Rwanda or the Republic of Rwanda is a small landlocked country located in east-central Africa, bordered by Tanzania, Burundi, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is a highly elevated region that’s dominated by mountains, savannas, and being in the African Great Lakes region, by a number of lakes. It is endowed with a temperate to subtropical climate. All these make it a perfect habitat for primates and for trekking, with the possible sightings of gorillas and chimpanzees providing the attraction.
If you haven’t heard of primate trekking, you can learn more about it from Emma Thomson’s blog posted in The Independent entitled Primate trekking in Rwanda: How do gorilla and chimpanzee experiences compare? The primate trekking trip recounted by Thomson in the blog took seven nights and cost £3,433pp. These included the flights, a vehicle, a private guide and stays in the lodges – two nights at Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge (golden monkey and a gorilla trek), two nights at Nyungwe Forest Lodge (chimp and colobus monkey treks) and night spent in Kigali. There were also permits to pay:
“… a chimp permit costs US$90pp (£57); a gorilla permit costs US$750pp (£500). For gorillas, 64 permits are issued daily, and for chimps only eight.”
Seeing primates in their natural habitat is not a common experience. It is “billed as one of the top wildlife experiences on the planet.” What makes it more memorable is having the opportunity to see both primates – the gorillas and the wild chimps – in one location. There are, after all, only three spots on earth where you can find them together, and Rwanda is one of them. Thomson is interested in comparing the two primates, so she got Expert Africa, her tour operator, and her father to help her.
Thomson’s trekking party of eight people kicked off from the Volcanoes National Park, which is a two-hour drive from Kigali. They are aiming to see the Agashya troupe; there are 18 families in Rwanda. Ten are allowed to be visited by tourists, while the other eight are being studied by researchers.
According to the guide, there is a good 99 percent chance to see gorillas and the ones frequenting the base of the mountain are quite easy to find, yet actually finding them may take anywhere from 40 minutes to seven hours. They were lucky; after two hours of trekking they found them in the bamboo forest.
The Gorilla Encounter
“We tiptoe back into the bamboo forest and there, just off to the left … The pair of perfectly round, ebony eyes locked on me belong to a baby gorilla. She’s riding piggyback aboard her mother just yards from me – so close, in fact, I can see the morning raindrops on their thick frizz of black fur.”
“More and more emerge and suddenly Agashya, the silverback – after which the troupe is named – struts into the clearing, commanding silence. He hammers his chest and it echoes loud and clear like clapping coconuts. I notice a female showing a juvenile how to dig for shoots. “Bamboo shoots are like gorilla beer,” giggles Francis. “It relaxes them; makes them happy.”
The trekking party found them while the gorillas are resting. They tailed Agashya as it roams deeper into the bamboo forest. A young black-back male approached Thomson and gave her a friendly, quick thump on the leg’ who can’t feel joy as you are greeted by these daunting, but innocent primates?
Meeting the Chimps
Their trekking party went to Cyamudongo to see the chimpanzees. The habitat, a part of Nyungwe Forest National Park, is a 4-hour drive from Kigali. These cheerful primates aren’t hard to spot with their cackles and hollers echoing all over the place. There are over 500 of these primates in this forest.
Just half an hour upon arrival, the trackers have already spotted them, but they were moving quite fast. That means ambling agilely down the precipitous, muddy slope to catch them. The first they encountered was a 3-year old “chimpans.” They had an uninterrupted view as it clambered up a huge tree branch and down to munch on a fig. And because Nyungwe’s chimps haven’t been fully adapted, the encounters may only be fleeting and mysterious.
Booking a Primate Trekking
If you find this experience thrilling and uo to your taste of adventure, Thomson advices:
“For peak season (June to September and Christmas-New Year) it’s advisable to book six to 12 months in advance. You can book direct with the Rwanda Development Board (rdb.rw), but it’s much easier to let a tour operator, either local or abroad, arrange it. The minimum age is 15 for gorilla trekking and 16 for chimp trekking.” Red tape: British nationals can get a 30-day tourist visa on arrival. The US$30 (£20) fee must be paid in cash.”