Kibale National park is located in the high plateaus of western Uganda. The park spans a whole 766 square km of pre-montane forest. It was gazetted in 1932 after being established as a logged forest reserve in 1993. The highest northern tip of the park stands at an altitude of 1,590m above sea level while its lowest point lies at 1,100m on the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley in the south. The park is nestled close to the Ndali- Kasenda crater in the shadows of the Rwenzori Mountains.
This unique location boosts the Park’ vegetation variety with about 351 different tree species already recorded in the park. Kibale National Park remains the last significant stretch of pre-montane forest. It is one of the last remaining land stretch that has both lowland and montane forest with the most dominant being moist evergreen forest.
The southern Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park adjoins with the northern part of Kibale National Park, Sebitoli, to form a 180km long wildlife corridor. This means that wildlife often moves freely within both parks. This is an important factor in boosting the diversity of wildlife in the park to include some species that would have otherwise been unattainable in the park. This corridor is the home to an entire kingdom of primates.
Kibale National park has the most fascinating and diverse tract of tropical forest in Uganda. Owing to its elevation, you can enjoy a wide range of vegetation from wet tropical forest on the fort portal plateau to woodland and savannah on the rift valley floor. The park has a confident spread of forest cover intertwined with patches of savannah grassland and soggy swamp dominating its northern and central elevated parts.
There are 13 primate species in Kibale National Park. This makes it one of the highest concentrated and diverse among parks of primates in Africa. These primates are highly concentrated in the 180 km long wildlife corridor. They include; Chimpanzees, Olive baboons, L’Hoest’s monkey, Ugandan mangabey, black and white Colobus, blue monkey, and red Colobus monkeys among others. There are several studied and habituated common Chimpanzee communities that are ideal for Chimpanzee trekking in the park.
Kibale National Park also has a wide variety of other animals like Leopards, Giant forest hogs, Elephants, bushbucks, Sitatungas, African Buffalo, Golden cats, Servals, bush pigs, Mongoose, Lions, Otter, common Warthogs, red and blue duikers among other animals.
The park has about 375 bird species and this reassures you that the birding experience Kibale National Park gives is not one to disappoint. Some of the birds you are most likely to see are; the Olive long-tailed cuckoo, western tinker bird, African pitta, Green-breasted pitta, Grey parrot, the ground thrush, Papyrus gonolek, White winged Warbler and papyrus Canary among other birds.
Kibale National Park offers many thrilling activities. While on safari here, you should try out these major activities for an experience to remember. These include; Chimpanzee tracking and habituation, game drives, hiking and nature walks. There is a great opportunity to meet the local Batooro and Bakiga communities living around the park under the cultural experience programme.
Location and how to get there:
Kibale National Park is a 766 square km stretch of pre-montane land located in Fort Portal in western Uganda. It lies on the Albertine western rift valley floor next to the Ndali – Kasenda crater in the shadows of The Rwenzori Mountains, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semuliki wildlife reserve and Semuliki National Park.
The park is 26km from Fort Portal town by road. You can approach Kibale National Park to the south by road from Kampala by Mbarara or Kamwenge road. This road is about 300km to Fort Portal and 36km to Kanyanchu river camp.
Kibale National Park is a birding pleasure portal with about 375 bird species including rare species like the Papyrus Gonolek, White winged Warbler, White collared Oliveback, and Papyrus Canary. Birds can be seen throughout the park on game drives, hiking and nature walks and sometimes even from the comfort of your lodge. The most prominent bird watching spot is the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. It has about 138 bird species.
Birding starts at 7am at Kanyanchu river camp and all the way to Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. A nature walk in this swamp along the boardwalk trail will expose you to beautiful birds like; Black Bishop, White breasted Negrofinch, Black crowned Waxbill, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, superb sunbird, white-spotted Flufftail, Brown crowned Tchagra and White-tailed Ant-thrush among other birds.
Chimpanzee tracking is the most undertaken activity in Kibale National Park. The park is one of the most densely populated parks with primates in East Africa. With 13 primate species, Chimpanzees, Olive baboons, Vervet monkeys, black and white colobus, grey cheecked mangabey and red tailed monkeys are most common. Chimpanzee trekking entails an adventurous nature walk starting off from Kanyanchu centre at 8.00am and 3.00pm.
Chimpanzees are the closest relatives to humans sharing about 98% of their DNA with humans. The life span of a Chimpanzee is 40 years with an adult male weighing about 35 – 70kg while a female weighs from 26 -50 kgs. They are highly intelligent and social animals with abilities to use rocks to crush nuts, empty pods for collecting drinking water and using sticks to pick insects off their bodies. They develop these skills to adapt to the environment and conditions of the forest.
