Uganda - mountain gorillas and more


Feb 10th, 2011, 10:24 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
Uganda - mountain gorillas and more

Had 10 days in Uganda in November and here’s a brief trip report which might be useful to anyone thinking about Uganda since I didn’t find so much information on Uganda on the forum. Don’t know why it’s not more popular, it’s a fantastic destination, reasonably priced, beautiful and varied range of habitats, the mountain gorillas, plentiful game and birding, lovely people, not yet too ‘touristy’ and the language is English.

Here are some photos if you don’t want to wade through the report:

mountain gorillas (Nkuringo Group) Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Uganda wildlife & wild places

Uganda 2010 - roads & accommodation (a snapshot of Ugandan scenes ‘on the road’)

I’ve posted a couple of trip reports about Botswana so some forumites might know that we usually do self drive camping holidays in Africa (we are from UK and usually rent a 4x4 with camping gear and have travelled to South Africa, Namibia & Botswana this way) but found this a difficult option in Uganda (expensive, high insurance, and warnings of dangerous traffic!).

We also didn’t have much time to plan (2 weeks notice) so we looked for a local agent who could organise gorilla permits and provide vehicle and driver, which seems to be the more common approach in Uganda. In comparing prices we found very little difference between vehicle hire & vehicle plus driver/guide hire.

We used Gorilla Tours and found them very efficient (recommended in the Bradt guide book, and chosen by us because they didn't ask for payment in advance like most others, except for the permits). They suggest some itineraries on their website or you can suggest your own and they’ll come back with a quote. We have never used an agent for a holiday like this before, we usually plan and book everything ourselves, however we were impressed with the detail in the quotes, everything was itemised, what wasn’t included in the cost was clearly stated. And everything worked out exactly as stated, no hidden costs or surprises.

We chose mid-range accommodation but we found Ugandan mid-range more like budget - however it was fine for us, being used to camping, always clean with good food, but sometimes quite basic (or ‘rustic’ if you prefer ...!).

We were delighted to find that they could get us gorilla tracking permits at such short notice, it took some pressure off deciding which group we wanted to see, we left it to them to get us permits for whichever group was available. I saw alot of talk on forums about which is the best group to visit, but really I think most people would be delighted to see any of them.

We had to make a bank transfer for the permits so they could get them in advance (US$500 each) but otherwise they accepted payment in cash (US$) on arrival. In common with many travellers we were unsure about transferring money to an unknown organisation in an African country so this suited us. US$ are widely accepted in larger hotels and guest houses, but payment in Uganda Shillings is necessary in restaurants and most shops out of the capital Kampala. If traders do accept dollars some of them give an appalling exchange rate, (happens everywhere!) but the hotels were very fair. Credit cards are not widely accepted, and ATMs are not common outside Kampala. We calculated how much cash we thought we’d need and exchanged Sterling for Uganda Shillings at a Forex when we got there (not at the airport, at a Forex recommended by the guide), and had some dollars for back-up and tips. Uganda Shillings are difficult to get rid of outside Uganda so we paid our last hotel bill with what we had left plus dollars.
We had a bit of a strange itinerary because we had to be back in Kampala for a business meeting in the middle of our time there (the reason for the trip!) so we didn’t do a ‘standard’ round trip.

The itinerary was:
Arrive Entebbe: 1 night Airport Guesthouse (B&B 55 US$ per night)
Queen Elizabeth National Park: 2 nights Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge (B&B 100 US$ per night)
Kisoro (for Bwindi & gorillas): 2 nights Traveller’s Rest (B&B 75 US$ per night)
Entebbe: 2 nights The Boma Guesthouse (B&B 120 US$ per night)
Murchison Falls: 2 nights Sambiya River Lodge (HB 150 US$ per night)
Entebbe: 1 night The Boma Guesthouse

We went to Queen Elizabeth Nat Park first for 2 nights then on to Bwindi because we thought it would be better to acclimatise to the Ugandan climate for a couple of days rather than head straight for Bwindi. It worked fine for us, but we did worry that we might catch a cold or get a tummy upset and be prevented from doing the gorilla tracking, so maybe think about doing the gorillas first if you worry about things like that. The 2 nights in Entebbe was necessary for work, it would have been ideal to have spent longer touring but couldn’t complain!

