Africa’s Great Apes

Encountering Africa’s great apes in their natural environments is one of life’s most extraordinary experiences. Learn more about the great apes of Africa, where to find them and the best way to see them in their natural habitat.

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Encounter Africa’s Great Apes on Safari

The great apes live exclusively in the dense forests of West and Central Africa. They’re widespread, but the dense forest habitat can make 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, offering a great example of research and tourism working hand in hand.

The preferred habitat of all of 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. This means that there’s a big difference between where the African apes range, and where visitors can realistically have a decent chance of a safe and meaningful encounter with them.

 

 

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Highlights of Great Ape Safaris

Often the best safaris involve looking beyond the obvious highlights. It’s about the exhilarating encounters that will make your heart sing. These are encounters that nobody could ever predict, but that make your safari genuinely unique.

BEST TIME TO GO ON A GREAT APE SAFARI

Unlike any other kind of safari, an African great ape trek can be successful all year round. Mountain and western lowland gorillas are easily found, even during the rainy seasons. So as long as you are resilient to the weather, you can see them in their natural habitat, whatever the weather.

In the three primary gorilla and chimpanzee trekking areas of Africa, the dry seasons are the same — in the winter months between June and September, and towards the end of the year from December to February. These parts of the year can be considered safer for visitors, particularly with regards to malaria, and also allow for a far easier trek on foot. That said, the Congo is rainy for the majority of the year.

BEST TIME TO GO ON A GREAT APE SAFARI

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Way out west in Katavi & Mahale

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Great Apes in Rwanda

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  • Congo
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Lowland Gorillas in Odzala National Park

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Gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park

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“The more you learn about the dignity of the Gorilla, the more you want to avoid people.”
– DIANE FOSSEY

Our Favourite Camps & Lodges

Light tented camps, stylish lodges & fly-camps; Africa has it all. Best known for its superb safari camps and lodges – many designed with creativity and a real effort to complement, rather than dominate, their environments.
Gorilla’s Nest

Gorilla’s Nest is a well-established lodge close to the trailhead of the gorilla trekking expeditions and is a practical as well as exceedingly comfortable place to base yourself.

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Greystoke Mahale

One of the most beautiful and dramatic locations of anywhere in East Africa, sitting on a white sandy beach at the base of the 8,000ft Mahale Mountains overlooking the turquoise waters of Lake Tanganyika.

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Bisate Lodge

Set in a 43 hectare plot of reclaimed farmland in the natural amphitheatre of an ancient volcano cone, Bisate combines iconic architecture with visionary reforestation while facilitating the ultimate bucket-list experience, gorilla tracking.

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Nyungwe House

Nyungwe House is something of an enigma – a luxury retreat, purpose-built in collaboration with the Rwandan Government 2010 as part of the effort to get international visitors to look beyond the gorillas it was refurbished in 2018 to an even higher standard.

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Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge

Less than half an hour drive from the Park headquarters and striking out point for gorilla treks, Sabyinyo is amongst the most luxurious lodges in the area while maintaining an authentic safari feel.

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Virunga Lodge

Virunga Lodge boasts one of the most stunning settings of any safari camp in Africa, strung along a ridge with panoramic views of the Virunga Volcanoes and the beautiful Ruhondo and Bulera Lakes.

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See gorillas in their natural habitat

Trekking excursions in these countries require the advance purchase of a trekking permit, and a portion of the entrance and permit fees will often be donated to conservation projects in the area.

Natural High will be able to discuss permits with you and assist in obtaining the required documentation.

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The best places for gorilla trekking in Africa

An estimated 900 apes live in family groups of between 10 and 30 on the mountain slopes bordering the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.

If you’re looking for a combination of great apes and big game, then consider a safari to Uganda where you can experience everything under one roof. On the other side of the great Central African rainforest, the western or lowland gorillas live in the lowland forests of the Congo, the Central African Republic and Gabon. Nobody knows for sure how big the population of great apes in the area are, but there could be up to 200,000 of them.

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Head to Congo Brazzaville for the best lowland gorilla experience

An estimated 20,000 gorillas live in and around Odzala National Park in Congo-Brazzaville, the highest concentration of this iconic great ape to be found anywhere.

Odzala is a critical oasis of calm and home to the western lowland gorilla. They have a more active and arboreal character than their montane cousins, making photography tricky, but this experience is less about portraiture and more about behaviour.

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Where to track chimpanzees in Africa

The chimpanzee has a surprisingly wide although discontinuous distribution from Senegal in the far west to Tanzania in the east. There are two distinct species – the common chimpanzee (pan troglodytes), and the bonobo or gracile chimpanzee (pan paniscus).

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. A sortie into chimpanzee-country can be worked into a conventional “big game” safari in East Africa relatively easily.

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Spend time in close company with chimps

Chimpanzee trekking involves exploring the forest 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 their natural behaviour from fighting to play, grooming and feeding. For those wishing to immerse themselves further into the daily lives of our most charismatic kin, the option of a full-day tracking experience has recently become available in a couple of places.

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““We couldn’t believe how close we got to the gorillas. The guides made us feel very safe and made sure we saw all members of the family and spent time with them. It was breath-taking. A childhood dream come true and more”
– M Worthy, Natural High client

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