Chimp Treks in Kibale Forest
If there is one single primate experience that can equal a visit to the mountain gorillas, it may very well be a visit to the chimpanzees of Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda. Chimpanzees, along with the bonobos of Congo, are humanity’s closest living relatives in the animal kingdom, sharing an astounding 99% mutual DNA with humans. Just 4 million years ago, chimps, humans and bonobos were indistinguishable, DNA wise. This molecular bond between us and chimps is laid ever more baldly apparent when we have the exquisite opportunity to visit them. Sitting with chimps, in the wild, hearing their eerie hoots and howls of joy or concern, and seeing them engage with one another in their veritable jungle “living room,” takes us back to a primordial time of our beginning, to the origins of human essence in a way that can be utterly spell-binding.
- Chimpanzee Trekking Options in Kibale Forest
- Chimpanzee Habituation Trek
- Chimpanzee Trek (Standard)
- Chimpanzee Trek Advice
- Where to Stay
Chimpanzee Trekking Options in Kibale Forest
Travelers in Kibale have two primary options for visiting the chimpanzees. One is the full day habituation trek and the other is a shorter trek that is highlighted by one full hour visiting with a completely habituated chimpanzee family. Our trips promote the full day habituation option, but travelers should know that they are welcome to do the shorter standard trek instead.
Chimpanzee Habituation Trek
In our itineraries, we promote the full-day habituation trek. Rather than just 1 hour with a habituated family, travelers spend more quality time in the jungle generally and with chimpanzees specifically. Unlike the standard trek, there are usually significantly fewer people doing the habituation trek – often there’s only 2-3 groups, each with a maximum of 6 travelers.
The habituation trek allows travelers to visit unique families of chimps, further afield, and during the full day, travelers often see a greater variety of behaviors while tracking the families, including, on occasion, exciting hunting behaviors. The typical chimp family will hunt monkeys (usually the more aggressive red colobus) about 2-3 times a week. Your rangers will help interpret the strategies employed in the hunt as those can vary based on the situation. Habituation treks typically end by late afternoon.
NOTES: Travelers bring a boxed lunch with them and water in their daypack. The habituation permits currently cost about US$200/person. Prepare for an early start: chimp habituation treks usually start around 6:30am.
Chimpanzee Trek (Standard)
These are shorter 3-4 hour treks that start around 8am on a daily basis. During busy periods, there may be noon and afternoon groups too. Like the habituation trek, parties are split up into smaller groups of around 6 travelers, usually, right after a general, brief trek orientation by the lead ranger.
After the briefing and assigned a group, the groups head out from the visitor center led by 1 ranger, through established trails, punctuated by periods of bush-whacking through the jungle. Once the advance ranger team has located the chimp family – currently at 120 members – the various groups are guided in by their own lead ranger and the groups meld into one “super group” following the chimp family as it moves through the forest floor and canopy.
Travelers linger with the chimps for one full hour, observing them gathering fruit, relaxing, mingling, etc. both on the forest floor and in the trees. Much of the time while we are watching them, they are watching us! After the hour is up, we hike back with the ranger in our smaller groups back to the ranger station. The standard trek permits currently cost about US$120/person.
Chimpanzee Trek Advice
Especially while bush-whacking, you will almost certainly encounter stinging nettles. plus prickly trees and vines. Be sure to wear long pants, long sleeves, long socks, a cap, and have some gardening gloves with you. Because we often encounter biting ants somewhere along a chimp trek too, it’s vital to tuck the end of the pant legs into your socks. Be sure to bring binoculars with you (8×42 is good). Travelers should be in good physical condition and comfortable with off-trail hiking. Be prepared for muddy and wet conditions – waterproof mid-weight hiking boots are ideal. Wear a light daypack and bring insect repellent. This same packing list, in general, is good for the gorilla treks too.
Chimpanzee Treks: Where to Stay
For mid-range travelers, Primate Lodge-Forest Cabins are the easy choice. For upmarket travelers, you have several other outstanding options. One luxury option is within easy walking distance to the start of the treks; the other 2 are situated about 1-hour drive from the start.
