Monkeys are smart, cute, and irresistibly entertaining. They are also an incredibly diverse group of mammals — there are more than 260 different types of monkeys in the world.
All monkeys belong to the order Primates. Within the order, the monkeys are divided into two groups: New World monkeys who live in South and Central Americas, and Old World monkeys who live in Asia and Africa.
Apes, the human’s closest relatives, are a sister group of Old World monkeys, but while they can be considered monkeys, they differ from them in many ways. Unlike monkeys who spend most of their lives in the trees, apes spend some of their time on the ground. Apes also do not have tails and are generally much larger than monkeys.
Regardless of their differences, most primates like to live in the warm tropical forests, with the highest diversity of species found in Brazil. But because they are forest-dependent, primates are the most endangered major group of mammals, with a third of the species listed as Critically Endangered and Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
If you are crazy about monkeys and want to see them in the wild and in the most ethical way possible, here are 11 places you should travel to.
1. Pousada Rio Roosevelt, Brazil
There are so many monkeys in the Amazon rainforest that the scientists are still discovering new species. But despite this abundance, the monkeys are not always easy to see, unless you know where to look. The Pousada Rio Roosevelt lodge in the Brazil’s state of Amazonas is one of the best place to spot them.
Lying deep inside the Amazon jungle and surrounded by virgin forest, the lodge is home to 12 species of primates. It is a great spot to see the endangered Peruvian spider monkeys and the equally endangered, but mis-named white-nosed bearded saki (the nose of the bearded saki is actually bright pink).
Both species are threatened by the clearing of the Amazon Rainforest and difficult to see in less pristine areas. The lodge is also good for seeing more common species: brown and white-faced capuchins, brown woolly monkeys, Prince Bernhard’s titi monkeys, the endemic bare-eared squirrel monkeys, and dwarf marmosets — the smallest monkeys on Earth.
Visiting Pousada Rio Roosevelt lodge
As there are no roads in the surrounding forest, the lodge can only be reached by a small plane from Porto Velho (1.15 hours) or Manaus (2.20 hours). The lodge offers customizable stay options and the cost of the air transfer is included in the packages.
2. Kinabatangan River, Borneo
Kinabatangan River in Borneo is a great spot to see two unique and endangered primates that are found only in Borneo: proboscis monkey and Borneo orangutan.
The orangutan is Asia’s only great ape. It is found only on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra and it faces extinction on both islands, caused primarily by the clearing of forest for oil palm plantations. The charismatic Borneo orangutan is one of the 25 most critically endangered primates in the world.
The endangered proboscis monkeys are easier to see on the river. In fact, it is almost impossible not to see them. With their ridiculously oversized noses, the proboscis monkeys are possibly the oddest-looking monkeys on the planet. And if their noses are not odd enough, the males of the species have their bottoms covered in thick white fur which makes them look as if they are wearing tighty-whities.
Visiting Kinabatangan River
To see the orangutan and the proboscis monkeys, stay at the award-winning Sukau Rainforest Lodge and take boat cruises on the river in the early morning and the late afternoon. The lodge will arrange transfers from Sandakan airport.
3. Danum Valley, Borneo
Danum Valley is another good spot for primate-watching in Borneo. The handsome maroon langurs, also known as red leaf monkeys, often visit the Field Centre, allowing for very close viewing. The nickname leaf monkey comes from langurs’ dietary preference for green leaves of tropical trees.
Another endemic primate that you might encounter in Danum Valley is the endangered Borneo gibbon. Despite their relatively small size, gibbons are apes, just not great apes, but lesser apes. The main giveaway is the lack of tail.
Visiting Danum Valley
It is best to visit Danum Valley with a local tour operator that would make all the necessary arrangements for your trip. Sticky Rice Travel and Adventure Alternative Borneo offer a range of tours to Danum Valley. Transfers from Lahad Datu airport are included in the tours.
4. Khao Yai National Park, Thailand
Located 137 km east from Bangkok, Khao Yai National Park is the most-easily accessible National Park in Thailand. It also happens to be one of the best places in the country to see the endangered white-handed gibbon.
If you visit the park in the morning, you are likely to hear the gibbons before you see them — they produce the most complex songs of all the land mammals.
While the white-handed gibbons are safe in the park, they face the risk of extinction outside of the protected areas, mainly due to habitat loss.
The gibbons are not the only primate in the park and you will have no trouble finding the other one — the pig-tailed macaque. Chances are, you will spot them sitting on the road as soon as you drive through the park’s gate.
Visiting Khao Yai
You can join an organized tour from Bangkok, but for the best experience, catch a minivan taxi to the park and stay at the Green Leaf guesthouse. Mr 9 at Green Leaf is considered the best nature guide in Khao Yai. The tours in Khao Yai consist of safari drives and short walks in the jungle.
5. Khao Sam Roy Yot National Park, Thailand
Most people visit Khao Sam Roy Yot National Park near Hua Hin to see the Phraya Nakhon Cave — a dramatic limestone cave with light streaming in via a natural sinkhole in the roof. But the park is also the best place in the world to see the dusky langur.
Also known as a spectacled langur or a spectacled leaf monkey, it is one of the cutest monkeys in Asia. The large white colored circles around the dusky langur’s eyes give it the appearance of wearing glasses and looking surprised.
Another monkey you will see in the park is the crab-eating macaque, also known as the long-tailed macaque. Like most macaques, it is a brazen and occasionally aggressive animal so it is best to avoid any interactions with them.
Visiting Khao Sam Roy Yot
Khao Sam Roy Yot is an easy 66-km drive from the seaside town of Hua Hin in Phetchaburi Province. You can rent a car at Hua Hin airport or if you are staying in town, you might like to hire a scooter at your hotel. Alternatively, you can opt for a minivan taxi to collect you at your hotel in Hua Hin, take you to the selected destinations in the park, and bring you back to the hotel.
