Everything to know about Kibale National Park

Get into Kibale National Park, and you will immediately sense the freshness of the dew, the fragrances of endemic flowers, and the musty scents left behind by monkey troops in the canopy. 

The sounds are also alien, from the distant echoed hoot of red colobus monkeys to the exotic chirping of endemic birds. In the distance, you may hear one of the park’s elephants plowing a path into the trees. 

All around your camp, there will be evidence of four-legged visitors, like the baboon, bushbuck, and warthog. 

Gaze up, and a single scene might capture the iconic and the unique as an olive long-tailed cuckoo will fly above a small buffalo herd.

Covering 766 sq kilometers (296 sq miles), Kibale National Park in western Uganda has an alluring landscape scenery, biodiversity, and various remarkable tourist activities. 

The evergreen protected tropical rainforest, and the nearby Ndali-Kasenda Crater region are close to being an independent traveler’s dream. Kibale Forest is mysteriously attractive to nature lovers who are attracted to its wide range of forest birds and primates species. 

The park’s scenic appeal, chimp tracking cost, and the rising number of safari accommodation choices make it one of Uganda’s top tourist destinations and a great alternative to the southern touch gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Joining Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park is Kibale Game Reserve, a wildlife corridor for animals to move between the two parks.

Wildlife in Kibale

Chimpanzee tracking, Chimpanzee trekking in kibale
chimps trekking in kibale

Kibale contains a variety of wildlife species, including 70 mammal species, 13 primates species, and 325 bird species in and under its canopy. Notable wildlife in Kibale National Park includes the remarkable common chimpanzee, baboon, red colobus, black and white colobus, L’Hoest’s, red-tailed, vervet, and blue monkeys, and the Uganda mangabey. Other exciting wildlife includes forest elephant, duiker, bushbuck, sitatunga, bushpigs, giant forest hogs, common warthogs, and African buffalo. The Kibale predator list includes leopard, serval, African golden cat, mongooses, otter, and occasionally visiting lion. 

Although Kibale offers superlative primate viewing, it is challenging to see large mammals despite an impressive checklist. Kibale’s main attraction, however, is the opportunity to track chimpanzees in their natural habitat from the Kanyanchu visitor center. 

Chimpanzee trekking is generally fruitful; guides and visitors have been following habituated chimpanzee bands through Kibale’s medium-altitude moist forest since 1994. The chimps are tolerant of human presence. 

Larger mammals, such as elephants and buffalo, rarely appear on tourist walking trails but are abundant in the forest. 

Birds in Kibale National Park

Kibale National Park has a rich birdlife with 335 recorded species, including numerous rarities and regional endemics. Four of these – Cassin’s spinetail, green-breasted pitta, masked apalis, and blue-headed bee-eater – have not been recorded elsewhere in Uganda. 

In the closed canopy forest, however, birds are heard rather than seen. Bird sightings in Kibale Forest are more reliable along the main road through the park and on the boardwalk trail through the nearby Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. 

Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, a community-run initiative, protects the Magombe Swamp from agricultural encroachment, generates funds for local development, and has provided hundreds of birdwatchers with sightings of papyrus gonoleks and other ‘swamp specials’ as well as a decent number of Congo biome birds. 

Bigodi and other local forest patches are the best places in Uganda to see the rare red colobus.

Don’t Miss These Activities 

In the shadows of the Rwenzori Mountains, stretching from Fort Portal through the Ndali-Kasekende Crator region to the protected Kibale Forest and Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, this place has a plethora of tourists activities to keep an adventurer active for more than a week.

Guided Nature Walks

The most popular activity in Kibale National Park is the guided chimpanzee tracking excursion out of the Kanyanchu visitor center. Almost as popular, is the guided walking trail through the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, which is probably better for general monkey viewing and one of the finest birding trails in the country.

There is also plenty of potential for unguided exploration in the area, along the main road through the forest and around Bigodi trading center and Kanyanchu Camp

If time is limited, it’s advisable to do the activity that most interests you in the morning — this is the best time to see chimpanzees and when birds are most active.

Guided forest walks in Kibale cost USD 30/40 Day/Night, excluding the park entrance.

Chimpanzee Trekking Adventures

A highlight of any visit to Kibale Forest is the chimpanzee trekking excursion that leaves the Kanyanchu visitor center at 08.00 and 14.00 daily.

Chimp sightings are not guaranteed on chimp treks. Still, the odds of encountering a chimpanzee troop in Kibale Forest have significantly improved in recent years and now stand at around 96%. 

The chimpanzee community, whose territory centers around Kanyanchu, is well habituated. Visitors can often approach within a few meters of them.

While in the forest, you can expect to see at least two or three other types of primates, most probably grey-cheeked mangabey and red-tailed monkeys.

You will hear plenty of birdsong, but it’s challenging to see any birds in the heart of the forest. You’re better off looking for them in the rest camp and along the road. The guides are knowledgeable and will identify various medicinal plants, bird calls, and animal spoor.

chimps grooming session on a Chimpanzee Habituation Experience in Kibale Forest
Grooming time; chimps spend a part of their day grooming each other. This you will see on a chimp habituation experience that takes the whole day following them in the rainforest.

Chimpanzee Habituation Experience

For dedicated chimp enthusiasts or aspiring researchers seeking field experience, join the full-day chimpanzee habituation experience. The intense primate adventure involves staying with the chimps all day with habituators and observing their behavior.

A one-day chimpanzee habituation experience for foreign non-residents and residents costs USD 250 per person, while East African Nationals pay UGX 250,000 per person. The cost includes guide fees and park entrance but not accommodation.