Fodor's Travel Talk Forums

Fodor's Travel Talk Forums (https://www.fodors.com/community/)
-   Africa & the Middle East (https://www.fodors.com/community/africa-and-the-middle-east/)
-   -   Gorilla trekking aside, what do you think of Uganda as a safari destination? (https://www.fodors.com/community/africa-and-the-middle-east/gorilla-trekking-aside-what-do-you-think-of-uganda-as-a-safari-destination-566434/)

Patty Oct 23rd, 2005 05:01 PM

Gorilla trekking aside, what do you think of Uganda as a safari destination?
 
I think there are enough threads on trekking in Bwindi that give me a pretty clear picture of that activity, but I'm interested to hear what you think of other destinations in Uganda, such as QENP, Kibale Forest, Semliki WR & NP, Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls, etc.

Uganda seems to get relatively little attention on this board compared to some other safari destinations and I'm wondering if it's just because their tourism infrastructure is less developed or is it not as rewarding of a destination (gorilla trekking aside)?

I'm interested to hear about the wildlife viewing, landscape/scenery, climate - it would be particularly helpful if you could compare constrast with Kenya/Tanzania as those are the only other safari destinations I have any level of familiarity with.

In my limited research so far, here's what I think it has going for it (please correct me if my assumptions are wrong) -

- relatively low density of visitors
- unique primate experiences
- availability of relatively low cost comfortable accomodation in each park (at least according to my 2003 edition of the Bradt guide which might be woefully outdated)

That latter point is pretty important as even though I prefer 'bushy' accomodations, I'm not really into real camping and shared bathrooms ;) and if I'm going to try to squeeze this trip into 2006, I'd need to keep costs low.

Also if you could come up with any negatives about Uganda, that would be helpful to balance my perception/understanding of the country. I do know that the roads are rather poor, but I think I can handle a bit worse roads than Kenyan ones. I don't expect the game to be quite as abundant as southern Kenya/northern Tanzania, but that's OK too. The only potential issue I can see so far is the climate. I get the impression that it's more humid/wet in general and possibly hotter due to the lower elevations, is this correct? I really don't like hot/humid weather and that could be where this plan starts to fall apart but I'm hoping you'll tell me it's not that bad ;)

Any comments or insight appreciated! :)

cooncat2 Oct 23rd, 2005 08:44 PM

Patty ~ Sorry to get your hopes up because I have no answers. I'm also interested in everything you've asked, so hopefully we'll get some responses! Thanks for posting these questions!

Sharon

Africaholic Oct 24th, 2005 01:04 AM

Uganda is STUNNING - the scenery, the people, the wildlife (even beyond the gorillas) - I would classify it as MY favorite African country (have been to ten not counting Indian Ocean Islands). The gorilla tracking, of course, is center stage - but that would be the ONLY thing I would rather do in Rwanda!!!

Queen Elizabeth Park is the 'Serengeti' of Uganda. Wildlife is prolific, varied and healthy, including tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha sector. Lots of elephant, buffalo, kob (Uganda specific antelope) like impala only richer in color, forest hogs (for the more unusual and pre-hestoric looking). But, one may NOT go off-road!

Do NOT miss Murchison Falls, both the launch to the base of the Falls, as well as driving to the top of them, where you could literally walk right into the roaring Nile - the sound is deafening. Awesome wildlife in Murchison Falls NP, as well - huge herds (100 or so strong) of elephants, oribi (antelope) and shoebill stork for the more unusual animals/birds, and I think I read that they recently re-introduced rhino.

Kibale Forest is good for chimp tracking, but you could also do that at Chiambura Gorge (QE NP). Where ever you do this, do it BEFORE gorilla tracking, or you will be disappointed. The chimps are much more shy and quickly scamper off through the trees.

The scenery is gorgeous just about anywhere, but the drive through the mountains between Bwindi and Mgahinga are out of this world! The gorilla tracking at Mgahinga is better than Bwindi, but still nowhere as good as in Rwanda, and a bit risky, as sometimes the gorillas cross over into DRC, and then you can't go track them (at least for now).

I have not been to Semliki, nor Lake Mburo.

July/August are the driest months in Uganda, but also HIGH season. At this point, you are not likely to get gorilla tracking permits for Bwindi during these two months for 2006.