Chimpanzees live in groups of 10 – 100 members along with their young. They baby sit each other’s young, groom each other and even hold hands. At 4 years, the chimps become independent however stay in their groups. When disturbed and upset, Chimps can become aggressive and very unsociable. These beautiful primates feed on leaves, seeds, fruits and flowers.
The process of tracking down chimpanzees in their natural habitat usually lasts from 2-3 hours. Visitors are briefed about the process and exposed to the rules and regulations before embarking on this adventure. For example, you are not allowed to eat near the chimps, provoke them or take photos with flashes of them. Also children below 12 years cannot partake in this activity and you are required to be in a perfect health condition to participate too. The visitors are accompanied by a guide who will lead you deep into the Kibaale jungle.
Once you have found the Chimps, you will be allowed to stand within 8m from them. You will spend an hour watching as the chimps feed, nurse their young, play, feed and look after their families. Your guide will also point out other primate species that you may come across on your adventure. Chimpanzee tracking should be booked for earlier before the actual trip to avoid inconveniences.
Tracking wild animals can be tough and sometimes finding them is unpredictable but with Kibale Forest you have over a 95% chance of spotting them. This makes it a number one primate safari destination in Uganda. Lunch might be packed and provided for trackers since the experience may last up to a day. Cameras with flashes are not permitted since the animals might be upset by the light.
You are advised to carry binoculars, enough drinking water and snacks since you might spend the entire day in the jungle. Long trousers and sleeves will protect your skin from scratches by plants. Hiking shoes are mandatory since the ground might get soggy and muddy. Rain coats are necessary especially during the rainy season since weather can easily change in this forest.
This is another thrilling experience similar to Chimpanzee tracking. The only difference is that this time around, you will tag along with Kibale Forest’s researchers and chimpanzee habituation personnel as they go about their daily duties. The habituation process entails training the chimps to get used to human presence without changing their natural daily routine.
This process is an essential support programme for Chimpanzee tracking since the Chimpanzees that have successfully completed the habituation process are upgraded to the Chimpanzee trekking programme. You can watch the chimps while on this adventure start off their day by leaving their nests between 5.30 am – 6.30am, observe them through the day and finally as they return to their nests at 7.00pm.
This activity is mainly undertaken by visitors during the low seasons of March, April, May and November. Chimpanzee habituation can be booked either for full or half day prior to your safari. Chimpanzee habituation permits cost USD 220 while Chimpanzee trekking permits go for as low as USD 150.
Kibale National Park is swarming with a diversity of wildlife that you are bound to enjoy while on a guided nature walk in the park. The take off point for these foot safaris is the Kanyanchu tourist centre or Sebitoli. Prior booking is essential to avoid inconveniences.
The former long distance walk follows a 2 – 6 days trail with a group of 6 people through the forest from Kanyanchu centre to Sebitoli or vice versa. You spend the day exploring the forest then retire to the campsite close to the villages of Nyaibanda, Kikoni and Nayakalongo for your rest overnight. You can get to meet the local community here and learn about the African culture. Porters are available for hire to carry luggage.
Night walk safaris are also conducted safely in the park using very bright torches. This is a great chance for you to see the nocturnal animals that you would rather have not seen during day. They take off at 7.30pm for about 1 and a half or 2 hours. Some wildlife that you might see at night includes; pottos, bush baby, nightjar, cricket, serval cats, civet and tree hyrax.
Hiking in Kibale National Park follows a forest trail of 12km and is usually undertaken in the dry seasons. This is during the months of mid- November – February, June and September. This safari gives you a better view of the assorted vegetation including riverine forest, wetland, savannah grassland and tropical rainforest found along the higher altitudes.
The hiking adventure starts at Kanyanchu visitor centre at 8.00 pm through the thick forest and winds up at the Elephant wallow at 2.00pm. There are lots of animals to see like Elephants, bushbucks, common chimpanzee, duikers, olive baboon and serval cats among other animals. Birds that are present include; great blue Turaco, Papyrus Gonolek, White – winged Warbler and papyrus canary among other birds.
The Ndali – Kasenda crater lakes lie in the Kasenda, Rweetera, Rwaihamba and Kabata areas just 30km south of Fort Portal. These crater lakes are as old as 10,000 years. They are a mixture of stable and seasonal lakes. The lakes lie in the shadows of the Majestic Rwenzori Mountains and large Kabarole’s tea estates.
