Comparing the chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda and Uganda – which country offers the best chimp tour

When it comes to safari destinations in Africa, Uganda and Rwanda are popular for their primate adventures and most visitors include one or both of the two countries in their African trips just for the primates. The two most popular primate adventures that attract tourists to this part of Africa are the gorilla trekking and the chimpanzee tracking. The gorilla trek is obviously the number one primate adventure which you can do in Uganda and Rwanda as the prime destinations. In this article I compared the gorilla trekking in Uganda versus Rwanda when deciding on the country for the gorilla tour. The chimpanzee trek is often an afterthought from the gorillas, which shouldn’t be the case because the chimps who are our closest relatives offer a different experience, which you could find is way more exciting than the gorillas!

In this article I compare the chimpanzee trekking in Uganda and the chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda to guide you in making a choice if you are wondering where to go for the chimps tour in Africa.

Pros: Why you should do your chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda

  1. Relatively cheap permit: The chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda costs $90 which is cheaper than the $200 charged when trekking in Kibale National Park Uganda’s prime chimp tour destination.
  2. Guaranteed sightings of chimps: The park will ensure you trek one of the only two habituated chimpanzee groups in Nyungwe National Park that is confirmed to be more accessible that day hence guaranteeing your sightings.
  3. Great hiking adventure because of the mountain landscape: Nyungwe forest National Park where the chimp trek is done is a mountain forest which offers an amazing hike for the active travelers and hiking enthusiast.
  4. Amazing scenery in the mountain forest: Nyungwe forest which is located on the rolling highlands rewards with breathtaking views as a bonus on your chimp trek.
  5. Add the canopy walk experience which is a highlight of Nyungwe: The best canopy walk experience by far in the East African region, a tour in Nyungwe is not complete without the canopy walk adventure in Nyungwe that will spice your chimpanzee trekking adventure in Rwanda.
  6. You can stay at Lake Kivu one of the most beautiful lakes in Africa, while tracking the chimps: Also, a big bonus to trekking chimpanzee is fall back to nearby Lake Kivu to offer great relaxation and amazing scenery after trek.

Here is a short 2 day chimpanzee trip to Nyungwe National Park

Cons: some reasons you may decide not to do your chimp trek in Rwanda

  1. Limited chimpanzee tracking permits: Rwanda has only one park for the chimpanzee tracking (Nyungwe Forest National Park) and just two habituated groups in the park. Since only 8 people can track the chimps in a day, that means only 16 permits are available in one day. The limited permits can be a hinderance to your trip planning as it is easy to miss the permits which sell out quickly.
  2. Hard trek: The mountainous terrain of Nyungwe can be a challenge for the trek and especially given the chimps are also very active primates. Older and less fit people may find the chimp trek in Rwanda quite a challenge

Pros: Why you may prefer do to your chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

  1. Many options for the chimp trek: There many destinations in Uganda for the chimpanzee trek. Unlike Rwanda which has just one park, Uganda has several destinations where you can do the chimp trek in the different regions and some of them include Kibale forest, Budongo forest, Kalinzu forest, etc… This abundance of the chimpanzee destinations makes it easy for you to incorporate the adventure in your Uganda safari trip.
  2. Many chimpanzee permits: With many destinations and many habituated chimpanzee groups, there is a lot of availability of chimpanzee tracking permits in Uganda and therefore not so easy to miss out.
  3. Can get affordable chimp tracking: Price of chimpanzee trekking permit differs according to the destination and one can find a cheaper chimp trekking permit for as low as $40, a great thing for the backpackers and students who may not afford the $200 price of the chimpanzee tracking permit in Kibale National Park which is the country’s major chimpanzee tours destination.
  4. Easier trek: Terrain of many of the destinations is not mountainous hence offering an easier hike that is favorable even for the older citizens or less fit persons.

