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Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda

If you have ever dreamed about being in the jungles of Africa, crashing through the forests to see the most amazing animals, like lemurs in Madagascar or hippos in Botswana, then chimpanzee tracking should be on your list. Dressed in khakis from head to toe, a camera banging about my side with a huge telephoto lens, I must have been crazy to think that chimpanzee tracking would be a walk in the park. But this was one of the stops on our Uganda Self Drive that I wouldn’t have missed for all the world.

Chimpanzee sitting in the jungle in Uganda.

Which Chimpanzee Experience is Right for You?

Chimpanzees are some of the many amazing animals you can see on safari and ones that we’ve put on our Top Ten Animal Encounters podcast, but First I had to decide if I wanted to spend only one hour in the company of a human’s nearest relative or did I want to have several hours with them. The Uganda Wildlife Authority offers two experiences when it comes to the chimpanzees.

You can do the regular tracking, where you find the chimps and stay with them for one hour, or you can do the slightly more demanding (cost as well as physically) and do the “habituation” which is basically the same thing except you follow a troop of chimps around for the entire day. We chose to spend as much time as we could, so we went for the habituation option.

Kibale chimpanzee sitting in tree.

For this, you must get to Kibale National Park at 6:30 in the morning, as opposed to the more civilized 7:30 if you are just tracking. You are then put in a group and your group’s guide will brief you on the park and safety guidelines before heading off into the woods.

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Other drivers came up and saw us there, asked us what we had seen, waited for a few minutes, then left without waiting around to see what would come in next to drink.

Benson was our more than capable guide. He professionally explained everything we needed to know about keeping ourselves, the park, and of course the chimpanzees safe.

For example, did you know that since chimpanzees share about 98.4% of our DNA they are susceptible to human colds, flus, and other diseases? One thing the rangers do right away is assess your health. If you are coughing or have a runny nose, they will suggest you try to come a different day as they do not want to spread any unwanted germs to the chimps.

Two chimpanzees grooming in the jungle.

After our briefing, we took off. It all started off so peaceful and slow. We meandered up and down a few slight grades on a well-worn path. About 25 minutes later, we left the path to look up and see a family of chimps. The rangers track where the chimpanzees make their nests for the night, and bring us to that spot before they decide to come down from the trees and move on.

A Lucky Encounter with a Baby Chimp

Our first glimpse of these thoughtful, intelligent beings was that of wonder and amazement. It was still quite early in the morning, and the chimpanzees were just beginning to have their breakfast of fruit. We watched a mother and baby make their way across the tree tops; then we watched a male following a female in estrus; we watched and watched.

Young chimpanzee climbing a tree in Kibale National Park, Uganda.

All of the sudden the quiet was disturbed, and we realized that some of the monkeys were lobbing their fruit at us. They didn’t throw it hard, but they definitely were playing with us to see if they could get us to move or even knock us on the head with a hard fruit, about the size of a baseball.

Chimps on the Move!

Then all kinds of chaos erupted as the dominant male, who apparently had not spent the night with the others, came back. The entire troop let out whoops and calls, high-pitched screeches to welcome him home. Shortly after he returned, the entire group started descending from the tall trees to the ground. They were on the move.

Going on a safari and spending the day with chimpanzees like this old male was our dream.

No longer were we in for a gentle walk through the forest. Chimps are much faster than the average human and of course adept at negotiating the jungle. We took off. The chimps first, us following, up the hill, down the hill, sliding, climbing over logs, leaves and small branches snapping back at you. It was a wild chase.

It came down to us really only following the two dominant males, and funnily they knew that we were following them and that this was expected. They would would move fast for about 50-100 feet, then stop and seemingly wait for us to catch up before going further. We did this for about six or seven minutes when they reached the spot they were looking for and began to groom one another, which they did for over 40 minutes.

Chimpanzee climbing a tree spotted on our Habituation Experience in Kibale National park, Uganda.

