Packing for your Primate-Tracking Safari
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If you’re heading off to the primate paradise of Rwanda or Uganda, you may be wondering what gear to pack for your mountain gorilla or chimpanzee trek. What do you actually need? Surprisingly little, it turns out! Here’s our list of primate-trekking essentials…
PACKING LIST FOR GORILLA AND CHIMP TREKKING
- Quick-drying long trousers. You must have full-length hiking pants to protect your legs from insect bites and scratchy vines and branches.
- Light, quick-drying long-sleeved shirt. This protects your arms from scratches, insect bites and sunburn.
- Waterproof walking/hiking boots. You’ll be trekking in remote places like Nyungwe Forest or Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, and Kibale National Park or Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest in Uganda, where the rugged terrain means nonslip soles are non-negotiable. The apparently firm ground beneath your feet can give way to boggy, water-soaked mud, and if you have to cross streams, boots with their high cuff are a much better choice than trainers, keeping out water and giving your ankles much-needed support.
- Comfy hiking socks. Your trek guides will tell you to tuck your pants into your socks to prevent insects crawling up your legs – not the best look, but these experts definitely know what they’re talking about!
- Waterproof gaiters. Many lodges have gaiters to lend their guests for their gorilla-tracking experience, but gaiters don’t take up a lot of space, so throw in your own if you have them.
- Seam-sealed waterproof raincoat/anorak with a hood or hiking poncho. Again, many lodges will lend you a poncho but rain showers are common in these equatorial regions, so a lightweight waterproof jacket is very handy to have. If you’re a keen photographer, a rain poncho may be a better choice so you can cover your camera once you’ve located the primates.
- Wide-brimmed sunhat or peak cap. The sun can be fierce, so this is a must.
- High SPF sunblock for face and body. Remember that malaria prophylaxis can make your skin extra sensitive to sunburn, so make sure to apply sunblock frequently.
- Daypack. You’ll use this to carry your water, lunch, snacks, tissues, camera, binoculars, sunblock, and small personal items.
- Reusable water bottle. We recommend you carry two litres (half a gallon) of water with you. The length of your hike will depend on how long it takes to locate the primates, and the days can be long (from two to six hours) and hot. The use of single-use plastics is strongly discouraged, so we invite you to bring your favourite sturdy water bottles with you from home. If you’d like an extra bottle for the day, your lodge will lend you one.
- Medical-grade face mask. Did you know that chimpanzees are humankind’s closest living relatives – sharing 98.8% of their DNA with us – and gorillas are also close cousins, sharing about 98.3% of DNA with us? (For more on this fascinating subject, check out The Smithsonian Institution’s Human Origins Programme.) This makes them very vulnerable to infection by viruses we carry. Once you are within range of chimps or mountain gorillas, your guides will ask you to put on a mask. You will be requested to cover your nose and mouth properly with your mask for the duration of your close-up interactions. Once you’ve no longer in close proximity, you’ll be able to drop your mask. (Note that if you are sick with fly or a cold, you will not be permitted to trek.)
- Gloves are handy, especially in areas like Bwindi Inpenetrable Forest, where you’ll find yourself clutching at branches as you wind your way through the dense undergrowth. We recommend inexpensive soft leather working gloves from your local hardware store or nursery.
- Lightweight telescopic hiking poles. These are very handy when it comes to negotiating the winding overgrown routes through the forests. Don’t buy them specially, though: your lodge may well lend you a carved walking stick, or ask your guide to cut you one to size once you’re on the trail.
GOOD TO KNOW…
- If you’re to be doing both a gorilla and a chimp trek, don’t bring two complete tracking outfits: your lodge will happily launder your hiking clothes for your next adventure.
- Pack in a soft-sided bag, not a rigid suitcase, if your itinerary has you taking short hops in small planes from one destination to the next. Also, take careful note of the maximum baggage limits for these flights: while your international leg may have a generous baggage allowance, your limit on small planes is often as little as 12 to 15kg (26 to 33 pounds).
- The dress code in these lodges is casual. Comfort is key, so don’t feel you need to dress to impress – helpful if you’re travelling light.
- Many primate-tracking destinations are at high altitudes and it may get rather chilly at times, especially at night and early in the morning. Dress in layers that you can peel off to stay comfortable all day long.
- A lightweight pair of binoculars can be a handy addition, especially if you’re also a keen birder. Once you’ve located the chimps or gorillas, your guides will get you within a few feet of them so you won’t need binoculars.
- While you may want to take a digital camera with a decent zoom, many guests tell us that, unless you’re a keen photographer, a cellphone with a high-quality camera is just as good – and it’s great for catching live-action video footage. (Note: use of a camera flash is not permitted.)
- If you forget to take a mask, you should be able to buy one from the conservation office where you check in for your day’s adventure. You will need local currency in small denominations for this.
Don’t hesitate to ask us if you have further questions.