Cons: Why you may not prefer Uganda for your chimpanzee trekking

  1. Some destinations do not provide a 100% chance of seeing the chimps. However the prime destination Kibale National Park offer 100% chance of seeing the chimps.
  2. Trek is less exclusive with many tracking groups setting off into the forest and can cross paths as each tracks down their habituated chimp group.

Covid 19 guidelines and requirements for tourists visiting Rwanda

After several months of closing the borders and stopping all passenger flights by the Rwanda government because of the corona virus (covid 19) pandemic, Rwanda finally opened up to passenger flights and tourists into the country on 1st August 2020. All the parks and other tourism destinations in Rwanda have been reopened for tours but with standard operating procedures put in place for each destination and activity.

Below I guide on what is required of the tourists before flying into Rwanda and during their trips in Rwanda during this corona virus situation:

The visitor must have done a covid 19 test not later than 72 hours before the date of arrival in Rwanda and shall present a certificate to prove the test which should obviously be negative. PCR tests are advised.

On arrival in Rwanda the visitor shall be required to take another Covid 19 test and shall not travel anywhere outside Kigali in the next 24 hours during which time the visitor shall be waiting for the test results.

The covid 19 test is done at $50, a cost incurred by the visitor/tourist.

Important to note is that during this time of waiting for the results the visitor is not confined in an isolation space or quarantine but is free to travel around Kigali and explore the city, however following the strict social distancing guidelines or standard operating procedures (SOPs) as established by the government. Some of the SOPs to take note of include; mandatory wearing of a facemask when in public, avoiding crowded spaces, and observing the 9pm to 5am curfew among others. Check out our Kigali City tour guide for the array of interesting places you can visit for a tour.

If the test comes back negative you will then proceed on your tour in Rwanda but will keep maintaining the SOP guidelines.

Important to note that to visit any primates park, such as doing the gorilla trek in Rwanda‘s Volcanoes National Park or the golden monkey trekking in the Volcanoes N.P, or the chimpanzee trekking in Nyungwe Forest National Park, you will be required to present a negative covid 19 test result done in the last 48 hours. Hence, if you have the gorilla trek on your Rwanda tour itinerary it is advised to do it first after being released from Kigali when the covid 19 certificate is still valid for the gorilla tracking requirement. However if you have to visit other places some days before your gorilla trek you will then be required to take another covid 19 test 2 days before your trek, i.e. 48 hours before the trek.

After the end of your tour and departing from Rwanda, you shall be required to take another covid 19 test 24 hours before your flight. Hence you have to include a full day at the end of the tour to allow for the covid 19 test and results.

hike to the twin falls in Rwenzori Mountains

This is a short one day hike in the base of the Rwenzori Mountain ranges that offers a taste of the rated best mountains for hiking in Africa due to their incredible beauty and natural diversity, rewarding you with an amazing experience of two beautiful waterfalls, locally called the twin falls – Rwatha & Nyamughasana falls (collectively called the Hon. Nyombi Tembo falls).

The longer Rwatha falls on the left and the bigger nyamughasana falls on the right

The two falls’ uniqueness lies in the fact that they are created by two distinct rivers from the Rwenzori mountains(River Rwatha and River Nyamughasana), flowing over the same rocks/cliff to create the two beautiful waterfalls side by side and joining their waters at the pool below and thereafter continue flowing as one River Nyamughasana. The reason why the locals decided to give the unified river the same name Nyamughasana is an interesting story you shall learn from the local guide.

nyamughasana falls

There are other sets of popular waterfalls in Uganda such as the Murchison & Uhuru falls in Murchison Falls National Park are also located side by side but both belong to the same river Nile, and the Sipi falls which has 3 sets of waterfalls located along the same river.

