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Kibale Forest National Park

Kampala/Entebbe to Fort Portal is a five hour drive, well surfaced road but plagued by coaches blasting along at 120 km/hr. Fort Portal is really the springboard for excursions to Kibale Forest National Park and the Semliki Valley. Almost all visitors to this part of Uganda include a visit into Kibale Forest to see the habituated chimpanzees and other primates in this lovely old forest.

795km square; 1100-1590m ASL; dominant vegetation type is rainforest similar to Afro-montane and western lowland forest, also includes grassland and swamp; around 350 trees identified, loads of orchids and epiphytic ferns; especially good for its chimpanzees (around 1,450 individuals in total with around 80 habituated, the largest single population in Uganda); also very good for birds including 335 species with 6 Albertine rift endemics; Kibale has around 144 butterfly species (including Africa’s largest and rarest, the Giant Swallowtail); 60 mammals including 13 primates; forest elephants are around in the wet season but rarely seen.

Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest

Most excursions last for 2 to 3 hours and start from Kanyanchu at 08:00 and 15:00 daily. Treks cost $70 excluding park entrance. Chimp sightings aren’t guaranteed but success rate is around 90% with a well habituated community around Kanyanchu. As far as we can establish, habituation of the chimps started in 1986 and tourist visits started in 1991. Group size is limited to 6 pax, advance booking between July and September essential.

The tracking is easy-going by comparison with Mahale and Chambura Gorge, definitely a lot easy than gorilla trekking. Wear light layers but be prepared for rain in season – keep it simple in Kibale.

Photos of chimps are a lot more difficult than shooting gorillas. They’re far more active and regularly at ease behind heavy foliage or up high in the canopy and then on the move again. Opportunities on paths can be quite good especially if you’re set for low light, and you’re lucky enough to be tracking on the path when suddenly things come to a complete standstill. All in all they make very difficult photographic subjects but are seriously interesting especially since they actually don’t give a hoot for people. Luck counts!

In addition to short treks full or multi-day chimpanzee habituation experiences are available for around $150/$200/$300 for 1/2/3 days respectively. They entail a full day’s tracking with researchers and habituators from around 05:30 to 19:00 – available March, April, May and November only. This is exceptionally good value for people with a real interest in chimps and the forests!

Even if there’re no chimps the forest is truly outstanding. In addition to chimps, Kibale is home to the following primates: dwarf bushbaby, eastern needle-nailed bushbaby, Bosman’s potto, dwarf galago, black & white colobus, Uganda red colobus monkey, Uganda redtail guenon, blue guenon, Lhoesti or mountain guenon, vervet monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey and olive baboon.

Other activities around Kibale

  • Night walks in the forest – start at Kanyanchu and run from 19:30 to 22:00, aimed at sighting nocturnal primates especially potto and bushbaby; costs $10 excluding park entrance.
  • 12 km Forest Hike – starts at Kanyanchu at 08:00 ending around 14:00 during “dry season” from November to February and June to September only. Good for seeing habitat diversity, birds, plants and good chance to see primates. Costs $10 excluding park entrance.
  • Long Distance Trails  specifically arranged and booked in advance, trails run between 2 and 6 days and can include Sebitoli and Kihingami Wetlands. The standard 66km trail runs between Kanyanchu and Sebitoli over 4 days, overnights are spent in local villages outside park and these trails offer an opportunity to explore forests and experience local culture. Costs around $30 per day including parks fees.
  • Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary – a community run initiative that protects the Magombe Swamp just outside the area. Good for primates and butterflies but the 4.5 km trail is one of the best guided bird trails in East Africa. Local guides are especially good, keen birders should book in advance, collar the best guides and aim to leave around 14:00 for a good 3-4 hours of private birding focusing on looking for specials. The swamp is home to 138 species. Cost is $12 plus tip.
  • Ndali-Kasenda Crater Lakes – Western Uganda from the Albertine Rift to Ruwenzoris and Virunga mountains has one of the world’s densest concentrations of volcanic crater lakes. There are 4 main groups of these crater lakes: Kasenda cluster west of Kibale; Katwe cluster not far from Mweya in Queen Elizabeth National Park; Fort Portal cluster to the north and the Bunyaruguru cluster southeast of QENP.
  • The Kasenda cluster – the most extensive and easily accessible from Kibale. These lakes offer lots of possibilities for exploration with verdant bush, great landscapes and lots of birds, butterflies and other wildlife. Ndali Lodge is probably the best spot from which to explore the lakes and surrounds. A local Fort Portal tour company runs scheduled day tours of the lakes on Saturdays and Sundays for $20.

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