24th June 2019
Uganda’s primary drawcard, along with its neighbour Rwanda, is the mountain gorilla.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the tourism governing body in Uganda, sells 96 gorilla permits per day for Bwindi National Park (88 permits for 11 gorilla groups) and Mgahinga National Park (8 permits for one gorilla group). It's also a great place to get close to our closest relative; the chimpanzee. A typical Ugandan circuit would be a triangle from Entebbe to Kibale for the chimps, down through Queen Elizabeth National park and the tree climbing lions of Ishasha, then gorilla trekking at Buhoma before heading back to Entebbe or Kigali and then back home.
This route takes up the South Western corner of a country the size of Germany and there is plenty more to keep the intrepid traveller occupied in the rest of the country.
While it’s true, there is no single park in Uganda that competes well overall for big 5 game density when compared to Kenya and Tanzania, but there are plenty of unique and amazing experiences to be had, both natural and cultural, not to mention the scenery is stunning. Most of the country is covered on an affordable light aircraft network with domestic carrier Aerolink, which can help to reduce some of the longer journeys. More often than not though, the journeys are the things you remember most fondly.
We headed North West out of Entebbe in the direction of Murchison Falls. The long day’s drive was broken up with a visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Central Uganda. This is the only place left in the country with Rhino, and they are fiercely protected within 7000 ha of the reserve, with round the clock security by their side.
The population of Southern White Rhino is thriving within these boundaries. Visitors can have the thrilling experience of approaching the animals on foot with a tracker and guide. Being this close and on the same level as the rhino as they rest, graze and move around their domain is something I have only experienced once before, in Zimbabwe’s Motopos Hills
Onwards to Murchison Falls, where the Victoria branch of the Nile squeezes through and 8-metre gap into a swirling cauldron of froth, before becoming a more placid affair flowing into Lake Albert. An easy 45-minute hike from the base of the falls to the top affords spectacular viewpoints. For movie buffs - ‘African Queen’ starring Katherine Hepburn and Humphry Bogart was filmed here.
Surrounding the Nile on both sides is Uganda’s oldest and largest National park, with an abundance of wildlife. There are well-run lodges such as Baker’s lodge on the river shore, and a typical stay will include an early morning boat ride towards the Nile Delta at Lake Albert.
In these wetlands, another of Uganda’s star wildlife attractions is commonly seen. The Shoebill stork can reach up to 8 metres in height. These dinosaur-like birds are only found in the White Nile Region of East Africa. Regardless of a shoebill sighting, the excursion in the early morning light is beautiful and there was plenty of other birdlife to spot, as well as crocodiles and hippos. For those choosing not to do the Southern Primate circuit with chimp trekking in Kidepo National park, Chimps can also be found in lesser numbers in a nearby forest reserve.
Seven or eight hours drive from Murchison, and from anywhere else of note, the remote Kidepo National Park lies in the North East corner of the country. It borders South Sudan and the Turkana region of Kenya. Here there are vast grasslands supporting herds of buffalo, antelope and elephant, and with it predators including lion, leopard and cheetah.
There are only one or two lodges in a park of 1442 sq km meaning you have a huge area to go on game drives in and very few other vehicles around. This is the best general wildlife safari destination in the country, and the accommodation at Apoka Safari Lodge is very comfortable, commanding endless vistas from its infinity pool and serving delicious food with impeccable service.
Not only is Kidepo Uganda’s hidden gem for safaris, but it also has an extremely interesting cultural side, with village visits to the Karamajong people. The Karamajong are related to the Maasai and are thought to have descended from Ethiopia, just like them. Unlike most Maasai village excursions in Kenya. Here, I was the only westerner in sight.
Full day treks can be arranged into the surrounding mountains to the ‘Ik’ tribe, who fled Idi Amin after refusing to wear western dress and took shelter in the hills. At 2700 metres in a forgotten mountain in the furthest corner of Uganda, a trek here is both an authentic African Cultural Experience and at the same time a test of your stamina and physical endurance. A visit to the land of the Ik - the lost tribe of Mount Morungole - is another of Uganda’s unique and varied experiences, that acts to encourage visitors to stay a bit longer and see more of this fascinating country.
Heading South takes us through the dry and dusty lands of Karamoja and a stop to refuel at the town of Kaabong, one of those ‘middle of knowhere’ type settlements good for people watching and a few colourful photos of the local community going about their business in the heat.
The lush green highlands of the Mount Elgon area of Eastern Uganda were a complete contrast, and my bed for the night was in the very cosy Sipi River Lodge, with views from my cottage up to the Sipi Falls. I took a reasonably easy 45 minute guided hike to the top of the falls, but visitors can also trek for several nights to Africas largest Caldera staying in mountain camps. If this interests you, check out our Mount Elgon Trek tour.
As a well-earned reward, travellers looking for a tranquil haven at the end of a tour before flying home should look no further than Wildwaters Lodge. Just two to three hours from Entebbe, situated on an island in the Nile, rapids swirl past a beautifully positioned infinity pool by the bar. A little boat takes you across to your fantasy island and the detached spacious cottages are reached by raised boardwalks. Most of the cottages face the river and with a claw foot bath on your deck. The area is popular for white water rafting enthusiasts and is close to one of the sources of the Nile. More sedate kayak trips on the river as well as horseriding along the shore can also be arranged.
If you would like to undertake a similar expedition we have designed a suggested itinerary and guideline price. As always this is a starting point for inspiration and can be modified in any way you choose.