The main tourist attraction is gorilla trekking, but there is an alternative primate safari in Uganda other than seeing mountain gorillas. Uganda offers a wealth of jungle adventures with birdwatching expeditions like chimpanzee trekking, chimpanzee habituation experience, Bigodi primate walk, golden monkey trekking, and habituation experience. In this post, we’ll give an alternative primate adventure that will cost a fraction of what you’ll pay for a matching gorilla trekking safari in Uganda.

The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas

  • Day one & two: Mgahinga National Park – Golden Monkey Habituation permit $100
  • Day three & four: Kyambura Gorge – Chimpanzee Trekking permit & park fee $90
  • Day five & six: Kibale Forest – Chimpanzee Habituation permit $200

Day one & two: Mgahinga National Park – Golden Monkey Habituation Experience

 Mgahinga National Park - Golden Monkey Habituation Experience - The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas
A view of Mount Mgahinga and Mount Muhavura in the backdrop.

Head out west from Entebbe, 28 miles outside Kampala, the capital city, towards the southwest of Uganda. 200 miles towards the border, the plains fade away from the savanna into the rugged highlands that give the southwest stunning vistas that earned its famous name ‘The  Pearl of Africa.’ Here, giant patches of rainforest jungles harbor a record number of primate species and various hidden tribes.

Your next stop is Mahaginga National Park, where you’ll spend a day following a golden monkey troop on a habituation experience. Mgahinga shares habitat with Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. The park has one gorilla family available for tourism and endangered golden monkey troops who have become a great alternative primate attraction.

Most tourists to this park come to see the calm mountain gorillas, but we’ll go for a more active adventure with the pretty little endangered primates for our alternative safari in Uganda. Unlike mountain gorillas that sit in one place, munch at vegetation, grunt, and fart all the time, golden monkeys are on the move, and you have to keep up with their foraging and social movements. It’s a more fun, active primate safari adventure than watching gorillas.

Where you’ll stay in Mgahinga

Traveler's Rest Hotel in Kisoro (14 km form Mgahinga), a low-cost alternative.  The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas
Traveler’s Rest Hotel in Kisoro (14 km form Mgahinga), a low-cost alternative.

On the foot of Mount Mgahinga is the charming Gahinga Lodge, close to the park headquarters. If you want to indulge in luxury bush amenities, for $800 per person, you can share a banda with a friend. Since we’re looking into low-cost alternative safari in Uganda, the nearby Amajambere Camp offers decent accommodation plus meals for $80 per person a night.

Eight miles away from the park headquarters in Kisoro Town are alternative accommodation choices to make sure you have a decent night with meals. 

Traveller’s Rest Hotel, where Dian Fossey based during her 1970s gorilla research, will offer you a lovely but simple stay for 160 USD with meals. The hotel offers excellent views of the Virunga Mountains, and it’s about 30 minutes drive from the Mgahinga National Park gate.

Other alternative places to stay near Mgahinga are around the stunning Lake Bunyonyi, especially if you want to feel the stunning lake landscapes of the most beautiful part of Uganda. Take a look at Birdnest Bunyonyi Resort ($140 per night) or the low-cost cottage Bunyonyi Overland Resort for $90 per person with meals.

The Golden Monkey Habituation Experience

For $100 a pop, you’ll check-in at the park headquarters. After a short briefing, the UWA patron will assign you a guide and a ranger who will lead you into the jungle. You’ll be out there all day; make sure you look out for as many jungle inhabitants as you can.

Unlike mountain gorillas that are easy to find and habituate, golden monkeys are rarer find and more exciting to keep up with. Besides, you may end up also crossing paths with a gorilla troop while looking out for golden monkeys. 

Trekking in bamboo groves in Mgahinga National Park, Uganda - The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas
Trekking in bamboo groves in Mgahinga National Park, Uganda

You’ll be climbing, slipping through bamboo groves and into thick under-story. Your guide will lead the way, slashing through the vegetation with a machete and in radio contact with other rangers to find out if you have a possible golden monkey sighting to check out. Through impassable cliffs, clumping along steep forested slopes, along the ridges, double back and press on till you find the vibrant troop. 

It could take you from 30 mins to 4 hours to find the golden monkey troop, so be sure to check into your hometown gym three weeks before you embark on this exciting Uganda primate safari challenge. The hike is not for faint-hearted with weak muscles.

golden monkey habituation experience in Uganda
There he is, the dominant golden monkey.

