Chimpanzee Trekking in Rwanda

Chimpanzee Trekking in Rwanda

Chimpanzee trekking / tracking in Rwanda is one of the top wildlife tours to do in Rwanda, perhaps only second to the famous gorilla trekking. The chimpanzee trekking tour in Rwanda takes place only in Nyungwe Forest National Park. This park, which is located about 5 – 6 hours from Kigali in the southwest of the Rwanda, protects an ancient mountain forest that is said to have existed since the ice age thereby protecting a huge biodiversity, with many species found to exist only in this forest.

Nyungwe National Park is especially known for its many primates, having 13 primate species recorded there, including a big population of the chimpanzees – man’s closest relatives. There are more than 500 chimps in Nyungwe National Park thus offering one of the best chances to see chimps in their natural home. Other chimps in Rwanda are found in the Gishwati-Mukura National Park but there is no chimpanzee trekking done there at the moment.

How is chimpanzee trekking done in Rwanda and Nyungwe National Park?

First of all, is it safe to see the wild chimps?

To enable trekking to see the wild chimps in their natural home without being attached by the chimpanzees, a community of chimps goes through what is called habituation. Chimpanzee habituation is the process where trained personnel make continuous visits to wild chimps whose first reaction is to flee or attack, till a time when the chimps realize the visiting humans are not a threat. At this point the chimps will start to tolerate human presence. The habituation of chimps takes several years till when the personnel can confirm the chimps will not feel threatened and will not be a threat when these personnel come along with other visitors, that is, tourists. The chimps can tolerate tourists only if they see the familiar faces of personnel they have been seeing before during the habituation. Hence all chimp trekking is led by park guides who are known to the chimps.

How are the chimps found and what are the chances of finding them?

Chimpanzees, like humans, live in communities, and there are two communities of chimpanzees in Nyungwe National Park that have been habituated for the chimpanzee tracking tours in Rwanda. One community lives in the larger Nyungwe forest and the second one lives in Cyamudongo forest, a small patch of forest located to the east of Nyungwe forest. Cyamudongo forest is part of Nyungwe National Park though physically detached from the larger and main forest. Historically it was a continuous forest. The habituated chimpanzee group in the main Nyungwe forest is bigger with about 60 chimps, however given the magnitude of the forest and terrain it sometimes offers lesser chances of seeing the chimps, while the chimp group in Cyamudongo forest that has a smaller number of about 30 chimps offers the most successful sightings given the small size that can be covered to find the chimps in any part.

The park will always assess the chances of  seeing the chimps before going out to trek in Nyungwe National Park so that tourists have almost no chance of missing them.

The chimpanzee trekking tours in Nyungwe National Park set off from Gisakura ranger station. Tourists are expected to report at Gisakura station by 4.30am to meet the park guides for briefing and by 5am are transferring to the starting point of the trek into the park. There is only one session to track chimps in Nyungwe which is the early morning session.

How long does it take to find the chimps and for how long are tourists allowed to see the chimps?

The chimpanzees make new homes (nests) in a different place every day. They have no permanent address in the forest. They will make new nests where they will have ended the day. So the the time taken to find them is unpredictable, also since the chimps are quickly on the move once they wake up. However, there are park trackers who will have gone ahead of the trekking tourist group to find the chimps before they leave their nests, or track them down shortly after they left their nests. The trackers communicate to the guides of the tourists about the location so the guides will work out the easiest route to find the chimps that are already on the move.

On average it may take about 2 -3 hours of trekking to find the chimpanzees.

After finding the chimpanzees in Nyungwe National Park, tourists are allowed only one hour to be the with the community of the chimps and it is a wonderful opportunity to observe them closely as they go about their lives. Observing the actions and features from the individual chimpanzees, the classes in the community and their leadership structure, one can see why they are called man’s closest relatives which share up to 98.7% DNA with man.

Because a group or community of chimps can cover large territory and the individual chimps or smaller units of the community can become quite distant from each other, to tell each other of their locations, every now and then the chimps communicate by way of deafening screams, loud pant hoots and thunderous slapping of the tree barks and buttresses – it is such a hair rising moment like nothing you have experienced before!

For those that been to gorilla trekking or are planning to, the chimpanzee trekking experience is  quite different because the chimps are way more active than the docile or gentle gorillas. The chimps keep running and swinging around in the tree canopies, and so there may be a bit of running after to catch up and sightings may be a bit more sporadic and rushed.

