Where to meet the Chimpanzees in Uganda
Uganda has got dense and lush tropical forests that home primates among which include Chimpanzees. Guided nature walks through the forest to track this incredible mammal, said by scientist to be the closest living relative to human sharing 98% of DNA, also offer you the chance to encounter a variety of primate species like the vervet monkey, hoest monkey, blue monkey, black and white colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey baboon plus a wide range of bird and plant species.
Chimpanzees live in communities and a fully grown male can measure up to 1.7 metres tall and can weigh up to 70 kg. They use their arms for climbing up the trees and use their four legs while walking on the ground. These primates communicate by using vocalisation, hand gesture and facial expressions; they make their beds on the trees by bending branches into a nest, and day by day they shift to other areas for making new nests and look for fresh food.
- Where can I see the Chimpanzees?
The different areas where chimpanzees can be spotted are the Budongo Forest, the Kyambura Game Reserve, the Kalinzu Forest and the Kibale Forest National Park. If you are in Kampala / Entebbe for a short layover, you can also meet the chimpanzees at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba Island.
- Best time to visit
The Parks can be visited all year round, but the best season is undoubtedly the dry one, during the months of January, February, June and July. The least suitable months are March, April, May, October and November because rain could interfere with your activities and it would be a real shame.
- How to book the chimps trekking
First of all, the most important thing to know is that daily permits are limited so as not to disturb the animals too much. Therefore, you must book well in advance to avoid the risk of being left without permission and thus miss out on this wonderful experience.
The permit can be booked directly from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the government agency responsible for tourism and wildlife conservation in Uganda. The easiest way is to book the permit through any local tour operator who offers chimpanzee trekking safaris. The other option, at your own risk, is to go straight to the Park information centre and try to book it there. The Kalinzu Forest Reserve is managed by NFL (National Forestry Authority); therefore, you must contact them, the Sector Manager in the Reserve or better, a local tour operator to get the permit.
- Information about the trekking into the forest
The guided tracking safari through the forest offers you a remarkable viewing of these primates as they leave their nest heading out to copulate, feed, breastfeed, hunt and display. Usually, the hiking starts early in the morning (between 7 am and 8 am) and can last from 2 to 4 hours, it depends on the area they are settling at the moment. Some Reserves also organise the excursion in the early afternoon. Before starting the hike, the UWA rangers will make a small briefing to give you information on the habits of these fantastic animals and indications on how to behave. Wear a good pair of hiking shoes and, if you have them, also gaiters to prevent ants and various insects from getting into your pants. However, the trek is considered safe and does not present any particular risks. The chimpanzees you’ll see are used to meet the human being.
During our 2 trips around Uganda, we tracked the chimps through Budongo Forest and Kalinzu Forest. The two paths were not challenging and mostly flat. We preferred these two Forests over the Kyambura Gorge because the chance of seeing chimpanzees was higher and the hike was less challenging. Once you reach the group of primates, the time to observe them is about 1 hour. Bring a bright telephoto lens because the forest is dense, very dark, and the chimpanzees are often on the go.
The Reserve where it’s possible to meet the chimps
- Budongo Forest Reserve
Located in the proximity of Murchison Falls National Park, and part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area, the Budongo Forest features two areas perfect for Ecotourism: the Kaniyo Pabidi area, where chimpanzee hikes are done, and the Busingiro area, well known for hosting one of the best bird-watching trails in all of Uganda (called The Royal Mile).
The Kaniyo Pabidi area is considered to be among the best habitats in the country for these animals, with about 600 chimps of which about a hundred are used to be monitored and to meet human beings. The forest also boasts great biodiversity with 24 species of small animals, 9 of which are primates, more than 300 bird species, and around 450 species of trees and shrubs. Among the many species of birds found in eastern Africa, the yellow-footed flycatcher (Muscicapa sethsmithi) and the Puvel’s Illadopsis (Illadopsis Puveli), are found exclusively in this forest. The cost of the permit is 85 USD (it could be a bit higher during the peak season). The chimps trek starts at 7 am and 2 pm.
