Gen from our team is off on the ultimate Uganda safari holiday expedition. Here we will share her day by day adventures as we get updates so you can follow her travels.
There will be mountains, jungles, gorillas, chimpanzees, predators, walking, boating and game driving.
To see Gen’s Uganda safari holiday itinerary, click the button below or click to enquire today if you’re ready to get the ball rolling.
DAY ONE: Entebbe arrival
I’ve arrived finally after more than 30 hours of travel and wow Uganda is lush, green with incredible bird life. Entebbe was an easy airport to arrive into and the visa process is effortless, just a spot of patience required.
After warm introductions with my guide we visited head office to meet team, inspect the workshop and have a look at the fleet of safari vehicles (mainly Toyota Landcruisers and Nissan Patrols) plus a new one in development which was fascinating: 8 lumber support seats, 6 wheels, this suspension 4WD vehicle will absorb the bumps and make for a more comfortable ride. Vehicles are detailed after every safari to ensure perfect safety and comfort for our guests.
From here we inspected Protea Hotel Lake Victoria, pictured left. Minutes away from Entebbe Airport and right on the shores of the Lake with friendly staff, wonderful rooms and good facilities. Main area is a little dated and dark, otherwise it’s a good option for those seeking an overnight stay closeby to the airport. The executive room is brilliant for families with large balcony overlooking the lake, two adults and two children in a king bed and two rollaways. The pool area is beautiful and a gym is in construction beyond the pool, due to finish August 2018.
Now I’m sitting here at Karibu Guest House – intimate, warm and friendly with beautiful gardens attracting variety of birdlife. The rooms are simple yet comfortable so perfect for those on a budget and looking for a smaller boutique experience. Rooms are named by colour and each room is co-ordinated with matching towels, bedspreads and decor to its colour name. Guests are either accommodated in one of the 4 rooms in the main house or 3 rooms in cottages within the gardens. I do recommend the cottage rooms as they are a little quieter, offering an added element of privacy and are slightly roomier with larger stone bathrooms. Dinner is 4 courses at USD20 and was divine, I chose the mouth watering fillet steak with sensational peppercorn sauce with Claire’s home made pineapple wine which is also worth a try.
DAY TWO: Murchison Falls
Today I’m on a journey to Bakers Lodge, Murchison Falls.
There was a great deal of driving, 8 hours from Entebbe to Murchison Falls and all on fantastic bitumen sealed roads. Normally our guests travel on the northern highway bypassing Kampala. We chose the long way through Kampala to have a look around. The detour took an additional two hours or so due to heavy congested traffic – well worth to see the hustle and bustle of everyday Kampala city life.
Kampala is our guide Habib’s home. With a population of 3 million, it has been promoted to ‘district’ status and now known as 12 hills instead of 7 hills that’s how much it has developed in a decade.
From Kampala, you follow route 170 through farmland and villages. Lunch stop was Nakasongola where they served up traditional and western foods. From here it was to Masindi for a refuel and onwards to the Falls, arriving at 16h00. No hesitation from me to head straight to the top of the Falls.. and what a view. Along the way we saw baboons, ground hornbills and guinea fowl.
Bakers Lodge is lovely and I’m going to fall asleep to hippo outside my room. I’m in 4, apparently between room 3 and 2 is the hippo highway.
Murchison Falls Fun Fact
The pillar you see standing in a few of my photos (above) is part of the remains from a footbridge. Winston Churchill in 1907 looked into the narrow gorge and said he’s build an iron bridge for ten pounds across the river at this point. In 1961, the footbridge was built as the cheapest structure to span the Nile. After just 1 year, the river swelled from heavy rains, destroying the majority of the bridge. The concrete pillar is all that remains of a 10 pound bridge.
Day Three: Murchison Falls National Park
What a day we’ve had today – amazing, sensational and I was truly blown away by the sheer quantity of wildlife! I highly recommend birding in the Delta first in the morning as it increases your chances of seeing the rare Shoebill – our guides tell us more opportunities to see wildlife later in the day (with the exception of hyena).
