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Kibale National Park Chimpanzee Trekking

Uganda is one of the best places in the world to view wildlife. From the Murchison Falls park, through Kibale National Park, the Queen Elizabeth Park, and into Bwindi Impenetrable, where the extremely endangered mountain gorillas reside, there are opportunities to get really close to all sorts of amazing wildlife all over the country. While it’s very possible to encounter all the ‘big five’ game animals Uganda is also an exceptional location for encounters with large primates.

Kibale National Park is one of the best places to go chimpanzee trekking. Kibale is located in western Uganda, around 340 km from Kampala. It would take around 5-6 hours to drive there, depending on road conditions.

The opportunity to spend time in the forest following the local primates is a marvellous experience. You need a permit to enter the park – the tariffs are published on the Uganda Wildlife Authority website.

Kibale National Park – The Briefing

On arrival at the park you receive a briefing and are then split into small groups. Each group comprises six people who are accompanied by two guides. The chimps are wild but habituated, that is, they are comfortable in the presence of humans. It is a privilege to be able to track them, so it is important to pay close attention to the briefing and to follow the guides’ instructions at all times.

Kibale National Park

It is essential not to visit if you are feeling unwell. We share about 98% of our DNA with these amazing primates so passing on a virus or disease could wipe out the population.

There are a number of rules to abide by to ensure the safety and welfare of both the chimps and the humans while tracking: these include staying with the guide, keeping your distance from the chimps (unless they decide to walk past you) and – our favourite – don’t imitate the chimps’ vocal sounds – you don’t know what you might be saying!

Chimpanzee Trekking

We arrived in the morning and many of the chimps had yet to wake up. So the first part of the trek involved looking up. Sure enough, the chimpanzees were in the trees. They were eating breakfast – their diet mainly consists of fruit, supplemented by insects such as termites and leaves. The forest in Kibale has an abundance of fig trees so figs are usually the breakfast of choice.

Kibale national park

Walking though the forest is relatively easy – unlike Bwindi Impenetrable, the terrain is pretty flat and the paths through the forest easy to navigate. Sturdy shoes are recommended and waterproof gear is useful if you are trekking during the rainy season.

Each group tracks the chimps through the park, following the guides’ instructions in order to keep both the chimps and the visitors safe. It’s advisable to be reasonably fit as you may need to move pretty quickly to follow the chimps.

As the day progresses some of the chimps will come down from the trees and wander through the forest. It’s okay to follow them – just stay with the guide and keep a respectful distance.

One chimp climbed down from his tree and decided that he was going for a walk. He just strolled by. The rangers told us that you are lucky if you get within 10 metres of a chimp. This chimp passed by within 10 centimetres! He was totally nonchalant as he walked on. I could barely contain my excitement!

Other Activities In Kibale National Park

While in Kibale, it’s also possible to visit the local communities. The Bigodi community offer the chance to see how the local people live and work. We visited various craftspeople, including a brewer who made his own banana beer, weavers, a local shaman and a coffee maker .

The local coffee maker makes a very fine brew. The coffee berries have been dried in the sun…

… they are then pounded to remove the husks

It’s a fine art to blow away the husks from the beans.

Then it’s time to light the fire and roast the beans .

They are cooled off before grinding.

The final step is to brew with water for a damn fine cup of coffee.

From bean to cup in half an hour. Cheers!

We also met the banana brewer. He stores large bunches of bananas in a wooden shed on stilts. A fire is lit underneath to ripen the bananas. The fruit needs to be ripe but not over-ripe. The bananas have a natural sweetness and the sugars are perfect for fermentation.

The bananas are peeled, mashed and mixed with leaves to extract the juice. The mash is filtered to separate the juice from the pulp. The resulting liquid is fermented for a day or so then bottled to produce a tasty and refreshing banana beer.

Some of the beer is distilled into a banana spirit which packs a punch!

A local shaman taught us about the medicinal uses of plants in the area and demonstrated some of the healing rituals he performs within the community.

We also met some weavers who showed us how to weave baskets using reeds from the area.

It required a lot of dexterity – they made it look so easy!

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  1. Another exciting life experience shared with us. First meeting the chimpanzees face to face (how cool was that you got up close to the one that tagged along?) and then learning more about the locals and their produces. The coffee making was interesting to me. Do they sell some beans for home consumption? The weaving looked fun, too. The one item that caught my attention was the blue one with yellow lines arranged like a shell, very Camino-like.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Oh yes! I can see the Camino-like design. We bought the red/black bowl which has pride of place in our kitchen. Meeting the chimpanzees was a wonderful experience. I thought you might be interested in the coffee. It was fascinating to watch the coffee making. We had a go at blowing the husks from the beans – and were hopeless at it! I don’t recall being able to buy packs of coffee there but that may have changed. We did buy packs of Gorilla Coffee at Queen Elizabeth National Park – the profits go towards conservation of the critically endangered mountain gorillas.