- Primate Lodge
- Kyaninga Lodge
- Ndali Lodge
1) Primate Lodge – Luxury Cottages – outstanding location for treks
Primate Lodge Kibale’s principal edge is the location, tucked in the Kibate Forest and within about a 5-minute walk to the starting point for Chimpanzee tracking excursion as well as the incredible Chimpanzee Habituation. Besides the mid-range Forest Cottages, there are spacious and en-suite Luxury Cottages, each secluded deep in the forest for maximum privacy and a natural ‘living in nature’ feel, come complete with 2x Double size Bed or 1x King Size Bed, a sitting area with two comfortable arm chairs, a reading table and an adjoining large veranda with excellent views to the forest. Other lodge amenities include a spacious dining terrace, a well-stocked bar, complimentary room service, a secluded lounge area with a small library, an evening camp fire, laundry service as well as free WiFi in the public areas.
2) Kyaninga Lodge – Modern Euro-chic lodge, great for active, fit travelers
Set apart and raised on platforms, each of the lodge’s nine spacious cottages come an indoor seating area that leads out to a private deck where you can enjoy morning tea or coffee with views over the lake and the Rwenzori Mountains. The en-suite bathrooms boast marble countertop basins set atop crafted Elgon olive pedestals, claw footed freestanding baths, and glass-walled showers. With modern solar power, you will always have hot water and electrical charging points. The terrace leads down to the swimming pool looking over the lake. Lined with pavers cut from the local volcanic rock and featuring two wooden decks, the swimming pool provides the perfect space for you to relax and unwind. Here you can soak up the peace and tranquility of Lake Kyaninga and the mountains beyond. The more adventurous can walk down to Lake Kyaninga itself. With its blue water and ‘land that time forgot’ rainforest, it offers a unique opportunity to experience a wilderness rarely encountered in real life. The lake is one of the few in Uganda that are safe to swim in. With amazing wildlife on your doorstep, take a guided walk around the beautiful Kyaninga Crater Lake and Forest. See how many species of primate you can spot. The finest 3-course cuisine awaits you here. The menu is based on classical European cuisine and tweaked to make use of local ingredients, many of which are hand-picked from Kyaninga Lodge’s own kitchen garden or the neighboring markets. After dinner, head through to the Lounge where you can relax by the fire with a drink from the fully stocked bar. During the day, head out to the terrace and relax on loungers while enjoying the view of Lake Kyaninga. In this equatorial paradise, you will feel a thousand miles away from the bustle of daily life.
3) Ndali Lodge – A serene luxury colonial oasis with exquisite surroundings
Ndali Lodge is an ideal choice for luxury travelers seeking a tranquil natural setting and a spacious, historical, and highly atmospheric colonial style property. The lodge is a perfect place for a 2-3 night retreat, to relax by the vista-rich pool, enjoy their sauna and massages, do yoga on our yoga pagoda, or simply recharge and watch the animated flora and fauna, a good selection of which can be seen from the verandas of both the lodge and the cottages. Besides chimp treks, Ndali provides local guides for walks around the 1000-acre farm and the Ndali Vanilla processing plant. or to the nearby Muhoma Falls. Walks will take you around crater lake rims, past alcohol brewing in oil drums, through banana plantations, vanilla plantations, coffee terraces, plots of cassava, groundnuts, sorghum and millet. Below the lodge, on the lake below, is a sturdy jetty, set in the most tranquil and secluded spot and frequented by 5 different species of Kingfisher. From here guests can swim in the lake, soak up the sun or simply get away from it all. The lodge has an inflatable two-man kayak that can be used for spotting birds and other wildlife while out for an easy paddle.
At a Glance:
Where: Kibale Forest National Park, about 370 km from Entebbe and about 385 km from Bwindi National Park
Driving Distance: About 5-6 hours from Entebbe, and about 5-6 hours from Bwindi National Park
Time Needed: About 2 nights (1 full day)
- 1-hour visit with a chimp family that is habituated to humans
- Full day with a non-habituated family
Accommodation Choices: Mid-range or luxury