Queen Elizabeth & Murchison NP will have similar weather/climate to the Serengeti, except that at the top of Murchison Falls there is a micro climate that is hot and sticky. It's like walking into a sauna!

Bwindi is humid, it's the rainforest! It is fabulous for butterflies and birds, as well as many species of primates other than the mountain gorillas, including black & white colobus monkeys.

Mgahinga is not quite as humid and temperatures mild, as it is higher in elevation.

The roads are better in Uganda than Kenya, or at least they were in 2001 and 2004, but there is less infrastructure, and you have to drive long distances between parks, unless you can afford charter flights.

Accommodations are all very comfortable, more intimate, yet still offer all the creature comforts you desire. Great food, friendly staff!

But, Uganda is NOT an inexpensive destination. A gorilla tracking permit alone is $360 in Bwindi or Mgahinga, and $375 in Rwanda - worth every penny, though!

I would suggest you'd fly into Entebbe, drive to Murchison Falls, spend 3 nights so you'd have one day for the Falls (top and bottom), and one day game viewing. Depending on the time, go to Kibale, then to QE NP (or skip Kibale if under time constraints and do the chimp tracking in QE), then perhaps Bwindi, or skip Bwindi, and go to Mgahinga instead, spend one night, and end with a minimum of 2 nights at Parc National des Volcans in Rwanda for the gorilla tracking. If your budget permits, do TWO gorilla tracks; you won't regret it, as you'll get to see two different groups. From Parc National des Volcans it's a leisurly 2 1/2 hours drive to Kigali. Fly out of Kigali. (Kenya Airways has daily flights serving both Entebbe and Kigali from Nairobi.

The climate REALLY is NOT that bad - I can't stand hot and humid weather, either!

fuzzylogic Oct 24th, 2005 05:45 AM

I love Uganda too, although my visits have been fairly unstructured, and I hold to the view that there's much more to "Africa" than animals.

All the areas of Uganda you are likely to visit are GREEN (literally). There isn't the immense expanse of savanna land that you get in Kenya and Tanzania. There are the Ruwenzoris and the Lake (Victoria that is - the Sese islands are wonderful). QE Park has lots of variety.

It's a while since I was in E Africa, but where Kenya is quite pressured, and mainland Tanzania can be a bit dour - Uganda is a gorgeous, stunning, wonderful land. A destination, perhaps, for those with a bit more imagination and curiosity than your average safari seeker.

It would be hard to say it's my favourite African country - the ones I've visited all have their strengths and attractions. But it's definitely on the short list along with Malawi, Ghana and Mali.

Happy travels.

Leely Oct 24th, 2005 09:46 AM

Sounds great. Go for it, Patty!

99mkw Oct 24th, 2005 10:42 AM

Patty-

I just wanted to make a comment about gorilla trekking in Mgahinga. When I first heard about the gorilla group moving across into Rwanda or DRC, I thought it was mainly a day-to-day thing. While I believe such day-to-day movements do occur, I came across this bulletin from the Uganda Wildlife Authority:

http://www.uwa.or.ug/new.html#4

Apparently the gorillas were out of Uganda for over five months straight! I would hesitate to book that as my only gorilla visit, and I'm not sure if I would put it second. If you can find availability in Rwanda that might be preferable to Bwindi, but its a long drive back to Entebbe and I'm not sure about KGL-EBB flights. Perhaps you could break up the drive back by stopping at Lake Mburo. Good luck getting more information and thanks for all of your help.

-Matt

Patty Oct 24th, 2005 11:02 AM

Thanks, Africaholic and fuzzylogic. Your posts are both very inspirational!

What time of year were your trips? Any particular time of year that you would definitely not recommend?

Africaholic or anyone else,
How long are the chimp tracking excursions in Kibale and Chiambura Gorge and what kind of terrain does it involve? I've heard that the success rate in Chiambura is not that high so was thinking of trying both locations. Have you done both, were you successful? Have you gone on the night walk in Kibale and would you recommend it?

Which tour operator(s) did you use and would you recommend them?

Gorilla permit fees aside, do you think a budget of $2000-$2500 per person is realistic for a 10 day non-camping private safari for two people traveling by road (no charter flights)?

Thanks for any additional insights!