  2. What a fabulous trip. I’ve often wondered which of the several chimp tours I would do and in which country but this one seems the best I have read about so far.
    To have a chimp wander past, just 10 cms from you would have set my heart a flutter – so adorable.
    The chance to drink banana beer sounds exciting. I’ve never drunk it and so would be curious as to what it tastes. Then to have freshly ground coffee made would just top it of.
    This sounds like one heck of a great trip. Am keeping this info for when I can get there.

    • Thank you. We would definitely recommend Uganda as a destination to see primates. We also visited the mountain gorillas – another magical experience. Yes, the banana beer wasn’t as banana-ry (is that a word?) as we expected. The fresh coffee was absolutely amazing! Hope you get to visit, we are sure you will love it.

  3. What an amazing experience! One t you athat I have on my bucket lso got alist. I never would have thought we could pass out illness onto the chimps. That’s good to know. It’s so cool that you also got an insight into the local way of life. That’s one fresh cup of coffee you got!

    • It was truly wonderful to get so close to the chimpanzees. Yes, we share around 98% of our DNA with chimpanzees so they are very susceptible to diseases that affect humans. It’s important not to visit if you are sick, even if you have a cold.
      Oh yes, I don’t think that cup of coffee could have been more fresh! It was delicious!

  4. Wonderful post! Reminds me of when I lived in neighbouring Kenya and saw such amazing wildlife. If I ever visit Uganda I would want to see the brewer who made his own banana beer, and try some too! I enjoyed the explanations of the process.

    • Thank you so much. Wow – I didn’t know you lived in Kenya, that must have been a wonderful experience. We definitely recommend visiting Uganda and trying banana beer!

  5. Trekking in Kibale National Park with chimpanzees is a real adventure! You had a fantastic expedition! It’s incredible to watch these beautiful animals in their natural habitat. I add this trekking to my bucket list as a wildlife photography enthusiast. It’s great that you give so many valuable tips on how to organize such an expedition. I also like the idea of while in Kibale to visit local communities. I want to visit the Bigodi community to see how the local people live and work.

    • Thank you! If you love wildlife photography, Uganda is a terrific destination. There are so many opportunities to get really close to wildlife, including walking safaris with rhino and trekking with mountain gorillas. There are loads of national parks where you can see the ‘big five’ game animals as well. Hope you get to visit, we are sure you will love it.

  6. Oh, gosh, what an incredible experience and very lucky to have the chimp stroll right past you all. Nobody gets in the way of my breakfast!

    Loved the medicine part. That would be a great insight into learning about the healing rituals used.

    Mine is a fresh cup of coffee and a banana beer to follow.

    Great post, thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you! Trekking with the chimps and have one stroll past so close was just magical. It was fascinating meeting the shaman and learning about how he used natural resources and rituals to heal people. Also, coffee followed by banana beer is a great combination!

  7. So cool! While I would love to see chimps (we’re heading to this area in January) the medicine and coffee experience is really cool too. I don’t drink coffee, but I can respect the work that is put into it and enjoy watching my husband try coffee from around the world. I’ll enjoy my banana beer!

    • Thank you. Delighted to hear that you are travelling to the area, I will look forward to hearing about your trip. We are sure you would love Uganda. Hope your husband gets to enjoy the coffee and that you enjoy the banana beer!

  8. I love how you say it’s a privilege to track the chimps; that’s a great perspective. I also would have been giddy to have one pass by so close, but also a little nervous! Those baskets are so pretty and I definitely would have a hard time picking just one to take home. Interested to taste some of that banana beer!

    • It really was wonderful to have the chimp pass by so close. They are wild but accustomed to the presence of humans, so it was exciting! The banana beer was an interesting flavour and it was great to be able to try the local brew!

  9. You see so much about gorilla trekking so it’s really cool to see chimpanzees instead. It sounds like a fantastic experience, and one I’d love to do one day. I would also be so excited if they were to get super close. Banana beer would be a fun way to end the day, and I love the handmade products too – so pretty and colorful. I have the feeling I’m going to fall in love with Africa this year and want to return and this experience will be high on my list

    • Thank you. This was a fantastic experience. We were lucky enough to see the gorillas but it was also brilliant to see the chimpanzees as well. Uganda really is an excellent destination for primates. I do hope you fall in love with Africa – we are sure you will love it as much as we do.

  10. Uganda is a dream for me. It has been on my list for a long time and logically a visit to the chimpanzees is included.
    I had no idea that it was also possible to visit the local communities in the national park. I think it is very interesting to do this visit and try to understand how the local communities live, in communion with nature.
    I believe that trekking in the forest to see the chimpanzees is an extraordinary adventure in itself.

    • I really hope you get to visit Uganda. The whole trip was just magical and we saw so much amazing wildlife. Seeing the chimpanzees and – later – the mountain gorillas, was a true privilege. There’s a common perception that safaris are all about the animals but it was a real treat to be able to visit communities and meet the local people.

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