This morning we boarded Amy, an intimate and comfortable 14 seater aluminium boat, and joined by our knowledgable guide Milton we commenced our Nile Delta birding cruise in search of some 450 birdlife that call this area home. Floating past stunning papyrus riverbanks we soon were on the edge of our seats spotting egret, whistling duck, jacana, spur-winged lapwing, bushbuck, hippo, African darter, pied kingfisher, red chested bee eater, weaver, grey headed kingfisher, kob and to my delight the shoebill.
Our game drive was also a success seeing buffalo, warthog, hartebeest, oribi, kob, giraffe, elephant and patas monkey.
The afternoon boat cruise was sensational with crocodile including two croc nests with tiny baby crocodiles visible, buffalo, elephant, hippo, giraffe and more warthog.
There is a restriction on the number of boats that can operate on the Nile at any given time and it was evident – we had such a wonderful experience with few others around.
Map of the voyage
On the map, we started from the yellow dot near red chilli camp at 07h00, cruised west along the Nile to the Delta viewing hippo and amazing birdlife including solitary shoebill with Congo mountains in the background.
We continued along upstream on Albert Nile to the green dot where we were met by our vehicle around 10am and game drove to Paraa.
After lunch and site inspection at Paraa it was back on the boat by 14h00 to game boat safari to view Murchison Falls from the bottom.
Sadly our guide Milton advised there are less than 30 Shoebill left in Murchison Falls National Park, becoming very rare due to destruction of their habitat and they cannot breed in captivity. So for birders, the time is now!
We didn’t game drive south of Baker’s Lodge. Apparently there are great sightings of leopard in the area towards Bugungu Gate.
Spotlight on: Baker’s Lodge
Named after explorer Samuel Baker, Baker’s Lodge is on the south bank of the Nile River that transects Murchison Falls National Park. It’s quite impressive with a commanding position on the banks and ample shady trees (essential in summer months). Rooms are lovely too, each one is raised up on decks. The main area is all under thatch with lounge, dining and bar. I rather love the wooden deck where we have breakfast very early and sunset in the evenings with the 180 degree river views is mesmerising.
Note there is wifi internet, central area for recharging batteries and a pool for summer (again essential).
Murchison Falls Fun Fact 2
Apologies for the poor quality photo, it was taken on Gen’s phone. Note the marker (square standing on tall, thin pole)?
It marks where Mr and Mrs Ernest Hemingway crashed their Cessna light aircraft on 22 January 1954 when clipping an old telegraph line. They crash landed in the riverside forest. After an uncomfortable night the couple and pilot were rescued by a sightseeing boat.
SUMMARY OF CHAPTER ONE
Murchison Falls National Park
- Brilliant wildlife
- Boating and game drives
- Unique species like Patas Monkey and Shoebill
- Quiet – few tourists so it’s a great experience
- Be prepared for a long drive from Entebbe or Kampala. You can fly up in light aircraft if you prefer
- Great accommodation options
Day Four: Kibale Forest National Park
Big long day of driving today, saying farewell to Baker’s Lodge on the banks of the Nile in Murchison Falls for an 8 hour drive to Kyaninga Lodge outside Fort Portal.
From Murchison Falls we took route 135 along Lake Albert through Hoima, Kagadi, Kyenjojo to Fort Portal. The drive was rather scenic through banana plantations, villages with traditional thatch huts, farmlands, jungle forest where we spotted black and white colobus monkey, baboon, tea plantation and crater lakes.
Arriving at Kyaninga took my breath away. It is truly amazing. I will rave about this property to anybody willing to listen. The views alone are worthy of a stay – seeing Kyaninga Lake and Rwenzori Mountains. The rooms and lodge are on stilts and everywhere you go feels like home – warm, cosy feeling, log cabin style and open fireplaces in the lounge area draw you in.
The entire lodge was build by hand. Owner Steve Williams does loads of work with the community including the creation of Kyaninga Child Development Centre. There is an outreach program offering physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy for Ugandan kids so they have the support to reach their full potential.
