Kibale Forest National Park

Comprised of what are widely considered Uganda’s most pristine tropical rainforests; Kibale Forest National Park covers an area of 795 kilometres and is located between 1,100 metres (3,600 ft.) to 1,600 metres (5,200 ft.) in elevation. Despite encompassing primarily moist evergreen forest, it contains a diverse array of landscape. Kibale is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests. In eastern Africa, it sustains the last significant expanse of pre-montane forest.

Kibale national park is located in southwestern Uganda in Kabarole district a land blessed with a strong cultural heritage. This tropical rainforest harbours quite a number of wildlife species that have attracted many tourists to come into Uganda. The national park holds about 1500 chimpanzees that share about 90% of their DNA with human beings. Kibale national park animals include mammals, primates, birds and reptiles. The park is a unique eco-community with a range of animal species, birds and insects. The park connects to Queen Elizabeth National park to the south creating a 180km long corridor for different wildlife extending from Ishasha sector, which is a remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth national park, and to Sebitoli in the north of Kibale national park.

Kibale Forest National Park is commonly known for being a vast primate empire with over 1500 chimpanzees some of which are habituated and ready for some interaction. Beside the chimpanzees, the park is a home of 12 more species some of which are greatly endangered and endemic to the park, some of them include the rare L’Hoest’s monkeys, red colobus monkeys, the black & white colobus, red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys, olive baboons, grey cheeked mangabeys, bush babies, potto among others. There is an 85% chance for one to see the L’Hoest’s monkey during their hike through Kibale national park. It is in Kibale where one has a chance to see the night primates also known as the nocturnal primates such as the pottos, Demidov’s dwarf galago among others.

Kibale forest is among the major birding destinations in Uganda for bird watching activities with over 375 bird species including 6 endemics Albertine species. The dense vegetation act as habitat to a number of birds at the same time providing ample food to the birds hence attracting their bleeding eco systems. Bird watching tours and safaris normally happen in morning and evening hours for the case of nocturnal birds. Expect to see unique bird species such as Green breasted Pitta, Red-chested owlet, Crowned Eagle, little Greenbuls, Black Bee eater, White-naped pigeon, Purple breasted sunbird, African Grey Parrot, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Western bronze-napped Pigeon, Scaly-breasted Illadopsis, Nahan’s Francolin, Yellow-throated Nicator, Yellow-spotted barbet , White-headed Wood-hoopoe, Red Headed malimbe , Dusky-blue Flycatcher etc.

The park is also a home to over 60 mammal species such as leopards, Duikers, forest Buffaloes, forest Elephants, Golden cats, Warthogs, and Bush Pigs. Largely, animals found in Kibale forest national park are shy and more aggressive due to the nature of the vegetation and rare human-wildlife encounter if compared to animals in the most savannah parks of Uganda. On a lucky day, visitors may spot footprints of Elephants, Buffaloes or Bush Pigs and it is rare to physically meet them because they are shy and tend to run far away once they detect activity in the forest.

The park is a perfect habitat to over 250 species of butterflies, several reptiles and amphibians. Visitors must be keen to spot reptiles and amphibians but butterflies can easily sighted due to their high numbers.

What to do in Kibale Forest National Park

Activities in Kibale National park are the different ventures in which visitors engage in while on their safari in the park. The activities make the safari memorable, interesting and exciting. Below are the activities one can engage in on their visit to the park.

 

Chimpanzee Trekking and Habituation

Chimpanzee trekking is the park’s main activity; it involves trekking down of chimpanzees in their natural habitat that is amidst the forest in their habituated form. Chimpanzees in Kibale national park are habituated which means a process of getting the primates comfortable with human presence making them less rebellious to humans and their presence. Chimpanzees are close relatives to human beings sharing up to 98% of DNA composition, which makes them variable to human diseases.

