Chimpanzee Tracking is one of the best things to do in Uganda and it’s a wildlife experience you’ll never forget. You have a 90 per cent chance of spotting wild chimpanzees in the dense forests of Uganda and it’s one of the best places in the world to see wild chimpanzees in their natural environment.
A large number of wild chimps live in the Kibale Forest National Park near Fort Portal and that’s where I had my first experience tracking chimpanzees.
In Kibale Forest near Fort Portal, there are five groups of wild chimps that are habituated. This means that they’re used to having people around for a short time each day. And to see the chimps at Kibale you must book with the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA). A Park Ranger will take you into the forest on a chimpanzee tracking expedition and you can watch the cheeky primates as they go about their lives in the forest. Tracking the playful chimps in their natural habitat is an adventure and a truly delightful experience that you shouldn’t miss if you’re in Uganda.
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Chimpanzee tracking in Uganda
Chimpanzee tracking was a highlight of my trip to Uganda and we planned ahead by booking out chimp permits at the UWA office when we were in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. We hired a private car and driver to take us to Fort Portal and it took around 4 hours to get there from Kampala.
We booked the 8 am chimpanzee tracking safari and our driver Nicholas was a bit late collecting us from our hotel in Fort Portal as his car had been parked in. (Delays are common when you travel in Africa).
From Fort Portal, it was a half-hour drive to the forest and Nicholas dropped us at the UWA National Park office where our permits were checked. Then we met our local UWA ranger guide, Annette. Dressed in khaki fatigues with gumboots and a rifle, Annette looked extremely capable.
Tracking wild chimpanzees
Our guide, Annette found the wild chimps quite quickly after about half an hour of tracking and we were allowed only an hour to observe them.
There were a few other small groups with their own ranger guide out in the forest that morning and the rangers had walkie-talkies and were helping each other to find the chimpanzees who roam wild in the forest.
It took another half hour to walk back to headquarters so we were in the forest for a couple of hours all up.
**NOTE** Sometimes the chimps are harder to find and it can take longer than this if they’ve wandered further into the forest.
Cheeky wild chimps
When we were waiting for the wild chimpanzees to come down from the treetops, another small group of visitors began talking loudly amongst themselves. This group suddenly found themselves standing under a waterfall coming from the treetops. One of the wild chimpanzees had decided to relieve himself from above and was peeing on their heads.
After this cheeky introduction several male chimps swung down from the trees onto the ground and we were able to watch them moving about on the forest floor. The dominant male, called “The President” by the rangers, spent most of his time lazing about in the undergrowth being groomed by other chimpanzees.
The female chimps seemed to prefer their privacy. A mother with two babies walked quietly past and hid in the undergrowth but the young male chimps were open to having fun.
Just as we were leaving we had an excellent photo opportunity when one of the male chimps sat right in the middle of the walking track and happily posed for our cameras.
Wild animals in Kibale Forest
When you’re chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest you might also come across other wild animals and some of them are dangerous. When you’re in the forest look out for bushbuck, elephants, buffalo, leopards, birds and rare red colobus monkeys.
Our guide Annette was particularly concerned about wild elephants as they can be quite dangerous if they are disturbed. She carried a rifle for protection in case there was an incident. Chimpanzee tracking is an adventure travel experience so if you plan to take a walk in the forest, take a local guide with you and stay safe.
TIP: Stay safe in Uganda and book a Chimpanzee Tracking tour. Chimpanzee Tracking Permits are usually included in tour packages along with transport, accommodation and other expenses. Some tour operators offer Entebbe airport pick-ups and drop-offs.
How much does Chimpanzee Tracking cost?
A chimpanzee tracking permit costs US$200 and includes National Park fees and a UWA ranger guide. It may seem expensive but your money is helping to preserve the forest and protect the chimpanzees and their habitat. My friend almost didn’t go because of the expense but she’s so glad she did. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime adventure travel experience!
Known as the “poor man’s gorillas”, Chimpanzee Tracking is much more affordable than Tracking gorillas, Gorilla treks cost around US$700 in Uganda and even more in Rwanda.
