There are so many things to do in Africa. The most famous of all is safari game viewing. While that once-in-a-lifetime experience is truly remarkable, there is one other must-try thing that’s equally exciting: Primates trekking. Whether you aim to see endangered mountain gorillas, clever chimpanzees or unique golden monkeys, East Africa got a wealth of them! The question is, where should your next safari adventure be? Rwanda or Uganda? If you’re confused yourself, this guide might just lead you to the right decision!
Nestled within a lush mountainous landscape, Rwanda maintains a picturesque scenery with a charming city and a string of rainforests teeming with primates, birds and mammals like giraffes, elephants and zebras. Even though Rwanda is a landlocked country, it still has the stunning Lake Kivu that offers superb sunset viewing each day.
The top safari attractions in Rwanda are:
Volcanoes National Park
Volcanoes National Park, or Parc National de Volcans (PNV), lies along the Virunga Mountains. It is arguably the most famous park in Rwanda and is the best place to see mountain gorillas and golden monkeys.
Best time to go: December to early March and June to September
Nyungwe Forest National Park
The main highlight in this park is chimpanzee trekking. It features an untouched montane rainforest that’s said to be Africa’s oldest forest, and a trail that leads to a gorgeous waterfall.
Best time to go: June to August or December to mid-February
Akagera National Park
Situated east of Rwanda, Akagera National Park is the go-to park for those looking to see wildlife such as giraffes, elephants and lions in Rwanda. The park is characterized by woodland, savannah, swamps and low mountains with a variety of animals and birds. Just recently (update: July 2017), 10 black rhinos were added to the park, completing the “Big 5.”
Best time to go: July to September and January (avoid wet months of March, April and December as most roads are impassable)
Lake Kivu is one of the African Great Lakes where you can find the world’s 10th largest inland island. It is a freshwater lake that hosts no hippos nor crocodiles, making it one of the safest lakes in Africa.
Best time to go: Dry seasons (June to August and mid-December to mid-February) but the best months to visit are JUNE and JULY because of the stable and cooler temperature
Uganda has always enticed travelers with its unrivaled natural features and incredibly rich fauna. After all, it is what Winston Churchill referred to as “the Pearl of Africa.”
It boasts of a diverse ecosystem including barren savannahs that host an incredible concentration of wildlife including some of the rarest animals on the planet, beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and green rainforests that gives haven to mighty primates and unique birds.
The top safari attractions in Uganda are:
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a famous park in Uganda and one of the reasons for this is because it shows a different side of Uganda – not just the world-famous rainforest jungles with gorillas, chimps and other unique primates. In this park, you get to spot a diverse wildlife including tree climbing lions, warthogs, elephants, leopards, waterbucks and many more. You also get to go on a boat cruise along the Kazinga channel where you can see many birds and animals like crocodiles, hippos and buffaloes. Other activities in this park includes visiting a salt lake as well as visiting a fishing village.
Best time to go: June to September
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Sitting at the edge of the Rift Valley, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest boasts of a stunning misty landscape that’s covered with the oldest biologically diverse in the rainforest jungle. It is known to be the only park where chimps and mountain gorillas live, and it has been also a popular destination for trekking to see the rare and endangered mountain gorillas as it holds the most number of mountain gorillas in the world.
Best time to go: June to August and January to February
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park holds one of the most beautiful and most varying tracts of tropical forest in the whole of Uganda. Arguably the best chimpanzee destination in East Africa, what lures most tourists in this park is its accessibility to other attractions. From Kibale National Park, it is incredibly easy to extend your trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a boat cruise and a chance to view the magnificent Murchison Falls; or to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for gorilla tracking.
Best time to go: June to September and December to February
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Located in the southwestern part of Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla Park is another gorilla tracking destination. It has one habituation trans-boundary gorilla group and it also gives you a chance to visit the Batwa group where you can experience their fascinating culture and lifestyle.