Something charming is the dairy facility, making award winning goats cheese, herb and veggie gardens plus there are hiking trails and water activities on the lake. So much to do! It was a shame we only had one night here – I’d recommend at least two or even three. You can swim in the lake because it is disease free due to a semi active volcano environment meaning the water is too cold to host any harmful bacteria.
There is also an international sporting calendar – May sees a Triathlon and December is running and riding the Rift. During this time they offer temporary accommodation like clamping with shower and flush loos or camping.
Tomorrow is chimp trekking!
Day Five: Kibale – Queen Elizabeth National Park
So this was one of the highlights I have been looking forward to. This morning we got the opportunity to explore Kibale Forest National Park for chimpanzees – with great success.
Chimpanzee Trekking: Kibale National Park
There is a maximum group of 6 guests and 1 guide allocated to a chimp group. With a 90% chance of seeing chimps, it certainly is worth every minute of sweat. There are 4,500 chimps here, the highest number of chimps in all of Uganda. There are 13 communities of which 4 are habituated. Two are for tourism and 2 are for research. One tourism group is fully habituated and one is still not fully habituated.
Jane Goodall started the habituation process here in 1991. The best chance of seeing the chimps on the ground is when there is no rain. We were very lucky and after 30 minutes into the forest, we saw chimps up in the trees. It was a family of 20 and a few started to jump down, making them easier to see and of course photograph. Generally chimp permits only allow an hour with chimps, we got a little bonus time being with researchers.
It was truly intense emotionally, physically not difficult because it’s flat terrain!
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Day Five: Continued…
After the trek, we visited Primate Lodge next to the headquarters. From here we visited Tinka, a local community leader who welcomed us into his home to learn about local life and traditional Ugandan dishes which we devoured for lunch.
His staff very Kindly cleaned our muddy boots whilst we were focused on the wonderful hospitality.
From here, we drove to Queen Elizabeth National Park, stopping to inspect Ndali Lodge. I was super impressed with Ndali, owner run lodge, 3rd generate and really simple and homely. With beautiful gardens, stunning views and a good location it’s certainly on my favourites list.
We passed through Fort Portal and then south along the eastern length of The Rwenzori Mountains, with the hope of viewing the glaciated peaks. Along this drive we stopped at the Equator and I had to get a photo with Habib, my guide. We gently descended into The Great African Rift Valley and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Queen Elizabeth National Park resides in a fertile, equatorial area and has beautiful scenery. It is Uganda’s most popular and accessible savannah reserve, with a total area of 1,978 square kilometres. It is primarily associated with grassy savannah plains, but this impressive park also includes within its boundaries, leafy rainforests, dense papyrus swamps and natural volcanic crater lakes. As a result, it has one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world, including a total of 95 recorded mammal species and more than 610 species of birds. So to say I was looking forward to tomorrow’s safari was an understatement.
We arrive at Kyambura Gorge Lodge. It sits in a converted coffee processing plant – and what a welcome we received! Watch the video below!
Day Six: Enroute to Ishasha National Park
Today we left Kyambura Gorge Lodge after breakfast for a site inspection of Kyambura Game Lodge, now named Mazike. Great views from this eco friendly lodge where rooms are made using local timbers, canvas and thatched roof tops. It is not ideal for young children because of the steep drops from the rooms and no fences. Wildlife and particularly elephants can be seen from camp.
We drove north across Kazinga Channel to Katunguru Gate onto the channel track to Mweya Safari Lodge. Kazinga boat cruise from here up to Lake George and then back to Mweya for lunch. It’s a double decker boat and the river is wider plus we got really close to wildlife seeing hippo, elephant and buffalo. I saw a stand off between buffalo and crocodile it was brilliant. Sighted fish eagle, Egyptian geese, yellow billed stork, spoonbill, cormorants, marabou stork, gulls and pelicans. Local fishermen abound here, so when crocodiles get too big, national parks body step in and relocate them to Murchison Falls so they are not a threat.
