Set off on a once-in-a-lifetime journey into the rugged, lush rainforests and walk with the great apes of Uganda on a gorilla and chimpanzee trekking adventure. Spend a day observing the snobbish chimpanzees bands with a primatologist, and track mountain gorillas in the misty mountain jungles of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Stay in fine safari lodges, from a savannah resort at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains to a forest cabin on a ridge with spectacular views over the rugged Rift Valley and the Virunga Mountains chain. Renew your love for authentic wilderness experiences on this bucket-list summer adventure perfect for a group of friends, colleagues, or just you travelling alone.
Your entry into Uganda is probably through Entebbe International Airport, on a small peninsular by the northern Lake Victoria shores, 35 km outside Kampala city. Spend two nights here exploring introductory attractions to Uganda’s incredible adventures.
Entebbe’s has a couple of prominent tourist attractions that you can experience at the beginning of your Uganda safari. These include tracking the enormous shoebill bird in Mabamba swamps, visiting Jane Goodal’s orphaned chimpanzees on an island off the northern coast of Lake Victoria, checking out the animal collection in UWEC zoo and birding in the Botanical gardens.
If you enjoy a walking experience in a foreign city, take a walk around the markets, golf course, or the suburbian Entebbe environs.
Your introductory experience with the great apes of Uganda will be a day trip to Ngamba Chimp Island and UWEC zoo on Lake Vicotria shoreline.
From Entebbe, you’ll take a 6-hour drive westwards on a well-surfaced highway through Fort Portal town to Kibale National Park.
Check into your luxury rainforest escape enveloped in exotic rainforests, with mighty trees, quaint scenery, luxuriant greenery, and rich birdlife. Sustainability is a core value in selecting your getaway lodge because we would like your experience with Uganda’s great apes to impact the land and its natural inhabitants positively.
The full-day Chimpanzee Habituation Experience begins at about 06:00 am, just before the chimps leave their nests. It lasts until 07:00 pm, when they build their nests and settle in for the night.
Wake up at dawn for an early breakfast. You’ll carry a lunch pack, energy snacks, and a drinking water bottle (preferably in a reusable can). After a briefing at Kanyanchu Visitor Center, you’ll join the Chimpanzee Habituation team and head out to find a chimp’s nest.
When you find the chimpanzee troop, you’ll trail them the whole time, observing their antics, hunting, feeding, grooming, fornicating, struggling for dominance, and resting. The experience allows you to be close enough to recognise the chimps’ distinctive features and learn about the great apes’ group dynamics.
Wild chimpanzees are unapproachable; they will fearfully hide from humans or aggressively attack us as a considerable threat. Chimpanzee Habituation is the process by which primatologists repeatedly expose human observers to a chimpanzee troop to reduce their usually fearful response to human presence. The process can take more than two years and is archived when the chimps treat the observers as neutral elements in their environment.
During the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in Kibale Forest, you’ll be following and observing a troop that moderately understands your presence enough not to consider you a threat to their existence. However, the apes still consider your presence a foreign element in their wild environment. So, they’ll keep on moving, spending less time close to you.
The experience with wild chimpanzees can be quite physically demanding, trotting or walking to keep up with their movements; chimps are very active and boisterous apes. They’ll spend most of their busy day drumming tree trunks, jumping and hooting in the forest canopy, but will occasionally stop for a nap or break from their foraging expeditions.
The time on the ground will be some of your most treasured moments on this chimpanzee adventure journey, and it’s the best time to capture the perfect primate photography.
Whenever you feel that you’ve enough, even before nesting time, you’ll return to the lodge to nurse your exceedingly excited muscles with a hot bath and meal. You’ll spend another night (or two) at your forest lodge and continue the journey south to the gorilla highlands.
Add these to your chimpanzee experience in Kibale Forest.
Queen Elizabeth Nation Park is north of Kibale Forests, about a 2-3-hour drive on a smooth-surfaced road. Here you can catch your short flight to Bwindi or spend a night before taking the 6-7-hour drive through the rugged highlands.
The drive from Kibale Forest directly to Bwindi usually would take about 9-10 hours; it’s a tough drive for someone on holiday. So, spending a relaxed night or two at a safari camp in QENP is a recommended way to break the journey. From here, you can do a game drive to savannah plains and a boat safari on Kazinga Channel.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s premier safari park. You’re guaranteed to see a wide range of wildlife, potentially including lions, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, buffalos, elephants and occasionally, the elusive leopard. The tree-climbing lions in the remote Ishasha park sector are a fascinating highlight. Still, the incredible 116 bird species are quite an attraction for bird watchers.
