Kibale National Park is located in western Uganda, 26km south-east of Fort Portal town. Kanyanchu River Camp, the primary centre for tourism activities, can be reached from Kampala either from the north, via Mubende and Fort Portal, or the south through Mbarara and Kamwenge. The northern approach is shorter and quicker, with a 300km tarmac road running to Fort Portal followed by 36km on murram to Kanyanchu. Sebitoli Forest Camp, a secondary tourism centre, is even easier to reach. This stands directly on the Kampala raod, 16km before Fort Portal. Public transport runs through the day between Kampala and Fort Portal (passing Sebitoli) and Fort Portal and Kamwenge (passing Kanyanchu).
Kibale’s varied altitude supports different types of habitat, ranging from wet tropical forest (moist evergreen forest) on the Fort Portal plateau, through dry tropical forest (moist semi deciduous), to woodland and savanna on the rift valley floor.
Around Kanyanchu, in the central part of the park, the high forest contains a mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees with the evergreen species dominant. Trees rise to over 55m and exhibit a semi-closed canopy of stratified tree crowns. The undergrowth is sparse with shade tolerant herbs, shrubs, a variety of ferns and broad leaved forest grasses. 351 tree species have been recorded in the park.
The diversity and density of primates in Kibale Is the highest in Africa. The most famous of its 13 species is the chimpanzee, our closest relative, Kibale’s 1450 chimpanzee represent Uganda’s largest population of this endangered primate. Kibale is also home to the rare I’Hoest’s monkey and East Africa’s largest population of the threatened red colobus monkey. Other primates include the black and white colobus, blue monkey, grey cheeked mangabey, red tailed monkey, olive baboon, bush baby and potto.
Other mammals are present, though rarely seen. These include forest elephant, buffalo, leopard, bush pig and duiker. A keen observer may also spot reptiles and amphibians as well as a colourful variety of butterflies.
The park boasts 325 species of birds, including 6 tha are endemic to the Albertine Rift region, namely black-capped apalis, blue-headed sunbird, collared apalis, dusky crimson-wing, purple-breasted sunbird, and red-faced woodland warbler. Other Kibale species include the African pitta, green breasted pitta, black bee-eater, yellow spotted nicator, yellow rumped tinker bird, little greenbul, black-eared ground thrush, brown-chested alethe, blue-breasted kingfisher, Abyssinian gound-thrush, and the crowned eagle.
The people living around the park are mainly Batoro and Bakiga. The Batoro are indigenous to the area while the Bakiga are immigrants from the densily populated southwestern part of Uganda. The Batoro take pride in the cultural heritage of the Toro Kingdom, a scion of the ancient kingdoms of Africa’s Great Lakes region. The Omukama (King) and the kingdom embody the traditional and cultural values of the Batoro. The Bakiga immigrants still maintain their tradition and culture as expressed in their folklore, dance, and language.
The park plays an important role in the lives of the local people who enjoy a variety of benefits from the forest. The forest provides them with many traditional forest products such as wild coffee, food, fuelwood, building materials and herbal medicines.
Kanyanchu is the hub for tourism activities in the central part of the park. The main attraction is the opportunity to track chimpanzee in their rainfoprest home. A community of chimpanzee has been habituated since 1991 and the chances of locating them are very good indeed (over 90%). Note that the park is only accessible on foot; there are no motorable tracks open to tourists.
The chimpanzee Habituation Experience allows you to accompany Kibale’s researchers and habituators as they follow chimpanzee during their daily activities, thereby getting them used to human presence without altering their natural behavior. You can expect to see the chimps de-nesting (coming out of their nocturnal nests) between 05.30-06.30, before following them during the day until they create new nests and retire for the night around 19.00. the Habtuation Experience runs during tourist low season months (March, April, May and November).
The most popular of Kibale’s walks starts from the Kanyanchu Visitor Centre at 08.00 and 15.00 and lasts 2-3 hours. Chimpanzee are the primate most sought after by visitors, but you should also look out for the black and white colobus, red tailed monkey and grey cheeked mangabey. Your guides will point out sunbirds, pitas and other bird species and will explain the traditional uses of plant species within the forest. This walk is for six persons per group. Advance booking is essential during peak seasons.
