Chimpanzee and Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking to photograph mountain gorillas is certainly a “huge tick” for most wildlife photographers. On this photo safari, you will do two gorilla treks as well as spend a day in the company of a troop of chimpanzees guided by one of the top primate photography specialists in the world – Nelis Wolmarans.
Add to this the chance to see the amazing Shoebill stork and you have the best Uganda photo safari package on offer! Nelis is an award-winning wildlife photographer and has won several prestigious awards including Nature’s Best.
This Uganda Chimpanzee & Gorilla Trekking photo safari is limited to a maximum of six photographers plus Nelis.
The Karibu Hotel is only a 10-minute drive from Entebbe Airport. We have chosen to stay in Entebbe as opposed to the nearby capital Kampala not only as it is more convenient but also due to its proximity to The Mabamba Swamps where we will be photographing The African Shoebills the next day.
On the first evening, Nelis will host a dinner at the hotel where the groups will get to know each other and Nelis can answer any questions you might have about your upcoming chimp and gorilla trekking adventure.
After breakfast, the group will head off to the Mabamba swamps to hopefully see and photograph the fascinating Shoebill Stork – as well as the other 260 bird species that inhabit this corner of Uganda. The Mabamba Swamps are around 2500 hectares in size and covered in papyrus, gerns, water lilies and other grasses crisscrossed by waterways that we will explore by boat. the morning is preferred as this is when the shoebills are most active and hunting.
We will start the trip into the swamp from Banga beach in a speedboat for the 30-40 min cruise to a point where we transfer to smaller dug-out canoes to access the narrower channels where the shoebills live and hunt.
We will return to the Karibu hotel for a late lunch and then after a bit of a rest, we will head out to see if we can find more Shoebills (and in case we didn’t get lucky in the morning). Doing both a morning and an afternoon will also offer different light and photo opportunities too.
Either way in the morning or the afternoon Nelis will host an image review session at Karibu as well as a detailed briefing on what lies ahead for the chimpanzee and gorilla trekking in Uganda.
We will depart the Karibu Hotel in the morning and head to Entebbe airport to catch the flight to Kasese – which is the closest airport to Kibale Forest National Park. Our home for the next two nights will be Primate Lodge which is on the edge of the forest and from where we will commence the habituation trek to see the Chimpanzee the next morning.
We have arranged extra luggage for everyone to include your camera bag so you will have 15kgs for luggage and 10kg more for your camera gear.
If we have time on the first afternoon we will take a guided walk in the Bigodi Swamps which Is one of the top birding destinations in Uganda. In addition to that, there is an excellent chance to see the other of Uganda’s primates such as Black and White Colobus monkeys, Red Colobus Monkeys, Blue Tailed Monkeys and Mangabeys. The swamps are also home to several Sitatunga and Bushbuck. the walk will take around 2-3 hours.
Dinner and image review sessions will take place back at Primate Lodge with everyone early to bed to prepare for the next day.
It is an early start with a quick breakfast and then we head off into the forest at first light to locate the chimpanzees. This initial search can take anywhere from an hour to two depending on where the Chimpanzees “nested” the night before. You will most probably hear them waking up before you see them. As with all wildlife encounters nothing is guaranteed but the success rate of finding the chimps during the day sits at over 90%.
We have opted for a habituation trek rather than a 1-hour encounter. As soon as the chimps are located the clock starts and you will have a full four hours with these amazing animals. As they move so do you and they can move quite quickly as they head off to forage. They do however stop to rest and that is when you will get the best shots of them interacting. the group could vary in size from a few individuals to a troop of over 20.
With Chimp’s fur being the same colour as mountain gorillas and with the foliage and light being similar to what you will encounter in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park we like to do the Chimp trek before the gorilla trekking. This gives you lots of time to get your settings right for the next mountain gorilla trekking excursion. nelis will obviously be on hand to assist and with four hours to play with he will be able to explain plenty of different ways to photograph the chimps in their natural habitat.
With chimps being so closely related to us it is very easy to start to recognise individuals In the group and the guides will be able to explain to you how the complex hierarchy works in the family you are with. Chimpanzees are incredibly social animals (expect plenty of grooming, fighting, and mating) and they are super curious so don’t be surprised if you start wondering who is “visiting” who as they stare deeply at you! It’s an incredible experience!
The afternoon will be spent back at Primate lodge reviewing your images with Nelis before dinner.
The next morning we will board our long-wheelbase Land Cruiser for the drive to Bwindi National Park and Buhoma Lodge. We did have the option to fly to Kihihi but this would mean missing out on driving through Queen Elizabeth National Park and the chance to see the famous tree-climbing lions that live here.
