When I began planning our trip to Uganda, I had no idea I would see chimpanzees in the wild. The primary reason I was even in Uganda was to see the mountain gorillas--something I had wanted to do for many years. But I had asked our tour company to recommend an itinerary, and they strongly encouraged us to see the chimps, so we did.
My expectations were low. It was the final day of our time in Africa. I really missed my family and I was ready to go home.
But our chimpanzee trek in Kibale National Park was unforgettable, and I hope I can encourage others to give it a try.
Where Is Kibale National Park?
Kibale Forest National Park is located in the Western region of Uganda and encompasses 296 square miles of rainforest. It’s the primate capital of the world with thirteen different species housed within the park’s boundaries.
Kibale has become a popular safari destination in East Africa due in large part to it’s families of habituated chimps. Habituation is the process of familiarizing wild animals with humans while not significantly changing their behaviors. Currently it’s estimated that there are 1,450 chimps in the park.
The Day Of The Trek
A chimp trek begins early in the morning at one of the entrances to the park. A member of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) provides a briefing to visitors about the rules and what to expect during the day. Anyone who is ill is asked not to participate so that the health of the animals are not put at risk.
Then visitors are organized into small groups, assigned a guide, and the trek begins.
We meet our guide, Jarrod, who will educate us and keep us safe for the next several hours. Trackers have been sent ahead to locate the chimps and provide regular updates to our guide via radio.
Compared to the hilly terrain of the gorilla trek, Kibale is blessedly flat! We begin on a trail, but soon head into the dense growth of the rainforest. As we scramble through tall grass and trees, we begin to hear the screeches of chimps--we are getting close.
Finally, we see our first chimpanzees. Two adults are grooming one another and removing insects from their hair. Soon they run off, but our guide has found more chimps eating in the treetops. We gather beneath the tree and try to see them. Viewing the chimps in the trees can be difficult, but it is a common place for them to hang out during the day.
A few moments later the trackers have found two adult chimps sitting in a clearing on the ground. This is the highlight of my day, and quite possibly my time in Uganda. Jarrod tells us we can gather to observe and take photos, but not to get too close. As we watch them, it’s obvious that they are also watching us. Not only are we observing the chimps up close, but it turns out we are seeing the alpha male of the family who is believed to be 30 years old.
I was awed by their size. While certainly not as large as the mountain gorillas we had seen a few days previously, I estimate the alpha male was about five feet tall. He remained in place for several minutes, appearing completely comfortable with our group. Then he took off and Jarrod announced it was time for us to hike back to the starting point.
Here's everything you need to know about Gorilla Trekking in Uganda!
What You Should Know Before You Go
Chimpanzee treks can be organized through a local tour company. We selected Gorilla Trek Africa and were delighted with their pricing and service. I can’t recommend them enough. The cost of the permit is $100 a day, but there are additional fees for your tour company that provides transportation and if needed, accommodations.
While this trek wasn’t strenuous, it’s important to know that you’ll be hiking for about 3-4 hours, so it helps to be fit.
What is especially important is to have the proper gear and attire. Hiking boots or shoes are critical since the terrain can be uneven and muddy. Lightweight, moisture-wicking clothing is also important. Legs should be completely covered to protect yourself from black ants and stinging nettles. A day pack is essential for carrying your camera, small first aid kit, and a water bottle.
Be sure to cover yourself completely with insect repellent prior to the trek. While most people visiting Uganda will be taking anti-malarial pills, there are other mosquito-borne illnesses that you’ll want to prevent.
Come prepared with a good quality camera and a telephoto lens. I’m currently using the Sony Mirrorless a6000 and am very happy with the quality of photos as well as how light weight it is. The photo of the alpha male chimp now hangs on my wall at home and I absolutely love it.
Finally, don't forget to purchase a travel insurance policy prior to your trip. We currently use World Nomads Travel Insurance.
This Post Has 33 Comments
I didn’t know you could do chimpanzee trekking either but I love the sound of this! I am always in awe when you see wild animals in their natural environments & seek out opportunities to do so. Your photos are amazing!