6. Kanha National Park, India
Kanha Tiger Reserve in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh is a great spot to watch the gray langurs. Also known as Hanuman langurs, they are considered sacred animals in many parts of India.
The most interesting thing about the gray langurs is the unusual partnership they formed with the spotted deer, known as chital in India.
When langurs feed in the trees they discard fruit and leaves that fall on the ground and attract the deer. Tall trees also give langurs a good vantage point to watch for predators and their alarm calls warn the deer of any approaching danger.
But when langurs come to feed on the ground, and they do that frequently, it is the deers’ acute sense of hearing that keeps both species safe from predators.
Both the langurs and the deer are common in the reserve and once you see the langurs you will most likely spot the deer nearby.
Kanha-National-Park.com offers a range of tours starting from New Delhi, Jabalpur, or Nagpur. The eco-friendly Kanha Village Eco Resort also offers jeep safaris in the park and transfers from Jabalpur.
7. Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Located on the remote Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is home to all four species of Costa Rica’s monkeys including the endangered Geoffroy’s spider monkey, Central American squirrel monkey, mantled howler, and white-faced capuchin.
The Geoffroy’s spider monkey, also known as the Black-handed spider monkey, has been included in the current list of the world’s 25 most endangered primates by the IUCN. The spider monkeys’ preference for large areas of primary forest makes them particularly sensitive to habitat loss.
The Central American squirrel monkeys are the most adorable primates in the Costa Rican jungle. These social monkeys prefer to live in large groups and can often be heard as they move through the forest squeaking and chirping along the way.
While safe in Corcovado, squirrel monkeys are vulnerable to extinction outside of the protected areas. The main causes of their decline are habitat loss and capture of individuals for the exotic pet trade.
Visiting Corcovado National Park
It is compulsory to have a nature guide with you for visiting the remote wilderness of Corcovado. The access point for Corcovado is the small laid-back town of Drake Bay. Corcovado Expeditions, based in town, offer a range of options for visiting the park. Be prepared to rough it a little — the accommodation in the park is very basic.
8. Palo Verde National Park, Costa Rica
If you are looking for the more up-close and personal encounters with monkeys in Costa Rica, head to Palo Verde National Park in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province and take a boat cruise.
The white-faced capuchins in the park have no fear of people, so don’t be surprised if they jump into your boat and climb on top of your head. If this does happen, it is best to let the monkeys leave of their own accord. Interacting with them can cause all sorts of misunderstandings and one look at their sharp teeth should be enough to discourage any misplaced affections.
Speaking of teeth, it can be difficult not to laugh at these adorable creatures but be warned that showing of one’s teeth is considered a sign of aggression in the capuchin world. Your heartfelt smiles will likely be met with loud vocalizations and threat posturing by the monkeys.
Visiting Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde can be visited on a day tour from the nearby city of Liberia. You can hire a taxi in town to take you to the park’s entrance and back. Once in the park, it is the local family-owned Palo Verde boat tours that run the cruises on the Tempisque River. Alternatively, you can take an organized tour from Liberia.
9. Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
An easy 70-km drive from the center of Cape Town, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is a good place to see chacma baboons. This baboon is one of the largest monkeys in the world and also considered to be the most dangerous. The troops of chacma baboons have been recorded to rip leopards apart with their strong teeth.
Generally, the chacma baboon is widespread and not considered a threatened species. However, the population in Cape of Good Hope and the rest of the Southern Cape Peninsula has suffered from habitat loss and became isolated. Lacking the natural habitat, the baboons have dispersed into suburban areas, where they cause significant damage by entering people’s homes in search of food. As a result, they are persecuted by the local residents.
The population on the Southern Cape Peninsula is now endangered and may disappear within the next 10 years.
Visiting Cape of Good Hope
The Cape is an easy drive from Cape Town. There are a number of rental car agencies in town. If you prefer an organized tour, Cape of Good Hope Tours offers a range of private, custom tours from Cape Town.
10. Kruger National Park, South Africa
Kruger National Park is also a good place to see chacma baboons, but there is another interesting monkey that can be found here.
Vervet monkeys are medium-sized, social monkeys that live in troops of 10 to 70 individuals. They are one of the best-studied monkeys, probably because they have been found to display some human-like behaviors, such as anxiety, hypertension, and acting out of spite.
Yet the most interesting thing about vervet monkeys is the color of their testicles. They are bright blue! It is thought that the blue color attracts potential female suitors and the brighter the male’s family jewels are the more popular he’s going to be with the ladies.
The park is easy to visit on a self-drive safari. Alternatively, the park offers guided tours ranging from a day trip to the four-day stay. Viva Safari offers options for budget-conscious travellers. Their tours include a fun option to stay in a treehouse at Marc’s treehouse lodge.
11. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda
Watching mountain gorillas in the ancient rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is perhaps the most iconic primate-watching experience. The mountain gorillas are critically endangered, with about 880 individuals left in the wild in Uganda, Congo, and Rwanda. The main threats that gorillas face are: poaching, habitat loss, disease, and war and unrest in the region.
To minimize disturbance to gorillas, the number of visitors to their habitat in Bwindi is restricted to no more than 56 people a day. And an official permit must be obtained prior to visiting the park.
Watching mountain gorillas is different from most other primate-watching experienced in that you can spend an extended period of time with them. Once your guide locates a family, you are allowed to spend up to an hour with it, watching the animals interact with each other as they go about their day.
Considering the fragile state of the mountain gorilla population, you should make sure that you book your gorilla trek with a credible tour company and preferably a local one. The list of reputable tour operators in Uganda can be found on Bwindi National Park website. The tours start and end in Entebbe.