The Best Places To See Chimpanzees in The Wild

The best place to see chimpanzee troops in their natural setting is Kibale Forest National Park in southwestern Uganda. Other places that can give a great experience watching wild chimps include Mahale Mountains and Gombe Stream in Tanzania, and Nyungwe Forest in Rwanda. Find out more in this post.

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 seen 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.

These are the best places in Africa where you can see wild chimpanzees in their natural habitat.

  1. Kibale National Park – Uganda
  2. Mahale Mountains National Park – Tanzania
  3. Nyungwe National Park – Rwanda
  4. Gombe Stream National Park – Tanzania
  5. Kyambura Gorge – Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
  6. Kaniyo Pabidi, Budongo Forest Reserve – Uganda
By far the best place to see chimpanzees in the wild is Kibale National Park
A dominant chimp in Kibale Forest, Uganda

1. Kibale National Park – Western Uganda

Chimpanzee Tracking in Kibale National Park – A Unique Wildlife Adventure

Kibale National Park, located in the remote southwest of Uganda, is the best place to see chimpanzees in the wild. The park is one of Africa’s oldest and most charming rainforests, where chimps are most ground-based and confident in the company of humans. With over 1,400 chimpanzees and the continent’s most incredible variety and density of primates, Kibale is a must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts.

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. However, visitors 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 visitors a better experience, Kibale offers intrepid hikers the opportunity to spend an entire day in the company of researchers studying a chimpanzee family undergoing human habituation. The habituation experience hike can be arduous as chimps move briskly over rugged terrain, dense vegetation, and muddy slopes. On the day of the experience, visitors head out at dawn with the research team to find a chimp troop before they leave their nests and spend almost the whole day among the troop, giving them a more profound experience, learning more, and better sighting.

The cost of visiting chimps in Kibale Forest

A chimpanzee tracking permit in Kibale costs USD 200 per person per trek. Residents and East African nations get a discount and pay USD 150 and UGX 150,000 per person, respectively. A chimpanzee habituation permit costs USD 250 per person per trek. Guided nature walks cost $40/$30 per person.

Nkuringo Safaris, a specialized Uganda-based outfitter for primate safaris, can assist with arranging park permits and accommodations. Most trips to view chimpanzees in Kibale can be combined with a gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is located approximately 250 kilometers south of Kibale.

Where To Stay

Primate Lodge is located right behind the Park Headquarters and is the starting point for chimpanzee trekking adventures. The lodge is convenient for those early mornings when tracking chimps or birding.

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.

How to get to Kibale National Park

While Kibale National Park is not often the final destination for most visitors, it’s a must-visit stop on a vacation safari in Uganda to see chimpanzees in the wild, among other parks. The park is located in western Uganda, 207 mi (334 km) west of Entebbe International Airport, which is the 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 a well-surfaced road, and 360km/224mi (about six hours) from Kampala. Visitors can easily access the park by road, and it’s recommended to book a tour package that includes transportation.

Nkuringo Safaris provides tour packages that include a driver who will pick up visitors from the airport and provide additional transportation as part of the tour package. Visitors can enjoy a hassle-free experience with experienced drivers who know the area well and can provide valuable insights into the park and its wildlife.

Our Chimpanzee Trekking Adventure Trips are fully customizable to cater to your preferences!

Close encounter with Mahale Mountains Chimps.
Close Encounter with Mahale Mountains Chimps | Photo © Joe Lewit

2. Mahale Mountains National Park – Tanzania

Mahale Mountains National Park is a breathtaking protected area in the extreme west of Tanzania and one of the last untamed areas in the world. The 636 square miles of jungle-clad park protect some of Africa’s last communities of common chimpanzees. Mahale 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.

Located along the eastern shore of Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park can only be accessed by boat due to the steep, rugged terrain surrounding the park’s western edge. The lakeshore on the west boundary is a beach of the finest white sand, and behind it rises imposing emerald mountains clad in verdant tropical vegetation. The park is home not only to chimpanzees but also to Tanzania’s densest population of primates, including red colobus, yellow baboons, blue, red-tailed, and vervet monkeys.

Mahale protects about 1000 chimpanzees living in small communities, and only one group, the Mimikire clan of more than 50 individuals, has been habituated to close human contact since 1965. Chimpanzee trekking excursions go out daily in Mahale, except on Mondays and Thursdays. Visitors should be conscious of their physical fitness before heading into the Mahale Mountains. The trek can be challenging, lasting five to six hours a day, up very steep inclines in the humid jungle.

