I took the photo above on my 30th birthday. I’d had a long, rough day of hitchhiking, uncomfortable buses that took way longer than they should have, and the boda ride from hell in which my driver got lost literally on the wrong side of a mountain. I arrived in the Toro Crater Lakes region just outside Fort Portal, Uganda just in time for sunset. And I was treated to spectacular views from the dining hall at Chimpanzee Forest Guest House.
Most people visit the Fort Portal area for one reason, and one reason only — chimpanzee trekking. But if you have an extra couple days, there’s tons more to do in the area.
Chimpanzee Forest Guest House is the ideal base for exploring this lush, green region of Uganda. It’s conveniently located to the chimpanzees, other hikes, and the city. And it has accommodation for both campers and lodge-stayers.
I didn’t work with the guesthouse on this post — I paid for my stay just like you would, and at no point did I tell the staff I run a travel blog. (In fact, I never accept freebies for coverage.) I just fell head-over-heels in love with my little campsite and everything about this place. I’m writing this post because I want you to have the same great experience I did.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you decide to purchase through these links, I receive a percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you, which helps me keep this site up and running.
Why you should stay at Chimpanzee Forest Guest House
In two words: Affordable luxury.
Okay, okay, luxury is all relative. This guesthouse doesn’t have an infinity pool overlooking the bush, or 5-star dining, or a hot tub where you can relax while elephants come to drink just a few feet away from you, or any of the other safari amenities that cost upwards of $1,000 a night.
But for a backpacker in Uganda, Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse is about as nice as it gets.
The first thing you notice when you arrive is the perfectly manicured grounds. The guesthouse has a botanical garden on-site, tea plantations all around, and a once-in-a-lifetime view over Lake Nyabikere. “Gorgeous” is an understatement.
The thatched-roof dining area is the perfect place to unwind and take in this view. It has comfortable, rustic seating, a full bar (with legitimately cold beverages), and a fast enough WiFi connection to stream and download.
I camped in the huge yard behind the dining area, and even that felt luxurious. I had a personal armed guard at night to protect me from the baboons and chimps that occasionally wander through. (They don’t shoot the animals, the guns are just to scare them!) I had close access to a gloriously hot, high-pressure bush shower and the cleanest restroom I saw in all of Uganda.
If you’re not camping, you have a choice of a bungalow or a room in the old tea plantation house. The bungalows looked nicer, but both seemed very comfortable. Travelers report that the beds are really good (which is rare in Uganda). All rooms have en-suite hot-water bathrooms.
While Fort Portal is a lovely town, with some fantastic eating options, let’s be honest — nobody wants to visit Uganda for the cities. It’s all about getting out into the bush.
And if “bush” is what you’re after, Chimpanzee Forest Guest House definitely delivers.
The lodge is about a kilometer away from Lake Nyabikere, in the Rweetera cluster of the Toro Crater Lakes. On one side, it’s surrounded by tea plantations — on the other, the outskirts of Kibale Forest National Park.
The whole area has a very far-flung feel once you get outside Rweetera Trading Center. If you don’t believe me, try going for an evening walk along the road and see how far you can get before an angry male baboon confronts you! (Speaking from experience…it’ll be about three minutes.)
But despite its remoteness, Chimpanzee Forest Guest House still makes a convenient base for exploring. You’re a 20-minute drive or boda ride from downtown Fort Portal. You can get to Bigodi and the chimpanzee tracking trailhead in under half an hour. You can hike or take a boda to any of the other crater lakes in the region within half an hour. And if you really wanted to, you could even use it as a base for day-hikes into the Rwenzori range.
Chimpanzee Forest Guest House offers a number of short tours with a staff guide. But don’t stop there — the crater lakes are ripe for independent exploration.
Just about everyone who stays here will go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest National Park. In dry season, you should arrange this in advance. But if you’re hoping for a last-minute permit, the lodge is directly next-door to the booking office. You can walk there in five minutes.
Better yet, combine your chimp trek with the Bigodi Swamp Walk, 5 km further down the road. This is one of the most underrated wildlife experiences in Uganda. You’re almost guaranteed to see Blue Turaco, colobus monkeys, baboons, and more.
Closer to the lodge, you have tons of options for independent hiking. The best is to the Top of the World lookout. If you want to meet locals and have unobstructed views of the lakes, take the road branching left from Rweetera and hike for about 90 minutes uphill (it’s steep!). Alternatively, take the paths leading through the tea plantations. The views from the top are nothing short of spectacular.