Sharon,
How's your Zambia trip coming along? Are you all booked? Have you posted your itinerary somewhere (I haven't been following all the Zambia threads)?

Leely,
Wanna go too? :D

cooncat Oct 24th, 2005 11:13 AM

Patty - I WANNA GO!!! Actually, I am pondering volunteering at the Jane Goodall sanctuary and then tacking on several days in Rwanda/Uganda. Yes, I guess I've been bitten by the safariholic bug as well. I haven't even taken my first trip and here I go, planning a potential next one....plus, Julian and Canechick are plotting other ideas for 2007. It's all a bit much considering the stress I feel coming up with the $$$ for Zambia next year!
:-) We'll just have to see. But primates and the forests of Africa are certainly on my list.

Zambia is set!
Lower Zambezi:
5 nights Chiawa
2 nights Old Mondoro
South Luangwa:
3 nights Chamilandu Bush Camp
3 nights Luangwa River Lodge
3 nights Tafika
Home. SOB! ;-)

Why don't you hold off until 2007 and a bunch of us can go to Rwanda/Uganda together! (Julian you did not read this.) ;-)

Sharon

Patty Oct 24th, 2005 11:33 AM

Matt,
Thanks for posting that link. According to my Bradt guide, the habituated group in Mgahinga are supposed to be resident in Uganda from Oct to May, but the UWA press release indicates they were gone from Nov to Apr which clearly shows how unpredictable the movements are.

Are you planning to visit both Bwindi and Mgahinga? Did you have any problems securing permits for next August?

I'm not sure if we'll do any gorilla trekking on this Uganda trip anyway (heck I'm not even sure we're going to Uganda at this point! ;) ). I think I'd much prefer to trek in Rwanda instead, but I don't know if we'll have enough time to add on a few days there. Given the choice, I'd prefer a more in depth exploration of one country (well as much in depth as possible in 10 days) versus trying to fit in both. I'm slowly learning not to try to squeeze everything into one trip ;)

Plus this trip would likely need to be organized on short notice if we go at all. I have to wait a bit to see if schedules and finances will allow. My in-laws have also expressed an interested in joining us though I don't know how serious they are and gorilla trekking is definitely not a suitable activity for them!

Patty Oct 24th, 2005 11:49 AM

<Why don't you hold off until 2007 and a bunch of us can go to Rwanda/Uganda together!>

:? waiting until 2007 would give me more time to save up and plan a longer trip. Depends how desperate I am to get my 'fix' next year ;)

I'm not farsighted enough to even begin to think about 2007 :D

Are you referring to volunteering at the Ngamba Island sanctuary or elsewhere?

cooncat Oct 24th, 2005 12:01 PM

Yes, Ngamba Island. I think it sounds kind of neat and would be great way to give back. :-)

99mkw Oct 24th, 2005 01:36 PM

Patty-

We're shooting for just Bwindi, and I think the permit situation is OK (when we first looked at PNV, there were only four left for the day we wanted). I'm definitely guilty of packing things in but this could be our last big trip before starting a family. Here was the original Uganda itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Entebbe 7:55 pm and transfer to Kampala, O/N Olympia hotel

Day 2: Drive to Kibale, Bigodi swamp walk and/or Kibale night walk, O/N Kanyanchu Banda

Day 3: Full day Chimpanzee Habituation Experience, O/N Kanyanchu Banda

Day 4: Early start for QENP, Kasenyi game drive along the way, afternoon Kazinga Channel cruise, O/N Mweya lodge

Day 5: Early start south, through Ishasha sector to Rwanda, O/N Kinigi guest house

Day 6: Gorilla Trekking in PNV (Susa group if possible), O/N Kinigi guest house

Day 7: Transfer to Kigali

The cost for this itinerary with budget lodging was just over $1000 pp + $375 for the gorilla permit and $220 for the chimp habituation. I really think that the habituation offers an excellent experience, as you spend a full day with the chimps. I believe that atravelynn has written about it. This website has great info about all the parks and what activities are offered in each:

http://traveluganda.co.ug/utpcontents.asp

Patty Oct 24th, 2005 04:42 PM

Matt,
Thanks for that link - it was very helpful! And I can certainly understand wanting to fit in as much as possible if you don't think you'll be back soon.

luangwablondes Oct 24th, 2005 04:48 PM

99mkw
I would love to hear what the road from Kampala to Kibale is like. In the late '90s it was in the top 5 of scary roads to drive for me. I gave it a pampers rating. It was a graded road that had a high crown and narrow. The problem! It was so nicely graded, everyone drove at kamakaze speeds. So when encountering traffic, you drove with one set of wheels on the crown and the other set as close to the ditch as you dare. A few times I just stopped in the road and hoped the other driver had good sense to slow down(not) or the skill to make it by-luck/fate-still here.
Friends in another landy got blown off the same road by a fuel tanker.

