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Gorilla trekking aside, what do you think of Uganda as a safari destination?

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Oct 23rd, 2005, 04:01 PM
  #1
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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comfortable accomodation in each park (at least according to my 2003 edition of the Bradt guide which might be woefully outdated)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!
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Oct 23rd, 2005, 07:44 PM
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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
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Oct 24th, 2005, 12:04 AM
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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!
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Oct 24th, 2005, 04:45 AM
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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.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 08:46 AM
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Sounds great. Go for it, Patty!
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Oct 24th, 2005, 09:42 AM
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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
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Oct 24th, 2005, 10:02 AM
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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?
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Oct 24th, 2005, 10:13 AM
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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
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Oct 24th, 2005, 10:33 AM
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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!
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Oct 24th, 2005, 10:49 AM
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<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

Are you referring to volunteering at the Ngamba Island sanctuary or elsewhere?
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Oct 24th, 2005, 11:01 AM
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Yes, Ngamba Island. I think it sounds kind of neat and would be great way to give back.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 12:36 PM
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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
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Oct 24th, 2005, 03:42 PM
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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.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 03:48 PM
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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.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 04:30 PM
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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.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 05:11 PM
  #16
dlo
 
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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.
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Oct 24th, 2005, 09:08 PM
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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?
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Oct 25th, 2005, 12:08 PM
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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.

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Oct 25th, 2005, 12:20 PM
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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.
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Oct 25th, 2005, 12:21 PM
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so interested, in fact, that I'd put an extra "m" in extremely. Wow, what a great trip you're going to have.
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