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale National Park starts at 7am with a briefing at Kanyachu briefing point. The rangers talk about the background of the forest, chimpanzees in general as well as the important aspects of the activity like how long the activity takes, what to expect and how to act around the primates among others. After the briefing, you will be put in small groups of six people and they allocate you a ranger guide and then start your walk. The ranger is always armed with a rifle for your safety while in the forest because there are wild Chimpanzees which are not used to people and other animals like elephants and much more. Once you spot the chimpanzees, you are allowed to spend some time (at most an hour) with our mesmerizing relatives.

During the trekking, expect a lot of drama and activity. You will watch them look for food, breastfeed, groom each other, mate, and swing from one tree to another, play about or progress speedily on the ground right in front of you. You may even witness fights between members of the group or larger males. Some are quiet; others are shy while some love bullying others. Always follow the lead of the Guide because they know each chimp by behaviour and character. They will advise you on which individuals to go close to and those to stay clear of. Chimpanzee trekking can leave you with a strained neck because the primates love staying on top of the trees. You need to be aware of falling fruit, urine and even poop.

The chimp trekking in Kibale has two sessions that is the morning session that begins at 7:00am and the second session that begins at midday. Chimp trekking is not as hard as it might look in Kibale because the chimps can easily be seen up the trees eating fruits and for as long as you follow the rule and regulations that are given to you.

 

Chimpanzee Habituation. Chimpanzee Habituation involves spending the whole day (From dawn to nightfall) with less habituated chimp group as part of the process of getting wild chimpanzee troops ready for the presence of tourists.

The chimp habituation experience is more intense and takes a full day, nest to nest, from when the chimps get up in the morning and leave their nest to when they make their nest again for the night. As the communities you track are wilder, you cannot get as close, the chimps are more skittish, and sighting chances are lower. It is a long day, too – some people bail out in the afternoon. It is ideal for primate nuts, but if you want to see chimps, choose to track them for a morning or afternoon.

The chimpanzee habituation requires a researcher, trackers and a guide, during the process visitors will be to see chimps’ play, feeding, breastfeeding their young ones, hunting and making their beds for the day among others giving visitors a memorable experience as they spend a whole day with the chimpanzees. The activity starts in the morning with a briefing at Kanyachu at 6am.

During the activity look out for other primates such as the red colobus monkeys, L’Hoest’s monkeys, blue monkeys, baboons among others.

For both the activities, visitors are advised to have an early breakfast and carry packed lunch since they are full day activities. Visitors are also advised to book permits in advance.

 

Hiking and Nature Walks

These are guided walks through Kibale where one can get to feel the presence of natural air and learn about different flora and fauna species. Hiking and nature walks in Kibale park all start from either Kanyanchu or Sebitoli taking travelers to villages surrounding the forest like Nyakalongo, Kikoni and Nyaibanda, have a chance to interact with cultures and locals such as the Bakiga and Batooro who are from the Runyakitara speaking tribes in Uganda.

The park offers extended hikes that see the travelers walk through the entire park length. Usually these safaris take about 2-6 days though the park offers also shorter length nature walks and hiking safaris like the half-day and the one-day nature walk safari. Only six people are allowed per walk and therefore advance booking is highly advised.

There are also night walks and these can be organised for travelers who want to view nocturnal animals’ species such as the potto, bush baby, nightjar, crickets as well as the thrilling hyrax and the civet. During the night encounter, one can be rewarded with views of chimpanzees up in the trees. Night walks start around 7:30pm and last between one and a half to two hours with travelers equipped with powerful torches and with an armed guide.

Nature walks involve understanding and learning of ecosystems, encompasses games and creative activities too. The ranger guide takes visitors through the walk in the tropical rainforest that harbours’ primates and good vegetation. Look out for wildlife species such as mammals, Red-Colobus Monkeys and Mangabey, birds and many more primates, have an insight into the lives of the local community in terms of their ways of life, traditions and norms, dress code and many other aspects about the culture of the locals. It also involves performing cultural dances as well as seeing the local arts and crafts.

