to be seen during the trek include L'Hoest's Monkey and the Grey-cheeked Mangabey. The birds too are spectacular, though as in most tropical forests, one has to look hard for good sightings. Giant hornbills, great blue turacos and red-breasted sparrowhawks are amongst the specials, 24 of them endemic to this section of the Rift Valley.
Head back to the hotel for lunch then in the afternoon, tour a nearby tea plantation; an excellent way of interacting with the local farmers, know them, hear their stories and challenges, and make friends.
In the morning or afternoon, a thrilling adventure awaits you on the Nyungwe Canopy Walk. From the park information centre, descend the 40º slant via a zig-zag footpath to the first tower deep in the forest valley for the 1½ hr walk on the Canopy Walk’s suspension bridge. Besides being so high in such a picturesque location, the walk allows access to the upper parts of the forest, where one can see some unique ‘canopy’ species; apes, birds, butterflies, plants and insects, flowers, leaves and other animals that live in the roof of the forest which are otherwise invisible but can now be seen at eye level, or even from above. It is an unforgettable experience.
What is the Canopy Walk?
The canopy walk starts at the Nyungwe Interpretive Centre at Uwinka. The new Tourist Information Centre (TIC) has been completed via a USAID grant.
Taking the route that zigzags down a 40º slant to the Canopy Walk you will reach the walkway in about an hour just halfway down the valley. Barely 5 min after leaving the TIC, it is a totally different world as you truly get immersed in the intimacy of the forest. Down at the canopy walk start point, there is a massive aluminium tower where you start the walk. 4 towers form a square that runs parallel then right across the valley and back on the other side. A stairway leads walkers up 20ft to the first tower where you walk in single file on a 1ft wide aluminium suspension bridge over the forest canopy, then right across the valley for about 100m (at almost 150m above the ground) exiting at the other end. The walk is around 45min to 1hr on the bridge with the entire tour from TIC and back will be 2.5 to 3 hrs long.
The best time to visit Nyungwe National Park is:
The Nyungwe rainforest is probably the best preserved montane rainforest in Central Africa. It is located in the watershed between the basin of the river Congo to the west and the basin of the river Nile to the east. The east side of the Nyungwe forest is home to one of the branches of the Nile sources. A true nature lovers’ paradise, Nyungwe Forest National Park’s glorious sense of expansiveness is among its most striking features.
The 970 km² of rainforest, bamboo, grassland, swamps and bogs in the majestic hills of southeast Rwanda is the largest remaining ‘island’ of montagne forest in East and Central Africa. It is also home to a rich variety of flora and fauna; 200 types of trees, hundreds of flowering plants, over 100 species of orchids and sensational lobelias and 13 recorded species of primates, 25% of the African primate checklist, including the acrobatic Angola colobus that move in troops of several hundred and an estimated 500 chimpanzee (often seen from the forest trails during the rainy season) as well as L’Hoest’s monkey, olive baboon, grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkey. Bird enthusiasts will not be disappointed with over 300 species including 24 Albertine Rift endemics e.g. the spectacular Ruwenzori turaco and several iridescent birds.
The stand out accommodation in Nyungwe National Park is Nyungwe House owned by the One & Only group. With 23 luxury rooms and suites situated in five stunning wooden villa clusters in the heart of the rainforest, it is by far the best option. For those who cannot stretch to the price tag of Nyungwe House then Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel is a simple, but also a comfortable option.
This is quite possibly the quintessential African destination. When it comes to safari, Tanzania really does have it all and it is certainly one of the most popular among our clients. It is the kind of place which experienced safari hands could easily visit four or five times, but it also makes for a fantastic first-time safari. Here are our reasons why we love Tanzania safaris.
Both Clyde & Rob have vast experience in creating top quality Tanzania safaris. Clyde has been a professional safari guide there for many years and Rob has also spent a huge amount of time in Tanzania over the last decade. So for honest expert advice on Tanzania contact Clyde or call him on +44 7809 726266 or email him on [email protected] . Alternatively, contact Rob - call him on +44 7791 360170 or email him on [email protected] .
Tanzania can effectively be split into three distinct safari circuits, the first and most popular of which is the Northern Parks. Most itineraries through here will make use of a vehicle and guide who will stay with you for at least some of the trip. Lake Manyara, Tarangire and Ngorongoro make a wonderful introduction to safari and help to set the atmosphere. However, the Serengeti is the crown jewel of the region and plays host to the Great Migration where approximately two million wildebeest, zebra and antelope move in a constant cycle in search of the rains and good grazing. Other fringe areas that are well worth making the effort to visit are Lake Natron, Lake Eyasi and Lake Victoria.
The southern circuit in Tanzania offers a safari experience more akin to those in Southern Africa. The burnt red earth and phenomenal predator population of Ruaha make for an action-packed adventure and incredible game viewing. This is wonderfully contrasted in the Selous, where time is whiled away in a more leisurely fashion. Boating safaris allow you to search the lush waterways for hippos and crocodiles whilst sipping on gin & tonic.
The western circuit is the least travelled region in Tanzania due to the expense and difficulty of getting there. Most visitors are safari aficionados who are rewarded with very low visitor numbers indeed. Katavi is an extraordinary wilderness area and Mahale offers the very best Chimpanzee trekking experience in Africa.