The starting point at Nyamughasana river crossing

The hike is 1.6 km long which starts with crossing through unified Nyamughasana River down the stream, dipping your feet in the coldwater and wading across. The water is quite cold with temperature about 6 degrees Celsius which offers much need soothing before taking on the rise.

steep trek after crossing River Nyamughasana

The hike starts with a steep rise going up to an altitude of about 1800 meters before starting the descend towards the waterfall. Along the hike you shall turn back to enjoy the breathtaking views across the mountainous landscape and the Nyamughashana river simmering in the valleys and disappearing in the mountains. The first half of the trek goes through short grasses and shrubs, and the next half is through a forest that with birds; a keen birder will take some time looking out for some species and if lucky, may record some mountain specials.

enjoying quality time at falls

After somewhat about 40 minutes you shall get down to the beautiful falls, an incredible reward after the hike. You can picnic at the falls for an hour, take a dive in the pool if you can bear the cold temperature in the water, or simply stay put and enjoy the tranquility.

After spending an amazing time at the falls, you hike the same way back. The round hike is 3.2km in total.

amazing landscape going through the countryside

The hike can also be started from the nearest town called Kyarumba and trek all the way to the starting point, this is roughly an extra 4km giving you chance to enjoy the landscape, see the villages and the life in the countryside.

This beautiful hike is a good addition to the safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park giving you a chance for a brief experience of Rwenzori Mountains after an amazing wildlife experience.

Book this trip to experience the Waterfalls hike in the Rwenzoris

4 days Queen Elizabeth National Park safari and Rwenzori waterfalls hike

Comparing gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda

Gorilla trekking is arguably the best wildlife adventure in Africa, or even in the entire world. Admittedly, only three countries in the world offer this breathtaking experience namely; Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic republic of Congo. These three countries are notably the only places that home the entire world’s mountain gorilla population.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is assuredly no good choice for gorilla trekking  due to safety factors such as insecurity and epidemics.  This comparatively leaves gorilla trekking in Uganda and gorilla trekking Rwanda as the only viable destinations  if you are looking forward to adding the gorilla trek to your safari or trip  in Africa.

With the increment of the gorilla trekking permit in Rwanda from USD700 to USD1500, going to Uganda for the gorilla trip has become an easy choice for most travelers because of the much more affordable permit that costs USD 600 (set to be increased to $700 effective 1st July 2020).

However, even with the significant difference in the price of the gorilla permit there are other factors one can consider on whether to visit Rwanda or Uganda for the gorilla trekking adventure.

I have tracked the gorillas in both countries and below I discuss some of the factors one could consider when choosing between making the gorilla trip to Uganda or Rwanda (if the cost of the permit is not an issue). Note that gorilla trekking in Rwanda is done in only Volcanoes National Park, while in Uganda it is done in two parks, that is, Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. However since Bwindi National Park is where most (more than 90%) of the gorilla tracking in Uganda is done I shall be basing on this as the comparison to Rwanda’s trekking in Volcanoes National Park.

Journey to the gorilla parks

The time taken from the airport or city to the parks is something one may consider.

In Rwanda, it will take you only 2 hours of drive from Kigali City and the airport to the Volcanoes National Park. So this short trip leaves you fresh for the gorilla adventure the following day, plus also give you free time for an extra activity such as a tour of Kigali City before leaving, or enjoy some experiences in Musanze near the gorilla park such as visit to the twin lakes and explore the amazing scenery, visit the gorilla museum in Musanze, do the canoe trip on River Mukungwa with Kingfisher Journeys, visit the gorilla guardians cultural village for an experience of Rwanda’s cultures and traditions, etc… Also, because of the short distance, one can set off from Kigali as early as 4.30am and reach the park in time to do the gorilla trek that same day. Hence in Rwanda you can do the gorilla trip in one day and save on accommodation and extra days of transportation (car & driver hire).

While in Uganda you will take from 8 – 10 hours of driving from Kampala or Entebbe Airport to reach the gorilla homelands – Bwindi National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. So, some may find this journey quite long and strenuous, and you will need at least 3 days for the gorilla trip in Uganda with 2 days just dedicated to driving to and from the gorilla parks thus spending more on transportation and accommodation. On the other hand however, the day long drives take you through different scenery and landscapes, local communities and pass through some interesting attractions such as the Uganda Equator, etc… hence offering an adventurous journey to spice up your gorilla trip. Also, found along the way to the gorilla parks are other game parks such as Lake Mburo National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park that you can easily incorporate into your gorilla trip to include a safari in the savannah to see animals.

