Chimpanzee Tracking in Uganda
The Primate capital with over 5,000 chimpanzee individuals.
Chimpanzee Tracking Experience in Uganda
Tracking chimpanzee troops in Kibale, Kyambura Gorge, Kalinzu, Budongo & Semliki Valley.
The current total population of chimpanzees is estimated at 21,000-55,000 (source: WWF). The eastern chimpanzee ranges from the Ubangi River/Congo River in the Central African Republic and DRC to western Uganda, Rwanda, and western Tanzania. Within the Ugandan borders are about 5,000 chimpanzees, and almost 1,500 are found in Kibale National Park, the most popular place for chimp tracking in Uganda.
Uganda also provides alternative jungles for chimpanzee tracking including Kyambura Gorge (in Queen Elizabeth NP), Kalinzu Forest, Budongo Forest, and in the Semliki Valley. Most of our walking safari trips focus on Kibale Forest, which has a very high success rate for sightings, and the atmospheric Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park, where sightings are less certain, but the scenery is spectacular.
Chimpanzee tracking is not only fascinating but a lot of fun. It’s often a more active experience than gorilla trekking, which involves adopting a very submissive pose while in the presence of these forest giants. Chimps tend to move around more, and you can feel like a child on an adventure following them through the forest.
- Chimp troops available for tourism have been habituated for human presence. Many years of habituation prepare the chimps to continue living in your presence without compromising their natural habitat.
- A chimpanzee permit will cost you USD 200 ($150 discounted Dec – Marc 2021). The chimp permit is lower than the gorilla permit (at USD 700).
- On your chimpanzee tracking day, you’ll get a briefing at the trailhead and escorted into the jungle by armed rangers and a guide. You may reach the chimps in minutes, or a little bit longer walking. Once you reach them, you’ll need to be on your best behavior, staying at least 8m away from the chimps and remaining with them for a maximum of 60 minutes. Be aware that if you are unwell, with a cold or upset stomach, for instance, you won’t be allowed to trek. You cannot eat anywhere near the chimps, and you should watch them quietly and respectfully – no shouting or pointing. Flash photography is forbidden, and remember to put your camera down for some of the experience so you can take it all in.
- Transportation and 4×4 vehicle transfers
- Accommodation and Meals as per itinerary
- English Speaking Guide and Rangers
We will process the chimp permits on your behalf from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). A chimpanzee permit costs USD 200 and a chimpanzee Habituation Permit costs USD 250. Discounted Chimpanzee Permit price from Dec 2020 to Mar 2021 is US $150/$100/UGX100,000 for non-residents, foreign residents, or East African citizens, respectively.
Please carry a pack of N95 Facemask and hand sanitizer with you. You’ll be required to have a negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate issued within 72 hours of your arrival in the country, and keep your mask on when with animals and people crowds. You’re requested to adhere to COVID Operating procedures to keep you safe during your trip.
Where to Go chimpanzee tracking
Kibale National Park
The primate playground, Kibale Forest (pronounced tʃɪbaley), has the highest concentration of primates in East Africa, close to 13 primate species. Kibale is the best and easiest place in Uganda to see chimps. It also fits neatly into a classic eight-day Uganda Safari Trip in Kibale for chimpanzee tracking, Queen Elizabeth National Park for the savannah wildlife game drives, and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for the gorilla trekking excursion. The park is home to over 1,500 chimpanzees plus other primates that can be easily seen during the day like vervet, red-tailed, l’Hoest’s and blue monkey, black-and-white colobus, olive baboon, Ugandan red colobus, and Uganda mangabey. Other mammals like elephants and buffalo roam the forest floor, and other species present are giant forest hog, warthog, bushpig, bushbuck, blue, red, and Peter’s duiker. The park provides refuge to the world’s largest population of the endangered red colobus monkey. It is an important stronghold for Uganda mangabey, a rare national endemic (only in Uganda).
Kibale has a community of over 100 habituated chimps and two other communities currently under habituation. Chimpanzee tracking excursions leave twice a day, in the morning at 8:00 and afternoon at 14:000. There are 36 permits issued for each time slot, with six groups of six heading into the forest at a time. Kibale chimps sighting is above 95%, a reasonable percentage to book the permit. It gets busy in the peak season and acquiring a permit maybe a little bit of a hustle. Book yours with a reasonable time for your trip.
