A practical travel guide outlining everything you need to know about Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda based on my experience at Kibale National Park, the primate capital of the world.
As our closest living relatives, encountering wild chimpanzees in their natural habitat is one of the most awe-inspiring wildlife experiences I’ve ever had. And, I was very lucky to experience this in the world’s primate capital– Kibale National Park in Western Uganda.
In this comprehensive guide, I’ll detail everything you need to know about visiting Kibale National Park for an unforgettable chimpanzee trekking adventure. Additionally, I’ll offer insights based on my trip into whether you should choose the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience or the regular chimp trekking experience.
I’ve also included tips on how to get to Kibale, how to book and pay for your permits, as well as my photography and my personal account of visiting the Chimpanzees of Uganda.
- Video From My Chimpanzee Experience
- Where to Go Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda
- About the Chimpanzees of Uganda
- How to Book & Arrange the Chimpanzee Tracking Experience
- Chimpanzee Habituation vs Tracking Experience
- My Experience with the Kibale National Park Chimpanzees
- Tips for Making the Most of this Wildlife Experience
- How to Choose Between Chimpanzee & Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
- More National Parks to Go Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda
- FAQs About Uganda Chimpanzee Tracking
- More Epic Uganda Travel & Wildlife Experiences
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
Video From My Chimpanzee Experience
Below is a short video that we made about the entire Chimpanzee Trekking and habituation experience in Kibale National Park.
Watch on YouTube
Where to Go Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda
As a traveler, Kibale National Park (pronounced chibaleh) is the absolute best place to go for Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda.
I did a lot of research leading up to this experience and decided to seek out a chimpanzee Trek in Uganda rather than in neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, or the DRC, where it's also possible to do this.
That's because the large protected tropical rainforest of Western Uganda is regarded as the primate capital of the world, with the highest chimpanzee population densities, meaning sightings are the most common in this forest.
Kibale is one of Uganda's most significant forests, situated beneath the towering Rwenzori Mountains on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park serves as a sanctuary for an estimated 1,500 chimpanzees. Out of these, four groups are habituated.
Additionally, the forest is home to over 13 primate species, 370 birds, and over 350 tree species. While the main draw for me was to see the Chimpanzees, being immersed in a forest teeming with such a diverse range of species was truly an extraordinary experience.
Travelers visiting Kibale National Park will have the privilege of tracking the Kanyanchu chimpanzee community, a large group of nearly 100 that have been habituated since 1993.
In this guide, I'll be writing about my chimp trekking and habituation experience with the Kanyanchu group of chimpanzees in Kibale National Park. However, I've also provided a list of other regions of Uganda where you can have chimpanzee encounters below.
About the Chimpanzees of Uganda
Chimpanzees (or, Pan troglodytes) are one of the four great ape species, sharing approximately 98% of their DNA with humans. This makes them our closest living relatives. While chimps are found across several parts of Central and East Africa, Uganda boasts a substantial percentage of these endangered primates, scattered in isolated troops across the country.
Uganda is also one of the safest African countries to travel to and has recently made huge strides in responsible wildlife tourism and conservation efforts. As a result, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is well-renowned as one of the best conservation initiatives and chimpanzee tracking and habituation programs in Africa.
How to Book & Arrange the Chimpanzee Tracking Experience
Chimpanzee trekking and habituation permits can be booked directly with UWA or with a trusted tour operator like Elyson Adventures.
If you're a foreigner, booking independently with UWA can be very difficult, which is why I recommend organizing the trip with a local tour company. This saves a lot of time dealing with permits and paperwork, which usually must be completed at the UWA Headquarters in Kampala.
I traveled throughout Uganda with Elyson Adventures, which is one of the best local companies in the country. Nathan, our driver guide was incredibly accommodating, professional, and an all-around great person, which is why I highly recommend his tours, especially if you want to trek with chimpanzees.
Tip For Booking & Traveling in Uganda
As most travelers will be landing at Uganda's Entebbe International Airport, approximately 350 kilometers from Kibale National Park, it's best to organize your chimp trekking experience as part of a larger Uganda travel or safari experience.
By doing so, you can make the most of your journey by including visits to other notable destinations along the way, such as Queen Elizabeth National Park or the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for mountain gorilla trekking.
Costs & Tracking Permits
The current permit costs are below. You'll notice that the chimpanzee trekking and habituation permits are considerably more cost-effective than the mountain gorilla permits.
|Chimpanzee Trekking Permit (foreign non-residents)||$200 USD per person|
|Chimpanzee Trekking Permit (foreign residents)||$150 USD per person|
|Chimpanzee Trekking Permit (East African residents)||150,000 UGX|
|Chimpanzee Habituation Permit (foreign non-residents)||$250 USD per person|
|Chimpanzee Habituation Permit (foreign residents)||$200 USD per person|
|Chimpanzee Habituation Permit East African residents)||200,000 UGX|
Note that you only have to pay for one permit. If you are doing chimpanzee habituation, you only have to pay for the habituation.
