Kibale Forest in Western Uganda is one of the best locations in Africa for tracking our closest relative, the Chimpanzee. Although the main attraction is obviously the Chimps, the national park is extremely rich in wildlife and also home to many other primates including the red-tailed monkey, colobus monkey and the Olive baboon just to name a few. If you are lucky you may also encounter the African Civet, warthogs and even hippos! Bird watching is also amazing, with almost 300 recorded species and keep your eyes peeled for outrageously coloured butterflies, moths and other insects.
Prior to Kibale I had spent my time trekking with Gorillas in Bwindi, therefore getting to Kibale Forest was fairly easy and I jumped on an internal Aero Link flight to Kasese. The airstrip is remote and in the middle of the forest, which is an experience in itself. Don’t be surprised if passport control is one man, a chair and an ink stamp!
I do highly recommend combining the Gorilla and Chimpanzee trips together as you will already been in Uganda anyway and only really need 2 days max with each.
Day one: Travel & Settling in day
On our way to Kibale Forest we drove through several local towns, where the colours of the clothing, markets and fauna just popped against the dark mud used to build traditional hut housing.
I chose to stay at Lake Kyaninga Lodge for 3nights for its spectacular setting, peace and tranquillity. See more below.
Day two: Chimpanzee Trek
Like Bwindi there is a limited number of permits issued to visitors each day therefore it is advisable to secure your permit prior to your trip.
Be prepared for an early start as the days trekking starts from 5am to allow you to experience the amazing moment the chimps wake and de-nest before following them on their journey across the forest.
The chimps seem to travel much further and quicker than the Gorillas as it took us the good part of a morning to find them. We finally stumbled across our first group during breakfast time, observing them swing from one tree to another to find the tastiest fruits. It was mesmerising watching this family and realising how closely we are related.
Once full they shimmied down the tree branches and continued on foot directly in front of us. It was then that you could see several of them were mothers as the ebony eyes of the babies on their backs stared curiously back at us.
Day three: Lightening never strikes twice
After waking at 1am from the loudest crack of lightening that ripped through my entire body, I started to panic as it felt way too close for comfort. I soon realise my worst fears are true…… the first bungalow had been hit and was on fire! Not one to sit back, me and the other guests grabbed any fire extinguishers we could. Thankfully there were no one was hurt, but sadly the bungalow was lost. I cannot praise the staff and locals enough on how they managed to contain the fire and stop it spreading to the rest of the wooden bungalows!
After an eventful start to the morning we arrived for our second day of trekking at 5am but unfortunately our guide was still asleep as he had not been advised we were coming for a second day of trekking. It worked out fine in the end however I would recommend asking your lodge to reconfirm your permit and schedule the day before each trek, even if you have pre-booked.
As we headed out a little later this time the Chimpanzees were already on the move and looking for their next meal. Trekking in Kibale was a lot more uphill than Bwindi with loose rubble on the ground so make sure those mountain boots are on tight.
We found our first group up high up in the trees feeding on figs whilst the alpha male was resting on the ground enjoying his lunch. As the chimps spend a lot of time up in the trees I would definitely recommend buying a pair of inexpensive binoculars for the trip.
Whilst observing the alpha male the guide reminds us not to get too close, don’t show your teeth and try not to shake any branches as this is all seen as an aggressive threat! Now if our day couldn’t get any worse one of the guests in our group lost his footing whilst photographing the alpha and grabbed a branch right in front of the chimp to steady himself.
Don’t run, stay still they yelled but I was out of there! The Alpha went from just relaxing and eating his lunch to bearing his teeth and lunging towards us with a small branch and gave the guest that tripped a good thrashing on his back! The guide was not phased in the slightest and he told us the Chimp just needed to ‘Punish’ you and you were never in any danger!
The past few days within the forest helping habituate the Chimpanzees really highlighted how close we are as a species. Their ability to walk upright, facial expressions and most importantly the similarity in their hands and feet.
To say that my trip in Uganda was eventful would be an understatement however to ensure I haven’t put you off for life I wanted to highlight that there was no point in the trip where I felt in danger, surprised maybe but never at risk.
After a very exciting and exhausting trip I headed to The Lux Resort in Le Morne Mauritius to finish off the holiday with a week of much needed sun, sea and relaxation. As Uganda is on the eastern side of Africa finishing off with a beach holiday in Mozambique, Seychelles, Maldives or Mauritius compliments the trip well.
Getting to Kibale Forest National Park
If like me you are combining a Gorilla & Chimpanzee trek adventure, which you may as well do being you are already in Uganda you can jump on a short internal flight between the two.
Domestic Flight: Aero Link - Bwindi Kihihi to Kasese Airstrip
Chimpanzee Trek Recommendations & What to wear
No flash photography
Long hard-wearing trousers & Long Sleeve shirts are a must as you are trekking your way through a wild forest
Sturdy walking/mountain boots teamed with long socks to tuck your trousers into.
Packable rain mac
Backpack, hat, sunglasses, hand sanitiser, bug spray, sun cream
Cheap thick gardening gloves, these will protect your hands whilst clambering through the forest
Lake Kyaninga Lodge
Lake Kyaninga Lodge is nestled on the edge of an extinct volcanic crater lake with spectacular views, peace and tranquillity.
Take a guided walk around the craters edge
Each cottage has its own private terrace for sundowners
Soak in the Victorian bath tub whilst taking in the views of Lake Kyaninga and the mountains beyond.
The main downside I found is there was a real lack of enthusiasm and attention to detail from the staff because it was low season. We were the only guests in the entire lodge and unlike most hotels there was no reduction in the nightly rate despite it being low season.