Learned later that the military didn't have complete control of the road from rebels.

Don't worry about rebels, but thought you might inquire about the road conditions.

The roads from there to Bwindi and back to Kampala were fine then. Going to Rwanda then was not an option.

atravelynn Oct 24th, 2005 05:30 PM

QE
I really liked QE and have been 3 times. The Kazinga Channel has such abundant wildlife--birds, crocs, hippos, buffalo, water monitors and even eles and antelope. The afternoon launch produced the best photography light, but mornings seemed to be a little more active.

This is one of the few places to see the Giant Forest Hog, a favorite of mine. It is the only place I've seen it.

It has great scenery and wonderful elephant activity.

Around Mweya Lodge are often quite habituated wart hogs. Also banded mongoose of which I have lovely closeup photos.

You can also do walking in the area and friends of mine did, but I did not.

If you time the launches right, you can have extra activities midday to watch elephants.

You can also do chimp trekking in QE at Chambura (sp?) gorge and see black/white and red colobus monkeys there.

In the Maramagambo Forest you have a whole 'nother terrain and environment and there is a cool bat cave there with thousands of fruit bats and pythons that live in the cave and feed on the bats. You do not have to go into the cave very far.

Kibale
Great chimp viewing, especially the habituation walks where you watch the chimps wake up from their tree nests, spend the day with them, then watch them make their nests at night. Ideally, that's how it works if you know where to find them in the morning. If not you may spend the morning searching for them instead of watching them wake up. The most lovely and numerous butterflies I've ever seen were in Kibale. Also L'Hoest's (sp) monkeys and black/white and red colobus.

Saw great views of the Great Blue Turacao


Lake Mburo
I've stopped there enroute from Bwindi back to Entebbe twice, staying once at a hotel and once at a camp. It was ok. People I talked to had seen a Shoebill Stork there, but I didn't.

People were just lovely everywhere.

Have not been the other places. Hope you include Uganda on one of your visits.

dlo Oct 24th, 2005 06:11 PM

Patty

We are leaving in early December so i can't tell you yet how great Uganda is.A couple of people i know considered it there favorite country though.

We are using Great Lakes Safaris who were highly recomended by both Climbhighsleeplow and Tusker Dave.I contacted about a dozen companies for my upcoming trip and they were probably the ones i enjoyed dealing with most.

For another option for chimp tracking we are going to Budongo Forest which according to my Bradt guidebook has a 50 to 90% chance of success depending on the time of year.

Patty Oct 24th, 2005 10:08 PM

Lynn,
Thanks for the additional comments. Did you also go chimp tracking in Chiambura/Chambura/Kyambura (or however you spell it) Gorge? Were you successful at finding them there?

Has anyone stayed at the following camps and lodges?

Nile Safari Camp/Murchison Falls
Semliki Safari Lodge
Mantana Camp/Kibale Forest
Ndali Lodge/Lake Nyinambuga
Jacana Safari Lodge/QENP
Ishasha Wilderness Camp/southern QENP
Mantana Camp/Lake Mburo

Thanks!

dlo,
I'll be anxiously awaiting your trip report! Did you post your itinerary somewhere?

dlo Oct 25th, 2005 01:08 PM

I posted my itinerary on the countdown to Africa list.I just changed the last week though,dropping my week in London and adding a week to Tanzania based on a few trip reports on this site.

I am spending the week with Foxes going to there Highland Lodge and Mikumi as well as spending a day in the Udzungwas,my girlfriend will kill me when she finds out we have another day of trekking!

Since we're going for 3 months i don't know if anyone would be interested in a trip report but if anyone is i would be glad to post.