Best time to go: June to August and mid-December to January
Standing in the borders of Uganda and Republic of Congo, Rwenzori Mountains is one of the most picturesque natural scenery in East Africa. It supports glaciers and are one source of the river Nile. It offers offers spectacular trekking and climbing trips featuring a breathtaking variety of landscapes including bamboo and giant fern forests, alpine meadows, gorgeous lakes and snow-capped peaks.
Best time to go: For a visit to the mountain range, January and February is best as there is a drier “NE Monsoon” as well as June and July for a drier “SE Monsoon”. If you are planning to trek to one of its peaks, it is best to do so early in the morning. If you want to ski on the Stanley Plateau, you might consider a trip right at the transition between the wet and dry seasons, as later in the dry seasons the glaciers may be bare ice in many places.
Safari activities: Rwanda vs Uganda
We’ve rounded up the most highly recommended safari activities in both countries! Here’s a list of the things you should try:
☆ Gorilla trekking
Imagine yourself inside a Tarzan movie. You move through a dense jungle, breathe through the refreshing scent of nature, and best of all have a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with the world’s most endangered apes.
Did you know that about half of the total population of mountain gorillas in the world live in the Virunga mountains of Central Africa, at the intersection of Rwanda and Uganda? This unique adventure is certainly a highlight to any visit to either countries.
Where to experience this?
RWANDA: Volcanoes National Park
UGANDA: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
☆ Chimpanzee trekking
To fill your primate experience with much fascination, a chimp trek is usually recommended. While gorilla and chimpanzee tracking may sound somehow similar, in actual experience, it’s not. Chimpanzees are naturally jumpy. They move around a lot and make noises when they transfer from one tree to another so it’s quite challenging to keep u with them. Gorillas, on the other hand, like eating silently in the corners of the forest.
In Rwanda, about 500 chimpanzees have been recorded to habituate the evergreen forest of Nyungwe. In Uganda, the chimpanzee population reaches at least about 5,000.
Where to experience this?
RWANDA: Nyungwe Forest National Park
UGANDA: Kibale National Park
☆ Golden monkey tracking
Who doesn’t want to see golden monkeys? With their striking golden fur coats and playful character, a lot of tourists are intrigued by these high-spirited golden monkeys. They scamper off so fast around the bamboo vegetation area of the lush forests and it just makes this rare experience a very thrilling one. It is also significantly less expensive than gorilla and chimpanzee tracking.
Where to experience this?
RWANDA: Volcanoes National Park
UGANDA: Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Aside from these inspiring primate safaris, there are also other things you can do in Rwanda and Uganda. Among the endless list of activities are:
- City tour: Explore the charming city of Kigali and visit famous tourist spots like Gisozi Genocide Memorial Site and Juru Park in Rwanda. When in Uganda, leave no stone unturned and discover the vibrant city life in Kampala as you saunter around the Anglican Church and be entertained at Ndere Troupe Center.
- White water rafting: In Uganda, you can go on a thrilling ride in the mighty river of Nile. This is a popular activity for those seeking for once-in-a-lifetime adventures.
- Mountain trekking: Don’t miss climbing the 5th highest mountain in Africa at Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda or the world-renowned remote Rwenzori mountains in Uganda.
- Volcano climbing: Climbing Mount Visoke in Rwanda is definitely a must-try! At the top, you will be able to see a gorgeous crater lake and your 3-hour ascend promises you a view that’s beyond compare.
- Canoeing & boat safaris: You can enjoy these activities at Lake Kivu in Rwanda or at Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda.
Ease of travel
Both countries have international hubs to welcome tourists into their beautiful land. The main international hub of Uganda is Entebbe International Airport (EBB), which is located 46km from its capital, Kampala. In Rwanda, Kigali International Airport (KGL) is the international gateway, just 10km away from the city center.
