Kyambura gorge is an underground tropical forest found in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Gorge is 100 meters deep and about 1 km long. It is an extension of the Kyambura Game reserve, which is part of Queen Elizabeth national park. Kyambura gorge is characterized by dense tropical rain forest that are home to a large number of birds, primates and mammals like elephants and hippopotamus. The Gorge is surrounding by vast summer grasslands on all sides although human plantations and villages are not very far off.  The surrounding Savannah receives a lot of sunshine while the gorge itself is remains relatively cool because of the tall trees less direct sunlight. The River Kyambura is a key water source and flows right in the middle of the forest providing water to the plants and animals throughout the year. River Kyambura gets most of its water from the rocks surrounding the gorge and during the rainy season.

Kyambura Gorge connects to the Kazinga channel of Queen Elizabeth National Park through a vast swamp/wetland. A local legend has it that there were once heavy rains in the area that caused massive floods carrying away some people and their properties. After the rains ceased and floods subsided, the people went out to look for missing loved one and property but with no success.  Everyone came back lamenting and using the word “Kyambura” which means “got lost” or “I couldn’t find it”.  Because of the massive loss of property and disappearance of people, the place and gorge became known as Kyambura.

How was the Kyambura Gorge formed?

Scientists have come up with theories to explain the formation of this wonderful natural feature. One group believes that the gorge was formed by continuous erosion as a result of the force coming from the River Kyambura. According to this group of thought, the river down the gorge was once massive and flowed at great speed and force which left a valley after the waters reduced. A more acceptable theory attributes the formation of the gorge to the time when the East African Rift valley was formed. The East African Rift Valley was formed when compression forces caused tension on the earth’s crust that lifted some parts of the earth and created a vast valley in-between. Later on, there was secondary faulting on the very floor of the East African Rift Valley. It is this secondary faulting that created others valleys among which include the Kyambura Gorge.

Kyambura gorge is often referred to as the “Valley of Apes” due to the small community of chimpanzees and other smaller primates trapped in the forest therein. The chimp population in Kyambura Gorge is habituated and hence the only place where tourists can track the primates in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Attractions in Kyambura Gorge

Chimpanzee tracking

Chimpanzee tracking is arguably the most attractive thing to do in Kyambura Gorge. They are man’s closest relatives and are highly intelligent compared to most primates. They can walk on two legs like us and though for short distances because they prefer using all four limbs. Chimpanzees live in communities of between 30 to 80 members. Large groups are divided into smaller groups that feed separately before getting back to the group before night. They build nests on top of trees for rest in the afternoon and at night. Building the nests takes a very short time and is done by bending several tree branches together to form a comfortable chimp couch.  The most active part of the day for chimps is after getting out of their temporary nests in the morning. They start by picking up fruit randomly in the morning becoming very selective as they get fuller in the afternoon. Because of their high level of intelligence, Chimps will use stems to fight of enemies including humans. The same stems can be used to remove/lure termites out of their holes. Although chimps feed in mainly fruits, they will kill small antelopes and other primates for food. The hunt is organized in a group in which the unfortunate victim is chased, corned and eaten.

For thousands of years, the chimps in Kyambura Gorge would cross over to feed and mate other chimp communities in forests like Katsyoha- Kitoma, Maramagambo and Kalinzu through a natural and smaller forest corridor. This forest corridor was completely destroyed by humans through deforestation and setting up new settlements. The chimps became trapped in the gorge. The only path to the other forests is through the Savannah which is full predators like lions, leopards and hyenas.  The chimps had no alternative but to remain in the gorge and forge a life for themselves. Scientist fear that inbreeding could lead to mutations and slow birth rates.

Primates and other wildlife viewing

Apart from chimpanzees, Kyambura Gorge is home to baboons, Vervet Monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and Colobus monkeys. You can start seeing the primates and birds feeding down the valley from the edge of the gorge or while still on the Savannah. This view from the surrounding Savannah is a wonderful experience. In fact, instead of sloping down the gorge, visitors can simply walk around the edges of the gorge to marvel at the scenery below. If you decide to go down the valley, expect to encounter many forest creatures including hippos, antelopes and elephants.  Lions, hyenas, buffaloes, leopards and other mammals visit the gorge occasionally too.

Nature and Forest Walks

Kyambura gorge is an amazing place to explore. Many tourists concentrate on the Savannah and the wildlife while visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park. Little do they know that they are missing nature’s great wonder at work. Apart from its natural beauty, you get this feeling that you are in another world – Somewhere mysterious and intriguing. Guided nature walks can be done alongside chimpanzee tracking or separately on foot to see some of the forest creatures like large forest hogs, Colobus monkeys, re-tailed monkeys and hippos. Nature walks in Kyambura Wildlife Reserve will introduce you to a completely different world. From the hot Savannah surrounding the gorge, you are suddenly introduced to cool underground forest with beautiful tree canopies and amazing creatures. Your Guide will share information about the valley including its history, the animals and birds. The nature walks are organized in two shifts – in the morning and afternoon. Early morning nature walks start at 08:00am while the afternoon walks start at 13:00pm from the fig tree camp. Only two groups can take part in the nature walks during each session. Each group normally has 4 individuals.

Kyambura Gorge
Nature walks in Kyambura Gorge

Bird watching

Kyambura Gorge is a birders paradise. The gorge is attractive to the birds because of the tall trees and scenery. The trees are filled with fruits and insects which the birds love. Many of the birds are forest dwellers but there are also countless birds that go to the gorge purposely to feed and then retreat to their nests in the Savannah or wetlands close to Lake Albert and George. The common species include the African broad bill, Martial Eagles, falcons, African finfoot, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, African skimmers, White-tailed Lark, Bar-tailed Godwit, black headed bee-eaters, Pinkbacked Pelican, Shoebill storks, Corncrake, papyrus canary, Chapin’s Flycatcher, papyrus gonolek, Black-rumped Buttonquail, white winged warbler and flamingos.

How to Access Kyambura Gorge

The distance to the Gorge from Kampala through Mbarara town is about 420 kilometers. If using the Kampala Fort Portal route, the distance is 410 Kilometers. Driving to Queen Elizabeth National Park by road generally takes about 6 hours. To avoid the long distance by road, tourists can book a chartered flight from Entebbe international airport to the airstrip in Mweya. The flight takes about an hour. From the airstrip, a private car can be arranged to pick you up by your tour company or hotel up to the visitors Centre in Mweya. After paying for the tickets in Mweya, you will then be transferred to Kyambura Gorge. Kyambura Gorge is located 30 kilometers away from the Mweya Visitors centre. The Kyambura Gorge has its own small Visitors Center at Fig Tree camp just at the edge of the Gorge.

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