Kibale national park is located in western Uganda, 36km from the tranquil Fort Portal town. The park sits on a total area of about 560 sq. kilometers. Kibale is among the most beautiful tropical rainforests not only in east Africa but world over.
The park was established in 1995 with the main intention of protecting the virgin forest and her inhabitants, the chimpanzees and other numerous primates which this rainforest was known for. The park is primarily famous for the awesome experiences like chimp tracking, primate watching, Crater Lake viewing, and bird watching among other. Any safari in Uganda without visiting Kibale forest national is definitely incomplete.
Kibale forest, also dubbed “the world’s primate capital” is home to 13 different primate species that make it so unique and a magical place to be. Due to the different altitude of the park, vegetation changes according to the altitude ranging from evergreen rainforests, arid tropical forest, and savannah to woodland vegetation hence supporting diverse population of fauna and flora species.
Through the Ndali-Kasenda corridor, where Kibale connects with Queen Elizabeth National park in the south allows free movement of animals and a great place to view migrating species during dry seasons.
The main tourist activity in this park is the chimpanzee tracking. Tracking the endangered chimps is only done in group of 4 to 6 people escorted by a guide. Visitors are only allowed to interact with the chimps for an hour and have to be briefed with rules and guidelines prior to embarking on the chimp tracking experience.
Kibale forest national park has a total of about 1450 chimpanzee making it a real wildlife sanctuary with largest number of primates recorded elsewhere in East Africa.
Besides the endangered chimps, other common primate species include; the olive monkeys, grey checked mangabeys, red-tailed monkeys, baboons, black and white colobus, and blue monkeys among others. Other big mammals that inhabit the park include; elephants, buffaloes, leopards, bush pigs, Duikers, warthogs, hippos to mention but a few.
Visitors can also encounter some of the beautiful butterfly species and amphibians that inhabit the interior of the forest.
Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale
Kibale forest opens its doors for a sensational chimpanzee tracking experience. Take delight in a guided chimpanzee walk within this lush tropical rainforest, in search of man’s closest cousins, the chimpanzees. Along the way, you come across a myriad of plant and animal species, which the ranger shall endeavor to explain; these include primates such as the Red-Colobus Monkeys and Mangabeys, olive baboons, profusion of birds, forest mammals and much more.
Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
Bigodi sanctuary is a community based tourism project and an excellent example of a successful natural resource fully managed by local community. It was established and still managed by the Kibale Association for Rural and Environment Development (KAFRED). The organization is mainly mandated with a task of ensuring that local communities benefit from tourism through conservation.
Bigodi is located 6 kilometers away from Kanyanchu visitor’s information Centre. Bigodi wetland is a 4 square kilometer swamp and a famous paradise for over 200 species of birds such as a papyrus Gonolek, white winged warbler and the famous Great Blue Turaco; this provides a comfortable environment for special visitors who travel mainly to participate in special activities that are both eco – friendly and fun, such as birding tours, butterfly watching, wildlife viewing, nature walks as well as community encounters.
Birding in Kibale
When it comes to bird watching, Kibale is the true paradise that any birder undertaking a Uganda safaris must not miss. With approximately 325 bird species that have been documented, Kibale is a place to go for avid birders. Common bird species in Kibale forest include; black-bee eaters, the little greenbul, crowned eagle, Africa pitta, yellow spotted Nicator, black-eared ground thrush, woodland warbler, Great blue Turaco and the tiny sun birds and so much more.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
Besides the usual chimp trekking experience, Kibale forest offers another unforgettable experience that allows visitors to be with the chimps for an entire day. In the morning trekkers accompany forest researchers and rangers to embark to what is known as chimp habituation experience. Chimpanzee habituation is a scientific undertaking that is aimed at making wild chimps get used to human presence without altering their natural habitat.
During this chimpanzee habituation tour, expect to encounter the chimps de-nesting (in their nocturnal nests) between 05:00am and 06:30am. Follow them the entire day until they build new nests at night, around 7:00pm. Get to learn in details the chimps’ behaviors, lifestyle, daily routine, family compositions, etc.
Exploration of Crater Lakes & Tea Estates Visit
Kibale forest – Fort portal road is marked with undulating fields of Tea plantations. Coined among the conical hills of Kabarole here you have a chance to do tea cycling, scenic viewing, join the estate workers in planting, caring and harvesting tea on a typical day. Visit the tea factory where you will witness the process of transforming the tea leaves to black (made) tea and have a taste of the final product! Alternatively, hike along the scenic Lake Nkuruba or visit the hidden Mahoma Falls while you meet local people, visit the villages, encounter primates and numerous birds.
When to visit Kibale
Visitors who are interested in primate walks, forest exploration, etc. in Kibale forest national park should consider dry seasons as the best seasons. These include June to late September / early October, Mid-December to February and also chimpanzee expeditions are best during these same months. However the park is open to visitors throughout the year though some of the trails will be difficult to navigate during rainy seasons.
How to access Kibale Forest
Kibale forest national park can be accessed both by road and air. The Kampala-Mubende-For portal route is the shortest and most preferred. It takes only 5 hours’ drive to reach Kibale forest. The alternative route is Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara highway. Though this is relatively scenic and associated with numerous attractions to be encountered on the way, it is quite long taking between 6-7 hours’ drive.
Kibale National Park is served by up to three Airstrips; namely Nyakisharara Airstrip in Mbarara (about 98km via Kamwenge to Kanyanchu park headquarters). Kasese air strip is about 180km away via Fort Portal town. Kibale forest can also be accessed from the airstrip in Tooro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve only 86Km from the park headquarters.