Great Ape Safaris

Our guide to the best Gorilla and Chimpanzee trekking safaris

ABOUT AFRICA'S GREAT APES

Great Apes live exclusively in the dense forests of west and central Africa. They're widespread, but dense forest habitat makes them as good as invisible in all but a few select spots.

As a result the best places to see great apes tend to be those areas where they've been studied and habituated - a great example of where research and tourism work hand in hand.

The preferred habitat of all the African great apes is thick forest and many have an unfortunate predilection for living in some of the most unstable countries on the planet. Therefore, there’s a big difference between places where they range and places where you can realistically have a decent chance of a safe and meaningful encounter.

THE MORE YOU LEARN ABOUT THE DIGNITY OF THE GORILLA, THE MORE YOU WANT TO AVOID PEOPLE”

- DIANE FOSSEY

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Africa's Great Ape Safaris

CHIMPS & BIG GAME IN WESTERN TANZANIA

Visit the amazing chimps of the Mahale Mountains, staying at the remarkable Greystoke Camp. Combine with Katavi National Park

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Africa's Great Ape Safaris

UGANDA'S GREAT APES & BIG GAME

Combine the chimps of Kibale, Bwindi's Gorillas and big game in Semliki and Murchison Falls

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Africa's Great Ape Safaris

RWANDA's Great Apes

TREK IN TO THE VIRUNGA MOUNTAINS AND NYUNGWE FOREST FOR A FACE-TO-FACE ENCOUNTER WITH OUR CLOSEST COUSINS

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Africa's Great Ape Safaris

GORILLA TREKKING IN VIRUNGA NATIONAL PARK

VISIT AFRICA'S MOST DIVERSE NATIONAL PARK FOR A WEEK OF Gorillas, TREKKING, CLIMBING AND EXPLORING

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BEST PLACES FOR GORILLA TREKKING

The most famous of the the great apes, here are our thoughts on where and how to find them.

An estimated 900 individuals live in family groups of between 10 members and 30 on the slopes of the mountains bordering the eastern DR CongoRwanda and Uganda. If you're looking for a combination of great apes and big game then consider a safari to Uganda where you can get everything under one roof.

On the other side of the great Central African rainforest, the western or lowland gorilla live in the lowland forests of the DR Congo, the Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon.

A combination of political insecurity in the region and relative lack of scientific research means that although there are many more western gorilla than mountain gorilla (nobody knows for sure how many, but there could be up to 200,000) there are in fact much fewer habituated groups and so the opportunities to see them are less. 

The individual characters of these animals are well known by the guides, their relationships, feuds and politics well documented. This is as much about soap opera as it is game viewing. ”

READ ABOUT GORILLA TREKKING IN THE CONGO

HEAD TO CONGO BRAZZAVILLE FOR THE BEST LOWLAND GORILLA TREKKING SAFARI

An estimated 20,000 gorillas live in and around Odzala National Park in Congo-Brazzaville - the highest concentration of this iconic great ape found anywhere. Odzala National Park, a critical oasis of calm and home to the western lowland gorilla - a more active and arboreal character than their montane cousins, making photography tricky but this experience is less about portraiture and more about behaviour. The trek itself is an unforgettable experience.

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BEST PLACES FOR CHIMPANZEE TREKKING

Two species of chimpanzees occur - the common chimpanzee Pan troglodytes and the bonobo or gracile chimpanzee, Pan paniscus.

The chimpanzee has a surprisingly wide although discontinuous distribution from Senegal in the far west of Africa to Tanzania in the east.

From the perspective of spending time with them this is restricted to three countries - Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania where the chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains offer one of the best great ape experiences in Africa.  However each of these countries currently offer excellent opportunities for chimpanzee tracking. A sortie in to chimpanzee-country can be relatively easily worked in to a conventional “big game” safari in East Africa.

As with gorilla tracking, the modus operandi is to trek through the forest to where a family group may be, generally with the assistance of an advance party of trackers who will have followed them from wherever they spent the night, you then spend an hour in close company, observing natural behaviour from fighting to play, grooming and feeding. Recently the option of a full-day tracking experience has become available in a couple of places for those wishing to immerse themselves further in to the daily lives of our most charismatic kin.

Without doubt much of the fascination in spending time with chimpanzees is in observing just how similar to us they are - chimps are in fact more closely related to humans than they are to gorillas - and the striking similarities in physical features, grimacing, posturing and, possibly most unnervingly, the endless political manoeuvring which can be brutal and terrifyingly familiar.”

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT CHIMPANZEE TREKKING IN TANZANIA

HEAD TO THE MAHALE MOUNTAINS FOR THE ULTIMATE CHIMPANZEE TREKKING

Strike out over five hundred miles west of Arusha and into a land that offers very few tourists but un-rivalled wildlife including arguably, the best chimpanzee trekking experiences in all of Africa. The Mahale Mountains in Western Tanzania are completley in rich green forest and home to not only the habituated chimpanzees of the M group but eight other species of primate as well as countless other forest inhabitants. Stay on the shores of the crystal clear waters of Lake Tanganyika in one of the most pioneering and magical camps you will find, Greystoke Mahale - the original camp in Mahale and still accessible only by boat. The camp is built almost entirely from reclaimed dhow wood. This is a truly magical place to stay and in combination with chimpanzee encounters in the mountains, this will be a trip that you will never forget. 

Our tip from years of experience is book early! 

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TOP DESTINATIONS TO SEE GREAT APES

TANZANIA

Find the Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains

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TOP DESTINATIONS TO SEE GREAT APES

Uganda

COMBINE GORILLA TREKKING WITH A BIG FIVE SAFARI

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TOP DESTINATIONS TO SEE GREAT APES

RWANDA

FIND GORILLA IN THE VIRUNGA MOUNTAINS

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TOP DESTINATIONS TO SEE GREAT APES

CONGO

EXPLORE ODZALA NATIONAL PARK

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Our experienced travellers include:

Catherine Ronan
Catherine Ronan
Vanessa Janion
Vanessa Janion
Andrea Hulme
Andrea Hulme

It takes genuine local knowledge to craft trips that go beyond the ordinary.

All of us at Natural High have over 20 years’ experience in the countries we offer. We’ve lived there, worked there and arranged countless one-off journeys for clients. We live to travel – and love to share our tips on what’s really worth doing. For expert advice (and a traveller’s tale or two), speak to one of our team. They’ll be happy to let you in on their travel secrets, and help you plan a tailor-made trip that’s truly unforgettable.

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