Mahale Mountains National Park is one of the best places to see chimpanzees in the wild for intrepid adventurers looking for an entirely new wilderness experience. The park’s most exciting untamed features are 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.

Costs of tracking chimpanzees in Mahale

The guided Chimpanzee tracking fee in Mahale is $20 per person plus a park entrance fee of $80 per 24 hours. 

Where To Stay

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.

How to get to Mahale Mountains National Park

To reach Mahale, the most convenient method is to take a flight from Arusha to Katavi. The only public scheduled flight available is Safari Air Link’s service, which operates twice a week between Ruaha, Katavi, and Mahale. After arriving at Mahale Airstrip, you will need to take a 90-minute boat ride to reach the beach lodges.

Nyungwe House, Classic Rwanda Safari
One&Only Nyungwe House, the Best Place to Stay in Nyungwe National Park

3. Nyungwe National Park – Rwanda

Nyungwe National Park in southwestern Rwanda is a stretch of 394 square miles (1,020 sq km), teaming with a dazzling array of flora and fauna and an impressive spread of hiking trails. While the park is most famous for chimpanzee trekking, visitors can also meander through and feel as though they’ve wandered onto the set of Jurassic Park. The park is home to 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, with over 500 chimps living in the park. Visitors can also observe the park’s “supergroup” of several hundred black-and-white colobus monkeys, whose clever antics and aerial acrobatics will keep your camera clicking. With 13 primate species, the park has one of the highest primate diversity concentrations in the world. Visitors can see L’Hoest’s monkeys frolicking around the roads. If fortunate, the solitary owl-faced monkey may cross their 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. Visitors should be warned that the weather can be wet as it is a rainforest, and the park receives more than 2,000 mm (79 inches) of precipitation annually, providing water to approximately 70% of the country. In 2006, an exploring team claimed to find the furthest source of the Nile River in Nyungwe.

After watching the chimpanzees’ antics, visitors should 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, making it an unforgettable adventure.

Cost watching chimpanzees in Nyungwe Forest.

A chimpanzee trekking pass in Nyungwe costs $90 for foreigners. Alternatively, you can opt for the guided hike at a more affordable rate of US$40. For those looking to film the chimps, there’s a filming pass available for $600, and a day pass for chimp filming at a cost of $1000.

Where to stay in Nyungwe

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 the hilltop vacation lodge the best accommodation in Nyungwe for its price. 

For the ultimate vacation experience in Nyungwe, consider booking with Nkuringo Safaris for a two to four-night stay. They offer the best adventure options for your enjoyment.

Nyungwe Forest Chimpanzee Safari
The Canopy Walkway High Above Nyungwe Forest – A Must Do!

How to get to Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park

Nyungwe National Park is approximately 124 miles south of the country and is a 4-5 hour drive from Kigali International Airport, which is the entry point into Rwanda. Alternatively, visitors can fly into Kamembe Airport, which is a half-hour drive from the park’s western edge, and arrange for pickup with their lodge.

Most activities depart from the park’s Uwinka Reception Center, which can be reached from nearby Gisakura village using a private four-by-four car to the trailhead. Visitors can also book a chimpanzee tracking safari with Nkuringo, which typically uses a 4×4 to connect Nyungwe to the gorilla trekking destinations north of the park via the Lake Kivu shoreline stretch.

When visiting Nyungwe National Park, visitors should be prepared for the weather, which can be wet as it is a rainforest, and should bring appropriate clothing and gear. Additionally, visitors should book a tour package that includes transportation to enjoy a hassle-free experience and to make the most of their time in the park.

Gombe Stream National Park, one of the Best Places To See Chimpanzees in The Wild Africa

4. Gombe Stream National Park

Tucked away on the shores of Africa’s longest lake, Lake Tanganyika, Gombe Stream National Park is Tanzania’s most petite and loveliest destination. Made famous by Jane Goodall, Gombe is one of the two places in Tanzania where visitors can see chimpanzees in a natural habitat. However, it is also the most challenging of all chimpanzee trekking destinations in Africa.

This small gem of a park is only 2 miles (3.5 km) wide and 9 miles (15 km) long, stretching 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, visitors should not expect a Tarzan-like rainforest as it is mainly covered with thick Brachystegia woodland. There are also strips of 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.

You should be warned that to follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps, you ought to be reasonably 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, as 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.

Gombe Stream National Park – Fees and Guided Walks

In order to gain access to Gombe Stream National Park, visitors must pay a daily entry fee of US$100 per person for 24 hours. Additionally, guided walks on Lake Tanganyika are offered at a rate of US$20 per person. Visitors are required to have a guide for both activities, with the cost of the guide being an extra US$20 per day.