 

Visit the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary

Beyond the chimpanzees, there is also a visit to the Bigodi wetland sanctuary a must visit for everyone on a safari in Uganda because of its richness in biodiversity and scenic beauty. Located in the south of Kanyanchu the main centre of Kibale Park, the sanctuary is a true birder’s paradise with about 138 bird species & commonly known as the home of the Great Blue Turaco. Other bird species include the papyrus Gonolek, Kingfisher, Waxbills, Cuckoos, Hornbills and weavers among others. The bird watching tours done in this area are done with a guide who knowns a lot about the bird species and their characteristics.

The wetland also has variety of mammals such as bushbucks, otters, Mongooses, semi aquatic sitatunga antelopes as well as primates including the black-and-white colobus; grey-cheeked Mangabey, red-tailed, L’Hoest’s, blue monkeys and olive baboons among others, sometimes for lucky ones, they will get a chance to sight the chimpanzees.

The vegetation in the Bigodi sanctuary swamp is also a key attraction for the plant lovers. Some travelers also come to this jungle swamp to study the different plant types that the swamp holds such as the common papyrus, polita fig trees and the wild palms.

The swamp offers guided nature walks which are under accompany of a trained Sanctuary guide, they offer the perfect opportunity to view the wildlife from the forest pathways, boardwalks and atop a tree house tucked high in the canopy. Besides the guided nature walks, the bigodi wetland also offers cultural encounters. Explore the atmospheric village of Bigodi accompanied by a professional English-speaking guide. The walk takes to 3 to 4 hours depending on the pace of the group, pay a visit to a traditional healer who happily shares his knowledge about spirits, herbs, plants and local medicines, visit the homes of elderly men and women who tell interesting stories about birth, marriage, ceremonies, clans and their traditional life. Learn more about the history and issues that they face as a developing community of rural Uganda. Along the way, you will also be given the chance to experience the Ugandan school system, visit a local church and Bigodi’s trading centre, a hub of rural life and activity. Travelers are also led to surrounding communities to support the locals by buying artistic souvenirs crafted from materials got from the conserved swamp such as bags, beads, mats and baskets among others.

The wetland project levies a charge on travelers who visit the jungle swamp and these funds are used to develop the community by building schools, water projects, health centres as well as developing the welfare of the communities. Tours to Bigodi wetland sanctuary are done in two shifts; the morning shift starts as early as 7:30am and the afternoon shift, which starts at 3pm.

 

Birding

Kibale forest is a prime birding spot and is home to over 375 bird species including six endemic to the Albertine Rift area. Some of the rare bird species include the Prigogine’s ground thrush, Masked Apalis, blue-headed bee-eater, Nahan’s Francolin, Cassin’s Spine tail and the green-breasted pitta. Kibale forest national park has been labelled as a birders paradise with 375 bird species and more 138-bird species thriving in the adjacent Bigodi wetland Sanctuary located just outside the park. The birds may be seen during guided walks along the boardwalk trail and viewing platforms. These could include the White-spotted Fluff tail, Yellow-spotted Barbet, Hairy-breasted Barbet, Yellow-billed Barbet, Western Nicator, Grey-winged Robin-chat, White-tailed Ant-thrush, Brown-backed Scrub-robin, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, Brown-throated Wattle-eye, Superb Sunbird, Brown-crowned Tchagra, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, Black Bishop, White-breasted Negrofinch and Black-crowned Waxbill among others.

Bird watching trips within the park begin at 7am at Kanyanchu and visitors are recommended to book these birding tours in advance. Uncommon species to look out for within this park are the Papyrus Canary, Papyrus Gonolek, White-collared Olive back as well as the White-winged Warble. Other bird species which can be spotted in Kibale national park and these include black bee-eater, crowned eagle, black bishop, yellow billed barbet, red faced woodland, little greenbuls, purple-breasted sunbird, western nector, Ruwenzori apalis, Nahan’s francolin, African grey parrot, brown wattle-eye, red-faced woodland among others.