- Kibale Forest National Park
It lies in west-central Uganda just east of the Rwenzori Mountains, the legendary mountain of the moon, near the town of Fort Portal. The 766 km² Park that ranges between 1100 and 1600m in elevation is renowned for its diverse primate species and the moist evergreen ecosystem. The Kibale Forest Park includes 70 species of mammals, 13 primate species – which is the highest number of all Ugandan parks – and over 350 species of birds. During the hike, it is not uncommon to see the red-tailed monkey, Hoest’s monkey, vervet monkey, blue monkey, red colobus, black-and-white colobus, olive baboon, and Uganda mangabey.
The park is also a paradise for birdwatching lovers. Among the many species recorded in the Kibale Forest National Park, 4 species live exclusively in this forest: the pointed tail of Cassini, the blue-headed bee-eater, the Nahan partridge and the masked Apalis. For those interested, the best-guided birdwatching tour takes place at the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, an area adjacent to the Kibale forest. The cost of the permit is 150 USD. The chimps trek starts at 8 am and 2 pm.
- Kyambura Game Reserve
The Kyambura Hame Reserve, also known as Kyambura Gorge, is part of the famous Queen Elizabeth National Park and hosts a unique variety of wildlife, including chimpanzees. The area is an important water source for many animals and is surrounded by savanna, but it is generally famous for its high concentration of primates, mainly located in the gorge. Kyambura is the only area in Queen Elizabeth N.P. where you can see habituated chimpanzees and other types of primates including red-tailed monkey, black-and-white colobus, baboons and vervet monkeys. The Reserve is also known for its variety of avian species including various falcons, the blue-headed bee-eater and the African Finfoot.
Compared to the other Parks, the Kyambura Reserve is the most difficult place to meet chimpanzees because the hike is challenging – you have to descend into the gorge – and the area is quite large and divided by a river, which makes it not easy to spot the chimpanzees. Either way, tracking the chimpanzees in this Reserve could be a wonderful experience. The area is very wild and surrounded by savannah, so there is the chance to meet other animals such as elephants, hippos and lions. Don’t worry, the rangers always carry a weapon to scare the animals in case of need. The cost of the permit is 50 USD.
- Kalinzu Forest Reserve
Located 50 minutes drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park, along the road Kasese-Mbarara, is a natural eco-system covering 399 km² at an altitude of about 1400 meters and is known for its 414 species of trees and shrubs such Prunus African Ficus and Parinari among the many. The Reserve boasts Chimpanzees and variety of primate species like the black-billed turacos, hoest monkeys, blue monkey, black and white colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey and baboons. The forest features more than 350 bird species including the sunbirds, white and black casket, cuckoos plus the Great Blue Turaco and it also hosts 97 moths species, reptiles, 262 butterflies and flowers. Kalinzu is the best alternative to Chimpanzee Trekking in Kyambura Gorge with possibilities of spotting chimps being high.
The Uganda National Forestry Authority manages the Kalinzu Forest Reserve; therefore, you must contact them to book your permit or going straight to the Reception Centre of the Reserve. The price of the permit in the Kalinzu Forest is the lowest of all the Parks and costs 40 USD. The chimps trekking is not the only activity that can be done in the Reserve. The rangers arrange beautiful nature guided walks through the dense vegetation to see waterfalls, spot the many bird species that live in the forest, and reach viewpoints to admire the landscape and spot the many bird species that live in the forest. For those interested, the Reserve offers the opportunity to sleep with your own tent inside the forest in a camping area near the Nkombe forest station.
- Ngamba Island chimps Sanctuary (Kampala)
The island of Ngamba is part of the group of Koome islands located on Lake Victoria and is only 40 km from Kampala and 23 km from the city of Entebbe. The Sanctuary was founded in 1988 and is home to around 50 orphaned chimpanzees, rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. Ngamba Island is the right place to meet the chimps if you are in Kampala/Entebbe for a short layover.