Walk on the Wild Side: Primates in Africa

By Derek Schuurman

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Walk on the Wild Side: Primates in Africa

When it comes to wildlife, it doesn’t get much better than Africa’s natural wonders. The continent is home to some of the most iconic, beautiful and amazing creatures anywhere in the world, so it’s no surprise wildlife holidays to Africa are some of the most common travel bucket list entries. Looking ahead to 2021 holidays, here’s our guide to Primates in Africa, featuring our experts’ top tips and recommendations for what to see and where to go for an unforgettable brush with nature.


• Mountain gorilla trekking in Rwanda
• Spotting chimpanzees in Uganda
• Lemur watching in Madagascar
• The gelada experience in Ethiopia
• Finding vervet monkeys in South Africa


Mountain gorillas in Rwanda

There are few experiences as impressive and awe-inspiring as tracking the majestic mountain gorillas of Rwanda. There is estimated to be around 1,069 of these endangered apes in the wild, with almost 500 found in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans. A trip here really is a ‘must’ for serious wildlife and conservation enthusiasts; the thriving habitat here is a result of the collaboration between numerous organisations including Gorilla Doctors and the Dian Fossey Fund, local communities and Rwanda’s government.

Stay at the incredible One&Only Gorilla’s Nest, the closest resort to the National Park and, as Rwanda’s most luxurious resort, a spectacular base for your once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Luxury accommodation (made up of individual treehouses) blends seamlessly with the natural setting here, and you’ll spend evenings among the swaying trees of the forest. The food on offer is exceptional, and with a strong and inspiring focus on sustainability – so all you have to feel guilty about is a second (or third) helping of fresh pastries at breakfast.

We’re very proud to specialise in responsible holidays to visit the mountain gorillas’ natural habitat in beautiful Rwanda, as well as across the border in Uganda.

We suggest our Rwanda Gorilla Express tour for a brief but intense trip to have one of the most incredible wildlife experiences the world has to offer.

Top Tips: 

• Because time spent visiting the gorillas is strictly limited to one hour, we highly recommend you fit in two gorilla tracking excursions. The golden hour with them is such an adrenaline rush that it feels as if it passes in five minutes! So, a second trek is usually much appreciated, allowing for more photo and observation opportunities.
• Pack waterproofing for your camera gear and remember that using a flash is prohibited in this delicate environment.
• Be prepared for variable weather including blazing tropical sunshine and, usually, some rain.

“This is a really amazing experience. Don’t forget to take snacks and water with you for your excursion; the time it takes to reach the gorillas varies – this is the wild after all! You can enlist the services of local porters at the trailhead for a nominal fee, which is a great help.”

- Derek Schuurman, Product Manager for Madagascar and Alternative Africa

Mountain gorilla with baby in Rwanda Mountain gorilla with baby in Rwanda

Chimpanzees in Uganda

Our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees really are incredible. We share around 98.7% of our genetic blueprint with these endangered great apes, who can be found across western Africa. One of the very best places to spot chimps in the wild is Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda.

Half-day chimpanzee tracking excursions here are amazing, and come highly recommended by our Africa Travel Specialists. Of course, there’s plenty more to see here besides chimps, including a fantastic example of equatorial African evergreen forest and countless species of monkey and birdlife.

For those keen for a challenge and with a reasonable level of fitness, full-day chimpanzee habituation experiences make for an unforgettable adventure. Accompanied by local expert park rangers, you’ll spend the whole day following a group of chimps as they go about their day. Start early, as the primates search for breakfast, and spend the rest of the day helping to habituate the chimps in their natural habitat. An amazing experience.

For excellent primate viewing, alongside stunning scenery and welcoming locals, we recommend our Gorillas, Chimps and Game tour.

Key Information:

• As with gorilla tracking, a permit is required and should be issued before arranging your tracking chimpanzees, as oftentimes demand outweighs availability. Ask one of our Travel Specialist for more information.
• You will be in an equatorial forest setting – so pack light clothing, protective wear for tropical sun and rain, as well as footwear with a strong grip for those jungle treks.
• Due to the natural environment, the use of flash photography is prohibited.
• Visitors with communicable human illnesses such as colds or flu will not be permitted to track, as the great apes have no resistance.


Chimpanzee in a tree, Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda Chimpanzee in a tree, Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda

Lemurs in Madagascar

Madagascar is renowned around the world for being a wildlife haven, and is perhaps best known for its lemurs. Most people immediately picture the ring-tailed lemur – made famous by King Julien XIII in Madagascar the film! – but in fact there are over 100 varieties that live across this island. They vary in size and shape – from the ape-like Indri who can weigh up to 20 pounds, to the miniscule Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur who weigh in at just 25 grams! Seeing these amazing creatures in the wild really is a bucket list experience.

