There are essentially 2 ways to track Chimpanzees in Uganda:
- Book a tour
- Track independently
By far the majority of travelers to Uganda go for the first and easier option. As this is an independent travel blog, however, this post will focus on option 2.
How to track Chimpanzees
- Choose your destination
- Book a Permit
- Book transport and Accommodation
Where to track Chimps
There are 4 locations to track Chimanzees in Uganda: Kibale, Kalinzu, Budongo and Kyambura Gorge.
I chose Kibale (pronounced Chibalay) forest in the east of Uganda. Kibale has the highest concentration of Chimpanzees in Uganda, therefore making it the most popular destination. It is also quite easy to reach from Kampala – about a 6 hour drive on a good road.
Booking a permit
To track chimpanzees in Uganda, you need to purchase a permit in advance from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. You can go into the office in downtown Kampala in person, or purchase online. At the time of writing, the cost is $200. You can also purchase at the park gate when you get there, but you run the risk, albeit low, of the permits being sold out. Be sure to choose the date wisely, as cancelling up to a month before the date can result in loss of the permit fee.
How to get there and where to stay
I borrowed a 4 wheel drive from a friend of mine and used his driver Salim at 100K Ugandan Shillings per day. As the roads are good, a 4WD is not necessary. However, as most people visiting Kibale combine the trip with a visit to other attractions such the Queen Elizabeth national park.
There is a wide range of accommodation available near Kibale. Many people decide to base themselves at Fort Portal, a pleasant “tourist” town about 30km from the park entrance. I stayed at the amazing Turaco Treetops lodge. It’s a relatively new lodge set in the jungle in close proximity to the park. They offer nature walks and biking trips in the surrounding jungle or you can just chill on your private balcony to the sounds monkeys and birds in the surroundings. It has a nice pool, fantastic restaurant and great staff. And no mosquitos when I visited!
One thing I really liked about this lodge is that your driver stays for free and they let him (there aren’t any female drivers) eat in the restaurant and enjoy the same facilities as the guests. They only charge $5 for the driver’s food and he gets to eat the same amazing food as you. Highly recommended.
My Chimpanzee Tracking Experience
Firstly, let’s be under no illusion that you will actually “track” chimpanzees. The rangers know where they are and communicate with each other via walkie talkie. In my case, we assembled at the rangers’ facility, a few minutes drive from the main gate and then we all drove in our vehicles to the spot where the chimps were. From there, it was simply a case of observing the chimps and running after them when they took off through the forest. The forest is flat woodland suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The chimps seem to spend a lot of time in trees or just sitting with their heads bowed, contemplating the meaning of life.
There was one scary moment when the chimps we were observing suddenly responded to calls from other chimps in another part of the forest. They started shrieking, jumping up and down banging their fists on the ground and generally looking threatening. This forced us to hide behind trees and avoid making eye contact, which can be interpreted as aggression. The male chimps are huge and could easily rip a human apart.
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