Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda
By Edgar R Batte

For the primate lover, Uganda’s chimpanzees are a huge attraction. Sharing up to 98% of our DNA, Uganda’s chimpanzee population numbers around 5,000. Living in family groups of 15-20, these highly sociable, intelligent and communicative creatures form complex social relationships.

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There are several places in Uganda where you can go chimpanzee trekking to learn more about these fascinating animals, but be aware you will need to buy a chimpanzee trekking permit in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. These cost $150 per person and permit you to stay with the chimpanzees for one hour. A morning or afternoon trek will also include guides, entry to your chosen national park and birdwatching.

It’s important to follow chimpanzee trekking rules, which are designed to protect both you and the chimpanzees. Visitors should:

  • Stay at least 8m away from the chimpanzees at all times
  • Not eat in front of the chimpanzees
  • Not trek if you are ill
  • Avoid flash photography
  • Be at least 12 years old

Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest National Park, located outside the colonial town of Fort Portal, is a dense tropical rainforest where you can track chimpanzees and 12 other primates, including red-tailed monkeys, olive baboons and the rare Ugandan red colobus.

Known as the primate capital of East Africa, Kibale is the premier site for chimpanzee trekking in Uganda, with most tours starting from the Kanyanchu Visitor Centre. A typical chimpanzee trek in Kibale Forest will see you travel in a group of six plus guides (the total number of permits per day is restricted), heading into the forest either in the early morning or afternoon. Chimpanzee treks are generally shorter than gorilla treks as it’s easier to reach the chimpanzee families. Expect to spend more time looking up at the trees as chimpanzees swing through the rainforest, calling out to each other and thumping tree branches, while your knowledgeable guides explain how the chimpanzees interact and keep you safe.

Within Kibale is the Bigodi Wetlands Sanctuary that feeds some 200 bird species and a number of reptiles. It’s also an excellent place for spotting butterflies and taking village walks, where activities include basket-weaving, dance and interactive meals, where your host explain the history and culture behind the food you eat.

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Budongo Forest

Located in western Uganda around a four hour drive from Kampala lies Budongo Forest. Home to six habituated chimpanzee groups totalling around 700 primates in total, Budongo offers chimpanzee treks year round.

The forest is an attraction in itself, owing to its huge mahogany trees and incredible biodiversity, with blue monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and olive baboons all viewable on a trek. Its location — an easy stop-off point on the road from Kampala to Murchison Falls National Park — makes Budongo a popular place for chimpanzee trekking, although its smaller population of primates means your less likely to see the animals than in Kibale.

Kyambura Gorge

A third option for tracking chimpanzees in Uganda exists in Kyambura Gorge, a gem in the far eastern corner of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Known as the “Valley of Apes”, the gorge’s rich biodiversity comes from the draining of the Kyambura river which left a deep (100m) channel in the landscape. Home to a small family of 16 chimpanzees, this is a chimp trek for those already looking to visit one of Uganda’s most popular national parks.

A hike through the gorge gives you the opportunity to see habituated chimpanzees and other types of primates including red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white colobus, baboons and vervet monkeys.

This green-riverine forest also offers shelter to several forest birds. Although the chance of spotting chimpanzees is not as high as on an official trek in Kibale or Budongo, the gorge’s shimmering green landscape is among the most impressive in Uganda and absolutely worth visiting.

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Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, located in the middle of Lake Victoria in Uganda’s south, is home to 49 orphaned chimpanzees.

Visitors to the sanctuary can see and feed the chimps, learning more about how the sanctuary cares for its chimpanzees. The facility can organise transport, excursions and accommodation.

Besides chimpanzees, Ngamba has monitor lizards, birds and beautiful neighbouring islands where you will interact with locals in their fishing villages.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda

Uganda is known for its warm, friendly and welcoming people. You will meet many such souls on your way to south-west Uganda, which is the best place to see the famous mountain gorilla.

The Pearl of Africa is home to 54% of the world’s primates and competes with neighbouring Rwanda in the gorilla trekking stakes. These prized gentle giants are found in two places: Bwindi Impenetrable National Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, separated by a three-hour drive.

Bwindi is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site and is the much larger site, being home to 45% of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. There are more than 35 known gorilla groups in Bwindi, with 15 habituated to people. Beyond mountain gorillas, visitors to Bwindi can also see a huge amount of wildlife, including antelopes, jackals, chimpanzees and more than 300 species of bird.

Mgahinga is a much smaller but more scenic park, covering approximately 34 sq/km and sitting at the foot of three dormant volcanoes. Mgahinga is actually part of the greater Virunga region, which includes Virunga National Park in DR Congo and the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda. There is only one habituated gorilla group in Mgahinga, but it offers a much quieter gorilla tracking experience than the busier Bwindi. Read our full guide to seeing mountain gorillas in Uganda.

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Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

By Edgar R Batte

Edgar is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor. His work has been published by The East African, African Review, Music in Africa, Marimba Media and many more.

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