Bird watching in Kibale national park can be done throughout the year though the months of March to May and from September to November are ideal. November and April present a rich ground for encountering migratory birds.

 

Visit to the crater lakes

Besides the chimpanzees in Kibale National park, crater lakes are one of the best attractive natural attractions that offer scenic views and natural experiences on your visit to Uganda, these features spice up one’s safaris as one gets a chance to hike these amazing craters.  Crater lakes in Kibale Forest National Park are positioned in the Ndali Kasenda crater area in Kaborle district in southwestern Uganda 350km from the capital of Uganda.

Ndali Kasenda craters can be traced to the ages of both Kibale and Queen Elizabeth National Park in western Uganda and above all, the area where the crater lakes originated are elevated above the sea level are called the top of the world trail because they permanently sit in between Kibale national park and Kamwenge road. These were formed many years ago about 10000 years ago before history, the violent volcanicity involved strong volcanic eruption which blew off the surface, pouring back the lava, ash, and debris around the depression creating an explosion crater bounded by a realm of ash and lava. The depressions were later filled with rainwater to create lakes like Lake Katwe, which is the most famous in Queen Elizabeth National Park and others stayed as just depressions.

Ndali- Kasenda Crater Lake harbours fertile soils that are used for farming and agriculture by the local people surrounding the water bodies to grow Arabic coffee. Some of the crater lakes in Kibale National Park have clear and clean water good for swimming, while others have sulphuric water, green in colour due to the continuity of the volcanic activity below the lake. Some of the crater lakes in Kibale national Park include the following

Lake Nyabikere – also known as the lake of frogs, it is the closet lake to fort portal town located just 11 Km off Fort Portal main road, to Kibale Forest National Park where travelers can also enjoy community visits as they take guided community walks. Lake Nyabikere is one of the crater lakes that overlook the Rwenzori Mountain ranges (mountains of the moon) with its clear snow views being a captivating insight to the eyesight.

Lake Nyinambuga lies south of Lake Nkuruba and features the most spectacular water bodies surrounded by forests with amazing scenic views of the area. The forest harbours a number of primates such as the baboons, monkeys as well as birds among others. Lake Nyinambuga has the most specular water bodies, which are blue and green in colour surrounded by forests, which give stunning views of nature.

Lake Nkuruba which is situated 25 Km south of Fort Portal, the lake is one of the ancient and most spectular craters in the Kibale crater region. It is extremely rich in bio diversity and supports a variety of wildlife species primates like vervet monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, red colobus, black & white colobus monkeys and a vast amount of birds such as the great blue turaco among others. Lake Nkuruba has a nature reserve that acts as a community conservation project; it also provides a ground for camping, which is surrounded by beautiful views for visitors to relax while on the safari.

Lake Kifuruka, which is located west of Lake Nyinambuga. The surrounding is full tranquillity with beautiful scenic views of the forest and the undulating terrain. Lake Kifuruka has a lot to offer such as bird watching, walking tours, canoeing, and fishing among others.

Lake Lyantonde is situated west of Lake Nyinambuga and is convenient for travelers who wish to explore the Kibale-Ndali-Kasenda Crater Lake alongside chimpanzee trekking adventure in Kibale Forest National Park. Lake Lyantonde is also perfect for hiking.

 

Visit to Amabere Ga Nina Mwuri

Amabere Ga Nyina Mwuri caves, a cultural site for the Batooro community located near Fort Portal in western Uganda. The local people of the area (Batooro) attach significance to the rocks. This belief is of a story that teaches the young to respect what elders instruct them to do; it is about a king named Bukuku who used to rule over the Batembuzi Dynasty. The rocks were named after the daughter of King Bukuku Nyina Mwuri who refused to marry the spouse who the father had chosen for her. This kind of disobedience infuriated the king and he ordered for her breasts be cut off. This was done so that she would never get married to any other man that she would choose for herself.