The lakes provide a beautiful view of the southern Rift Valley plains and Lake George. The lakes are surrounded by beautiful vegetation cover, butterfly species and plenty of wildlife. When you visit Kibale National Park, you can adjust your safari to see the animals in this area including vervet monkeys, red tailed monkeys and blue monkeys among other animals.
Bigodi wetland sanctuary is located on Magombe swamp just outside Kibale National Park. The wetland is a wildlife sanctuary with a diversity of primates living here. These include; the black and white Colobus monkeys, olive baboons, red Colobus monkey, grey cheeked mangabey, vervet monkeys, bush baby, red tailed monkey and chimpanzees among others.
There are other animals as well in this swamp including Bushpigs, Sitatunga, Mongoose, duikers, bushbucks, Common Warthogs and Servals among other animals. This soggy swamp attracts a lot of wildlife owing to its endless supply of water.
Bigodi wetland sanctuary has an endless count of birds with 138 species already recorded. For a bird lover, this swamp is a must visit as the birding experience will leave you speechless. Most commonly sighted birds in the swamp are; Great blue Turaco, White-winged Warbler, White Oliveback, Papyrus Canary, Papyrus Gonolek and Brown-crowned Tchagra among other birds.
The wetland is of great benefit to locals living around the area. Materials like papyrus are extracted and used in weaving of baskets, mats and other products. The area around the swamp is extremely fertile and many plantations have been erected in this area. You are most likely to find farmers outside the swamp selling fruits and other food stuff.
The women in the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary community have put together a women’s group called “Bigodi Women Group”. This one is mainly a support group of about 40 members with an intention to better their lives. These women make artifacts like beads, baskets and bags among others. After these materials are sold, the women use this income to buy food, send children to school and take care of household expenses.
The cultural experience in Kibale National Park is under Kibale Association for Rural Environment Development (KAFRED). This community based organization promotes local livelihood and biodiversity conservation through eco-tourism. The cultural experience begins with a nature guided walk in Magombe swamp and further on into the communities living in this area.
The cultural tour stops at interesting points like the local primary school, the church and the village traditional healer. You will meet the Batooro and Bakiga natives who have an interesting history to tell about the Magombe swamp in their famous story of the “Village of two tribes”. The incomes generated from this project are invested in health, sanitation and to raise awareness of nature conservation through music and dance.
Where to stay:
It is a comfortable eco-friendly lodge located within Kibale National Park. The park offers 8 luxury safari tents with wooden platforms and a thatched roof. You can watch the beautiful rainforest from the comfort of your veranda; the bathrooms and toilets have a natural environmental touch of stones and bamboo.
There are 7 forest cottages with a sitting room, double beds and ensuite washrooms. The lodge also has a detached sky tree house with a bedroom and a great viewing spot of the Elephant lurch where Elephants gather at night. Primate lodge Kibale also has a well stocked bar, lounge area and cultural dancing fireplace.
This resort provides accommodations located just 20km off Fort Portal outside Kibale National Park. Nyinabulitwa country Resort has self contained cottages with both single and double beds. There is a quality restaurant on the premises and a crafts shop where you can buy artfacts that you can carry home as souvenirs.
This accommodation facility is located just 15 minutes from Kanyanchu tourism centre. It is an eco friendly lodge with self contained cottages, a tree house and family cottages all constructed using local natural material. There is a restaurant on the premises and solar lighting plus you can watch wildlife from the privacy of your room.
Kanyanchu centre is the hub of tourism in Kibale National Park. It is where most activities start in the park. From chimpanzee tracking to game drives and nature walks, almost all activities stem from this place. There is a restaurant in this centre where you can eat and also get drinks. The Kanyanchu river camp is located just within this centre.
Located just on the edge of Kibale National Park, this camp is just 3.5km from Fort Portal on the Kamwenge – Fort Portal road. The camp has about 7 safari tents with double beds and ensuite bathrooms and a toilet. You can watch some wildlife from the comfort of your veranda.
Best time to visit:
The rainy months that is March – May and September – November, the climate is usually pleasant with temperatures of up to 14 -27 degrees Celsius. Views are clearer over the horizons although some animals can move to drier grounds making it harder to locate them. Roads also sometimes become muddy and slippery making some areas almost inaccessible.
The dry months have higher temperatures, dusty and hazy horizons. However, during this time, animals collect around water sources making them easier to locate. It is recommended to carry lots of drinking water during this time.