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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.