Cost of the Rwanda chimpanzee trekking permit & age limit

The cost of the permit for chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda is USD 90 for foreign non residents and USD 60 for foreign residents of Rwanda and East Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi).

Important to note is that only 8 tourists are allowed to track each chimpanzee group in the day’s session, and therefore since there are two habituated chimp groups only 16 chimp permits are available each day. This is a very limited number of permits considering how many people want to track the chimps. You are advised to book your chimp tour well in advance so that your permit is secured.

There is an age limit of for one to go chimp trekking in Rwanda and you must be 16 years and above

Tips for chimpanzee trekking in Rwanda – how to prepare

Average fitness is okay, but good fitness will make the experience more enjoyable as the chimps can swing through the trees at such speed that you may need to literally after them.

Essential items to carry for the chimpanzee trekking include:

  •  hiking shoes or sneakers with good traction
  • long pants and long sleeved shirt to protect your skin from scratches
  • rain jacket,
  • sunscreen,
  • insect repellent

On the day of trekking you are advised to carry at least two liters of drinking water and some snacks. The trek may take longer and you can become hungry, so in that case you will be a few minutes to much on your snakes and relax a bit.

What other activities can one do in Nyungwe apart from Chimpanzee trekking?

Canopy walk

The canopy walk in Nyungwe has become an iconic activity of the park and Rwanda that you cannot miss when you visit Nyungwe National Park. It is a 2 – 3 hour activity that is easily added to the chimpanzee tour and can be done in the afternoon on the day of transfer from Kigali City. The canopy walk tour includes a trek on the Igishigishigi trail and the walk over a 160 meter bridge (canopy walkway) that suspends over a deep forested valley 74 meters from ground, and provides such incredible views across the forest and eye-level sightings of monkeys and birds in the canopy that would not be easy to see from ground.

Colobus monkey tracking

The colobus monkey tracking is a beautiful light activity in Nyungwe forest that takes you to encounter a large troop of these beautiful species of monkeys that have been habituated and will stay throughout your presence. This group of colobus monkeys lives near the edge of the forest and therefore are easily found without much trekking like with the chimp trek. This activity is also easy to add to the chimpanzee trekking since it is a light and short activity.

Hiking one of the several trails in Nyungwe forest

Nyungwe forest is a heaven for those who love the nature and the outdoors. There are several trails in the forest offering wonderful hiking experiences depending on what to you want to experience in the forest. The most trekked trail is the waterfalls trail which leads to the beautiful isumo waterfalls after going through a beautiful patch of the forest with great view points and encountering an array of wildlife including several species of monkeys. The nature walks and hikes are longer and need almost half a day extra added to the chimpanzee trip.

Visiting a tea estate at the edge of the forest

This is one of the nicest experiences outside the park. The landscape after the dense forest is covered by endless green of tea plantations. A tea estate and factory at the edge of Nyungwe forest offers visitors a chance to experience tea growing and processing. Tourist are taken through the different stages of growth of tea, harvesting and then processing to final product. The tourist participates in the harvesting of tea and at the end take a finished product of his harvest after witnessing the process. This is a short and light experience that can be done in the late afternoon of the chimpanzee trekking day.

Community and cultural experience

If after the chimpanzee safari you want to explore the countryside and see how people live their lives, know their cultures and traditions, well this is possible as there are well organized community projects near national park ready to host you for a community and cultural experience. You will visit one of the initiatives and you will be taken through the communities daily activities, visit a farm, a school, artisans who make Rwandan crafts, and at the end you will be entertained with Rwandan traditional folklore and dances.

Where to stay before the chimp trekking in Nyungwe Forest National Park

EAR Guesthouse – budget

Nyungwe Top View Hill Lodge – Midrange

One & Only Nyungwe House – Luxury

*The above lodges are located at the edge of Nyungwe and are near to the Gisakura ranger station

Emeraude Kivu Lodge – Midrange. This is located on Lake Kivu in Cyangugu town and it is about a 30 minutes drive from Nyungwe National Park

Chimpanzee trekking tours in Rwanda

2 days chimpanzee tracking tour to Nyungwe national park

3 days Nyungwe Nyungwe tour with chimpanzee tracking

3 days Chimpanzee tracking and Lake Kivu tour

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