Many travelers always ask for what is the Best time to track take a primates safari in Africa. For those interested in East Africa, these travelers always look for the best time to see both gorillas and chimpanzees. Here is a quick guide to when to travel to Africa for a primates watching adventure;
Gorilla tracking is actually a year-round activity since Gorilla habitat has been reduced so significantly, they couldn’t roam far even if they wanted to. However, mountain gorilla trekking is a little hard at times and especially during the rainy season, the steep paths, mist and mud can make it almost impossible to go through. Very heavy rain also makes it more difficult to take good photos, and since you only have limited time with the gorillas, not more than an hour, it would be a shame not to get a good snapshot or two. The main rainy seasons in the region, that is Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC are from March to April and October to November.
Chimpanzee tracking safaris can be found in Kibale Forest national Park in Uganda and Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest. Like gorilla safaris, they can take place year-round but the rainy season makes walking in the remote rain forests a little tougher and the photographic opportunities aren’t as pleasing as during the dry season (July – October and December – February). However, the rainy season also means the chimpanzees don’t have to roam too far to find water and they are easier to locate (February-June, November-mid December).
Gorilla safaris in Central and East Africa
With nearly 900 total population of mountain gorillas left in the world, seeing them in the wild is a lifetime moment, something only a few people will ever have the chance to experience. This section will tell you where you can see mountain gorillas, where to stay, how much the permit costs, and help you choose the best tour company to go with.Where Can You See Mountain Gorillas?Nearly 480 mountain gorillas inhabit an extinct volcanic region called the Virunga Range along the borders of Rwanda , Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo ( DRC ) in East Africa . The other 400 or so mountain gorillas inhabit a nearby area of Bwindi in Uganda, a thick rain forest.
The two parks in Uganda are; Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where you are able to do gorilla tracking activity.
- Mgahinga is situated on the extreme southwest corner of Uganda on the slopes of the Virunga Mountains. It borders the DRC and Rwanda. The park only covers 28 square miles so it’s quite small, but besides gorillas you can also see leopard, buffalo, bushbuck and golden monkeys.
- Bwindi impenetrable Forest National park is located in south-western Uganda and is home to about half of all worlds mountain gorillas. The park covers about 200 square miles of extremely dense rain forest and is a proclaimed World Heritage site. Part of the fun of tracking gorillas here is trying to follow them through the dense foliage. You can also get to see chimpanzees as well as 350 species of birds, most of which are endemic to Albertine rift.
Rwanda has one park in the North of the country encompassing its share of the mountain gorilla population: the Virunga National Park or Parc National des Volcans (PNV). The park covers an area of about 46 square miles and encompasses six volcanoes. Despite the terrible genocide in the early 1990’s the country is fairly stable and the park permit system is running smoothly. The PNV was where Dian Fossey set up her base and research center. Many travelers opt for a Rwanda safari given that tracking gorillas in the PNV is slightly less strenuous than at Bwindi since the gorillas move around a little less. The more open terrain also allows more light for better photo opportunities than in Bwindi. Check out my gorilla tracking experience in Rwanda.
Democratic Republic of Congo
The DRC also has a section of the Virunga Mountains Park called the Parc National des Virunga. The DRC gorilla population suffered a major setback because several gorillas were brutally hacked to death in 2007. In 2012 a census showed the gorillas were doing better than expected despite the civil war raging around them in large part due to the amazing efforts of rangers putting their lives on the line at Virunga National Park. In 2014 the Director of the park was shot in an ambush, but survived and continues the effort to save the park from various rebel movements encroaching on their territory as well as oil-companies looking to gain drilling rights.Note:Gorillas move around the Virunga National Park. In March 2005 it was reported that the gorilla group that is usually resident on the Ugandan side of the park had moved to Rwanda (tastier bamboo shoots perhaps). By mid – 2009 they had returned. Safari companies operating in the area keep track of all gorilla movements and will know where the habituated groups can be located each day.
Tracking Mountain Gorillas
Mountain gorilla tracking activity is not easy, nor are you guaranteed to see them. The trek to where the gorilla groups is at that time can take you through very dense vegetation, up steep slopes and can last several hours of the day. The dense vegetation is filled with burning and stinging nettles, so wearing gloves is ideal. Red ants are also common, please wear long socks to tuck your trousers into, jungle boots are recommended as well as rain jacket. Gorillas move around so they aren’t all that easy to track. The gorillas groups you will be likely to meet are habituated to humans which is why you are able to get quite close to them.Some of gorilla tracking basic rules include:
- You have to be over 15 years of age and above
- You do not have to be sick or have any infectious disease
- Only one hour is allowed with the gorillas and you have to keep a distance of at least 7 metres
- Maximum number of visitors per day is 6-12 people per group
- No flash photography is allowed
- Trekkers must be fit and well equipped, which includes warm clothing for the wet cool climate high in the mountains.
- No eating or drinking in the vicinity of the gorillas
- No touching the gorillas (although they may decide to touch you)
- No pointing at gorillas
You need an official permit handled by each of the national parks to see the gorillas. Usually you have to obtain it several months in advance. If you contacted a tour company, it will be arranged for you.In Uganda gorilla permits cost USD 600 per day per person in high season. In low season a permit costs $500 or slightly less to track gorillas during the months March – May and October – November. You can get the permits in Kampala (the capital of Uganda) at the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters.
It is possible to make an international booking for permits using email direct with UWA but they do not accept credit cards so it gets a bit complicated. See their web site for more details. To make it simple, you can just purchase your whole gorilla tour through a specialized company, like Gorilla Trekking or Volcanoes Safaris.In Rwanda you can get permits through the Rwanda Tourism Board offices (ORTPN) in Kigali or Ruhengeri (near the PNV). You can email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The permits cost USD 1500 per person per day. Most people will get their permits through a tour operator that arranges gorilla trekking Safaris. It is difficult to obtain a permit without booking a tour at the same time.