We repeated this entire process time and again. The chimpanzees definitely have personalities, and they were very vocal. We observed them going about their daily lives, from waking to eating to caring for their young and each other, and moving about the forest to find food. To say we were tired when we were finished is an understatement.

It was hard work running about the hills, through the forest and trying to stay close to the chimps. It was fascinating watching their behavior and seeing how closely they really do resemble us humans.

Best Time to Go Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda

Chimp tracking and habituation is offered all 365 days per year. However, it is certainly much easier to track and get through the forest during the dry seasons. The rainy season makes it much more slippery and there are more bugs. According to Benson, January through March and June and July are the best months to go.

How to Get the Chimpanzee Permit

The one website you need to refer to for all the national park activities in Uganda is the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It has the current price list as well as a wealth of information on each park.

Cost of the Chimpanzee Permit

Chimp Tracking Permit – One hour with the chimpanzees in a group of about eight is $150 Chimp Habituation Permit – You have a whole day to follow the chimpanzees around. Group size is six. $220 It is a good idea to have your permit before you go to Kibale, especially during the high season since the UWA only allows a certain number of people to do each activity per day. We went in the low season and it was possible to just go to the park and pay for it that day. Every lodge in the area will also assist you in getting the permits, so inquire with them as soon as you book and you should have no trouble at all.

Where To Go to see Chimps in the Wild

Chimpanzee tracking is offered at two places, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kibale National Park. The latter is the one we went to and highly recommended by everyone. When we were in Queen Elizabeth, they even told us Kibale was better for chimps.

What to bring:

  • Appropriate clothing (see our packing list) and shoes
  • Garden gloves, gaiters
  • Lunch and lots of water
  • Good camera with a long lens. When the chimps are in the trees the smaller cameras won’t do much good.
Relaxing sitting area at Kibale Forest Lodge.

Where To Stay

We stayed at the Kibale Forest Lodge. The accommodations were just what you need after chasing chimpanzees – very clean and comfortable with on-demand hot water and 24 hour electricity. It’s location was perfect, only five minutes from the park entrance.

Is going on a safari and spending the day with chimpanzees your dream? Have you been?  Any tips to share?

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Have you dreamed of going on safari and getting up close with chimpanzees. Click here to find out how to do just that!


Sunday 22nd of January 2017

So cool! This seems like the number 1 thing to do in Uganda and while I've heard a bit about it, I've yet to find a blog post on it. Pinning this for future reference as I appreciate the tips you've included. Cheers! #WeeklyPostcard

Corinne Vail

Sunday 22nd of January 2017

David, Thanks. I do hope you'll get to do this; it's unforgettable and one of the best experiences in my life. We loved every minute of it.

Bryna | Dotted Line Travels

Sunday 22nd of January 2017

These are some really amazing photos! Sounds like an amazing experience as well. I love that they ran and then waited for you to play catch-up!

Corinne Vail

Sunday 22nd of January 2017

Bryna, Believe me, I was tuckered out so I appreciated them waiting as well!

Tracy McConnachie Collins

Saturday 21st of January 2017

Great post - this is something I really would like to do. Definitely saving this for future reference - what an amazing experience! #theweeklypostcard

Corinne Vail

Saturday 21st of January 2017

Tracy, It was unforgettable. I hope you get to do it one day.


Saturday 21st of January 2017

Sounds like a great experience. I would love to see chimps. They are fascinating to watch. Thanks for sharing your experience and tips on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 21st of January 2017

Anisa, It was a really inspiring experience. thanks.

Rhonda Albom

Friday 20th of January 2017

I wonder who had more fun - you or the chimps? Sounds like they were playing with you and enjoyed having you around (what wild animal will flee and then wait for you to catch up?) All in all, it sounds like an awesome experience.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 21st of January 2017

Rhonda, It certainly felt that way to me too. It was a great experience, and we loved every second of it.