When it comes to primate trekking in East Africa, gorillas remain the go-to choice for many. Viewing these incredible creatures comes at a hefty price tag, however. Why not set out on a chimpanzee experience instead, available at a fraction of the price? They might be harder to find, but little beats observing the human-like habits of these great apes in the wild.
Mahale Mountains, Western Tanzania
It’s tough to get to, not to mention expensive, but Mahale Mountains, rising over Lake Tanganyika, offer perhaps the most
dramatic and scenic setting in which to view chimpanzees in the wild. Visitors can only reach the isolated reserve by boat or plane, and normally spend a few days there, going out each day to track chimps. The great apes here are more habituated to humans than in some places, and sightings are not only pretty much guaranteed, but visitors can enjoy the thrill of observing the chimps at close quarters. Accommodation options range from relatively inexpensive bandas on the shores of the lake to the upmarket lodge, Greystoke Mahale. $80 entrance fee for non-residents; Tsh 5,000 ($2.50) for EAC citizens. $20 per small group for guiding, or Tsh5,000 for EAC citizens.
Gombe Stream, Western Tanzania
Primatologist Jane Goodall’s work in documenting chimps in Gombe National Park helped bring this reseve to prominence.
Although less dramatic than Mahale, it is easier and cheaper to reach, making it more feasible for independent travellers. Depending on the season (and the food source), trekking for chimps here can be strenuous, involving long hikes through forested hills. Like in Mahale, the chimps are well habituated, offering opportunities for close viewing. Access is again by boat along the shores of Lake Tanganyika. For the adventurous, consider taking the MV Liemba steamer from Kigoma (sailings every two weeks) and a private boat back. $100 entrance fee for non-residents; Tsh 10,000 ($5) for EAC citizens. $20 per small group for guiding, or Tsh 5,000 for EAC citizens.
Kibale Forest, Western Uganda
This is probably Uganda’s best location for tracking chimpanzees, and it boasts the highest primate density in the world. Its biggest selling point is its chimp habituation experience, which allows visitors to pay an additional fee to spend an entire day tracking and observing chimpanzees.
Chimp viewing is arguably less intimate than in Mahale and Gombe, but there’s a plethora of other primates to see, including the grey-cheeked mangabey, the red- tailed monkey, and different types of Colobus monkeys.
Chimp trekking costs $150 (including entrance fee) per foreigner resident, 100,000 Ugandan shillings ($27) for EAC citizens. The day-long experience costs an additional $150 per resident, and 70,000 Ugandan shillings ($20) for citizens. There is a range of accommodation options in the park for different budgets.
• Children under 12 are generally not allowed to track chimpanzees in established parks.
• Visitors might be required to don face masks to prevent transmission of disease to the great apes, which share more than 98 percent of our DNA.
• For the longer habituation experience in Kibale, visitors must be 15 and over.