3 weeks in Uganda - Our Experience

Oct 24th, 2013, 11:56 PM
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3 weeks in Uganda - Our Experience

In August 2011, we visited the string of National Parks in western Uganda, starting with Lake Byunyonyi, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Queen Elisabeth National Park including the Ishasha Sector, Kibale Rain Forest, Semliki National Park, Murchison Falls National Park including Budongo Forest and last but not least Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This journey can leisurely be done in two weeks. Kidepo National Park in the north east we skipped, too remote and too expensive.
The third week, we crashed at the fabulous 2Friends Guesthouse in Jinja and used it as a base for numerous activities and outings, like walking to the source of the Nile, marveling at soon to - disappear Bujagali Falls and volunteering at Soft Power Education. Last but not least, we did some serious rafting over grade 5 Rapids on the Nile.
More Information: http://www.oneyearoff.net/countries-...ganda-summary/

Tour operator, car rental or public transport?
All major cities in Uganda are connected by frequent bus services that travel mostly on paved roads, but this is not where and how the “Mzungos” travel. Reaching most Nationals Parks in reasonable time and above all, travelling within them requires private transport.
Would we use again the service of a tour operator to visit the National Parks in western Uganda? Probably not, but rent a car with a driver instead. Of course a tour operator gets better rates at the really expensive lodges in the National Parks, organizes your permits, knows the best lodges, no time is wasted with decision making and the drivers are very experienced.
But we simply missed the flexibility to stay and stop and yes, weigh the pros and cons of doing so. No matter how well you plan, some things pop along the road, like the fishing village of Butiaba or the Salt Garden at Kibero. It always seemed an annoyance to ask for these changes and extra miles. At times, it was simply impossible.
Worried about permits? Any company can get you a gorilla permit for an extra 50 USD fee (on top of the 500 USD, of course). On a short notice this might be challenging in the high season, but for one or two persons it is not impossible. Chimpanzee permits are much easier to get and can even be arranged at the park itself, without notice.
And of course, travelling during the high season requires a certain amount of planning unless you do not mind pitching a tent at the many camp sites, if certain lodges are booked.

Our tour operator - Katona Tours
As mentioned above, the trip itself went just smoothly. Communication while planning the trip was fast and seemed reliable. Their offer, 2.900 USD pp for a 14 day tailored private tour was the cheapest: 20% cheaper than the second best offer, Kazinga Tour. Actually Heidi used the later to get her gorilla permit in Rwanda - An extremely reliable company: we transferred too much money and it was sent back in no time.
As for other offers, some of the high end companies asked for no less than 6.500 USD for the same itinerary, often even shorter.
So we considered Katona as a good choice. But a few things really teed us off!
We had agreed on making a down payment of 1.500 USD and the rest to be paid by credit card in their Kampala office. Three days before we left for Uganda, they asked to bring the money in cash!
Once we had left Kampala, our driver presented an updated version of the itinerary. Without any explanation, one of the two planned game drives in the Ishasha Sector of Queen Elisabeth National Park was cancelled. Well, we did not see the Tree Climbing Lions…
At the end of the tour, they asked for an extra 23 USD for a detour of 50 (!) kilometers to a hospital to get Gilles eye checked. So very ungracious after paying a total of 5.800 USD for the whole tour.

Budget
Uganda, one of the poorest countries, is NOT cheap... IF you live and move in the tourist bubble that is difficult to avoid when visiting the National Parks in a reasonable time!
We chose the cheapest of the expensive options, a two week private tour for 2.900 USD per person for two weeks, including pretty much everything (transport, accommodation, three meals, all permits, park fees).
What makes such a trip so costly? Permits and park fees are a big chunk (gorilla permit 500 USD p.p., two Chimpanzee permits at 100 USD p.p. each, National Park fees 30 USD p.p. per day). Accommodation in the national parks is absurdly expensive or rock bottom. On top of that, distances are long and a gas sucking 4WD is necessary for many areas. The price for gasoline was 1.5 USD per liter at that time and yes, you burn an embarrassing lot.
If you throw in a day of rafting plus a photo CD, add another 150 USD, a few nights in the cozy 2 Friends Guesthouse in Jinja for 110 USD per night and you get the whole picture...
It never felt as if we were deliberately throwing money around, it just burned at an unbelievable pace! So we end up spending around 4.000 USD per person for 3 weeks, plus 1.000 USD for the flight. That makes it the most expensive trip we ever did.

