If one wants to see chimpanzees living in the wild, most people think one can simply go to Africa and look around in the forest. Nothing could be further from the truth. Very few people in Africa have ever laid eyes on these apes in their natural setting. Because of their great value as laboratory animals, chimpanzees have been hunted to extinction in many areas. Elsewhere, humans have repossessed their habitats, pushing them out of range of observation, deep into the tangle of leaves and lianas of the rainforest. Until recently, no one had even photographed them undisturbed in their native state.
Today, East and Central Africa are home to the best destinations to track and see chimpanzees in the wild. Tourists can spend close to ten hours a day observing human-habituated chimpanzee troops in large swathes of the forest of DR Congo and the more accessible destinations of Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania.
Adventures into the African rainforests to see chimpanzees in the wild are genuinely extraordinary experiences. Coming face to face with an intelligent and thoughtful primate closely related to us is undoubtedly unlike any other animal encounter in Africa. It’s challenging to put into words.
Being omnivores, chimpanzees are much more active than the usually inactive, calm, and vegetarian gorillas. Chimpanzee tracking can often be quite an exhausting and exhilarating experience, especially during a hunt that compels you to sweatily keep up on foot as they swing effortlessly through the forest canopy.
Chimpanzees are highly social. They live in communities of several dozen animals, led by an alpha male and his coalition of male allies. A few troops have been habituated to the presence of humans: not tamed, but least tolerant of people, usually to a distance of around ten meters.
To see chimpanzees in the wild, you’ll travel to one of the best chimpanzee tracking destinations below, stay in one of the safari vacation lodges nearby for usually 3 to 5 nights. You’ll need to book a trekking permit that comes with a local expert tracker and an armed ranger.
Excursions go out every morning after a briefing at the visitor’s center in small groups of tourists. The experience usually lasts 2 to 6 hours, depending on the location of the habituated chimpanzee troop. Visitors are allowed from 1 hr to almost the whole day with the chimpanzees, and the quality and intimacy of each sighting can vary highly.
The trek is easy in some destinations like Kibale Forest and challenging in others, but visitors should be relatively fit and well outfitted for this kind of forest adventure. Chances of seeing chimpanzees in the wild are incredibly high, over 90%.
We usually advise our visitors to book two or more chimp permits to increase their chances of a high-quality sighting. Good thing; they’re not as expensive as gorilla permits but can be scarce sometimes. So, book yours in advance to avoid inconveniences like failing to find quality forest lodges near chimpanzee forests—preferably 3-12 months before the peak seasons of Dec-Jan and Jul-Sep.
By far the best place to see chimpanzees in the wild is Kibale National Park in the remote southwest of Uganda, one of Africa’s oldest and most charming rainforests where chimps are most ground-based and confident in the company of humans.
Located about 330 kilometers west of Kampala City, Kibale Forest National Park is the easiest primate destination to access. It’s home to more than 1,400 chimpanzees and the continent’s most incredible variety and density of primates. Apart from the chance to spend much more time with the chimps than on a conventional trek, the day affords better opportunities to glimpse other primate species, like the vervet, red-tailed, L’Hoest’s, and blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, endangered red colobus, and the black-and-white colobus monkey.
Most safari adventurers book one of the twice-daily, ranger-guided chimpanzee tracking excursions. But as rewarding as this experience is, you are limited to spending just one hour with the primates once the guide locates them to avoid provoking stress or transmitting human-borne diseases.
To give adventures a more profound experience, learn more, and better sighting, Kibale offers intrepid hikers the chance to spend an entire day in the company with researchers studying a chimpanzee family undergoing human habituation.
The habituation experience hike can be arduous because chimps move briskly over rugged terrain, dense vegetation, and muddy slopes. On the day of the experience, you head out at dawn with the research team to find a chimps troop before they leave their nests and spend almost the whole day among the troop.
A chimpanzee tracking permit in Kibale costs $200/$150/UGX150,000 per person, per trek for foreign non-residents/residents/East African Nationals. A habituation permit costs $50 more at $250 per person, per trek. Guided nature walks cost $40/$30 per person.
Nkuringo Safaris, a Uganda-based outfitter, specializing in primate-specific safaris, can arrange park permits and accommodation. Many of the trips to see chimpanzees in Kibale combine with the gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, about 250 kilometers south of Kibale.
Kyaninga Lodge overlooks a cobalt-blue crater lake. The design of this fairy-tale vacation property provides a serious wow factor. Kyaninga took 130 men, six years, and more than 1,000 hand-carved logs to build this masterpiece.
Ndali Lodge is ‘thee’ Ugandan Downton Abbey. Ndali is a bit of an institution, offering a charming blend of warm hospitality and colonial history.
Papaya Lake Lodge was built overlooking a crater lake, offering high levels of personal service in another stunning location on the jungle’s edge.
Chimpanzee Trekking Adventure Trips, entirely customizable for you!
Kibale National Park is rarely a final destination – it’s more suited as a stop to see chimpanzees in the wild among other parks on a vacation safari in Uganda. Kibale is located in western Uganda, 207 mi (334 km) west of Entebbe International Airport, your entry point into the country.
