Interacting with Africa's primates is considered by many to be one of the world's pinnacles of safari experiences. There is nothing quite like standing in the presence of the rare, elusive Mountain Gorilla after a long, arduous hike through mountainous jungles. To be among troupes of chimpanzees is another, equally awe-inspiring moment. Though it is invariably more difficult and expensive to visit Africa's primates, the effort is well worth the reward.
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Here are some the top safari destinations in Africa for interacting with primates.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is situated on Uganda's western border, near the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda. This region is very close to the geographical heart of Africa where the Rift Valley and Africa’s Great Lakes converge to create an eco-system that is considered by many to be the very essence of the African continent, as depicted in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Fittingly, Bwindi is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. The fertile 125 square miles of the park contain 113 species of mammals (including a herd of the rare Forest Elephant), 200 species of butterflies, over 360 species of birds, and 324 tree varieties (ten of which are endemic to the park). In addition to this incredible diversity, Bwindi is home to seven species of primates, of which the most endangered is the Mountain Gorilla, attracting the attention of international conservation efforts. It is estimated that only 600 of these peaceful giants remain worldwide, and these mountains alone are home to approximately 300 gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an enduring pocket of primeval forest offering an enthralling Africa experience.
Kibale Forest National Park, Uganda
Kibale Forest National Park is home to the famous chimpanzees and other primates. Covering an area of approximately 296 square-miles, Kibale is home to some of the most spectacular flora and fauna that Africa has to offer, including 351 recorded species of trees, 335 bird species, and 13 primate species. A variety of altitudes within the park offer vegetation ranging from moist evergreen forests and tropical deciduous forest to areas of woodland, marshes and savannah along the Rift Valley floor. Of greatest interest, though, is the fact that Kibale contains the densest and most diverse population of primates in the world, including chimpanzees, Red Colobus, Angolan Colobus, L’Hoest’s Monkey, and nine other species. Rare and elusive forest elephants, which are much smaller than their cousins on the savannah, also roam this wilderness.
Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania
Mahale Mountains National Park is simply stunning. Here lush tropical forests descend down rolling mountains and give way to the deserted white sand beaches and gin-clear waters of Lake Tanganyika. With over 1000 free-living chimpanzees, this location is home to the largest concentration of these primates in Africa. In addition, Mahale is exceptionally rich in bird and butterfly life, as well as mammals including elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards, and giraffe. But the highlight of Mahale is interacting with the chimpanzees, which is a fascinating encounter and surely one of the experiences of a lifetime. The only drawback to Mahale is that it highly inaccessible, very expensive, and availability at the few camps located in or near the park is extremely limited. But for those looking for an amazing adventure, Mahale Mountains National Park is the answer.