Please keep in mind that prices and fees may change, so it’s best to confirm the current rates before visiting Gombe Stream National Park. We also recommend booking your activities ahead of time to guarantee availability and maximize your experience in the park.

Where to stay for the chimpanzee experience in Gombe National Park

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 low-key places to see chimpanzees in the wild

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. 

Kyambura gorge chimpanzee valley in Uganda's queen elizabeth National park
Kyambura Gorge, ‘Valley of Apes’ found in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park

5. Kyambura Gorge – A Mysterious Wilderness in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

Kyambura 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, as visitors may have to cross the river by a fallen log and hike on the gorge’s steep sides, which can be a bit difficult at best. However, the effort is worth it as the valley is a mysterious, primal place, and the view alone is worth the 1.6 miles (2.5 km) drive from the Katunguru highway.

Visitors should note that the terrain in Kyambura Gorge can be challenging, and they should bring appropriate clothing and gear. Additionally, visitors should book a tour package with transportation and a guide to enjoy a hassle-free experience and make the most of their time in the gorge.

Cost of visiting chimps in Uganda’s Kyambura Gorge

You can purchase chimp permits for Kyambura Gorge locally from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) for $50 per person. However, due to limited availability, it is best to secure them in advance with Nkuringo Safaris or a registered local operator.

For visitors who do not wish to participate in the chimpanzee tracking, a viewing platform is available for free. However, visitors must have paid the park entry fee of $10 per person to access the platform.

It is important to note that fees and prices are subject to change, and visitors should confirm the current rates before planning their trip to Kyambura Gorge. Additionally, we encourage visitors to book their activities in advance to ensure availability and to make the most of their time in the gorge.

Chimp hands
Chimp palm – so much similar to human’s

6. Kaniyo Pabidi, Budongo Forest Reserve – Uganda

Kaninyo Pabidi, located in the 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, making it a convenient stop for visitors traveling to the falls.

Budongo Forest Reserve is a worthy diversion for excellent chimpanzee trekking before heading into the vast Murchison Falls National Park for the big game viewing experience. The reserve offers visitors a chance to experience the beauty of the forest and its inhabitants, including chimpanzees, in a more intimate setting.

Visitors should be aware that chimpanzee tracking in Kaninyo Pabidi requires a permit, which they can obtain from the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) or a registered local operator. Visitors should also plan to bring appropriate clothing and gear for the trek and book a tour package that includes transportation and a guide to enjoy a hassle-free experience.

The Best Way to Visit Chimps in Africa

Tracking chimpanzees in the African rainforests is an extraordinary experience, unlike any other animal encounter in Africa. These intelligent and thoughtful primates, closely related to humans, offer a unique opportunity to come face to face with a wild primate in their natural habitat.

Excursions go out in small groups every morning after a briefing at the visitor’s center. Visitors can spend from 1 hour to almost the whole day with the chimpanzees, and the quality and intimacy of each sighting can vary highly.

The trek can be easy in some destinations like Kibale Forest and challenging in others, but visitors should be relatively fit and well-equipped for this kind of forest adventure. The chances of seeing chimpanzees in Uganda’s wild are incredibly higher than in other places: over 90%.

However, you need a permit to enter the rainforest for the chimpanzee trekking experience. Good thing chimpanzee permits are less expensive than gorilla permits but can be scarce sometimes. Booking two or more chimp permits is recommended to increase the chances of a high-quality sighting. It’s advisable to book in advance, preferably three to twelve months before the peak seasons of December-January and July-September, to avoid inconveniences like failing to find quality forest lodges near chimpanzee forests.

Booking A Safari To Watch Chimpanzees

Watching chimpanzees in their natural habitat is a unique and thrilling experience, often considered to be more enjoyable than watching mountain gorillas. Chimpanzees are intelligent, active, and cheeky, and visitors can come face-to-face with these wild animals on their home turf, making it an excellent bucket-list African adventure experience.

Nkuringo Safaris offers the most rewarding adventures to see chimpanzees in the rainforests of Uganda and Rwanda. Most of our Uganda safari trips head west from Entebbe International Airport and spend a night or two with Kibale National Park’s habituated chimpanzee troops. Visitors can also experience southerly gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Our trips are tailored to the traveler’s style of travel and preferences, and our local safari experts guide visitors through the booking process, take care of the ground logistics, and manage your trip. Email us at info@nkuringosafaris.com for personalized trip planning and booking.

Tailor-made chimpanzee trekking vacation ideas.

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The Best Places To See Chimpanzees in The Wild
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