Chimpanzee Habituation vs Tracking Experience
Undecided about which chimpanzee experience to book? I decided to do the Habituation Experience, which combined the regular trekking with a longer habituation.
Therefore, since I've done both, here I'll outline the difference to help you decide which experience to choose at Kibale National Park.
Chimpanzee trekking (tracking): Involves visiting a well-habituated group like the Kanyanchu troop with a licensed park ranger. Once the group is located, you will get one hour with the chimps.
This is the most popular experience since it is cheaper by about $50.
Chimpanzee habituation: Involves walking through the Kibale Forest with park rangers to locate a chimpanzee group undergoing active habituation. Once you locate the group, you can spend the whole day with them.
This is what I decided to do because the extra $50 really did translate into a much more immersive experience.
Personally, I recommend the habituation experience as it only costs an additional $50 while providing a lot more time with the chimpanzees. Furthermore, as you'll read below, many of the travelers on our trip who chose the trekking experience were only able to see the chimps far up in the trees.
On the other hand, our small group of 4 in the habituation experience was able to spend a couple of hours with them on the ground, which was truly amazing.
My Experience with the Kibale National Park Chimpanzees
Wondering what the chimpanzee trekking and habituation experience is like in Uganda? Read on for a quick overview of my trip.
Arriving at Kibale National Park Visitor Center in Kanyanchu
As we chose the habituation program, we quickly downed an early breakfast at our lodge and headed for the park headquarters at the Kibale National Park Visitor Center in Kanyanchu.
Arriving nice and early at 6:15 am, the park rangers asked us to sign in with our permits. Next, they provided a short briefing, answering questions about safety and how to behave around the primates. I found this process quite professional and it was good to see that they took safety and conservation seriously.
After about half an hour, we drove off to a small track on the side of the road, deep within the Kibale National Park to begin tracking the chimpanzees.
Tracking the Chimpanzees
In Kibale National Park, there are teams of park rangers and conservationists from UWA working around the clock to monitor the movements of the chimpanzees. This is in order to protect them from potential poachers and to ensure that they don't wander too far from the park.
As a result, it also means that finding the chimpanzees is much easier. As our guide knew the approximate location of the troop, we knew where to start in search of the chimpanzees.
We walked on a well-worn track for roughly 15-20 minutes before our guide spotted the first fresh chimpanzee print in the muddy underfoot. Soon, our guide took us off the track, moving through the thick rainforest to find our first chimpanzee group.
Unfortunately, this group was content in feeding high up in the trees and wasn't too interested in coming down. So, we stood and watched them for roughly an hour, hoping they'd come down for a closer encounter.
It was still a great experience to watch the Chimpanzees sitting high up in the trees. While we weren't able to get as close as we would have liked to in the habituation process, we were happy to be immersed in the forest and to experience a more authentic chimpanzee experience.
However, after quite a while, we followed our ranger guide to find the second group of chimpanzees, which is the same group that the standard chimpanzee trekking experience visits.
Tracking the Larger Chimpanzee Group
Chimpanzees live in very tight-knit communities, typically led by an alpha male, and are very wary of other chimp troops. Consequently, we had to trek back to the road and drive to the location where we could trek to the second group.
When we arrived, we were surprised to hear the chimpanzees very close to the road! We entered the jungle and spotted many chimpanzees– this time, much lower in the trees.
While we waited for the small group of 8 tourists on the chimpanzee trekking experience, we watched the primates from afar. Then, almost as soon as the other tourist group left, many of the chimpanzees came down from the trees and rested on the ground.
This was another great benefit of choosing the whole-day habituation permit.
We spent the next two hours with the chimps, trying to keep the recommended 8-meter distance. However, in many cases the apes would walk much closer toward us, once even brushing our leg!
It was truly an incredible experience watching the chimpanzees groom, rest, and feed. The ambiance in the forest would undulate from a calm rest to a loud, tense uproar as the males screamed and hammered their fists on the trees to show dominance.
Below are some more photographs from our chimpanzee habituation experience in Kibale National Park, Uganda, made possible by our friends at Elyson Adventures.
Where to Stay Near Kibale National Park
Hidden amongst the rainforest in a great location surrounded by the sounds of nature Kibale Forest Camp offers luxurious tents and a treehouse-style restaurant.
Beautifully decorated cottages located on lush green grounds with a playground. The perfect pick for families or those joining the chimpanzee habituation experience.
Located in Kibale National Park Primate Lodge offers large villa-styled rooms with a relaxing outdoor dining area and fireplace which is perfect to hear the noises of the nearby rainforest.
Tips for Making the Most of this Wildlife Experience
Below are some useful tips that are great to know before tracking the chimpanzees of Kibale National Park.
- Ensure you plan your trip well in advance. Permits can sell out in the peak seasons. I recommend contacting Elyson well in advance.
- The park ranger guides carry large rifles. This is to protect tourists from wildlife threats. The largest threat in Kibale National Park is the wild forest elephants. No, the rangers don't shoot them, but they sometimes need to fire into the air in case of emergency.
- Make sure to wear lightweight, breathable clothing to protect yourself from insects & stinging vegetation.