When you find these beautifully groomed monkies with impressive whiskers, the time you spend with them will be the most rewarding moments you’ve ever spent in the wild. Take your time and consciously digest the moment; you’re in no rush. Watch longer, and you’ll find the perfect photo when you’re present. Your guide will be your hypnotizing jungle voice-over in the background of your live national geographic scene.

golden monkey habituation experience safari in Uganda
Up-close shot.

When returning from the jungle, linger out on the forest canopies for birdwatching walk back to the park gate. The small 13 sq mi park has 116 bird species, many endemic to the Virunga Mountains, including the spectacular Ruwenzori sunbird, who may make a brief appearance. 

Day three & four: Kyambura Gorge – Chimpanzee Trekking

Kyambura Gorge, a sundown ravine forest in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Kyambura Gorge, a sundown ravine forest in Queen Elizabeth National Park

On the third day, head north towards Queen Elizabeth National Park, passing through the tree-climbing lions’ den, Ishasha Sector, to Kyambura Gorge, where you’ll spend one night and track shrimps the next day.

Before you get on the dirt road up north, take a morning walk around Kisoro town with your guide and experience some local lingua and snack like the famous Rolex. Many Uganda safari travelers don’t get to taste much of local cuisine because it’s rarely served at lodges and safari camps. A Rolex (not the watch) is a wrap of Chapati (flatbread) with omelet and red onion cooked on a hot, dry pan; a favorite to many tourists.

The five-hour drive passes through the Ishasha sector, where you may stop for a minute or two to ogle at the endearing tree-climbing lions. You’ll be tracking a habituated chimpanzee troop in the low-key deep Kyambura ravine the following day, so you’ll need where to stay.

Where to stay

A surprise visit at Bush Lodge dinner, a low-cost safari camp near Kyambura Gorge - The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas
A surprise visit at Bush Lodge dinner, a low-cost safari camp near Kyambura Gorge

Kyambura Gorge Lodge is undoubtedly the best for a luxury traveler moving a 4×4 safari truck and wants to busk at the swimming pool after a seemingly tiring game drive for USD 580 – $1,200 per person with meals. 

Although Kyambura Gorge Lodge is the closest to the chimp forest, remember that we’re talking about a low-cost alternative primate safari in Uganda, so we’ll consider alternative options to stay in Kyambura.

Bush Lodge is very descent with an ensuite safari tent at USD 80 per person with meals and cheaper options. Other alternative low-cost safari lodges around Kyambura Gorge include Jacana Safari Lodge, Ihamba Safari Lodge, and Hippo Hills lodges offering a room at $150 per person with meals.

The Kyambura Gorge Chimpanzee Trekking Experience

The Ranger leads the way trekking deep into the ravine to find the Kyambura Gorge isolated chimpanzee troop.
The Ranger leads the way trekking deep into the ravine to find the Kyambura Gorge isolated chimpanzee troop.

You’ll visit a troop of habituated chimpanzees for USD 50 plus $40 as a park entrance fee. Taking a narrow trail down into the ravine, you’ll soon hear a cacophony of wild whooping.

You’ll be hiking deep in a sunken rain forest carved into the vast savanna of southwestern Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is home to an isolated troop of 29 chimpanzees. Kyambura Gorge sits within the Albertine Rift.

Crossing the river at the foot of the gorge
Crossing the river at the foot of the gorge

Crossing the river at the foot of the gorge, you’ll head back along the bank till the reverberation of chimp whoops become louder. Unlike mountain gorillas, who spend most of their time on the ground, chimps move on foot searching for food and spend most of their time far above the ground in the thick vegetation of the forest’s canopy. There they’re more challenging to observe, which will require occasionally stretching your neck, searching the treetops for the howling primates, trying not to trip as you bushwhack through the tangle of shrubs and saplings that spring from the forest floor.

Observing a male chimp take a break after a long foraging walk on the forest floor. The alternative primate safari in Uganda without gorillas
Observing a male chimp take a break after a long foraging walk on the forest floor.

Observing chimps is genuinely an alternative primate safari in Uganda compared to observing gorillas. Seeing these chimpanzees in their natural habitat is like watching a bunch of sugar-hyped three-year-olds in a sand park.

In case you’re worried about your security hiking through the dense brush, the ranger carries a rifle slung over their shoulder. The gun is a precaution. If you were to meet an elephant on its way to the river or any other aggression from the primates, they’d fire a shot into the air to scare it away.

Chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Retired general takes a break.

A single visit to Kyambura Gorge that lasts 1-2 hours may not be enough for some people. You can chose to go in the morning at 08:00 and afternoon at 14:00 to get the whole day experience of watching chimpanzees at breakfast and after a meal.

Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge, where a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees thrives. A chimp permit in Kalinzu Forest is $50, the same price as Kyambura Gorge. For a more dramatic primate safari encounter in Uganda, we’ll head to Kibale Forest with more than 1,500 chimps.

Day five & six: Kibale Forest – Chimpanzee Habituation Experience

After late morning breakfast, you’ll head northwards, a few hours north of Queen Elizabeth National Park, to Kibale Forest National Park for a dramatic encounter with wild primates.

Gazetted in 1993 as a National Park, the Kibale forest protects 13 primates species within 296 sq mi (766 sq km) of dense rainforest jungle. Kibale Forest offers the best primate viewing opportunities in Africa, and most Uganda safari itineraries include chimpanzee tracking in Kibale alongside gorilla trekking in Bwindi.

Another essential factor to note is that Kibale is one of the most accessible safari destinations in Uganda, and it’s got great accommodation options surrounding the park.

Where to stay

Turaco Treetops Lodge in Kibale, a low-cost choice for chimpanzee habituation experience.
Turaco Treetops Lodge in Kibale, a low-cost choice for chimpanzee habituation experience.

On a high end, Kyaninga Lodge outshines as the top luxury choice near Kibale. Unfortunately is the location of 25 mi (1-hour drive) places it a little far from Kanyanchu trailhead. The next best luxury alternatives are Ndali Lodge at USD 563 per person with meals, Papaya Lake Lodge at USD 500 per night, and Primates Lodge at $150 per night with meals.

Primate Lodge is a better choice for many trekking chimps in Kibale its located right on the Kanyanchu trailhead within the rainforest jungle.

However, for an alternative low-cost primate safari in Uganda, Isunga Lodge ($110 per person with meals) and Turaco Treetops ($110 per night) are arguably the best choices for this Uganda safari trip. They both have stunning views of the forest canopy, the massive Rwenzori mountains, and the creator lake-decorated landscape of the region. They also are great for hiking around the area or for a romantic getaway.

After checking in at your lodge, continue your Uganda safari wildlife extravaganza with an evening swamp walks around Bigodi Wetland sanctuary with a bird expert. Mousebirds and sunbirds zip around the swamp’s treetops while great blue turacos, like magnificent feathered dinosaurs, hoot from the eucalyptus grove. The swamp is home to 8 species of primates, including the Black and White Colobus, Red Colobus, Red-Tailed Monkey, Grey Cheeked Mangabey, Olive Baboon, L’hoest Monkey, Vervet Monkey, and the Blue Monkey.

A walk in Bigodi Wetland will real several primate species than you'll see anywhere else in Kibale.
A walk in Bigodi Wetland will real several primate species than you’ll see anywhere else in Kibale.

Bigodi guided nature walk is a community initiative that supports people’s livelihoods around the area. So the USD 23 that you’ll pay for this walk will be going towards a great cause. 

The Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in Kibale

Kibale Forest Chimps

With a chimpanzee habituation permit of USD 250, you set out for the expedition. You’ll be in a group of four people, led by a guide, armed rangers, and on occasion, primatologists. The experience starts at 05:30 from Kanyanchu trailhead.

Your habituation tracker/guide will be looking out for chimp nests, probably where they left the building the previous evening. Chimps make a new nest each night, males sleeping below the females to protect them from predators.

Kibale Forest National Park, Chimpanzee Tracking Excursions

You’ll spend a remarkable time watching the chimps forage, socialize, settle bouts, hoot, fornicate, and occasionally swiftly following the animals as they move on. Many people find watching and following the primates a frustrating experience, more a series of fragmentary glimpses. But savvy hikers enjoy the effort required, and on this occasion, you get plenty of extended viewings. 

During your chimp habituation experience, you’ll probably see other kinds of monkeys pass through, jump through the forest canopy, watch colorful birds paint the forest lighting, and collect educational data from the experts. You’re in no hurry to leave the jungle.

With this Uganda safari, you’ll have barely scratched Uganda’s top attractions and you will not even miss seeing the mountain gorillas at all!

What’s the price of this alternative primate safari in Uganda trip?

Nkuringo Safaris provide this 7-day Uganda primates safari trip, and it costs approximately USD 2,150 per person sharing including transfers in a 4×4 van, all the meals, good mid-range accommodation and trekking permits. The price could change based on your travel preferences. With the help of a local consultant, you can entirely customize it to your preferences. Reach out to them at info@nkuringosafaris.com