Situated amidst the tropical waters of Lake Victoria in Uganda, Ngamba Island is a hidden gem with a compelling story. Originally an uninhabited island, Ngamba was established as a sanctuary in 1998 to provide refuge for orphaned and rescued chimpanzees, saving them from the clutches of poachers. Its selection was no accident, as the island boasts a lush expanse of near-pristine tropical rainforest, home to over 50 plant species essential for chimpanzee survival in the wild. Conveniently located less than an hour away by boat from the Entebbe peninsula, Uganda’s main international airport, Ngamba Island has emerged as one of the country’s most beloved and enriching tourist destinations.
Ngamba Island provides one of the most exceptional opportunities in Africa to witness chimpanzee behavior and interactions up close. Over 95% of the island is designated as a forested sanctuary, where a thriving community of 50 chimpanzees roams and forages freely. Adjacent to this sanctuary is the compact visitor’s center, featuring an elevated viewing platform that allows visitors to observe and photograph the chimpanzees during their twice-daily feeding times. Observing these captivating black-coated apes is an experience you’ll cherish. You’ll witness them feeding, grooming, engaging in playful antics, and occasionally embroiled in unscripted soap opera-like dramas. The genetic closeness shared between humans and chimpanzees makes their actions, mannerisms, and facial expressions strikingly familiar. While Uganda offers several opportunities to track chimpanzees in the wild, none quite match the personal and reliable experience of Ngamba Island.
Despite its relatively modest size, Ngamba Island’s jungle environment serves as a natural haven for a diverse array of wildlife. The island is home to more than 150 species of forest and water-associated birds. You can listen to the melodious duets of African fish eagles from the lakeshore trees, spot various species of weavers predominantly weaving their nests in the reed beds, and encounter the vibrantly hued African paradise-flycatchers, colorful turacos, and vociferous hornbills, among other captivating species. Patient photographers will find lakeshore hides to capture these feathered wonders. In addition to avian life, you might also have the chance to spot the robust Nile Monitor lizard and the endearing spotted-necked otter.
For travelers starting or ending their safaris in Entebbe, the city is home to Uganda’s sole international airport, and a night’s stay in the area is almost inevitable. However, nature enthusiasts and wildlife lovers may find the small yet luxurious Ngamba Eco-Lodge an immensely appealing alternative. With four cottages and 15 standing tents situated right at the water’s edge, you’ll relish a hearty outdoor dinner. As evening descends, you can look forward to a lively cultural experience filled with Ugandan music and dance around the campfire. Fall asleep to the soothing sounds of lapping water and the chorus of chirping frogs, occasionally accompanied by the resonant pant-hoot calls of the island’s resident chimpanzees.
The boat voyage from Entebbe to Ngamba Island takes you across the vast expanse of Lake Victoria, a freshwater wonder with a surface area of 60,000 square kilometers (23,200 square miles). To put this into perspective, it’s akin to the U.S. state of Georgia and twice the size of Belgium. Lake Victoria is also the primary source of the Nile River, the world’s longest river, which flows out from the northern shoreline near Jinja, an Eastern Ugandan town. Notably, the lake straddles the equator, making the short boat journey from Entebbe an actual crossing from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere. Upon arriving at the island, overnight guests can indulge in a serene sunset cruise or partake in an invigorating fishing adventure to test their skills in catching the giant Nile perch.
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary is, at its core, an animal orphanage, providing a comfortable environment, conducive social interactions, and top-notch veterinary care to its residents. It doesn’t focus on breeding chimpanzees, as adult females receive contraceptive implants to maintain normal sexual behavior while preventing reproduction. The sanctuary also doesn’t aim to reintegrate chimpanzees into the wild. However, Ngamba Island plays a crucial role in broader chimpanzee conservation. It serves as the flagship project of a conservation trust affiliated with the Jane Goodall Institute. The sanctuary sponsors a continuous census of wild chimpanzee populations throughout Uganda, runs snare-removal initiatives, and fosters educational outreach programs for local communities. By visiting Ngamba Island, tourists directly contribute to these conservation efforts and environmental education.
In partnership with Trek Africa Expeditions, we present these compelling reasons to visit Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary and can help you plan a day visit to this remarkable destination.