Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale

While Bwindi Impenetrable forest may be the home of Uganda’s famous mountain gorillas, Kibale Forest is the place to go if you are interested in seeing their smaller primate cousins – the chimps.

Kibale Forest is located about 30 minutes from Fort Portal and 4.5-5 hours from Kampala along the Mityana road. If you’re coming from Kampala it’s perfectly possible to ‘do’ the chimps in 2 days (as long as you’re happy to accept that a significant portion of that will be spent driving) otherwise you can spread it out and make it a slightly more relaxed 3-day holiday.

Let’s be honest – one of the biggest perks of the chimp trekking as opposed to the gorillas is the price. While a permit for 1 hour with the gorillas will set you back a staggering $500 (potentially soon to rise to $750 as in Rwanda) a full morning with the chimps is a mere US$150… bargain! Permits can be bought from the permits office at UWA’s main office in Kampala (on Kira road, next to the national museum), or hotels in Kibale are usually able to get you one if you ring in advance. Be warned, availability can become limited in peak season, (July to August), so if you are planning to travel make sure to book in advance.

The forest itself is picturesquely nestled among rolling hills of lush, green tea plantations and is a beautiful area to just chill out with a book or take some walks through the surrounding tea plantations or nearby Bigodi Swamp (a further 5km along from the forest).

The chimp trekking lasts for around four hours and how much you walk and how deep you penetrate into the forest depends a lot on luck, and a little on the skills of your UWA guide. They warn you at the outset that there is a chance you may see nothing but everyone I’ve spoken to has always managed to see at least one of the habituated groups at some point, so chances are pretty good you’ll glimpse a chimp.

Most of the major tour companies offer tours to Kibale forest (often in conjunction with other activities) and a package here seems to cost around $500 USD (although prices do vary from company to company and depending on accommodation). Alternatively it is perfectly possible and even preferable to do it yourself – especially if you have access to a car.

Where to Stay

Kibale is home to one of my favourite places to stay in all of Uganda – the Chimpanzee Forest Guest House. This place is about 10km from the UWA visitor centre and the start of the chimp trekking. It is a converted (but still working) colonial tea plantation, complete with all the original décor and crockery and is a bit like stepping back 50 years or thousands of miles into the British Cotswolds (especially if you turn up in the rain as I did my first time). It has  stunning views over the forest and surrounding plantations and the staff are extremely friendly.

Chimpanzee Forest Guest HouseThey offer a range of accommodations from camping (15,000 UGX) to three beautiful two-person cottages (my personal favourite at 180,000 UGX). Accommodation in the main house is 140,000 UGX for two people. These prices are for bed and breakfast but there is also the option for full board for an extra 80-100,000 UGX.

The food here is the one area that slightly lets the visitor down – it’s not the greatest (I’d especially steer clear of the spaghetti bolognaise). But their steaks and curries are decent, and you definitely couldn’t complain about the portions, which are HUGE. If you’re not going for the full board option meals here cost between 25-30,000 UGX and drinks from the bar are around 5,000 UGX for beers and 7,000 UGX for wine (30-40,000 for a bottle). While on the subject of drinks you can also try their own loose-leaf tea straight from their gardens, which definitely has a ‘distinct’ flavour (perhaps not to everyone’s taste but still worth a try!).

Phone: 0772 486 415

In the name of being unbiased and giving you options other accommodation includes:

  • Chimps Nest – $80 for the standard cottage and $150 for their tree house (2 people) – which is their special draw.
  • Kibale Forest Camp – $40 for a double tent and $90 for a double room bed and breakfast.
  • Primate Lodge – Prices range from $30 for the sky lodge for 2 people up to $350 for luxury safari tent in high season). This place is the closest to the start of the chimp trekking, found right next to the UWA visitors centre.

Getting There

As mentioned, the best way to get to Kibale is to drive so if you have, or can get hold of, a car then thats ideal. Its a pretty simple drive of around 5 hours, turning right out of Natete (west Kampala borders) along the Fort Portal road and then following (more or less) signs for the guest house and kibale forest from Fort Portal town.

If you want to try the public transport option, however, there are a number of buses that leave Kampala for Fort Portal including the Post bus, Kalita and Link (the most frequent and quickest). The Post Bus leaves from the main post office on Kampala Road at 7.30am and costs 18,000 UGX and the Link Bus leaves from Nakivubo Stadium (by the old taxi park) and costs 20,000 UGX.

From Fort Portal you can get a taxi to the Chimpanzee Guest House (or right to the forest itself) for around 60,000 UGX or if you’re feeling particularly brave boda bodas are around 10-12,000 UGX! If you are staying at the Chimpanzee guest house then they can also sort you out with a boda boda down to the UWA centre on the day of your trekking for around 6-8,000 UGX or alternatively you can try and hitch a lift with others tourists heading that way.

When to Go

As with most outdoor activities in Uganda the best time to do this is generally during the dry seasons (i.e. June, July, August and December, January, February). However, plenty of people go throughout the year and if you do decide to go during the rains then I suggest doing the morning trek (starting at 8 a.m.) rather than the one at 2 p.m. as the mornings tend to stay dry, while afternoons are a lot more unpredictable. Its also extremely advisable if going during the middle of the wet season to bring wellies as the forest can get pretty swampy – especially if you end up in hot pursuit of some chimps right in to the heart of the forest! Bear in mind also that the wet weather can effect your chances of seeing the chimps down on the ground as they tend to stay up in the trees when its raining.

Other (much smaller) areas where you can also track chimps include Budongo Forest (at Murchison Falls) and Kyambura Gorge (at Queen Elizabeth National Park) and they cost a cheaper $50.

If you have short-term visitors, or are yourself limited in money and time, then I would suggest visiting the chimps in Kibale as the one must do activity in Uganda. To lay it out straight –  neighbouring Tanzania and Kenya are much better for safaris and the gorilla permits are pricing everyone except for 60 year old multimillionaires out of the market, so based on its uniqueness to Uganda and cost, you can’t beat chimpanzee trekking in Kibale!

About Lucy

A Kampalite as of the start of 2012 - I'm really loving my time here and planning to stay for a while. I’m originally from London where I’ve worked for a range of NGOs and am now hoping to try my hand overseas, plus London is way too cold and grey and full of pigeons. I’m currently in search of interesting job opportunities and experiences here and elsewhere – until global warming kicks in that is and then I can head back to the UK as it should have removed the pigeons. Get in touch at