It was a great experience! And I’m so glad you enjoyed the photos.
I did this a few years ago, isn’t it fantastic? Like you, I was in Uganda to see the gorillas so didn’t expect that much from this trip. But it turned out to a major highlight of my trip, loved it! Your photos turned out way better than mine!
It’s not that easy to take photos in a rainforest when the chimps keep moving, is it? But I’m so happy to hear of someone else who had a similar experience. Definitely go to Uganda for the gorillas, but don’t overlook the chimps–they are pretty awesome as well.
Oh this must have been a dream come true trip for the both of you?
It a one of the things you only dream of, or see in a Sigourney Weaver movie 😉
You made me laugh Ann! I think I need to see the movie again.
I would love to do chimp, trekking and especially silverback trekking, that would be a dream come true. I’m just such a wimp when it comes to being eaten alive by insects on the trek that it puts me off. Maybe I need to just hope for the best. A beautiful post about one of natures amazing species.
I completely understand your concerns! In response, I recommend being completely covered by clothing and insect repellent. But the end result was worth it. Glad you enjoyed the post.
Sounds like a memorable experience. We had something similar in Indonesia. I went on a trek through an Orangutan Rehabilitation centre and saw those gorgeous red headed creatures frolicking in their natural habitat. It was a hard trek through the rain forest, and I was dripping with sweat, and bitten by goodness knows what, but that moment of seeing the Orangutan, and have them meet our gaze, was electric.
I am also very interested in seeing the orangutans! I guess that anytime we see animals in their natural habitat it’s going to be tough, but the end result is worth it.
I loved this post. I really want to do see the chimpanzees in Uganda (and the gorilla trek). Good to know that the hike is 3-4 hours, but not too strenuous. I enjoyed your photos.
Yes, the chimp trek is definitely less strenuous than the gorilla trek, but also a great experience. Glad you enjoyed the photos!
I would really love this experience, as I’ve been attracted to monkeys for many years. It must be much better to see them in their natural environment than in zoos. I’d love to go to Uganda, I imagine the culture to be super fascinating to see!
The monkeys are even more interesting when viewed in the wild. The chimps have so many similarities to humans! I definitely recommend a trip to Uganda some day.
What an experience! Wildlife and nature tours are definitely top African experiences. Great photos!
Oh, I love watching animals in their natural habitat. Monkeys and apes are especially mesmerizing since they’re so human-like. Thanks for sharing about this adventure. I would love to do this someday.
You are welcome!
What a wonderful trip to see both gorillas and chimps in the wild, it is so much fun to watch their ‘human’ like behaviours and I love watching them care for their young. Thank you for sharing 🙂
What an amazing experience to see Chimps and Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitats! If we ever make it to Uganda, I will be sure to do the Chimp trek. Thank you also for the gear recommendations!
Both are amazing experiences, and I do hope you get to Uganda someday to see the chimps.
Going Chimpanzee Trek in Kibale National Park must be the most cute thing to do. It must be so fun to see two adults are grooming one another and removing insects from their hair.
It was a very cool experience to wathc the adult chimps interact–I’ll never forget it.
I have never seen a Chimpanzee. That makes this trek all the more enticing for me. Would be so much fun!
It really was fun!
What cute little babiesss!! They’re so beautiful, and playful. They have so much spunk and personality, it had to be so much fun photographing them!
It was fun to photograph them! They are comfortable with humans and used to cameras, so it also seems as if they are posing.
Uganda is on my list of to go places this year and this should be a great idea for me. Thanks for sharing.
I can see why your Chimpanzee Trek in Kibale National Park was such an unexpected joy. Your photos are wonderful and the last one of the alpha male deserves to be in National Geographic or at the National Zoo in Washington, DC.
Thank you Audrey, you are so kind!
What an awesome adventure you both had!! So memorable. I would absolutely love to do the Chimpanzee Trekking! Not sure if I will be okay with the insects though. I don’t do well in tropics but I will give it a go.
5 feet! I didn’t realise chimpanzees are as big as me!