Besides probing the endless savannah plains for wildlife while sitting in the back of a four-by-four safari truck, get close to the savannah game on a Kazinga Channel boat safari. The 32-km calm waterway bisects the park, creating a wildlife oasis along its shores. It’s commonly known for hosting the largest hippo population. The Kazing channel waters are a magnet for many animals, big and small. The boat trip will bring you at arm’s length to the intimidation beasts, without interrupting their wellbeing, to capture that incredible million-dollar shot.
If you are all about walking with the great apes of Uganda, then a walk with the lost chimpanzee of Kyambura Gorge will be your experience in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The ravine is a perfect tiny Eden, hiding below the plains, brimming with chimpanzees and other primates cut off from the large forest reserves.
In Kyambura Gorge, you can spend an hour observing a troop of human-habituated chimpanzees in the morning (and another in the afternoon). Kyambura Gorge is one of the top places to see chimpanzees in the wild. Nature walks in the sunken jungle are quaint, bird watching exceptional, and views exceptional.
After your adventurous walk with the great apes, immerse yourself in a golden sunset evening, chatty campfire or star-gazing at the lodge. The following morning, you will transfer to Bwindi by road (6 hrs) or by local flight and transfer (1+2 hrs).
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is one of the last mountain gorilla strongholds. The 331 sq km UNESCO World Heritage Site protects half of the endangered mountain gorillas and other globally threatened species, including chimpanzees, I’Hoest’s monkeys and African elephants.
Bwindi is a birder’s haven featuring unique birds such as Grauer’s swamp warbler, African green broadbill, Chapin’s flycatcher, Turner’s Eremomela, and Shelley’s crimson-wing. But, that all gibberish for intrepid the traveller eager to walk with the great apes of Uganda.
Your trip manager will check you into one of the best gorilla eco-resorts with forest cabins gorgeously elevated above the jungle. These lodges brag of quintessential landscapes over the rugged Rift Valley with the dramatic Virunga Volcanos backdrop.
Tuck in early for the following morning’s early wake-up call. The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Rushaga Sector (south of Bwindi) begins very early morning to find the gorillas leaving their nightly nests.
Just like wild chimpanzees, wild gorillas are unapproachable; they shy away from unfamiliar objects or aggressively attack them if threatened. Habituated gorillas allow researchers and trekkers an in-depth understanding of the endangered great apes at a comfortable distance. The gorilla habituation process takes three to five years to make the apes familiar with human presence without interrupting their wild lifestyle.
Generally, habituation implies a process where people (usually scientists and their assistants) repeatedly make non-threatening advances to gorillas until they lose their fear and ignore human presence. In other words, the people become a harmless part of the gorillas’ surroundings’.
Your gorilla habituation experience in Rushaga will be with a gorilla family that has partly undergone this process and can comfortably tolerate your presence but is not entirely welcoming. Therefore, you’ll be on your feet, walking with the mighty apes, rangers, and researchers wherever they go for at least four hours.
Ensure that your best foot forward is wrapped in a comfortable waterproof hiking shoe—the forest floor is damp, muddy, and uneven. The jungle is humid and thick; a tracker will be machete-hacking to create a path. To avoid bug-bites and pricks, wear covering clothes like a long-sleeved t-shirt, long pants, and socks to tuck in your trouser ankle-endings.
You’ll spend a better time of daylight in the jungle, walking with the apes; your day pack should carry a lunch pack, some energy snacks, and a can of drinking water to keep you hydrated.
Here’s a detailed list of items you should pack for this summer adventure
The entire Gorilla Habituation Experience could last five to eight hours, including the four hours you spend watching the wild gorilla group. The physical and social similarities humans share with the mountain gorillas are strikingly humbling. Four hours walking with the great apes will pass you by like a humid summer wind.
Fortunately, gorillas are gentle creatures, unlike their cheeky cousin chimpanzees. So you’ll spend most of your adventure experience sitting silently and watching them from 32 ft (10 m) away. The playful young ones may approach you. Their massive dad may try to show you who is boss with intimidating chest-thumps; follow the guide/researcher’s lead and be submissive. That adrenaline jolt is the thrill of authentic jungle experiences with wild apes; let it linger!.
After that gorilla experience, come back to your forest cabin for another royal treatment. Spend another night or two before heading back to the city; the views around Bwindi are worth a relaxing getaway and the executive remote lodge ambience are quite rejuvenating.
The Gorilla & Chimpanzee Habituation Adventure can last anywhere from eight (8) to twelve (12) days, or even more. Walking with the great apes of Uganda requires a calm, patient and cognitive demeanour to capture unforgettable experiences.