Leely Oct 25th, 2005 01:20 PM

dlo,
PLEASE post even a half-a**ed trip report when you return. I, for one, would be extrememly interested in reading about your adventures.

Leely Oct 25th, 2005 01:21 PM

so interested, in fact, that I'd put an extra "m" in extremely. Wow, what a great trip you're going to have.

Patty Oct 25th, 2005 01:25 PM

dlo,
I just looked at the countdown thread and remember when I first read about your plans - what an incredible itinerary!

Are you kidding? Of course we want a trip report! ;)

These are just some of the parts I'd personally be very interested to hear about - your time in Uganda and Rwanda, donkey trekking in Northern Kenya, Watamu, Lamu, Highlands trek, and southern Tanzania. I think that just about covers your entire trip except for the Kili climb and Zanzibar, but I'm sure someone else is equally interested in hearing about those parts.

You'll be an East Africa expert when you return. Congrats on your upcoming wedding and have a wonderful trip! :)

Patty Oct 25th, 2005 01:28 PM

You can put me down as extremmmmmmmmely interested! ;)

atravelynn Oct 25th, 2005 02:38 PM

dlo--Please do a trip report

Patty--I saw chimps in Chambura Gorge and so did my friends that went the next day. My guide said there is a 45% chance of seeing them there.

Mantana Kibale--very nice, delicious and near a village you can easily walk to so there's a culural aspect. Many monkeys in the trees around camp. Just don't panic in the middle of the night if you hear machine gun fire, as I did. It is the rangers scaring the elephants away from the village.

Mantana Mburo--often used as a retreat from the city for locals. In a pretty setting with zebra visible from camp.

dlo Oct 25th, 2005 07:12 PM

I can definitely do a half a**ed report I lurked on this site for over a year before i ever posted and i got a lot out of other peoples reports so i would be happy to give something back.

WhitePelican Oct 26th, 2005 10:01 AM

Patty,

I have stayed at both Ndali Lodge and Jacana Lodge: I'd recommend them. Ndali's setting is incomparable, truly stunning. The spectacular setting offers views of the Bunyuruguru Crater Lakes and the Ruwenzori Mountains. The cottages have four-poster beds, high ceilings, verandas with views of the mountains. Don't be surprised if one or more of the sweet, friendly resident dogs sleeps on your veranda, prefering the little sofa.
The food is very good, most of it grown on the estate. The setting is "Old Africa," which seems to have multiple meanings; in this case, there's no electricity or generator, just candles and lamps. For me the biggest plus were the folks in the area. Walking down the road I met numerous charming children and a variety of adults--all warm, curious, and delighted to have their photos taken. We had some great conversations: I learned a lot and as everywhere in Uganda, feel I made some friends. I sent the prints to Aubrey Price, the owner/manager to give to everyone. I'd go back.

Jacana Lodge in QE is on the shores of
Lake Nyamasingiri, a pleasant setting with vervet and black and white colubus monkeys cavorting tin the trees. Each chalet (mine was called Hippo) has a porch overlooking the lake; the central dining room has a good view too and offers not-quite-gourmet but okay meals. The weather was overcast so the setting seemed a bit dismal, but I imagine it's lovely with a touch of sun. The walk to the central dining room can be quite long if you are in the far cabins; this should be an issue only for those who have a real mobility problem: you could request a cabin close to the dining area.
The staff was very pleasant: say hello to Sylvia and Grace if you go.

I found the people in Uganda eager for friendship and unfailingly warm. I left the country with several dozen names and email/mail addresses and phone numbers. I would love to go back though I hear Botswana calling first.


Patty Oct 26th, 2005 10:39 AM

Lynn & WhitePelican,
Thanks for the accomodation feedback. Ndali sounds like a wonderful place to just walk around and take in the setting.

alwaysafrica Oct 28th, 2005 11:24 AM

Just echoing everyone else's thoughts -dlo, please write as much of a trip report as you can! I'm sure that we'll all enjoy it so much! Although I know how hard it's been even finishing our 1-month trip report and so I can imagine the determination it will take to actually get through the whole 3-months for us!

Keep in mind - we'll take whatever we can get... :-)

Have an awesome trip - 3 months, I'm SO jealous!