Can you do it differently? Of course!
Concentrate on a few highlights near or on main bus routes, like Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo Forest for Chimp tracking or the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Then use local transport, like motor-bike taxis, for the final leg. No matter what, do not skip the mountain gorillas, they are too unique!
There are a few hostels / backpacker options around the main attractions, like Red Chilli in Kampala and Murchison Falls National Park or the Explorer Backpackers in Jinja.

When thinking of Uganda, this will always stay in our minds…
* Gentle and welcoming - The people of Uganda
* Relaxed - Nobody is pushing his wares and trying to sell you something at any cost. A simple “thank you” or gesture is enough.
* Pleasant - The weather and the fact that you have (almost) no mosquitoes. It was delightful!
* Delighted - Children getting excited over every “Mzungo” (foreigner / westerner) waving and screaming “Howareyou, howareyou?”
* Green - The landscape is so unbelievably green and lush.
* Rainy - We travelled in August, but there was not a single day or night without some kind of downpour.
* Skilled - Many crafts we saw are simply unbelievable. Several times we joked about filling a container and sending it home
* Overcrowded public transport - Up to 5 people on a motorbike, up to 11 people in a normal car, and we stopped counting on mini buses.
* Crazy - The traffic / pollution in Kampala and the way people generally drive.
* Mystical - Landscapes wrapped in the morning fog, then even Kampala displays a certain charm.

The highlights of the trip where:
* Mountain Gorillas in Biwindi Impenetrable National Park: spending one hour with the Habinyanja family and Makara, their silver backed master.
* Two year old Obama, the first White Rhinoceros born in Uganda after 26 years at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
* Fighting hippos and giraffes in Murchison Falls National Park.
* Chimpanzees, active and lazy at Kibale & Budongo Forest
* Strolling Bigodi Wetlands near Kibale
The boat ride along Lake Bunyonyi to visit the Batwa people
* The frontier town-feel in the fishing village of Butiaba
* Relaxing at the 2 Friends Guesthouse in Jinja
* Tumbling through grade 5 rapids on the Nile

A few things we would do differently:
* Pack warmer clothes! Travelling near the Equator we expected hot humid weather… Very wrong!
* Semliki - we did not see the point of driving 5 hours to see a few monkeys from the distance and a few butterflies…
* See a specialist doctor next time we have a medical problem. Gilles’ eye was successfully treated by the only ophthalmologist within 200 kilometres, but waiting for 60 hours and relying on general practitioners without the proper equipment could have cost Gilles’ left eye!
* Get a Ugandan mobile phone or SIM card for organising spontaneous excursions and reconnect with people you meet along the way. We were the only tourists without one! They are very easy to organise and extremely cheap. Ugandans are addicted to it!

Conclusion?
Uganda is an incredibly pleasant country, for its people, the wildlife and the evergreen landscape. It is the ninth country we have visited in Africa, and we would recommend it with all our heart, because it is so relaxed and easy to travel, except the completely overloaded vehicles used in rural areas.
OneYearOff is offline  
Oct 25th, 2013, 09:37 AM
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Thanks for sharing your travel experiences in Uganda. This is really helpful for future visitors to the country.
BambooEcotours is offline  
Oct 25th, 2013, 02:49 PM
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Nice summary.
Femi is offline  
Oct 30th, 2013, 03:52 AM
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It was good to know that Uganda is so welcoming. Thanks for all the information.
DCarla is offline  
Nov 5th, 2013, 12:54 PM
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Thank you for the feed back. Nice pictures
Four of us traveled with the same company Katona Tours for 14 days this year.
Here is my brief review

We got a chance to interact with the local tribe the batwa during the batwa trail in Mgahinga Park. According to local source this tribe was evicted from bwindi Gorilla Park to conserve mountain gorillas an endangered species and were given no compensation because they had no title to land. The Batwa cultural heritage experience is phenomenal! I urge fellow travelers to support this trail.

We had an incredible adventurous trip to Uganda. Our consultant was ready to incorporate our suggestions listened to what we wanted and delivered it efficiently

Our safari was totally basic with excellent services, we traveled with sleeping bags and the company provided the camping equipment. We camped near lodges that provided our meals prepared by experienced chefs and had warm showers.

Initially we had requested for Moses to be our guide and driver but unfortunately he was on another assignment so we were given a junior guide. Emma is a young man, humble with great sense of humor a good guide and excellent driver.

From the first e-mail to the last one, we got immediate responses from the safari consultant and co-director Jackie.

I have no problems recommending katona for others.
dreyer is offline  
Nov 6th, 2013, 07:25 PM
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Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
SamanthaCanyon is offline  
Nov 9th, 2013, 01:04 AM
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Hey Dreyer, I love to know other cultures, other people and discover many things like this. You met with local tribe, experiencing their culture, meeting with them whao, how all this make you feel.
DCarla is offline  
Nov 9th, 2013, 11:39 AM
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I travelled with www.instinctsafaris.com at a slightly higher price and in a group of four. for smaller groups, maybe when you are travelling as a couple, it really gets expensive (numerous game walks/drive, and the vehicle/Guide). But we got a 12 day safari at 3200 USD which was amazing with the support from their team.

But I do have a question. Why did you have to pay 50 USD extra for your gorilla trekking? It is only the tour operators who can book them, anyways, so why are they asking for additional money when they already get the entire itinerary with you?
LeePr is offline  
Nov 9th, 2013, 10:51 PM
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Hi Lee,
we did not have to pay extra, but those remits add up to the bill all in all.
That is why it gets expensive in the end.
It is a fact that a group of 2 will pay much more than a group of 4 (per person), because you have to split the costs (especially the car) between less people
Cheers
Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Nov 10th, 2013, 02:03 AM
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Thank you Gilles for your report and the closing comments and suggestions!
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 11th, 2013, 10:00 AM
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Hey oneyearoff.
Your report is very help full. It seems you enjoyed your holiday by visiting many destinations in the shortest time at a fair price.
My girlfriend and I booked a shorter safari with a company I will not disclose and we feel cheated. 4.130 US$ PER PERSON is a lot of money for a 10 days tour visiting Murchison falls, kibale forest, queen Elizabeth, bwindi forest and stop over at mburo park with a mixture of lodges both middle and budget. Already we sent the first batch of payment which is 50% and we do not want to use the services of this company. Having read your report, we think we can do the tour on our own or find another company that is cheaper to organize the tour.
Davethyll is offline  
Nov 11th, 2013, 08:56 PM
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Hi,

well, it is true that you have to do quite some "shopping" to find a good agency.
I remember having quotes for 6.000 USD per person for not much better...
But yes, 4.130 for 10 days is a lot...

Cheers
Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 12:29 AM
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Exactly I sent the same Itinerary to 5 agencies and I got quick responses from three of them with difference in quotations. The rest have not got back to me.
Gorilla treking quoted 4060US$, Katona tours 3.656US$ and Africa treasures has the best quotation 3.550US$. The first two companies are getting quite good reviews especially katona tours and are registered with association of tour operators in Uganda , Africa treasures is not a member yet but the director offers free accommodation to her clients at Africa treasure home in Kampala before and after the tours, this sounds a good deal! Has anyone used Africa treasures?. http://www.africa-treasures.com/
Davethyll is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 12:35 AM
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The quotation is per person including all the activities, passes to the parks, transportation, guide, meals and lodges
Davethyll is offline  
Nov 12th, 2013, 11:41 AM
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That is still extremely expensive, we paid 2.900 USD for 14 days... Which is already a LOT of money...
Well it seems prices have dramatically increased!
Cheers
Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Nov 13th, 2013, 01:41 AM
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One yearOff You are right, You were there in 2011 and indeed, prices are waaayyyy up. I went last year and didn't get anything like 2,900 for 14 days.
Dave, you can't compare apples and oranges. Two yrs ago is apples--the prices you're getting now are oranges.
When i researched last yr (and went) i did NOT find all that much price difference among agencies for the SAME type /level accommodations and length of stay and # of people in the group.
Have you check the TA forum about Africa Treasures?
CaliNurse is offline  
Nov 15th, 2013, 01:16 PM
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Davethyll - I would leave my hands off africa treasures just from a look at their website. when you move your mouse on safaris, it doesn't even have real categories, for example. it only says Content Category 1-3.
LeePr is offline  
Nov 20th, 2013, 08:11 AM
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Thanks for sharing your Adventure with us. I also happened to move to Rwanda this year with www.rwandasafaris.co.uk according to the services, my guide it was worth it. I indeed got a great deal of Adventure with the Gorillas in the Wild
JohnBob is offline  
Mar 27th, 2015, 08:10 AM
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I highly recommend the excellent services of Katona tours. Tara and I ended up organizing transportation in a land cruiser and a safari guide with them. The lodges and permits were already booked by another agency so we managed to save 424 US$ altogether.
We were amazed by Jacky's fast responses to our queries and this was the main reason for choosing katona over other agencies.
Davethyll is offline  
Mar 27th, 2015, 06:29 PM
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I just wanted to add that I had a great experience with Trekking Timmy - http://trekkingtimmy.com/

I just left my review. I didn't see the gorillas because the permits were so expensive - $650 per person, BUT I've since learned that the Ugandan wildlife authority often discounts the permits in the rainy season of April and May so something to think about...
Eliza26 is offline  

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