With a wealth of luxuriant tropical rainforests, East African safaris offer some of the most unforgettable chimpanzee trekking adventures on Earth. From the Afro-montane forests of Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park to Kibale and Budongo Forests of Uganda, to the Mahale and Gombe Stream Parks of Tanzania, primate lovers are spoilt for choice with the spectacular destinations offering chances of seeing our close cousins in their natural habitats.
Chimpanzee trekking adventures involve walking through dense forests, led by expert guides and armed rangers on foot but there are also chances of encountering other iconic primates that live in the same habitats as chimpanzees. Whether you are a first-timer or seasoned primate trekker, you are sure to be mind-blown by our choices for the top 5 places for tracking chimpanzees in East Africa;
Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale Forest National Park is possibly the most popular chimpanzee trekking destination in East Africa. With approximately 795 square kilometers, this Park shelters over 1500 of Uganda’s 5000 chimpanzees hence making it every traveler’s number one choice for chimpanzee treks. This Park is characterized by relatively easy and flat terrains as well as dense undergrowth but the one hour allotted for observation and photography makes you forget all the challenges encountered in trekking these Great Apes for several hours. With Kibale, it is possible to undertake the “Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in Uganda”, an all-day activity allowing visitors to visit a semi-habituated chimpanzee troop to watch them go about their daily routines from the time they rise to the time they make their nests at only $250 per person per trek. Permits for normal chimpanzee treks in this Park are at $200 and guarantee one hour with these Great Apes.
Budongo Forest, in Kaniyo-Pabidi sector
Budongo Forest is situated within the north-western corner of Murchison Falls Conservation Area, close to Lake Albert and in the North-West of Uganda. It extends for over 825 square kilometers and shelters more than 600 chimpanzees within its dense rainforest. The majority of the treks in this Forest are conducted at the Kaniyo-Pabidi sector (south) and begin with a briefing at Budongo Information Center (adjacent to Budongo Eco Lodge). However, the canopy of Budongo Forest is denser than in Kibale Forest National Park, thus becoming more challenging to trek than it is in the latter. A Permit to trek chimpanzees in Budongo Forest costs $100 per person per trek and allows participants t walk for hours in the forest searching for the Great Apes and spend one hour with the habituated troop.
Nyungwe Forest National Park
Extending for approximately 1000 square kilometers, Rwanda’s Nyungwe Forest National Park is another excellent place for tracking Chimpanzees in East Africa. There are over 500 chimpanzees and two habituated chimpanzee Troops (one around Uwinka and another at Cyamudongo, a fragmented forest). Besides trekking chimpanzees, visitors to Nyungwe Forest are offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of undertaking the iconic canopy walk that you won’t experience in other chimpanzee trekking destinations in East Africa. Permits for trekking chimpanzees cost only $150 and provide chances of seeing chimpanzees alongside other primates and birds of the Park.
Mahale Mountains National Park
Mahale Mountains National Park in Tanzania is another excellent place for tracking chimpanzees in East Africa and shelters about 800 individuals within its diverse landscapes. These chimpanzees were habituated by the Japanese Research Project established in the 1960s and what makes the experience here magical are the white sand beaches and azure waters of Lake Tanganyika that offer relaxation after hectic treks in the jungles. Besides chimpanzees, other primates in this Park are the extraordinary Angola Colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, red colobus monkeys, blue monkeys alongside a plethora of forest bird species. Permits for this Park cost only $150 per person per trek.
Gombe Stream National Park
Extending for only 52 square kilometers, Chimpanzee trekking in Tanzania’s smallest National Park is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. This Park was gazetted in 1968 and extends through the steep slopes and River Valleys bordering the northern sandy shores of Lake Tanganyika. With a permit of $100 per person, you will have a chance to walk through this tinny Protected Area, made famous by the research works of Jane Goodall.
Best time to Track Chimpanzees in East Africa
Chimpanzee tracking in East Africa is conducted all year round but these adventures are more enjoyable during the dry season. For Uganda and Rwanda, dry seasons extend from June to August/September and January to February) when trails are drier and less muddy/slippery For Tanzania, the dry season is from June through October and offers the best chimpanzee spotting opportunities given the fact that these Great Apes favor the lower slopes.