That means planning an unstressful itinerary with layback time in well-selected safari camps. You will need a tour manager that understands operating such a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Such is Nkuringo Safaris Ltd—a woman managed and local adventure company focusing on authentic adventure experiences and sustainable community programs around the great apes’ sanctuaries. They’ll tailor-make this journey with you and also suggest alternative routes, number of days, and activities.
You could start your journey in Entebbe, head to the high latitude gorilla trekking destination, do a walking safari across Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a game drive in QENP and end with a walk with the wild chimpanzees in Kibale Forest.
Whichever route suits your panning, the gorilla & chimpanzee habituation experience in Uganda is epic and should be on every adventure traveller’s bucket list this year.
Since it’s a tailor-made private expedition in a tropical-weather destination, you can join the adventure to walk with the great apes of Uganda all year round. However, most travellers would rather avoid the heavy rains of the wet seasons in March-May and September-November.
The best time weather for walking with wild chimpanzees and gorillas is during the two dry seasons, June-August and December-February when the routes are dry, you least expect a downpour. Nonetheless, tropical weather in the rainforest shouldn’t surprise you when it rains; carry a light rain jacket, waterproof backpack and shoes to avoid any rain surprises.
The March-May and September-November periods are when you should expect heavy rains in Uganda, especially the high altitude rainforests. Where possible, some travellers avoid a gorilla & chimpanzee trekking adventure during the wet months.
Although walking with the great apes of Uganda during the wet season offers some advantages. For example, the primates don’t roam far deep in the jungle because it’s warmer in the forest periphery. Besides, plants are greener for a vegetarian diet.
Secondly, for photographers, the air is clear of dust during the rains for perfect photography. Thirdly, the tropical weather during the wet season has some wilderness mood that compels you to gaze and appreciate nature for a favourable period. That can’t happen in the humid heat under the jungle canopy.
Lastly, the wet season is shoulder/low travel period. You can take advantage of the discounts most forest lodges offer during that time. You can reduce your trip cost by almost 35% when you travel during the shoulder months; reach out to your tour operator for more details about the low season.
The main costs for this all-inclusive off-the-beaten-path adventure are gorilla and chimpanzee permits, accommodation, meals and transfers between parks. Plus, you return flight between Entebbe and your home country. Local tour operators don’t usually deal with international flights but take care of all local logistics.
The price of the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience is $250, only slightly higher than the typical chimpanzee trekking experience of $200.
The Gorilla Habituation Permit costs $1,500, double the price of the regular gorilla trekking experience at $700.
You can reserve the permit directly with Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) or avoid the local logistics and book through a licensed operator like Nkuringo Safaris Ltd. The tour operator pays the permit fees to the government through UWA at face value (as listed) and will ask you for precisely that unless the operator charges logistical fees.
Pay for the permit as soon as you have availability; permits are very scarce in supply, which also means that you should plan for this journey months in advance.
Take an in-depth eye at major costs on this primates journey
The gorilla and chimpanzee habituation experience is crucial in financing and physically contributing to Uganda Wildlife Authority’s efforts to conserve the great apes. It takes huge funding to keep the conservation programs running, and the primates tourism revenue eases the financing burden.
It also takes human presence to habituate the great apes for scientific studies. Therefore, the researchers greatly appreciate your presence. Although there is controversy over risks associated with primate habituation and tourism, scientists consider them an effective conservation tool.
Some scholars argue that habituation enables accurate identification of animals and the close study of their behaviour. Moreover, others explain that gorilla habituation also allows easy access for veterinary interventions in case of disease outbreaks in the ape communities.
Other scientists add that habituation enhances ecotourism to generate economic value that benefits neighbouring communities while financing conservation activities and research.
Additionally, you’ll be staying in eco-lodges that have received numerous recognitions for their environmental and community sustainability involvement. For example, Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge operates mainly on solar, harvested rainwater, reusable material, home-grown foods. The lodge also supports incredible community programs centred around gorillas like Pack for A Purpose, Drip Tap and Friends of Rafiki.
On the ‘Walk With The Great Apes of Uganda’ adventure, your trusted local operator is Nkuringo Safaris. Since 2007, Nkuringo has collected enough expertise and track record to manage primate adventures in Uganda. Just who you need to pull off this bucket-list experience. They are local, meaning they put back a fat chunk of their revenue in the local communities. They have sustainable programs through their forest lodge in Bwindi to support it.
The planning process, including back-and-forth communication to customise your private journey, is entirely free of charge. And if you don’t trust the local contact, you can book through Nkuringo’s authorised agents in the UK (+44 1932 260618, firstname.lastname@example.org) and EU (+39 335 8134044, email@example.com).