The chimpanzee trekking trailhead at Kanyanchu is 20 miles southeast of Fort Portal Town, a 30-45 minute drive on what is now a well-surfaced road, and 360km/224mi (about six hours) from Kampala.
Nkuringo safaris’ driver will usually pick you up from the airport and provide any additional transportation as part of your tour package.
The 636 square miles of jungle-clad Mahale Mountains National Park protects some of Africa’s last communities of common chimpanzees. Located along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika in the extreme west of Tanzania, Mahale Mountains National Park is one of the last untamed, breathtaking protected areas in the world.
The park is one of the two protected areas for chimpanzee tracking in Tanzania and one of the few jungles in Africa that must be experienced by foot. The only way in or out of the Mahale’s remoteness is by boat because of the steep, rugged terrain surrounding the park’s western edge.
On the western park boundary, the lakeshore is a beach of the finest white sand, behind which rises a range of imposing emerald mountains clad in verdant tropical vegetation. Big electric-blue butterflies flit above the streams, and the forest is alive with wildlife vibrations. Here you find not only the chimpanzees but also Tanzania’s densest population of primates: red colobus, yellow baboons, blue, red-tailed, and vervet monkeys are within sight distance – and then, of course, there are the chimpanzees.
Mahali Mountains protect about 1000 chimpanzees living in small communities. Only one cheeky group, the Mimikire clan of more than 50 individuals, has been habituated to close human contact since 1965.
Mahale is one of the best places to see chimpanzees in the wild for intrepid adventurers looking to an entirely new wilderness experience, with little to compare to the excitement and beauty of trekking in the remotest parts of Africa. The park’s most exciting untamed features are way off the beaten path, but the lake, the beaches, the enchanting jungle, and – of course – seeing the wild chimpanzees make it an expedition well worth exploring.
Chimpanzee trekking excursions go out daily in Mahale except on Mondays and Thursdays. You’ll be trekking five to six hours a day, up very steep inclines in the humid jungle. The Mimikire clan’s territory ranges 15 sq mi, covering the beach, lowland forest, hills, and valleys; much of it impenetrable to the average hiker. So, be conscious of your physical fitness before you head into the Mahale Mountains.
The guided Chimpanzee tracking fee in Mahale is $20 per person plus a park entrance fee of $80 per 24 hours.
Stay at Greystoke Mahale or Kungwe Beach Lodge, both sitting on a pristine, white sandy beach overlooking the Lake Tanganyika turquoise water, with the dramatic backdrop of the forested Mahale Mountains.
The best way to access Mahale is through Katavi by flight from Arusha. The only public scheduled flight is the twice-weekly service between Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale operated by Safari Air Link. From Mahale Airstrip, you’ll take a 90-minute boat ride to get to the beach lodges.
Nyungwe National Park may be most famous for chimpanzee trekking, but this stretch of 394 square miles (1,020 sq km) in southwestern Rwanda teams with a dazzling array of flora and fauna and an impressive spread of hiking trails. Meander through, and you’ll feel as though you’ve wandered onto the set of Jurassic Park. You’ll spot 100-year-old trees, fern-fringed waterfalls, and oversize driver ants to the accompaniment of a cacophony of bird calls.
Nyungwe National Park is one of the best places to see chimpanzees in the wild. Eight of ten visitors in Nyungwe come to watch the park’s 500-some-odd chimpanzees or its “supergroup” of several hundred black-and-white colobus monkeys, whose clever antics and aerial acrobatics will keep your camera clicking.
But chimps and giant troupes aren’t the only show in town. With 13 species, the park has one of the highest primate diversity concentrations in the world. You’ll see L’Hoest’s monkeys frolicking around the roads, and, if you’re fortunate, the solitary owl-faced monkey will cross your path.
Apart from seeing chimpanzees in the wild, Nyungwe Forest offers some of the best jungle trekking adventures in Africa’s rainforests. Trails cut through the park’s closed-canopy forests, bamboo thickets, and orchid-filled swamps. Be warned that the weather can be wet—it is a rainforest after all. The park receives more than 2,000 mm (79 inches) of precipitation annually and provides water to approximately 70% of the county. In 2006, an exploring team claimed to find the furthest source of the Nile River in Nyungwe.
After watching the chimpanzees’ antics, make sure you walk on Nyungwe’s famous canopy walkway. A 200-meter (656-foot) wood bridge suspended 60 meters (196 feet) above the ground. The “hanging trail” affords magnificent views of the treetop canopy and up-close bird encounters.
A chimpanzee trekking pass in Nyungwe costs $90 for foreigners. However, visitors can also explore the reasonably priced guided hike for US$40. A chimps filming pass is $600 and $1000 for chimps filming day-pass.
One&Only Nyungwe House will make you forget you’re next to a rainforest in this lavish retreat—until you slide back the glass balcony doors to let in forest breezes and birdsong. The $1300 rooms are practically suites with private balconies. It’s close to the park from the Gisakura side.
Nyungwe Top View Hill Hotel has stunning views of mist-veiled mountains, excellent service, and convenient access to Nyungwe National Park, all for US$220. This makes hilltop vacation lodge the best accommodation in Nyungwe for its price.