Most of Madagascar’s lemurs are currently on the endangered list, and the lemur population as a whole has decreased by a staggering 95% in the last 20 years, which is why we’re so passionate about responsible travel to the island. In fact, responsibly conducted tourism is one of the best and most impactful ways to ensure the continuation of lemur conservation. Many of our sample itineraries to Madagascar include a visit to the spectacular Andasibe-Mantadia National Park, in the island’s eastern rainforests. This is in large part thanks to the indri lemurs, who do not survive in captivity and are best seen (and heard!) amongst the trees at the Park.

We think Madagascar is the perfect place for an adventurous self-drive holiday and we recommend the RN7 route, taking in some of the island's most rewarding national parks. Explore one of our favourite RN7 and Andasibe overland itineraries.

Top Tips:

• Make sure to pack rain gear for inclement weather, which happens most days in the eastern Malagasy rainforests. Remember to pick up a small umbrella to protect your camera – even in the rain you’ll have some perfect photo opportunities!
• Terrain here is usually hilly, so paths can be muddy and slippery after rain. Take footwear with a sturdy grip and ankle support.
• Permits for protected areas need to be arranged in advance; we include these in our tour prices.
• You will need to be able to walk unassisted for at least two to three hours in Andasibe in order to track and observe one of the resident habituated family groups of indri.
• We highly recommend venturing into the Malagasy rainforests during the early morning, when diurnal wildlife is at its most active.

Ringtail Lemurs in Madagascar Ringtail Lemurs in Madagascar

Geladas in Ethiopia

Travellers with a more adventurous streak might like to make for Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains to spot gelada monkeys (formerly baboons). The ‘Gelada Experience’ will pull you into the drastic mountain landscape for the chance to see these amazing primates up close.

Amongst the peaks of the Simien Mountains, it’s entirely possible to find yourself sitting amongst dozens – or even hundreds – of these distinctive animals. Geladas were previously classified as baboons, and are famously recognisable. They are, aside from humans, the world’s most terrestrial primates and spend most of their time grazing on mountain grass and herbs up in Ethiopia’s highlands. In fact, they are the last surviving species of grazing primates, and have seen their numbers dwindling since the 1970s.

Rainbow Tours holidays to Ethiopia are designed to be respectful and considerate of the local environment and protect wildlife, while also helping conservation efforts and packing in adventure.

Combine wildlife hotspots with fascinating historical attractions on this 15-day Discover Ethiopia tour itinerary.

Top Tips:

• Where geladas live up in the Simien Mountains, nights are very cold. Make sure to pack thermal wear, as temperatures plummet abruptly as the sun sets.
• Bring footwear with a strong grip for uneven terrain.
• Take protective wear and sunscreen for the intense tropical sun.
• Avoid the Ethiopian mountains in July and August, which is when rains can render roads impassable.
• The Ethiopian mountains are not suitable for those who suffer from altitude sickness.

“Geladas really are a sight to behold! Males are particularly distinctive, famous for their magnificent leonine manes and triangular red chest patches, which gave the species its nickname ‘bleeding heart baboon’.”

- Derek Schuurman, Product Manager for Madagascar and Alternative Africa

Close up of a gelada in Ethiopia Close up of a gelada in Ethiopia

Vervet monkeys in South Africa

Visit the diverse and beautiful Kwazulu-Natal region of South Africa for an amazing safari experience, and the chance to spot the beautiful vervet monkey. These small monkeys are characterised by their black faces, hands, tails, ears and feet, with furry grey bodies and a splash of white all around the face.

For a really special trip, our Africa Travel Specialists recommend pairing a wildlife experience with a beach break to take in two sides of Africa’s natural beauty. Start with a luxury safari at Phinda Private Game Reserve. Safari drives, cultural experiences, tracking adventures, guided walks and conservation excursions are just some of the ways to explore the landscape here, where you can spot plenty of African fauna.

Then, why not head to Mozambique (perfect for post-coronavirus social distancing holidays thanks to its secluded remoteness!)? The country is undoubtedly a hidden gem amongst beach destinations, and combines dramatic African beauty with all the luxuries of a beach resort holiday.

Explore in style with our suggested Zululand Safari and Mozambique tour.

Top tips:

• We recommend a three-night stay to fully appreciate the safari experience.
• Dress for the weather! Depending on the time of year you travel, this might mean wrapping up in jackets, gloves and beanie hats, or sourcing the coolest cotton outfits you can find. Whatever the month, always take a raincoat!
• Don’t wear blue as it attracts tsetse flies, which are irritating, have a nasty bite and carry sleeping sickness.
• Remain flexible and interested when it comes to game drives. Listen to the experts. It’s your game ranger’s job (and passion) to show you the best of what the area has to offer, educate you along the way and ensure you take away unique memories.
• Be prepared to embark on two game drives each day – early morning and late afternoon ‘sundowner’ drives offer the best wildlife sightings.

Vervet monkeys in South Africa Vervet monkeys in South Africa

Feeling insprired? Browse our exciting range of wildlife holidays.


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