As if this wasn’t enough, the beautiful Islands & Coast region includes the wonderful remote Tanzania Coast and tropical beaches of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia Islands lie within easy reach. A combination of safari and beach is very popular amongst honeymooners and families to Tanzania and can be one of the most affordable safaris you will find because of the lower cost of the beach lodges. A few visitors will even extend their trips to include a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro – the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest freestanding mountain in the world.
Mahale Mountains National Park, set on the shores of Lake Tanganyika is truly breathtaking! One of only two protected areas in country for Chimpanzees, the park is home to over 1,000 individuals, and due to the parks size and remoteness the Chimpanzees flourish here in Mahale. This really is one of the very best places in the world to see these amazing creatures.
Mahale has no roads and little infrastructure, so the only way to access the park is by air and then by boat across the lake. The lakeshore here is fringed with fine, white-powder sand and the mountains, full of streams and lush vegetation, make for an imposing and stunning backdrop.
The highlight of any trip to this 1,600 square kilometre park is trekking the Chimpanzees at close quarters. August to October is the best time to do this with the Chimps normally being close to the shore and the paths at their driest. Additionally here fish, kayak, butterfly and bird watch, or simply relax on the beautiful beach. Put simply Mahale is truly a stunning place to visit!
Much like Katavi, Mahale being remote is not cheap to get to and thus we recommend 3-4 nights in the park, taking in Chimpanzees and various other experiences. Really if you are coming this far you should combine Mahale with a similar amount of time in the Katavi. In fact, as a week long experience the combination of stunning safari in Katavi and Chimpanzee trekking and relaxing at Mahale, makes for one of the very best weeks you could have anywhere on the continent!
With only a couple of hundred visitors between the two parks each year, these are experiences not many people ever have the privilege of boasting about! Mahale, like Katavi, also has two beach lodge accommodations, the unique Greystoke, and the beautiful setting at Kungwe.
One of Africa’s lesser known countries, once the thriving hub of British East Africa, many people still associate Uganda with Idi Amin’s dictatorship of the early 80s or the infamous Entebbe Airport hijacking.
Visitors to Uganda are often surprised and taken aback by the shear natural beauty of Uganda’s diverse landscapes and the genuine friendly welcome from the people. From the mountainous rain-forests in the south, to the northern savannahs, to picture-perfect crater lakes Uganda is truly one of the most geographically remarkable countries in Africa.
Uganda’s star attractions are the mountain gorillas, with just under half of the world’s remaining population found in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While access has improved over recent years with better roads and the introduction of affordable internal flights, the forest still lives up to its “Impenetrable” tag offering a real jungle adventure. Gorilla trekking is a true bucket list adventure, journeying through the dense jungle to spend an hour with the completely wild and imposing giants of the forest.
Chimpanzee trekking, often overshadowed by their more glamourous gorilla cousins, is different and fascinating experience. Chimpanzees live in large communities of up to 100 individuals (gorillas remain in family units of 8-20), so visitors to one of Uganda’s four different chimpanzee trekking sites can witness a variety of antics from feeding and grooming to clashes for ranking seniority.
Uganda also has a range of National Parks to visit on safari. Animal numbers are on a steady increase after a drop during the lawless years of Amin’s regime. You won’t find the teeming herds of the Masai Mara, but you are more likely to have a safari experience where you are the only people viewing animals at one time.
Uganda’s profusion of lakes and rivers also means there are many chances to experience safaris from a boat. On The Nile in Murchison Falls, the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Albert in Semliki and Lake Mburo.
For those with a more active outlook there is Jinja – East Africa’s adventure sport capital with white water rafting, kayaking, quad biking and bungee jumping. Sipi Falls on the slopes of Mount Elgon offers great Mountain Biking and Rock Climbing excursions. The Rwenzori Mountain range can be climbed in 3-14 day expeditions, the unique experience of being above the snow-line on the equator.
Most would agree that Kibale one of the world’s top spots for primates with 13 different primate species (14 if you count yourself!). This is one of the top spots in the world to track or even habituate wild Chimpanzees. Should you find them you’ll marvel at the ways our closest relatives interact with each-other, and learn from your guide the secrets of this remarkable forest.
Visitors staying in nearby Fort Portal will be pleasantly surprised by the vistas of tranquil crater lakes and lush, green tea plantations. Those with a taste for adventure can undertake a mountaineering expedition in the nearby Rwenzori Mountains, a unique journey and the experience of snow on the equator!
At its most narrow point on its nearly 7,000 km journey; the mighty River Nile squeezes itself through a mere 6-metre gap to create the powerful, unrelenting explosion of water that is Murchison Falls.
Murchison is one of Africa’s unique parks with a wide variety of river life including gigantic crocodiles, hippos, riverbank game and a plethora of birdlife, all of which can be admired up close on a boat safari. Traditional game drives can be had at dawn and dusk have a chance to spot predatory cats on the prowl for dinner.
In the southern part of the park, Chimpanzees can be tracked in Budongo Forest, while near the park gates is Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – re-introducing these magnificent giants back into Uganda.
Bordered by the Rwenzori foothills, flanked by lakes and bisected by a river channel, Queen Elizabeth is one of the world’s most bio-diverse National Parks. Conveniently located between Kibale and Bwindi Forests this is one of Uganda’s most popular National Parks. Hippos lounging in the calm waters of The Kazinga channel nonchalantly watch elephants arrive for an evening drink. A wide variety of beautiful antelope and other game roam the plains, whilst in the southern Ishasha section – rare tree climbing lions rest in the boughs of Acacia and Fig trees.