While most visitors come to Volcanoes National Park in Northern Rwanda to see the gorillas, a trek to see the golden monkey is a great way to get a feel for the jungle trekking experience before the main event. It gives you an opportunity to check out what you will need and test your gear in the wild.
Even as a starter trek a visit to the golden monkeys is an awesome experience in its own right. The monkeys, while sometime shy and turning their backs to you, will often get quite close. They see tourists every day and are habituated to photo snapping foreigners in their jungle.
The day starts with a briefing at the National Park Headquarters where you meet your guide and the rest of the group. While they had 4 groups of golden monkeys in 2021 there were only enough visitors to support two groups. Normally there is a maximum of 25 guests per group. Today we were just 10 in our group and about the same in the other.
After the briefing your personal driver takes you to the start of the trek. Here you meet your porter if you choose to have one. Since I was carrying 2 cameras and a monopod I was happy to have the extra hands. I used an 18-135mm lens on a Fuji X-T3 on the hike in and a 100-400mm lens on a Canon R5 at the monkey site.
The Hike In
The hike to the forest was about 30 minutes through farmland, mostly potatoes, with numerous locals out tending the fields and to daily life. Once in the forest it was another 30 minutes to the monkeys. Although trackers follow the monkeys every day sometimes they don’t find them straight away the next morning. On this day we didn’t have to wait too long before they knew exactly where they were.
The path was muddy and slippery but not too steep so I was fine in my trail runners. They give you a walking stick at the start of the trek which helps a lot to steady you on the slippery sections. It did start to rain, enough to put on a rain jacket but it had fortunately stopped by the time we reached the monkeys.
The Golden Monkeys
Once there it was overwhelming trying to figure out what to focus on. There were about 6 to 8 monkeys in different directions – some higher up, some moving quickly. With the rain clouds overhead it started out fairly dark but as our hour progressed it lightened up quite a bit.
Once we settled down we figured out the shooting conditions and got some great shots, of course a lot of crap too. Some monkeys are very brave and come close without problem. Others are shy and will instantly turn their back to you. It’s a great experience whether you are into photography or just want to watch these amazing creatures.
When our hour was up and we were on our way out a group of monkey came right up to us as if they didn’t want us to go.
September 3, 2021
For links to all the posts in this series see the East Africa Safari page.
For a review of the tour company we used see Review of Amahoro Tours.