Uganda is probably the only place in the world to get the opportunity to get close with our ape cousins in the wild, the gorillas and chimpanzees. I immediately hopped on the chance to get to observe them in the wild while I was in Uganda. And I was lucky enough to be part of a group with an experienced guide trekking wild chimpanzees in the Bundongo Forest.
Bundongo Forest is located on the northwestern side of Uganda as part of Murchison Falls National Park. Spanning over 825 square kilometers of territory Bundongo Forest is one of the few places that allows chimpanzee trekking tours in Uganda.
What is Chimpanzee Trekking?
Chimpanzee trekking or tracking is an activity where a group of travelers with the help of an experienced guide track chimpanzee trails through the forest their habitating. It’s a unique experience where the guide educates the travelers to look for marks or signs in the environment that chimpanzees families left behind. The goal is to find the chimpanzee families, and when the group finds them, they spend about an hour observing the chimps’ behavior and culture.
My Chimpanzee Trekking Experience
As mentioned above, I joined a group of other travelers trekking chimpanzees through the Budongo Forest with the help of an experienced local guide. What I loved about the experience is that we got to observe the chimps in their natural environment and not in cages or through the glass.
Our guide gave us a safety brief before starting at the Budongo Eco Lodge, just outside the forest. It’s the dos and don’ts of chimpanzee trekking, which I’ll be discussing later on in this article. Then we’re off. There were established chimpanzee trails that we could follow throughout the forest, but that doesn’t guarantee an encounter with one, so it’s better to stay close to our guide and not venture too far.
We had no idea where the chimps were located, so our guide will do all the tracking by looking for scents, poop on the ground, and shaking up the trees while we follow closely behind. We walked for about 45 minutes, taking in the forest until we finally saw our first chimpanzees.
There were three of them, and they’re up high in the tree branches, eating fruit. They seemed so relaxed, and it’s a fantastic experience watching them in their natural habitat. We tried maneuvering on the ground to get a better peek through the branches for a better view of the chimps. I think we caught the attention of one of them when the chimp climbed its way down to the ground.
“He’s climbing down. He’s climbing down.” I was whispering through my excitement.
The chimp was doing his own thing when he got low on the ground. He seems to know that we’re there, but he doesn’t care. It’s crazy knowing that I’ve gotten so close to these endangered and majestic creatures.
Our guide allowed us to follow him but warned us to keep at the monkey’s pace. No more no less so as not to spook him and don’t create fast or hasty movements. At that point, the other chimps are making their merry way through the branches while the chimp on the ground is walking away slowly. We slowly followed with our guide. He even allowed us to fo off the trail as long as everyone is in sight of each other.
We spent about an hour trailing the chimp’s movements. Every second of it was great, and we just enjoyed being in the presence of these majestic creatures. I felt like everyone wanted more time with the chimps than the hour we spent with them, but we went back to the Budongo Eco Lodge fully satisfied with the experience.
Fun Facts about Chimpanzees
- The chimpanzees live in communities or family groups with an alpha male chimp as the leader of the group
- Chimps are endemic to Africa and are an endangered species with only 300,000 wild chimps left in the wild. They’re worst enemies are poachers and habitat destruction.
- They’re the closest animal species to our human DNA, with 98% similarity
- Chimpanzees are social animals like humans. They usually interact with each other through grooming, and sometimes hunt.
- Chimps are omnivores, just like humans. They eat a variety of fruits found up the trees, but they also eat eggs, nuts, insects, and sometimes animal meat.
Tips for Chimpanzee Trekking
- People who are sick like the flu or another contagious disease no matter how mild are not allowed to go in the park
- Wear shoes with traction as the ground is full of leaves and can get slippery and wear long sleeves clothes. Waterproof gear is highly recommended during rainy weather
- Put on insect repellant
- Always be quiet so not to spook the nearby animals
- Always stay close to your guide and don’t venture far off the trails
- No flash photography as this could spook the animals
- It’s highly recommended to keep a distance of eight meters from the chimps at all times
- Beware of safari ants
- Eat and go to the bathroom before starting your trek; it’s not advised to eat anywhere near the chimps, so I recommend to bring binoculars
- Children below the age of 12 are not allowed to enter the park
How to get to Budongo Forest
Getting to the Budongo Forest can take roughly seven hours from Kampala using a 4WD vehicle. Most people reach Budongo as part of a wildlife package experience in northwestern Uganda. If you’re in a hurry, you can fly to Pakuba Airfield.
How much does Chimpanzee Trekking cost?
If you want to go Chimpanzee Trekking, you’ll first have to get a trekking permit from a Uganda Wildlife Authority Office, which can cost anywhere from $50-$150. Entrance to the Budongo Forest Reserve costs $40 per person, and finally, the actual chimpanzee trekking will cost around $150 depending on how many hours you’ll be trekking. I recommend purchasing everything in advance.
Where else in Uganda can people go Chimpanzee Trekking?
There are several other wildlife reserves that people can go chimpanzee trekking in Uganda. The most popular being in Kibale Forest. Here’s a list of the other wildlife reserves you can visit to go chimpanzee trekking in Uganda.
- Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Kalinzu Forest located on the southwestern part of Uganda
- Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve or Semliki National Park
- Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary part of the greater Koome islands on Lake Victoria