Kibale Chimps Permit $200
Where to Track chimps
Kyambura Gorge, located in the far eastern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park, is one of Uganda’s most impressive wildlife forest jungle. The 300ft deep “Valley of The Apes” gorge is surrounded by the beautiful savannah and craters of Queen Elizabeth National Park, with the Rwenzori Mountains as a brooding backdrop. While the chances of seeing chimps here are lower than in Kibale, the incredible scenery is just as much part of the attraction. Trekking down through the vines and giant fig trees (less conventional than tiring) will make you feel like you’re in an underground forest.
Kyambura is the only place in QENP where habituated chimpanzees and other types of primates, including red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white colobus, baboons, and vervet monkeys, are seen. The park is also known for its variety of avian species, including various falcons, the blue-headed bee-eater, and the African finfoot. It is said that the Chimps in Kyambura Gorge live there because they were isolated after a forest corridor leading to larger forests like Kalinzu and Maramagambo were destroyed. You’ll be jumping over streams and traversing small rivers as you seek out the chimps; once you find them, you can spend a wonderful hour watching them forage and socialize.
Kyambura is a great option for a second chimpanzee trekking experience when visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park. The gorge is a small pocket surrounded by wide savannah plains. A single isolated community lives there, and there’s just about a 50 percent chance of seeing them. For USD 50 a permit, only 8 people are allowed to visit in the morning and 8 in the afternoon at 14:000. In case you don’t see our cousins, 4×4 game drives are also available to spot the lions, antelope, buffalo, and elephants that call Queen Elizabeth National Park home. The nearby Kazinga Channel is also ripe for exploration by boat, offering a chance to see many bird species (600 at last count) and animals that live in the water’s edge habitat.
Kyambura Chimps Permit $50
Where to See chimps in Uganda
Made of two eco-tourism sites, Kaniyo Pabidi and Busingiro, Budongo forest is an excellent chimpanzee tracking experience for trekkers interested in tracking that is more challenging than in Kibale Forest. The best site for chimps tracking in Kaniyo Pabidi, en route to Murchison Falls and part of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area. The other site, Busingiro, is home to the Royal Mile, one of the country’s top bird-watching tracks.
Budongo Forest’s main attraction is tracking a troop of habituated chimpanzees in their natural setting without interrupting their lives. Your tracking guide will take you along the forest floor trails to find looking out for chimps spoof. Only eight guests are allowed to trek an individual chimp group. Once a habituated troop is found, you’re allowed to observe them for only an hour. They may be feeding in the canopy or resting and grooming on the ground. If they’re on the move, following them can be quite an exciting adventure.
Aside from chimpanzees, visitors can encounter many other primate species in Budongo. Primates like the Red-tailed monkey, blue monkey, black-and-white colobus, and olive baboon can be seen easily on a hike through the forest. Also of interest are the high number of birds and butterflies recorded in the woods, herds of buffalo, and elephants that visit the park from neighboring savannah reserve, Murchison Falls. Although you might see their tracks, they are seldom encountered.
In Budongo, only an exclusive four chimp tracking permits are available per day at USD 100 pp and Twenty Chimpanzee Habituation Experience Permits per day at USD 230 pp. Budongo Eco-Lodge privately runs the Forest with supervision by National Forestry Authority.
Budongo Chimps Permit $100
Common Chimps Trekking Questions
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience (CHEX) involves spending the whole day (From dawn to nightfall) with a less habituated chimp group as part of the process of getting wild chimpanzee troops ready for the presence of tourists. At the same time, they forage and carry out business as usual within their natural habitat. When they sense your intrusion, non habituated chimps would have disappeared into the forest jungle long before you could see them. But the habituation process, which takes at least six years, carefully reassures the chimps that humans do not pose a threat. Kibale Forest issues eight permits per day for chimp habituation experience, and each costs USD 250. Budongo issues 8 permits at USD 230.
The chimp habituation experience is more intense and takes a full day, nest to nest, from when the chimps get up in the morning and leave their nest to when they make their nest again for the night. As the communities you track are wilder, you can’t get as close, the chimps are more skittish, and sighting chances are lower. It’s a long day, too – some people bailout in the afternoon to go and get a beer. It’s ideal for primate nuts, but if you want to see chimps, choose to track them for a morning or afternoon.
