Africa offers a diversity of primate safaris with the chance to track endangered mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. And those who have experienced getting up close and personal with our closest relatives, hail it to be one of the most memorable encounters of their lives.
Most primates have over 97% of the same genetic make-up as humans and have been known to exhibit similar behaviours. This makes it very particularly interesting to observe their characteristics.
Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of the Congo offer a great deal of primate diversity, and you can even see rare species such as colobus and golden monkeys in certain areas. These countries also boast unique crater lakes, rivers and waterfalls so that visitors don’t just have to keep an eye out for primates when they’re trekking.
Before you set off on a primate safari, here are some tips from Wal-Mark Safaris to help you to make the most of your trip:
1. Secure a trekking permit in advance
A travel operator can secure your permit in advance to save you any wasted time or hassle during your stay. Gorilla permits in Uganda, Rwanda and DRC are in high demand these days, and only a maximum of eight people are allowed to track a gorilla family at a time. This means that making all necessary bookings at least three months prior to arrival could save you a lot of stress and disappointment.
2. Decide where you want to go
Gorilla trekking can be done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, in Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and in Virunga National Park in the DRC. All of these parks are within the great Albertine region, and each has various tracking stations as well as a number of gorilla families.
On the other hand, chimpanzee trekking is better in Kibale National Park, Kyambura Gorge, and Kalinzu Forest Reserve in Uganda, or Nyungwe Forest National Park in Rwanda, which has elevated walking canopies that are 800 metres from the ground in sections.
3. Work out your budget
Gorilla permits vary in prices depending on the time of year and chosen destination. If you do have budget constraints, it is, therefore, worth researching or speaking to your travel operator beforehand to see where and when would be most suitable for you. The most affordable gorilla treks are in Democratic Republic of the Congo at a uniform cost of US$400 per day for international visitors.
4. Decide when you want to go
The dry season is arguably the best time for all primate safaris in Africa as the ground can be muddy and slippery during the rainy season. The periods from June to October, and from December to March are the best months, and also the peak periods, which is why advanced bookings are important.
However, if you are looking for a cheaper primate safari, then accommodation and permits are discounted in some parks during the low seasons.
5. Try to be in good shape
Searching for primates often involves quite a hike, and all treks start early in the morning after a briefing from the park rangers on how to behave with the apes. It is, therefore, important to be in relatively fit and good health before tracking primates.
6. Be prepared to follow the rules
Cover your mouth or turn away from the gorillas if you need to cough or sneeze, maintain a 21ft distance from the gorillas when you’re taking photographs, avoid using your flash when taking photos, and don’t smoke, drink or eat in front of them. In the DRC you will be required to wear a surgical mask in the presence of gorillas, as a way of disease prevention.
7. Don’t dress to impress
Wear dark coloured long-sleeved tops, long trousers, and comfortable walking shoes when trekking. It is also advisable to coat yourself in insect repellent and sunscreen before entering the rainforest.
8. Charge your batteries
Check that your camera battery is fully charged and bring an extra just in case, carry drinking water, and eat a healthy breakfast beforehand.
9. Book your accommodation
Lodging is another essential factor to consider before booking a primate safari. Lodges, hostels and campsites are often located close to the entrance of different parks in order to make it easy to report to the park headquarters for the trek briefing. All vary in terms of facilities and services, and can cost anywhere between US$30-$800, so it is a good idea to speak to the experts at Wal-Mark Safaris to find out the best places to stay to suit your budget and needs.
Once you’ve made all the necessary preparations, you can relax and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience.