We made our epic journey to Uganda in June/July, and the only drawback to 2+ weeks off of work is that I’ve been too busy the last 3 months to post a trip report. Here it is – and a big thanks to everyone in the forum for being incredibly helpful over the course of the past year as I did our trip planning!
I planned and booked pretty much everything for us. We didn’t use a tour operator to book lodging, and we didn’t use a pre-set tour operator itinerary. We did use Gorilla Tours to hire our vehicle/driver and book our chimp and gorilla permits. Our experience with Gorilla Tours started a bit stressful, but in the end it was fantastic. We booked chimp and gorilla permits through them back in July 2012 (so a year in advance). Unfortunately, when they e-mailed copies of our four scanned gorilla permits, almost all of the names were incorrect, and they issued two permits for the same person. I’m still at a loss as to how they could get so many names wrong. Initially I was very stressed out because the permits are so expensive, and I didn’t want anyone to have problems. They insisted it would be fine (and it was), but for a whole year I was very concerned. Aside from that, planning went smooth, and they were very patient with me when I had to make changes to our itinerary pre-trip.
We started our trip in Entebbe at J. Residence – really just a quick overnight post flight before we embarked on our two-week adventure. The lodging was clean and very basic – I wouldn’t have wanted to spend more than one night there though. The next morning Musa (our driver from Gorilla Tours) picked us up in a huge LandCruiser w/seating for 9 people – there were only 4 of us, so it was a very spacious two weeks! Musa was absolutely incredible – he was kind, funny, personable, he seemed to know everyone in Uganda and he went above and beyond to help us with anything we needed. If anyone books through Gorilla Tours I highly recommend requesting Musa.
First stop was 2 nights in Fort Portal at Rwenzori Guest House. Lovely lodging – our favorite actually in Uganda. Rooms were beautiful, peaceful location (but still within walking/biking distance to town), lovely hosts and amazing food (and I rarely say that about lodging food). We rented bicycles and on our own and biked out to the Amabere Caves and Waterfall. The ride out was beautiful and straightforward (we didn’t get lost) and ride took us through the city, as well as the countryside. It was a great way to see Fort Portal. We hired a guide from the visitor centre who led us on a hike to the caves, waterfall and then to the crater lakes.
The next morning we departed for Kibale. The drive to Kibale from Fort Portal is quite beautiful – the tea plantation views were epic. We scheduled our chimp trekking for that morning, so it was an early drive for us. The trekking was good and we saw the chimps, although we enjoyed the chimp trekking in QENP much more. In Kibale everyone is divided into smaller groups, but once the chimps are located in the jungle, all the groups come together, so it’s really a lot of other people you see wandering around looking at chimps. This wasn’t the case in QENP, which I will get to in a bit. Nonetheless, we did enjoy seeing the chimps in the jungle, and listening to them is like nothing I’ve experienced. Just incredible!
In Kibale, we stayed at the Primate Kibale Lodge (2 nights). We loved this place! Location was ideal, very close to the trekking start point. The little bandas where we stayed were lovely, as was the rest of the open air property. Our favorite part of the stay was the wildlife sightings. I was walking to our room one afternoon, and had to stop about 20 feet away to let a troop of 15 baboons cross through the clearing in front of our banda. And 2 stragglers decided to hop onto the windowsill of our room, and stare inside! No clue what they were looking at in our room?! We monkey watched from our balcony every day, and spotted families of baboons and dozens of monkeys.
On our next day in Kibale, we went to the Bigodi Swamp where we hired a local guide and did a nice hike around and through the swamp. Here we saw lots of monkeys too, and on the drive to the swamp we stopped the LandCruiser at one point for a large baboon family walking up the dirt road in front of us. It’s a beautiful area.
After Kibale, we departed for QENP, and did an equator stop along the way. We arrived at Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge – another great stay (3 nights). The safari tents were simple, but clean (I admit I didn’t love the sand toilets). The location though was absolutely incredible, such an amazing setting for lodging. Each day we could sit on our tent porch and watch elephants, hippos, buffalo, pigs and warthogs in the water right below. We saw more elephants from our porch than we did in our three days of safari in the park. And one afternoon we found a buffalo in front of our tent, and another evening a hippo grazing in the grass just a few feet away (the hippo didn’t seem to care that we were there – he was so passive). What a cool experience!
Having spent 5 days on safari in Kruger, in South Africa, I’ll admit that QENP was underwhelming. We didn’t see nearly the variety or number of animals, nor did we get the frequent close animal encounters that we did in Kruger. Nonetheless, safari is an amazing experience and we enjoyed what we did see – lion, elephant, hippo, buffalo, warthog, kudu, kob, crocodile, waterbuck, eagle, etc. We did a boat ride on the Kazinga Channel, and three game drives.
Our favorite part of QENP was the chimp trek in the Kyambura Gorge. We had a group of 7 people and we were the only ones in the gorge (unlike Kibale). Also, this trek was much more active than Kibale. With our guide we were literally running through the jungle, climbing over tree trunks across waterways, hopping over logs, etc. to follow the very active chimps. It was our favorite day in Uganda!
After QENP we departed for Buhoma, our base for trekking gorilla group H. We checked into the Buhoma Community Rest Camp, where we stayed two nights in a clean safari tent. The location overlooking the jungle (with monkeys scampering around our tent) was spectacular. The morning of the gorilla trek was very exciting. We actually found them after just two hours of hiking, but it was one of the trickiest hikes we have done because there was no path. We had to hike through thick jungle, over slippery footing – and the whole time safari ants were biting our ankles and crawling up our pants (this was WITH tall hiking socks, long hiking pants AND gators). We saw about 14 gorillas (including the silverback) – all just eating, sleeping and babies playing in a quiet jungle setting. The one hour did go by very fast – it was a very special 60 minutes.
After Buhoma, our next stop was Kisoro – which is a 5-6 hour drive from Buhoma. We hired a guide to hike through the Bwindi jungle from Buhoma to Nkuringo (a one hour drive from Kisoro), while Musa drove with all our things and met us in Nkuringo. Then together we drove the one hour to Kisoro. The hike was possibly the toughest we have done (and we have done a lot of hiking on our travels). Most of the hike was uphill, and it was long. Several spots were swarming with safari ants. It was also one of the most beautiful, remote hikes we have done.
Following almost a week in safari and jungle tents, our stay at the Traveler’s Rest (1 night) in Kisoro was like being at the Ritz Carlton. We slept very well in the clean, comfortable rooms. Only drawback was that the place didn’t have wifi. I know, we were on vaca, but wifi would have been nice after a week of being disconnected. Had we had more time in Uganda (I wish we had), we would have stayed a couple extra nights in Kisoro to hike a volcano and go golden monkey trekking.
From Kisoro, we headed to Lake Mburo where we stayed a night at the Rwonyo Rest Camp. This was by far our worst lodging in Uganda. Definitely didn’t end on a high note. : ) We did a boat launch ride, which was okay – we didn’t see a whole lot of wildlife. During our dinner on the lake, warthogs were roaming very close to us as we walked to the restaurant, which was pretty cool. And we did an amazing safari on foot, which was different than the safaris in QENP. We enjoyed seeing kob, waterbuck, warthogs and lots of zebra on foot in the park.
After Kisoro, we headed back to Entebbe and flew our early the next morning!
That’s our trip in a nutshell. It was a great two weeks, a very special trip. Would highly recommend Uganda to anyone thinking of traveling to Africa. In our year leading up to the trip, when I would tell people about our plans, EVERYONE’S initial reaction was “Why would you go to Uganda?!” It such a a beautiful country, so the real question is “Why NOT Uganda?!”