Plan ahead for chimpanzee tracking
Plan your Uganda adventure ahead and book your Chimpanzee tracking permit in advance if you are travelling independently. To guarantee your Chimpanzee Tracking adventure, buy your permit in Kampala. It gets busy during peak times and you may miss out if you wait to buy your permit at the Kibale Forest National Park Headquarters, so make sure you get your permit in Kampala.
Allow a few hours for this as the UWA office can get busy. There was a long queue of people waiting when I was there. Choose a morning (8 am) or an afternoon (2 pm) departure time to see the wild chimps. Children under 12 years are not permitted on chimpanzee or gorilla treks.
It can be a good idea to book a tour for chimpanzee tracking especially if you’re on a tight schedule in Uganda. Having a local guide will help you to stay safe and most tours include Chimpanzee Tracking Permits transport, accommodation, and other expenses.
When to Go
Any time of the year is a good time to go chimpanzee tracking.
Low season months are March, April, May & November.
I was there in April and travel in Uganda was very popular around the Easter holidays
What to take for Chimpanzee Tracking
1. Wear boots or covered shoes to protect your feet. The forest is very muddy if it’s been raining & the rangers wear gumboots. Otherwise, the forest is relatively flat and the walking is not overly difficult.
2. Wear long sleeves and long pants to protect your arms and legs from the forest as you’ll be walking or running through the undergrowth off the beaten path while you track the chimps.
3. Carry drinking water
4. Take a Camera to capture the magic moments with the wild chimpanzees.
How To Get to Fort Portal & Kibale Forest
Regular buses travel from Kampala to Fort Portal and catching a local bus is the cheapest way to travel in Uganda, You can also take a domestic flight from Entebbe to Kasese airport. You’ll spend around an hour in the air and another hour by bus or car to travel to Fort Portal.
From Fort Portal, you can hire a car and driver to get to Kibale Forest.
Hire a Car and driver
The easiest and safest way to get to Kibale Forest is to hire a car and driver. It’s cheaper than flying, safer than the bus and takes the stress out of travel in Uganda. Kibale Forest is approximately half an hour from Fort Portal by car and Fort Portal is about 4 hour’s drive from Kampala and 5 hours from Entebbe (International airport). The drive from Kampala is enjoyable and once you leave the city behind you’ll travel through a lush, green rural landscape.
We hired a car & driver and travelled during the day for safety reasons. Fort Portal is in the western part of Uganda, not far from the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). With reports of ebola in the border areas, we chose to avoid public transport.
I can highly recommend our driver Nicholas from Nike Agencies as a safe and reliable local businessman with a clean, well-maintained & comfortable car. We spent several days with Nicholas driving to and from Kampala, to Kibale forest, Semliki Safari Lodge and the airport. Nicholas stayed overnight in Entebbe in his own accommodation and dropped us at the airport to meet our flight.
Book a Tour
TIP: A good way to make your Uganda adventure easy and safe is to book a tour. Most primate tours include accommodation and transport to and from Kampala or Entebbe. This chimpanzee tracking tour also includes a wildlife safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Where to Stay for Chimpanzee Tracking
Fort Portal has a range of accommodation options from cheaper guesthouses to luxury hotels and it’s an ideal place to stay when you travel in Uganda.
Mid-range: we stayed at the Fort Motel in Fort Portal. This very comfortable motel has a lovely garden, a pool and a restaurant. The motel staff were very accommodating and supplied a packed breakfast for our early start chimpanzee tracking.
Alternatively try the Dutchess Hotel and Restaurant, Fort Portal.
Primate Lodge next to the UWA headquarters has luxury stone cottages and an ideal location for chimp tracking.
Budget: Brave the wildlife and pitch a tent at the UWA Campsite just beside the UWA headquarters.
Adventure Travel essentials
#1. Travel Insurance is essential for travel in Uganda. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.
Chimpanzee tracking is an amazing wildlife experience and a wonderful Uganda adventure. It’s not so hard to arrange your own travel in Uganda independently. But if you’re travelling alone perhaps consider booking a tour in Uganda. This is a safer way to travel in Uganda and you’ll have a local guide taking care of the details.