Famous for its primate life and birdlife, the forested park covers 795sqkm and is the largest tract of forest protected with in Uganda. It is located in the east of the Rwenzori Mountains in the districts of Kabalore, Kamwengye and Fort portal about 320 km from the capital- Kampala. The park is surrounded by a landscape dotted with volcanic crater lakes and carpeted with tea plantations and tropical forests.
Established in 1940’s as a forest reserve, the park got upgraded to a national park status in recognition of its biodiversity that includes 13 primate species, 9 of these being diurnal including chimpanzees which are the main attraction, L’Hoest monkey, the Red colobus, 71 mammal species and 370 bird species, butterflies and a variety of plant life. It also has other large mammals like elephants, buffaloes, Giant forest hogs but these are rarely seen.
Kibale prides its self as being Africa’s top protected Area for primates and it is tag lined “Primate Capital of the world”. Chimpanzee tracking is the real deal in the rainforest for most of the travelers. They are our closest living relatives sharing 97.8% of our genetic blue print (DNA). They are generally plant and fruit eaters but they can also consume insects, eggs and meat, however you are not advised to feed them while encountering them. The forest block offers an excellent birdlife and of its bird check list are six species that are endemic to the Albertine region like the Black-capped Apalis, Collared Apalis and Kibale Specials like the Green Breasted Pitta, African Pitta, Black-bee eater and the crowned eagle.
To do in the park
Chimpanzee tracking and Habituation experience
The perennially popular walk through the forest provides a chance to see and encounter chimpanzees in their natural home. Kanyanchu’s groups have been observed for over 25 years and visitors to the park have a 90% chance of locating chimpanzees in the forest that in any other area in the country. Travelers start from the Kanyanchu visitors centre and are led into the forest by a ranger guide and it can take about 2-6 hours and is done twice a day in the morning at 8am and 2pm. After getting to the troop, visitors are allowed one hour to take pictures and learn about their social life.
For visitors who would want to spend more time, with the chimpanzees, they can opt for the Chimpanzee habituation experience (CHEX). This involves accompanying researchers and habituators into the forest for the activity. This visit is to groups that are less used to human presence and are not tracked. This activity usually takes a whole day and less visitors are allowed to go with the researchers.
Kibale’s 370 species are forest, grassland and swamp species that include local endemics and central Africa specials and this makes it a unique birding destination. The birding experience can be combined with a visit to Bigodi/Magombe wetland sanctuary for the swamp species and this is run by the community.
Enjoy East Africa’s finest, beautiful and varied forest without pressure to locate chimpanzees or tick dozens of forest birds. This is usually ideal for the young visitors who cannot accompany elders for tracking. Also the park offers night walks that are special for the search of nocturnal wildlife like the Galagos, bush babies and pottos.
Bigodi Wetland visit
The wetland has an array of biodiversity of monkeys and over 200 birds. The wetland is managed by the local community members and is one way of making locals benefit from tourism. Visitors also visit the communities and get to learn about the traditional beer-making and crafts that are locally produced.
The main hub for Kibale forest is Kanyanchu on the Fort Portal-Ibanda road and can be reached by a surface road from Kampala or using the Mbarara-Ibanda to Fort portal road. Alternatively, one can fly to Kasese and then drive 60km to the park or Nyakisharara airstrip in Mbarara then drive 100km to the park.
Accommodation in the park
The park has various facilities that can accommodate different kinds of travelers from low budget to luxury with lodges built near the forest or near main features like crater lakes.
Some of the lodge include Primate Lodge, Kyaninga Crater lodge, Crater Safari Lodge and Papaya lodge for luxury, Kibale Forest Camp for midrange among others.