Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park is one of the highlights of activities to do in Uganda and it comes with the price tag. The activity is similar to the gorillas in that you follow the animals on foot not in a vehicle which makes it even more exciting. Wherever they go, you follow. I visited the chimps on the 29th May 2021.
Kibale National Park
Kibale (pronounced Chi-ba-lay) National Park is famous for the number of primates that call it home. If you are looking for primates, this is the place for you! Even just driving to the park, you will see primates on the side of the road. This is very exciting for foreigners but for locals is considered ‘boring’ because they are so common. The forest is also a very dense tropical forest that is home to 70 mammal species and 375 species of birds.
Permits for Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park
To be able to go Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park, you require a permit from the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. These are limited to a small amount per day in order to limit the amount of people that are in contact with the chimpanzees. These must be bought in advance. You can buy the permit directly at the wildlife authority in Kampala. (From other tourists I met who had did this, this was a long process). If you are lazy like me, the simplest way is to buy through a tour company. I personally chose Kabarole Tours and they worked well. The cost of a permit for a non-resident foreign national is $150. Yes, crazy expensive but it’s a once in a lifetime experience!
You can also book and pay for park activities at Kibale National Park Park Headquarters & Booking Office at Isunga. But this means that you must be in the area and run the risk that the payments have already been booked up.
When to book Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park,
If you have your heart set on chimp tracking, better to book as much in advance as possible. I went chimp tracking in May 2021. At this time there were very few tourists due to Covid restrictions. This actually worked in my favour as I was able to book the permit 2 days before the activity. In ‘non-covid’ times, the permits used to sell out months before the activity. If in doubt, book early!
How to get to Kibale National Park
Once your permit has been confirmed, you will have your time and date confirmed. There are 2 sessions possible, morning and afternoon. I chose the morning slot as I prefer to walk when it is slightly cooler temperature. I definitely recommend being 30 minutes early. The briefing starts exactly on time and this gives you time to check in which took longer than I expected.
The visitors centre for the chimpanzees is called Kanyanchu. Although it is not saved on google maps as this so you must pay attention to the road signs. If you are leaving Fort Portal, you will enter the park at Isunga (the Kibale Park Headquarters). This sign will state 10km until Kanyanchu straight ahead. I found it was slightly more than 10km and started to get paranoid enough to turn around, do not do this. Just continue straight and the signs for the visitors centre is very clear.
How to drive in Kibale National Park
There is a main national route straight through the centre of Kibale National Park. I was a bit confused by this but it is necessary for the local communities. You must respect certain driving rules on this road for risk of a large fine. Do not litter, speed or make too much noise (including honking your horn). Anything that could be disruptive to the animals is not allowed. If you hit an animal the minimum fine is 500USD so obviously don’t do this!
What to expect when you arrive at the visitors centre
When you arrive at the visitors centre, your permit will be checked at your car before you are allowed to enter the car park. As I visited during a covid period, my temperature was checked too. Once you have parked, you will need to check in. For the check-in you will need to show your passport as well as the receipt that you have paid for your permit.
After the check-in has been completed, you will then be shown to the briefing room. The ranger at this point will explain what will happen for your chimpanzee experience. If you have any questions or concerns this is the best time to raise it before you go.
At this point, we were split into smaller groups and given our rangers for the experience. I was in a group of 4 people including me. Although when we went closer to the chimps, many groups came to the same place so there were more people around.
The walk to chimpanzees and how to find them
The journey to the chimpanzees depends on the location of the chimps and how far they are from the visitors centre. On the day that I visited, we were told to get back into the car and to follow the guide further along the road. After we had parked up on a side track, the chimps were only 5 minutes from the car.
Who will be with you
When you are with the chimpanzees, you will accompanied by your group guide. Follow their instructions at all times. They will tell you how close you can stand and also what to do if a chimpanzee approaches you.
You are meant to stay at least 7m away from the chimpanzees. As I visited during a covid time period, masks were mandatory if near the chimps.
The best part of the chimps was getting some of the photos up close and personal. I had my DSLR with a 75-300mm lens and sometimes the chimps were too close for this. I used my iphone to grab some great photos and some videos of the chimps leading me on a path!
What to wear for Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park,
Shoes comfortable for walking in are definitely needed, hiking shoes ideally. I went in rainy season so the ground was slightly slippery underfoot. The day that I visited, the chimps actually guided us on the path! That day we stayed on paths the whole time which was very lucky. Compared to the Gorillas at Bwindi National park, the trek was a lot easier and was almost all flat. Bring some warmer clothes as temperatures in the forest can be cooler than in a town. Make sure to wear clothes that cover arms and legs because of insects and there is a possibility you could be walking through bushes so to avoid being scratched.
What to bring Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale national park,
Do not forget your passport! You will need your passport to prove that you have the correct permit. You do not want to get up early, go all the way there and realise you don’t have your passport.
Make sure to be bring lots of water as the tracking can be quite tiring. If you have extra clothes you might need to take them off after walking for a while so best to have a backpack or bag to keep them in.