Note that you can also do the gorilla trip in Uganda starting from Kigali Rwanda which is a relatively shorter distance than from Kampala/Entebbe and it would take you 4 – 5 hours drive and would need at least 2 days for the trip instead of 3 days when you start from Kampala.

Comparing Level of difficulty of the gorilla trek in Rwanda and Uganda

This is one of the concerns of many people when it comes to tracking the gorillas, whether the gorilla trek will be too difficult for them and so which country or park may offer an easier trek. There are also adventure fanatics who instead prefer a more challenging and longer trek to the gorillas.

The volcanoes and Bwindi have a different terrain. The volcanoes are mountains with a steady gradient and may involve steady climb up and may be sideways along the mountain to find the gorillas. So the trek will be become difficult depending on how far up the gorillas will have gone. Trekking back however will not be as challenging as you will be coming down the mountain.

On the other hand, Bwindi is made up of rolling highlands with sharp ridges and very dense vegetation. If the gorillas move deeper you could find yourself trekking over several highlands and ridges, penetrating dense jungles, and crossing rivers and streams. And this would be a two way trek.

I therefore say the gorilla trek in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park can be more challenging and difficult than the gorilla trek in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.

But if the gorillas are closer to the start of the trek both countries can provide an easy trek.

Gorilla views and Photography

The slopes of the volcanoes do not have very thick trees (compared to Bwindi in Uganda) and gorillas can get to an opening where you can clearly view them in good light. For photography, the volcanoes provide good lighting due to the openness and since flash is not allowed while photographing the gorillas, you will have the best quality shots of the gorillas in Rwanda’s volcanoes.

On the other hand Uganda’s Bwindi has thick jungles which may obstruct full views of the gorillas, and the closed canopies mean little light for photography. However, Bwindi offers much more varied settings which can give you a variety of shots, from different scenery, a variety of gorilla interactions such as climbing trees or drinking from a water stream, etc… You can take similar shots of different gorillas in the volcanoes, it is almost impossible in Bwindi National Park.

Landscape and scenery

The backdrop of the Virunga Mountains is quite surreal! I have to say the Virungas offer the best scenery which is a big bonus to the gorilla trek. But also the sprawling forest clad misty highlands of Bwindi are breathtaking too.

Crowds

Because of the pricey gorilla permit in Rwanda, there are fewer people who go there for the gorilla trekking tour and the small crowd means a more satisfying individual experience. Out of the maximum 8 people allowed to track the gorillas you could find that there are only four people in your group and therefore you won’t be clamoring for shots or views of the gorillas. However this may not be the case during peak months of July, August, September where the gorilla permits in Rwanda also get sold out. When it comes to Uganda, because of the cheaper price of the gorilla trekking permit, the numbers are almost filled to the maximum 8 which sometimes causes a bit of competition when viewing the gorillas and everyone trying to get the best shot!

 

Cost of the gorilla tracking permit in Uganda increased to USD 700

The Uganda Wildlife Authority which is mandated to issuing the gorilla trekking permit in Uganda has announced an increment on the gorilla tracking permit with effect from 1st July 2020. The gorilla tracking permit shall cost USD700 – this is an increase from the current cost of $600 which will still apply till 30th June 2020.

Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas which number at about 900 individuals. Other mountain gorillas are found in the neighboring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The gorillas in Uganda are found in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park. Up to 20 Gorilla groups have been habituated for the gorilla trekking tour. And since only 8 people can trek one gorilla group in a day’s session then only 160 gorilla permits are available in a single day.

The gorilla trek is one of the most popular tours in Uganda and its permit is very affordable compared to the 1500 USD price in Rwanda. This gives it a high demand which leads to the tickets or permits selling out well in advance. If you are planning a trip to see gorillas in Uganda then you should book your tour or permit earlier.  And if you were planning to trek before the increment applies, then you need to book right now!