This is quite a rare sighting but a unique one nonetheless. the tree climbing lions spend the day in the trees to avoid biting insects near the ground and this makes quite the spectacle if you have a large pride in one tree.
We will stop for lunch in the park – probably under a shady tree (without any lions ideally) – before heading on to Bwindi. the total journey from Kibale to Bwindi is a full day drive but worth the diversion to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
We will arrive at Buhoma lodge in the late afternoon with time to settle in before dinner.
And so now for the main event (although guests often say that the Chimpanzee tracking experience was certainly an equal!) gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
But first, we should address the elephant in the room.
Why do we choose to go see mountain gorillas in Bwindi, Uganda and not The Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda?
We need to first appreciate that Uganda, Rwanda and also The Democratic Republic of Congo basically share the same mountain range which is home to the vast majority of the endangered mountain gorillas left in the wild. The gorilla families often disregard these borders anyway and cross freely between the countries!
Over the last few years, Rwanda has adopted a policy of marketing to a high-end clientele with the development of several 5-star lodges and a huge increase in the price of the gorilla permits to over 3 times what they were only 5 years ago. As we like to go gorilla tracking twice on a safari this would mean that the gorilla permits would equate to $3,000 on their own. the cost of a gorilla trekking permit in the Democratic Republic of Congo is considerably less but the situation on that side is so volatile we are not running gorilla trekking tours there currently.
Uganda gorilla trekking also affords us the opportunity to see the other photographic highlights of the region – Chimps and Shoebills so this is why we have chosen to go to Uganda.
Back to the gorilla trekking in Bwindi.
In the morning we will head over to the park gate at either Buhoma or Ruhiji (which is a bit further away but it all depends on what gorilla permits we are issued with) to be allocated our gorilla family for the day and to start the gorilla trek.
We are often asked how long the average gorilla trek takes and the answer is never simple. It depends on the gorilla family we are allocated on the day and where they spent the night before. the difficulty of the gorilla tracking is also dependent on the above but the group only moves as fast as the slowest member. There is no rush. The one hour with the mountain gorillas for the encounter starts when we find them.
We always suggest employing the services of a local porter to help with camera gear but more importantly this is an important source of income for the local communities.
We have conducted a detailed interview with Nelis with plenty of advice on what exactly to expect on a gorilla trekking safari and we suggest reading that for all the questions you might have. here is a link:
What we will say here is that when you first encounter mountain gorillas in the wild it can be a most profound experience. There are no fences, no sense separation of from being in a vehicle. It is you and these gentle giants co-existing for a brief while where the mountain gorillas live. It is so profound that we always do two gorilla trekking excursions on each of our gorilla tours so that when you do the second the adrenaline has subsided a little and you can focus on your settings.
Of course, Nelis will be right by your side suggesting shots to take and settings to use throughout the gorilla trek. Nelis has spent so much time with mountain gorillas that his instinct and understanding of their behaviour will be invaluable in getting the best shots.
After the gorilla trekking on both days, you will return to Buhoma lodge to review your images and start with some editing. After the first gorilla trek, this will be an opportunity for Nelis to point out ways in which you could improve your shots for the next day of gorilla trekking.
The last morning of our gorilla trekking adventure sees us heading back to the airport for the short flight back to Entebbe. there are of course other destinations that Uganda offers such as Murchison Falls National Park (a birding hotspot of note) in the north of the country which is well worth a visit. Should you wish to tack this onto the trip please let your safari planner know.
We will get back to Entebbe International Airport in time for most connecting flights but should you need to overnight we can also arrange this for you as well as all required airport transfers.
In addition to that East Africa is a hub of activity at this time of year with the Wildebeest Migration in full flow in Kenya’s Masai Mara. This set of dates is in fact designed to be an add-on to our own Migration Safari and you can see details of that here.
20th to 27th September 2023
Price $9,950 per person sharing
If you are travelling alone and require your own room there is a supplement of $950
Please note that this itinerary is available throughout most of the year as a guided safari (or unescorted). Please contact us for availability.
Suggested Add on
Why not make this the ultimate safari holiday and join the Great Migration Photo Safari before your trek?
Explore Kenya’s Masai Mara during the world-renowned great migration with Charl, Sabine, William and Andreas from the 12th to the 19th of September 2023! Not only will you get the chance to photograph iconic scenes but you’ll also take in the vast wilderness of rolling plains during a hot air balloon ride. Sounds like the perfect start to your safari in Africa, doesn’t it? Learn more about this expedition here!
If you are looking for extensive advice on what to expect gorilla trek to Uganda then please take a moment to read this article. We did an extensive interview with Nelis about his experiences over nearly 100 gorilla treks. He talks about the trek, the encounter, what gear you should consider taking and some ideas on how to capture the essence of these magnificent creatures. You can find the article here.