The caves are made up of stalactites and stalagmites, which are natural features, made up of calcium carbonate and they drip from the top of the cave where they hang forming the stalagmites, which rise from the floor. Amabere Ga Nyina Mwuri caves is hidden within a small forest; the steaming sound of waterfalls welcomes you at the entrance, which give a magnificent scenery. One will need to pass under the falls to be able to access the dark caves where the key features are found.

Inside the cave, there are breast like features, hang on the roof of the cave with whitish milk like substance tickling out, these were created because of a chemical reaction between water and salt. The basement is dotted with water drops splashing as if it is drizzling in there. This is an amazing place to visit for those who love nature, the entrance to the cave is low and narrow, requires some stopping though the inside is big enough and one can walk upright. There is also a waterfall, the locals call it a natural Shower and it is there that the Bachwezi used to go to take showers. In addition, visitors are allowed to take a shower from there if they wish to.

The surrounding environment of this area has other amazing features. This place has stunning green hills known as Nyakasura hills where you will hike to view the 3 crater lakes and villages and towns around. Also travel to a well-known site with a large footprint believed to have belonged to one of the ancient Batembuzi.

WhEN TO VISIT Kibale Forest National Park

Kibale Forest national Park is open all throughout the year though the best time to visit the park is during the dry season. The dry season is experienced in December through January to February and then from June to July. The dry season is the best time to visit Kibale national park, the park trails are dry and passable making chimpanzee trekking thrilling and easier to do. It also makes it easy to see the different primates playing in the trees. The dry season is also best for other activities such as hiking/ nature walks, Crater Lake visit among others.

June through September is the actual peak season in Kibale national park, the park receives many visitors mainly coming for primate trekking.

The wet season in Kibale is during the month of April to May and from October to November.  There is much rain in the months of May and November; this is the worst time to visit the park, as the forest trails are impassable and very slippery. It is also refered to as the low season as the number of visitors is low.

However, the wet season in Kibale National park is the best season for birding in the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. During November, there are high chances of spotting the migratory birds in the park, the season is also best for chimpanzee habituation research as well as chimpanzee habituation process since the park has less visitors.

HOW TO GET To Kibale Forest National Park

There are several ways on how to access the park, which are by road transportation and by air transportation.

By air transportation: The park is served by three airfields. One can book a daily flight from Entebbe International Airport to kasese airfield, which is 75km from fort Portal town, another in Mbarara called Nyakisharara, which is about 98km from Kanyanchu and lastly the Tororo Semuliki wildlife Reserve that is 86km from the hub of the park at Kanyanchu.

Road transport to Kibale Forest National Park: There are two roads that visitors can use from Kampala to Kibale Forest National park and with these routes: so many features can be explored at different stopovers.

Kampala- Mubende- Kyegegwa-Kyenjojo: It is the shortest route to Kibale Forest National Park with 300km and can take you 4-5 hours to reach fort portal city from where you drive 37km to Kanyancu Information Centre. Using this route makes you have a stopover at Mubende Town Council, for eats and drinks as you see people roasting meat, the tea gardens in fort portal, and a beautiful view of Mountain Ruwenzori.

Kampala- Masaka- Mbarara- Bushenyi- Kasese-Kibale Forest National Park: This is the longest route with 630km, with a stopover at the equator and in Kasese, River Katonga in Masaka, Lake Mburo National Park where you get to see zebras, Uganda kob, giraffes and you can also have a stopover at Igongo cultural center where you see the history of Ankole kingdom. When you reach Katunguru, you branch off to Ishasha sector in the southern section of the park to see tree-climbing lions and drive 2 hours to the northern part of Kibale Forest National Park.

From Queen Elizabeth National Park to Kibale, forest is about 142kilometers.The journey that takes 3hours drive by road.

From Semuliki Wildlife Reserve to Kibale Forest Park covers a distance of about 67kilometers and a drive of 1hour and 20 minutes.