You can visit Uganda and see chimps on tailor-made and small group safari trips, lasting from eight to 16 days. Because of the exclusivity and privacy they offer, tailor-made safari trips cost a little more, but the price often decreases with a larger group, so bring some friends! Tailor-made safari trips give you the freedom to choose optional activities, such as extra hikes, and include a private guide and your own dedicated 4×4 for transport.
You’ll need to book well in advance. That’s because most chimp tracking sits within a wider itinerary that typically includes gorilla tracking, too. Few gorilla tracking permits are available, and they sell out far in advance. If chimps are your primate favorite, though, opt for a tailor-made safari trip so you can request more than one chimp tracking experience, and even skip the gorillas altogether if you prefer. This keeps costs down, too.
Small group trips often take only a maximum of six people, sometimes 10, so they really are small groups. The price for both types of trips typically includes all meals, chimpanzee and gorilla tracking permits, park entry fees, all activities, and guides. Solo travelers are welcome and often pay no surcharge for the use of a single room. The minimum age for both chimpanzee and gorilla trekking in Uganda is 15 years of age.
Understand the level of physical activity and potential minor discomfort you will encounter to be prepared.
Chimpanzee forests are flat or undulating, at low altitude, not mountainous jungle forest floor like the mountain gorilla territory. Porters aren’t necessary or even available. You’ll follow forest trails flanked by armed forest rangers and a tracking guide with 7 other trekkers in your entourage. If you’re lucky, you may find a troop nearby, and you won’t have to hike deeper into the jungle. Other times, be prepared for some bush-whacking through dense undergrowth, perhaps even pushing past stinging or prickly plants.
Little things like bringing appropriate footwear, gloves, camera equipment that can bear rough treatment, all of this are good to know before you start the tour.
Pack long-sleeved tops and long trousers made from fairly sturdy material to protect you (or use gaiters), and also layers – mornings can be chilly, but you’ll feel hot after a few hours of hiking. A waterproof jacket is sensible, and walking boots or shoes that have a good grip, suitable for climbing steep and slippery slopes are essential. You might like to bring walking poles, especially for the chimpanzee hanbituation experience.
Chimpanzee forests, more so Kibale Forest, is rarely a destination in itself – it’s more suited as a stop among other wildlife parks on safari trip around Uganda. Kibale National Park is located in western Uganda, and the chimpanzee trekking trailhead at Kanyanchu is 35km/20mi southeast of the town of Fort Portal, a 30-45 minute drive on what is now a well-surfaced road, and 360km/224mi (about six hours) from Kampala.
Entebbe International Airport (EBB) will be your entry point into Uganda. The airport is located about 46km/29mi from the capital, Kampala. In most cases, our trip manager will pick you up from the airport and will also provide any additional transportation as part of your tour package.
Kaniyo Pabidi, the center for chimp tracking in Budongo Forest, is usually visited en route to or from Murchison Falls National Park. Budongo is located about 300km/186mi north of Kampala, a four-hour drive. The 280km/170mi drive from Fort Portal takes at least six hours from the southwest. It is also possible to fly to Pakuba Airfield in Murchison Falls NP by scheduled or chartered aircraft from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) or Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala.
Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth NP is located about 410km/255mi north of Kampala. The direct drive takes at least seven to eight hours, but your itinerary will most likely include some parks on the way. It is also possible to fly to any of the nearby airstrips of Kasese, Mweya, or Kihihi (for Ishasha) by scheduled or chartered aircraft from Entebbe International Airport Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala.
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Please make sure you have your facemask on when in contact with animals, especially the endangered creatures. Without a negative PCR Covid Test, you’ll not be allowed into the country. You’ll spend most of your time in open spaces away from human crowds, with that there’s minimal to no infections of the COVID virus.
Flexible booking terms
Your booking can be extended up to 12 months ahead with no extra fees, in case of any emergency (based on accommodation availability). Reservations are accepted after we receive a 30% deposit on the trip and the full payment for gorilla tracking and chimp tracking permits for each tour participant. For more details on our booking terms, please read our Terms and Conditions.