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Trekking with wild chimpanzees through the East African jungle is one of the most thrilling adventures I’ve ever experienced.

I’ve been privileged to track chimps on numerous occasions in my capacity as a guidebook writer and tour leader specialised in East Africa. I’ve visited all nine of the national parks and forest reserves where chimp trekking is possible. It is, in my opinion, every bit as worthwhile as gorilla trekking, at least when everything comes together, but it also tends to be more unpredictable and challenging due to the chimps’ more restless and mobile nature.

Intrigued? Read on for my expert guide on where to see chimpanzees in the wild.

Chimpanzee trekking: my top tips

Our expert's top picks

My favourite chimp trekking location
Mahale Mountains National Park

My favourite chimp trekking location

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

If forced to pick a favourite place to go chimpanzee trekking it would probably be Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania. This place has got it all: excellent close-up encounters with the chimps, very few other tourists, and all set on an idyllic location on the edge of Lake Tanganyika. It’s about 30 times larger than the more famous Gombe but with a fraction of the tourist infrastructure. The only downside is the eye-watering cost, but if you can afford the price tag it’s well worth it!

For near-guaranteed sightings
Kibale Forest National Park

For near-guaranteed sightings

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

No tour operator will guarantee sightings, but in Kibale National Park – dubbed the primate capital of East Africa – you’ll have at least a 90% chance of encountering chimps on your trek. There are around 1,000 chimps here, along with a rich diversity of monkeys. The only downside is its popularity and the forest can feel crowded at times.

How to avoid the crowds
Kibale Forest National Park

How to avoid the crowds

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

In Kibale National Park there are twice-daily chimp tracking excursions: one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The morning trek is by far the most popular departure, so if you’d rather avoid the worst of the crowds I’d advise you book onto the afternoon trek.

The cheapest place to track chimps
Queen Elizabeth National Park

The cheapest place to track chimps

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

Until January 2024, Kalinzu Forest Reserve was the cheapest place to track chimps, but the permit price has now increased to USD $130. This leaves Kyambura Gorge in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park the new cheapest place to track chimps, with permits costing USD $50 for foreigners.

For easier-going chimp trekking
Murchison Falls National Park

For easier-going chimp trekking

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

Budongo is a good choice if you are worried about your fitness. It’s the flattest of East Africa’s chimp-trekking locations, and most of the time you'll be walking on a well-maintained grid of researchers’ paths.

For combining chimpanzee and gorilla trekking
Nyungwe National Park

For combining chimpanzee and gorilla trekking

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

One of Africa’s oldest rainforests, Nyungwe National Park ranges from 1,600m to 2,950m in altitude, which blesses it with some exceptional biodiversity. It’s an excellent place to track chimps, and its accessibility makes it a convenient pairing with gorilla trekking in nearby Volcanoes National Park.

Where to see chimpanzees in the wild

The most popular – and some lesser-known – places to go chimpanzee trekking

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

Although chimps are widely distributed across the rainforests of west and central Africa, they are most easily tracked in East Africa, where nine different parks and reserves harbour habituated communities.

Four of these locations are in Uganda, which is the most straightforward chimp-trekking destination in terms of access, but there are also three in western Tanzania and two in Rwanda.

Here’s my rundown on the best places to go chimp trekking, along with some important pros & cons you’ll want to know for each place.

Chimpanzee trekking: Need to know

Everything you wish you'd known before you booked

When to track chimps

Chimp trekking runs throughout the year at most of the national parks and forest reserves described above. Hiking conditions are generally best in the dry season, which varies from region to region, but broadly falls over June to August and December to February in Uganda and Rwanda, and August to October in western Tanzania.

Costs

The cost of chimp trekking varies considerably between locations, but it is invariably far cheaper than gorilla trekking. In Uganda, it currently stands at US$200 (including park entrance) at Kibale, US$50 (excluding the US$40 park entrance fee) at Kyambura Gorge, and US$130 (with no additional entrance fee) at Budongo and Kalinzu Forest.

In Rwanda, Nyungwe charges US$90 to non-residents (no additional fee) while at Gishwati-Makura it is included in the accommodation cost for Forest of Hope guesthouse and campsite.

In Tanzania, chimp trekking is included in the daily national park entrance fee of US$80 plus VAT for Mahale, US$100 plus VAT for Gombe and US$30 plus VAT for Rubondo, though in all cases you need to pay an additional guide fee of roughly US$20.

Chimp tracking permits

If you’re booking onto an organised tour, the operator should book your permits. Travelling independently, online bookings for Kibale and Kyambura Gorge can be made through the Uganda Wildlife Authority.

What to expect

These fascinating apes most often betray their presence with a communal pant-hoot call, an explosive, frenzied vocalisation that reverberates loudly through the forest interior. And once the chimps have been located, you’ll often have to race breathlessly behind them through the tangled undergrowth before finally they settle down to groom quietly in a forest clearing or climb athletically into the canopy of a fruiting tree.

Conditions vary greatly from one site and one day to the next, but generally speaking, tracking chimps is more challenging than tracking gorillas. In both cases you can expect to face a combination of steep, slippery paths and tangled undergrowth. But because chimps are so much more mobile and less sedentary than gorillas, pursuing them through the forest often requires a fair level of fitness and agility, and the tracking success rate is considerably lower. That said, my experience is that once you have located chimps, they may give you a bit of a run-around for a while, but four times out of five they’ll settle down at some point within the hour you’ll be allowed to spend with them.

Packing and preparations

A reasonable level of fitness is required to track chimps. If you are able to walk at a brisk pace for two hours at home, you should be fine. If not, it would be a good idea to get in some walking to build up your fitness.

Hiking boots are ideal for walking through the forest, though I usually just use trail running shoes. Bring a hat and sunscreen to protect you against the sun, as well as a poncho or raincoat in case of rain. I would recommend wearing full-length trousers (ideally tucked into your socks to deter biting ants) and long sleeves and gloves (for nettles). Most venues will provide you with walking stick (or create a makeshift one) by request.

There is no telling how long you will be out on the trail, but be prepared for anything from three to six hours. So carry plenty of drinking water (ideally around 2 litres) as well as a few packaged snacks, and make sure your camera or phone is fully charged.

Insider tip

Philip Briggs
By Philip Briggs

If you are worried about your fitness, there are several places where orphaned chimps can be seen in attractive conditions without significant exertion. These include Ngamba Island in Uganda, Sweetwaters Sanctuary in Kenya, Chimp Eden in South Africa and Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia. I’d stress that visiting such an orphanage is in no way comparable to tracking wild chimps, but these are all worthy projects affiliated to or endorsed by the Jane Goodall Institute.

About the author

Chimpanzee trekking

Philip Briggs

Philip Briggs is a guidebook writer and travel journalist specialised in African travel. He first backpacked between Nairobi and Cape Town in 1986 and has been travelling the highways and byways of Africa ever since. Since the 1990s, he has researched and authored several pioneering Bradt Guides. These include the first dedicated guidebooks to Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Malawi, Ghana, Mozambique, Rwanda and Somaliland. He has worked on guidebooks for several other publishers including AA, Insight, Berlitz, Eyewitness, Frommers, Rough Guides, Struik-New Holland and 30 Degrees South.

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