The seasonal 12m hike is restricted to the dry season of the mid November-February and June-September. It explores the park’s diverse habitats including tropical rainforest, riverine forest, swamp and grassland. You will have the chance to see a wide variety of birds and primates and perhaps also duiker and bushbuck. The walk begins at 08.00 from Kanyanchu Visitor Centre and ends at the elephant wallow around 14.00. take drinks and snacks. Pre-booking is recommended.
Children of 12 years and below who are not allowed to view the chimps or go into the forest can instead enjoy educational forest walks of 1-2 hours duration followed by creative activities. Parents can enjoy their walks in the knowledge that their children are occupied in a worthwhile activity with trained ranger guides. The children visit the forest and learn about the ecosystem and its inhabitants through short interesting walks. Games and creative activities include pond dipping, cyanotype, photography and batik making.
Sebitoli is located 12km from Fort Portal town on the Kampala-Fort Portal road. This part of the forest offers excellent bird and primate viewing in moist evergreen forest with a semi-closed canopy of stratifield tree crowns.
(former Lond Distance Walk)
The adventurous visitor can follow a 2-6 days trail through the forest. The full walk starts or finishes at either Kanyanchu or Sebitoli. The route explores the forest during the day, emerging in the evening to sleep in community-run campsites near the villages of Kikoni, Nyaibanda and Nyakalongo. These provide the opportunity to meet local people and gain insights into their Batoro and Bakiga cultures. Porters can be hired at the trailheads to carry equipment. Groups of up to 6 people can undertake the walk. Pre-booking is essential.
Bigodi Wetland Sactuary is situated just outside the park in Magombe Swamp. This is known for a wide range of wildlife that includes primates, such as chimpanzee, red colobus, black and white colobus, red tailed monkey and other mammals such as sitatunga, bushbuck, otter and mongoose. The wetland is also home to 138 bird species. These can be seen during guided walks from viewing platforms and a boardwalk trail.
The sanctuary is a community-run initiative aimed at conserving the unique biodiversity and environmental values of the wetland. Enquires about the sactuary at the Kanyanchu Visitor Information Centre or at the UWA HQ in Kampala
Guided walks, similar to those at Magombe, are conducted in the Kihingani Wetland, just outside the national park near Sebitoli.
For your safety and the protection of Kibale’s chimpanzees, please observe the following points:
Please remember that Kibale is not a zoo but a natural tropical rainforest. Sightings of chimpanzee and other primates depend on several factors, such as time of the day, fruit available, weather, and how quit your group is.
Carry warm clothing and rain gear as the mornings and evenings can be cold and wet, especially during the peak rainy seasons. Wear enclosed shoes and remember to bring a camera, binoculars, wildlife guidebooks, hat, and mosquito/insect repellant.
Kibale primate Lodge provides a choice of accommodation at Kanyanchu including stone cottages, tree houses and an upmarket tented camp. Simple cottages are found at Sebitoli. Both sites provide campsite and canteens that provide basic meals to order.
Basic and mid range accommodation is available in the nearby villages and Bigodi and Nkingo while a wider choice is to be found in the Ndali Crater Area. This ranges from the upmarket Ndali Lodge to good budget options at Chimpanzee Guesthouse and Lake Nkuruba. Accommodation can also be found in Fort Portal town.
The 795km2 Kibale National Park contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. This is home to a host of forest wildlife, most famously 13 species of primate including chimpanzee. Forest cover predominates in the northern and central parts of the park on the elevated Fort Portal plateau. Kibale is the highest at the park’s northern tip which stands 1590m above sea level. Northern Kibale is also the wettest area, receiving a mean annual rainfall of up to 1700mm, mostly during March-May and September-November. The climate is generally pleasant with a mean annual temperature range of 14-27oC. Temperatures are highest (and rainfall lower) in the south where the terrain drops down onto the hot rift valley floor and forest gives way to open grassland.
Southern Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park and together these protected area maintain a 180km-long migration corridor for wildlife which extends from Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP, to the Sebitoli forest in the north of Kibale.
The Kibale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding areas to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crate area and within a half day’s drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks and the Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.