In comparison, EBB is larger than KGL and offers more flights from all over the world. Whether you’re flying into Uganda from Europe, United States, UK, Asia, Australia or within Africa, many direct and indirect flights are available for you. If you’re flying into Rwanda, you can fly from UK, Europe, Asia, Australia or Africa. Coming from the US, you need to go to other hubs like London (most Americans use this route), Paris or perhaps another country in Africa.
For the prices, it will really depend on the season of travel, the country of departure and on how early you booked your flight. Typically, flights that have been booked earlier cost less. To give you a ballpark, flights to both Rwanda and Uganda just play around the same figure. For example, a one-stop flight to Rwanda (KGL) from London Heathrow (LHR) via Ethiopian Air costs about 680USD while a one-stop flight to Uganda (EBB) from London Heathrow (LHR) via the same airline costs 700USD.
RWANDA VS. UGANDA
With all these mind-blowing adventures, it is not easy not to fall in love with Rwanda or Uganda. Whichever country you choose, you will surely enjoy the place. But to help you make your decision, here’s a rundown of their pros and cons, assets and drawbacks.
|Going to gorilla trekking destinations in Rwanda will only take you about 3 hours from kigali||Driving into the parks and forests from entebbe takes a long time(more or less 7 hours, depending on your final destination)|
|Rwanda is known to have good roads, better and cleaner road conditions as well as working traffic lights.||Road conditions need improvement and some traffic lights do not work at all.|
|HABITUATED GORILLA GROUPS|
|Offers ample daily permits for gorilla trekking: 10 habituated gorilla groups||Offers more daily permits for gorilla trekking: 15 habituated gorilla groups|
|GORILLA HABITUATION PERMIT|
|Offers Gorilla Family Permits that costs 1500 USD and allows 1 hour with the gentle giants.||Offers 2 options: Gorilla Family Permits(costs 600 USD and allow 1 hours interaction) & Gorilla Family Habituation Permit(costs 1500 USD and allows 4 hours with habituated mountain gorillas)|
|LOCAL COMMUNITY HELP|
|10% of permit revenue goes to the local community||20% of permit revenue goes to the local community|
|During orientation at the gorilla trekking, guests will be welcomed with a cup of coffee and an entertaining culture dance.||No free coffee and culture dances upon arrival|
|Limited options when it comes to lodging in the wilderness unless you book an exclusive luxury lodge, Most lodges are available in town.||Offers a plethora of accomodation options whether you are in a shoestring budget or an all-out luxury vacation|
|Hit-or-miss chimpanzee trekking in which, quite frankly, is almost always a “miss” – and you still pay for the experience nonetheless.||Supern chimpanzee trekking as travelers are guaranteed to see chimpanzee during their trek, Kibali Forest, for one, has always been known to be the best place to see chimps, Other options are Budongo Forest, Kalinzu Forest, Semliki Valley and Kyambira Gorge.|
|Rwanda is the best place to see golden monkeys because of its abundance and visibility chance compared to Uganda.||Mgahinga Gorilla National Park offers an opportunity for guests to see golden monkeys. However, the population is not so abundant as that of Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.|
|ADDITIONAL PLUS POINT|
|KWITA IZINA: Every year, Rwanda hosts this event which is a gorilla baby naming ceremony, As a guest, you have to chance to experience this.||BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST: A world UNESCO heritage Site that has been chosen by CNN last May of 2017 as one of the best parks in Africa.|
In a nutshell, if you are aiming for a cheap adventure especially when it comes to gorilla and chimpanzee tracking, Uganda is your most ideal safari destination. You can also find waterfalls that source the Nile, beautiful lakes for boat safaris, a world-class avifauna and other interesting wildlife in this country. If you want a more luxurious vacation in the jungle, Rwanda has a wealthier string of choices for this. Also, golden monkeys trekking is most recommended in Rwanda. For a visit to the Big 5, you can easily take a trip to Akagera National Park for an open savannah and acacia woodland that features many other mammals. Whatever floats your boat, both countries can promise you an unforgettable safari experience.