Encounters with Semuliki's chimpanzees never seem real. Walking upright through the forest clearing, the rare chimps curiously inspect their primate cousins (i.e. you), creating moments of such intimacy and attachment that we've spent the next few hours lost in a daze.
The Semuliki forests are tucked against the border of Congo and are one of Uganda's lesser-visited destinations. You're far from the tourist trail and there's a thrilling exclusivity to the chimpanzee trekking experience, even during the peak-season summer months. In July we've been in a group of just two visiting a chimpanzee troop, although technically the maximum group size is six. The vast majority of chimpanzee treks occur in Kibale National Park, but we think it's well worth considering Semuliki as well.
Where to find primates in Semuliki.
Javelins of light flicker through the trees and you're initially guided by sounds, the wild primates hooting a call across the rainforest. They're often found in lighter forest or on open savannah, where you can get the extremely rare sight of chimpanzees walking upright in the wild. The similarities are captivating at all times; fingers curling around twigs, mood exhibited through frowns and smiles, eyes filled with expression. We love how the similarities are almost absolute, especially when the chimps are also walking on two legs.
How long is a chimpanzee trek?
The experience is a little more unpredictable than Kibale and walking to the habituated troop could be anything from 20 minutes to four hours. You might encounter the entire troop, which is upwards of 50 individuals. More likely it will be one of the smaller family units. Either way, the chimpanzees display an initial curiosity before going about their day; foraging, playing, shouting, a mother cradling a hairless baby to her bosom.
There's plenty of other wildlife, too.
Along the way you'll encounter a tropical cast of birds plus scattered herds of different antelope. Then after dark you can take night time game drives that seek out unusual hunters, such as white-tailed mongoose, serval, and the diminutive genet. There's plenty of wildlife to encounter on a game drive, although we find that this is an exciting extra and visits to Semuliki are predominantly about chimpanzee trekking. That first moment encountering the troop is truly unforgettable.