- Bug & insect repellent is a good idea prior to commencing your chimpanzee trek.
- Bring binoculars or a long telephoto camera lens in case the chimpanzees are hiding high up in the trees.
- Don't show or eat any food, snacks, or water in front of the chimpanzees.
- The recommended distance from chimpanzees is at least 8 meters. This is to protect both you and the primates from diseases. Avoid touching the animals.
- Be calm around the chimpanzees, don't mimic their sounds– you don't know what they're saying!
- Enjoy the experience and appreciate the privilege of witnessing these incredible creatures in their natural habitat. Take the time to observe and learn about their behavior, and social structure, and ask your park ranger about their unique conservation efforts.
How to Choose Between Chimpanzee & Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
While I opted to do both the chimpanzee and the mountain gorilla trekking during my trip to Uganda, I understand that not everyone has the luxury of this much time.
While the best place to see chimpanzees in Uganda is at Kibale National Park, to spot the gorillas, you'll need to go to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, approximately 350 kilometers south by road.
The most obvious difference for many people is that the chimpanzee trekking and habituation permits are much cheaper than the equivalent mountain gorilla experience. Additionally, the permits for the gorillas are also much more difficult to secure, as you will need to secure these at least 2-3 months in advance during the peak season.
The key reason for this is that mountain gorillas are critically endangered, with only about 1,000 apes left in the wild, as compared to about 170,000 and 300,000 chimpanzees.
Therefore, you'll need to consider your budget, your time, and if you only have enough for one experience, your preference of ape encounter. Speaking from my own experience, I found the chimpanzee encounter to be more thrilling as they emitted loud screams and darted through the forest, whereas the gorillas exuded a more serene demeanor, predominantly engaged in leisurely leaf-eating.
However, if you do have the time, I highly recommend going for both experiences, as they both offer a unique wildlife encounter with two of the four Great Apes– the last being us and the orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra.
More National Parks to Go Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda
In addition to the well-known Kibale National Park, Uganda offers travelers several other forests where you can go chimpanzee tracking.
- Budongo Forest - chimpanzee trekking experiences are possible from Budongo Forest. This is a 435-square-kilometer area on the way to Murchison Falls National Park.
- Kyambura Gorge - originally a buffer zone for the popular Queen Elizabeth National Park, chimpanzee trekking experiences are possible here.
- Kalinzu Forest - a forest reserve close to Maramagambo Forest and Queen Elizabeth National Park containing roughly 50 habituated chimps.
- Toro Semliki - a 542-square-kilometer reserve where you can do primate walks with only a small chance to spot chimpanzees.
FAQs About Uganda Chimpanzee Tracking
The best time to see wild chimpanzees in Uganda is during the dry seasons, which generally occur from December to February and from June to September. During these months, the weather is relatively dry, and the forest trails are more accessible. However, it's possible to spot chimps all year round at Kibale National Park. That said, during the rainy season (low season) the apes might be hiding from the rain.
Chimpanzee tracking and habituation when conducted responsibly and with a licenced and experienced park guide and ranger is very safe. However, keep in mind that these are wild animals, and while very rare, can be aggressive. Remember to keep your distance and avoid any dominant or aggressive behavior. Also, it's crucial to not show or eat food around the primates.
The cost of chimpanzee wildlife experiences in Uganda varies depending on the park and the type of experience you choose (trekking or habituation). At Kibale National Park, tourists will need to pay $200 USD for trekking or $250 USD for habituation permits. You'll also need to consider the cost of transport and your overall tour package to get to Kibale Forest National Park.
Chimpanzee troops live wild in Uganda. Therefore, it's impossible to predict how far you'll need to walk until you find them. Generally speaking, expect to walk between 15 minutes to 2 hours.
Kibale National Park is relatively flat, meaning there isn't much hilly land like you'll find in the regions with mountain gorillas. Trekking is quite easy, but keep in mind that you may need to walk quite far to find the group.
Of course, chimpanzees are the main wildlife attraction at Kibale National Park. However, there are ten other primate species in this forest, including the white colobus monkey, blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, olive baboons, red colobus monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, and L'hoest monkeys. The park also boasts many species of birds including the great blue turaco, the African pitta, and the hairy-breasted barbet. Other wildlife includes forest elephants, bushbucks, giant forest hogs, common warthogs, and even leopards.
Both countries offer chimpanzee trekking and habituation experiences. However, Uganda has a larger population of chimps, as well as more availability for permits and more wildlife attractions. Rwanda is also considered to be a more expensive country to travel to.
If you've seen the popular Netflix docu-series Chimp Empire then you'll know that yes, chimpanzees do hunt other primate species, particularly colobus monkeys. Fun fact, the famous Ngogo group featured in the series are from Kibale National Park.
More Epic Uganda Travel & Wildlife Experiences
I hope that you've enjoyed my comprehensive travel guide to chimpanzee trekking and habituation in Kibale National Park, Uganda. While you're here on my blog, don't miss my other useful guides and resources for traveling in Uganda and East Africa!