Patty Nov 1st, 2005 09:59 AM

Matt,
Were you able to confirm the chimp habituation experience for your trip in August? The reason that I ask is because I've been in touch with Jaynefer at Great Lakes about a possible trip next year and included in her email was this note -

"*About the Habituation, it's only booked in March, April and May and Nov. so we must plan our safari accordingly!"

Unless I've somehow misunderstood what she wrote, it sounds like the habituation experience is only possible during those 4 months of the year. I plan to verify with her but just wondering if you have any insight since you've been working on a Uganda itinerary for next year. Thanks!

Patty Nov 1st, 2005 12:31 PM

I have a question for anyone who has gone on the half day chimp trek (not the habituation) in Kibale. How many participants were in your group? I've been told that they allow a maximum of 32 people per trek but I wonder if everyone goes together or are you split into smaller groups with each group tracking different chimp families(I don't know what the correct term is for a group of chimps)? How many habituated chimp families are there in Kibale?

Do they normally reach this max capacity per trek? I find it hard to believe that 32 tourists wandering through the forest wouldn't scare off every animal ;)

I will confirm everything with the tour operator but also wanted to hear some actual experiences from people who have done this. Thanks.

thit_cho Nov 1st, 2005 01:06 PM

Well, I haven't followed this post that closely nor have I read the myriad responses, but I did want to chime in and add that I also found Uganda to be an incredibly fascinating and diverse destination.

In August 2003, I visited Queen Elizabeth (staying at Mweya, which I really liked) and Bwindi (staying at Volcanoes Safaris lodge, which was OK but not great). As I researched my trip, I realized that if I ended up in Bwindi, the drive to Kigali, Rwanda was shorter than driving back to Entebbe, and it also allowed me to trek for gorillas in Parc Nacional Volcans, which I found more beautiful than Bwindi.

If you expect to end at Bwindi, it may be worth looking into crossing into Rwanda and returning from Kigali.

Michael

99mkw Nov 1st, 2005 03:26 PM

Patty-

I too just received word from Jaynefer that the habituation is now limited to those months. She indicated that she was lobbying UWA and would keep me posted. I imagine that it must be an economic issue: probably more profitable to lead several groups (maybe large groups) to a chimpanzee family than one small group tying up a ranger and a chimp group all day.

I'm pretty disappointed, as my wife was more excited about the habituation than our hour with the gorillas. On the other hand, eliminating that full day excursion would give my itinerary more flexibility. Anyway, I'll let you know if we're able to work around this issue. Does anyone have advice on how we should try to make our case?

-Matt

Patty Nov 8th, 2005 01:33 PM

To answer my own question about the half day chimp trek in Kibale, I received some clarification from the tour operator and it's actually 36 participants max per DAY (not per trek) broken down to 18 participants per morning or afternoon session. These 18 are then divided into 3 groups of 6 for the actual trek. That sounds much better!

bluepeter026 Mar 7th, 2006 07:12 AM

Hi, a couple of points:
I was in Uganda (visited amongst other places, Kibale, Chiambura gorge, Bwindi) in Dec. Saw gorilla & Chimp in both other locals.
Obviously Bwindi trek experiance was incredible. Saw family of 23, great proximity, full hour, only 1/2 hr trek. Awesome.
Then 5 days later, went to Chiambura gorge. Have to saw was v disappointed. Only limited treking options, very short walk. It was dry, so there were no hippo (apart from one straggler) - but if it was wet, they would have churned the steep gorge into a mud fest. Saw a small group of Chimps but the way they appeared from nowhere, bang on cue - I had strong suspicions they were fed.
However 2 days later went to Kibale. Truely excellent. Firstly, they seemed professional, giving us safety briefing, rules of engagement, chat about the habitat - unlike CG where it weas 'jump in the van'. Had a 3 1/2 hour trek with a quality guide, who genuinely cared & knew his stuff. The forest was a great location - dense, but largley flat. Spooky too, with the monkey sounds ringing around you, as they circled us, playing games. Eventually found a troop of 40+. Quality time. 6 in our trek, and for the 2 1/2 hours we were with the apes, there were a max of 20 people there.
Another note - didn't stay there, or see it, but they have great accomodation worth checking out in Kibale NP itself. Treehouse that overlooks the mud pools frequented by forest Elephant in the wet season.

Good luck!
Pete


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 10:26 AM.