Followed track back to Katunguru Gate turning right on the Orange road through Queen Elizabeth National Park to Ishasha. It was a 3 hour drive and quite bumpy, all part of the Uganda adventure. Enroute we saw elephant, long crested eagle, waterbuck, warthog, bushbuck.
Along the way we stopped at a local school where our guide Habib was originally a teacher. He has set up the school and many of the children are orphans. The kids were so incredible and motivated to learn – it was truly the most significantly moving school visit I have ever had in Africa.
We entered Ishasha around 6pm and saw topi, lazy lions up a tree, male, two females and cubs.
Day Seven: Onwards to Bwindi
Today after breakfast we basically game drove out of Ishasha and QENP to Bwindi. We had a two hour game drive to Kihihi and then around 1.5 hours through stunning mountainous region with villages and tea plantations. It was a great morning.
Along the way we stopped at Ride4Women (image left) a wonderful enterprise set up to empower women financially and help with victims of domestic violence. Many of the lodges stock their beautiful products including the bathrobes and baskets. They also have a small guesthouse onsite and offer a program for visitors – day with a woman to learn all about local life and the initiative. Very inspirational.
We had the opportunity to explore Bwindi town, I loved it (said Gen). See the little video below. Sorry about the quality, filming and walking not a strong point !
We got to see Wilderness Safaris’ place, Bisate Lodge which was really beautiful. More on that in a separate blog here.
We arrived at Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It’s described as this:
Ecologically respectful, contemporary-yet-classic in style, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp blends in sensitively with the dramatic African mountain landscape and, situated uniquely inside the national park, you are only minutes away from the start of your gorilla trekking adventure.
About Bwindi Forest
Bwindi forest is a magnificent luxuriant swathe across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rife Valley, this ancient rainforest – one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age – is regarded to be one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park has at least 90 mammal species, including 11 primates and is ranked as one of the best in Uganda for forest birding, with 23 highly localised Albertine Rift endemics.
Bwindi is renowned for its Mountain Gorilla population, slightly more than half the world’s mountain gorilla population is resident in Bwindi: an estimated 280 – 320 individuals living in 15 groups. Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is an extremely special privilege and an encounter unparalleled in most likely the whole of Africa.
Image – A Gen Selfie
Day eight: Gorilla tracking Bwindi
After an early breakfast, we took a short drive to Park Headquarters and meet with excellent local guides and trackers who briefed us on the etiquette of gorilla trekking. We then hiked into the forest where the gorillas were seen the night before and tracked from that point. The trekking can take from 1 to 6 hours and climb to altitudes in excess of 7,500 feet. The terrain is rough and at times muddy. Although the hike is physically demanding the beauty of the forest and surrounding scenery make the trekking worthwhile. Once the gorillas are located all fatigue is forgotten, as the experience is often described as being the most profound natural history experience in the world. Picnic lunches are provided and it is important to take plenty of water. Cameras and plenty of fast speed film are recommended. It can rain at a few minutes notice; hence waterproof clothing is a good essential including zip lock bags for cameras and film.
So my experience – assigned Rushegura Group, a family of 15. Our guide was Omax and my porter Chance. We were lucky to only have a 2 hour hike up the mountain through community farmland and then stunning rainforest until we came to the family. It was a tough climb and the scenery nothing short of spectacular. Thank goodness it was 2 hours not 6! The time spent with gorillas was spellbinding, I couldn’t believe how close we got and the babies were so cute and inquisitive. It was really tricky taking photos as they were all resting amongst the trees.
About the Porters on Gorilla Treks
Uganda Gorilla tracking is known to be harder than Rwanda, so we highly recommend porters. I was certainly grateful that my porter Chance carried my backpack and made full effort to get me up the mountain, stay comfortable and at times be there to help pull and push me through the first. There are 60 porters that work on the mountain and during the quiet season, they may only get work once a month. The issue is they do know know if they have work each day unless they arrive at head quarters. This could be over an hour walk for the porters who leave their farming jobs each day to try their luck.
It motivated me to share this story so our guests see what a huge difference their gorilla trek can make if they hire a local porter – easier hike then too!
Image – Gen with her guide and porter