To explore the best of Nyungwe’s vacation adventures, book with Nkuringo Safaris and stay two to four nights.
Nyungwe National Park is approximately 124 miles south of the country, a 4-5-hours drive from Kigali International Airport (your entry point into Rwanda). Alternatively, you can fly into Kamembe Airport, a half-hour drive from the park’s western edge, and arrange for pickup with your lodge.
Most activities depart from the park’s Uwinka Reception Center. To get there from nearby Gisakura village, the location of our lodging suggestions, you’ll need to use a private four-by-four car to the trailhead.
Typical Nkuringo’s chimpanzee tracking safaris use a 4×4, connecting Nyungwe to the gorilla trekking destinations north of the park via Lake Kivu shoreline stretch.
Tucked away on the shores of Africa’s longest lake, Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park, is Tanzania’s most petite and loveliest destination. Brought to fame by Jane Goodal, Gombe is one of the two places in Tanzania where visitors can see chimpanzees in the Wild. However, it is the most challenging of all chimpanzee trekking destinations in Africa.
This small gem of a park 2 miles (3.5 km) wide and only 9 miles(15 km) long stretches from the white sandy beaches of the blue lake up into the thick jungle and the mountains of the rift escarpment in the backdrop.
Though the area is famous for its primates, don’t expect a Tarzan-like rain forest because it is mainly covered with thick Brachystegia woodland. There are also strips of a riverine bush alongside the many streams that gouge out steep valleys as they make their way from the highlands to flow down into the lake.
Getting to Gombe is challenging and quite expensive. Nevertheless, you’ll be amply rewarded with one of the most excitingly close animals encounters still possible on our planet.
Chimps are amongst the noisiest of all wild animals. You’ll hear them long before you see chimpanzees swinging the treetops. A series of hoots and shrieks rising to a crescendo of piercing whoops sounds like a major primate battle is about to begin. But it’s only the members of the clan identifying, recognizing, and finally greeting one another.
But be warned—to follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps, you ought to be fairly fit. Keeping up with a group of feeding and moving chimpanzees as they climb hills and forage in deep valleys of Gombe can be very strenuous work. But the effort will be worth it—there’s nothing on earth quite like coming face-to-face with a chimpanzee or accompanying a group as they make their way through the forest.
Entry fees for Gombe are US$100 per person per day for 24 hours. Guided walks on Lake Tanganyika will cost US$20 per person. Your guide will cost an additional US$20 per day for both activities.
Because of the traveling time, we suggest that you spend at least two nights in Gombe Stream National Park to get the most out of the chimpanzee trekking experience.
Gombe Forest Lodge is the only accommodation inside of Gombe National Park. The cozy and intimate vacation lodge sits amidst the mopane trees as a series of stand-alone canvas tents raised off the ground on wooden platforms.
Kigoma Hilltop Hotel, on a hill overlooking the lake about 2 km (1.2 miles) from Kigoma’s town center, makes an ideal base for your chimpanzee trekking in Gombe Stream.
Other lesser locations to see chimpanzees in the wild are in Uganda, where the highest population of common chimpanzees find refuge in the verdant rainforest jungles.
Kaymbura Gorge is a cliff-lined sunken ravine with a mystical river flowing at its foot to join the Kazinga Channel. Its forested ridges form a deep chasm in the savanna landscape and a natural boundary between Queen Elizabeth National Park and neighboring Kyambura Wildlife Reserve.
Guided chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge is more active than most; you may have to cross the river by a fallen log and hike on the steep sides of the gorge: a bit difficult at best. Notwithstanding, it’s a mysterious, primeval place and worth the 1.6 miles (2.5 km) drive from the Katunguru highway just for the view alone.
Chimp permits in Kyambura Gorge can be bought at $50 per person and arranged with the UWA locally. However, limited availability means it’s best to secure them with Nkuringo Safaris or a registered local operator. Visiting the viewing platform is free, provided one has paid park entry fees of $10 per person.
Kaninyo Pabidi, one of the two ecosystems on Budongo Forest Reserve in Northern Uganda, is another low-key but excellent place to see chimpanzees in the wild. The forest reserve is located en route to the famous Murchison Falls.
Budongo is a worthy diversion for excellent chimpanzee trekking before heading in the vast Murchison Falls National Park for the big game viewing experience.
Compared to watching mountain gorillas, watching the more intelligent, more active cheeky chimpanzees is, quite honestly, a great deal more enjoyable. Coming face to face with a wild chimpanzee on its home tuff is undoubtedly an excellent bucket-list African adventure experience.
Nkuringo Safaris offers the most rewarding adventures to see chimpanzees in the wild Uganda and Rwanda rainforest. Most of our Uganda safari trips head west of Uganda from Entebbe International Airport and spend a night or two with Kibale National Park’s habituated chimpanzee troops. The safari will later transfer you to the southerly gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Our trips are tailored to the traveler’s style of travel and preferences. Our local safari experts guide you through the booking process, take care of the ground logistics and manage your trip. Send us an email at email@example.com.
Tailor-made chimpanzee trekking vacation ideas.