Another popular jaunt is the hour-long loop around Lake Nyabikere. This hike is not recommended at dawn or dusk — the lake has a resident hippo (as of August 2019). She has a baby and may be very aggressive if you catch her on land. Supposedly she walked all the way from Queen Elizabeth National Park while pregnant!
Chimpanzee Forest Guest House can provide a guide for $8-12 for any of these hikes or for a tea plantation tour. His name is Godfrey and he’s extremely knowledgeable about the local wildlife and communities. You can custom-design any itinerary you want.
The food at Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse
I can’t write about lodges in East Africa without mentioning the food. There’s nothing more magical than enjoying a candle-lit meal in an open-air dining area under the starriest skies you can imagine.
I’ve already raved a bit about the dining area at Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse. But it’s not just about the atmosphere — the food is great as well.
For breakfast, you’ll have tons of options. You can choose eggs any way you like (get the Spanish omelette), a porridge/cereal, fruit, bacon/sausage, baked beans, toast and other pastries, and more. All of it comes with a huge French press of fresh coffee, tea, or hot chocolate and a glass of fresh juice. I will dream about the watermelon juice for the rest of my life.
Lunch is a simple affair. You have a few options — usually a couple sandwiches and salads are on offer. Your meal comes with a soup and a side dish.
Dinner is the real highlight. You can choose between a vegetarian or meat three-course meal. It starts with a soup. The pumpkin soup is to-die-for, and the mixed veggie soup is the perfect chilly-evening comfort food. The main course varies every day. I tried a vegetarian lasagna, a selection of Ugandan traditional dishes, and stuffed acorn squash on my three nights there. You’ll even have a couple options for dessert — usually a fruit plate, some kind of cake, and something more chocolate-y.
The dining area also has a fully-stocked bar where you can order cold drinks and alcoholic beverages at all times. The wine selection is extensive, the beer is legitimately cold, and they even stock the coveted pineapple soda that everyone in Uganda becomes addicted to.
Like other lodges in the region, you’ll need to place your order at least a few hours in advance. If you plan to eat the day you arrive, call in advance to order.
From the moment you arrive at Chimpanzee Forest Guest House, the staff will treat you like royalty. If you’re a camper used to figuring out everything for yourself, it’ll be quite the (pleasant) culture shock!
When I arrived, a young woman named Mary greeted me. She checked me in and showed me the camping area. I was expecting her to just walk away at that point, but instead, she helped me set up my entire tent.
For the entire length of my stay, she and others seemed to anticipate my every need/want. When I mentioned off-hand that I wanted to take a boda to the chimp trekking trailhead the following day, they organized a driver who was waiting for me nearly the moment I finished breakfast — without me even having to ask!
But perhaps the most refreshing thing about the staff was they were super friendly and accessible. At many East African lodges, the staff seem quite disconnected from the guests — it’s a weird neocolonial vibe that makes me really uncomfortable. But at Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse, the staff were perfectly willing to sit around and chat or play cards with the guests. Since I was the only camper and I set up my tent near the staff tents, they even invited me to join their dance party one evening.
Prices and booking for Chimpanzee Forest Guest House
If this lodge sounds like your kind of place while you’re traveling around Uganda, I have even better news — you can stay here even if you’re on a tight budget.
I paid just $12 a night for my campsite at Chimpanzee Forest Guest House. That included breakfast every day. Dinner cost an additional $15 a night, and lunch cost $10 — but I only ate lunch on the day I arrived. If you’re a shoestringer, the Kibale Forest National Park Headquarters has a Rolex stand right outside where you can get lunch for 1,000 shillings ($0.30).
The rooms start at $85 a night for full-board service, or $65 a night for B&B only. If you’re traveling with kids, you’ll pay a small additional fee for their meals.
The lodge doesn’t work with any third-party booking sites. So the only way to book is to email them from their website. They’ll get back to you within a day or two to confirm your booking. If you’re camping, you can just show up and grab a space on the lawn.
Overall, Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse was one of my favorite places to camp in Uganda. The atmosphere was incredible, the staff was great, the food exceeded my expectations, and even with three days in the area I didn’t get to all the activities on offer. I’d go back in a heartbeat — and I hope you get the chance to experience it for yourself.
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