We took a flight London-Entebbe which should have arrived 10pm but arrived 1am due to fog delays in London and it was nearly 2am before we got to the guesthouse (the luggage took an age to come through). Got visas on arrival (US$50 for British citizens), very quick and easy process.

November is the ‘short rains’ season, so we expected some rain, but the general forecast was that it might rain on and off but there would also be clear periods. When we arrived the weather was much hotter and more humid than we expected and the airport was unbearably hot. Our driver was there to meet us and take us to the nearby Airport Guesthouse in Entebbe. The guesthouse is owned by Gorilla Tours so it seemed logical to stay there and it had good reviews. We arrived too late to see much of it, however, as we had to be up at 6am to leave at 6.30 (only just getting light). What we saw of it was perfectly comfortable and clean, the rooms surround a peaceful garden. Breakfast was very simple (eggs and toast with preserves & fruit) and we found this was the norm during the trip.

We met our guide and he took us through the itinerary. The vehicle at first look seemed a bit old and tatty but given the rough roads we realised it was just the kind of thing you need. There were many times we were glad not to be driving a rental vehicle! As I said before we had not used a driver/guide before and were a bit anxious about how it would work out, but our driver was delightful and it worked out very well, and we could ask questions along the way about Uganda and the way of life there which made it more interesting. On our self drives we often see only other tourists in the national parks like Moremi & Kruger, so it was a change for us to get to know the locals.

Entebbe (Kampala) to Queen Elizabeth National Park via Fort Portal

Itinerary: “Early morning departure for Queen Elizabeth. We will pick you at 6.30 am from the Guesthouse and leave for Queen Elizabeth NP, via Fortportal. After lunch we reach at Queen Elizabeth Bush Lodge in Queen Elizabeth NP with a stunningly beautiful view over Kazinga Channel. In the late afternoon we will have a game drive. Driving time: ± 7.5 hours”

We drove round the outskirts of Kampala from Entebbe to get onto the road for QENP, this was our first taste of chaotic Kampala and we were SO glad we were not driving! In Kampala the boda-boda (small mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles or scooters with cushions on the back) are a common way to get around but are frequently involved in accidents and cause havoc weaving about in the traffic. The main roads are in the process of being upgraded but in the meantime there are extensive dusty, bumpy stretches of unfinished roads on all main routes. Other roads are red marram – quite smooth and seem to drain well keep dry even after extensive rain. Uganda has a variety of landscapes - the North is relatively flat and dry savanna while the East is mountainous and lush and the center of Uganda hosts larges forests. Scenery ranged from banana & tea plantations, pine forests, Friesian cows in green meadows, and lake & mountain scenery very much like Switzerland.

Our first stop was Fort Portal for lunch, our guide took us to a place that served traditional Ugandan food buffet style, it was delicious, we don’t eat much meat and there were plenty of vegetable options to choose from so we could taste a bit of everything. We chose to pay for our own meals on this part of the trip (as opposed to an all inclusive price), and lunch was a very reasonable 20,000 Ugandan shillings for 2 people including drinks (less than 9US$/£5.50)– we found this was a pretty standard price.
The town of Fort Portal is very pleasant and apparently one of the nicer urban centres in Uganda. Located at the northeastern end of the Rwenzori Mountains, it is the heartland of a verdant tea-growing area, and the whole area is very green.

We chose not to go chimp tracking here (would have liked to, but time didn’t permit), but many people choose to visit Kibale National Park nearby - there are apparently hundreds there, plus great hordes of monkeys, giving this small national park one of the highest primate population densities in the world. They say it’s not as strenuous as tracking the gorillas, but it’s not easy to get as up close and personal either as the chimps tend to keep a safe distance in the tall trees. (We did however go on a chimp walk in Budongo National Park, near Murchison Falls)

We got to QENP about 4pm and immediately came across elephants strolling across the road – good start! With the Rwenzori Mountains to the north and the border with the Congo across the lake to the west, it is a stunning setting. The wide bio-diversity of habitats means that Queen Elizabeth National Park contains an astonishing number of species - almost 100 types of mammal and 606 different birds! The Kasinga Channel alone is said to contain the world's largest concentration of hippos. Other wildlife includes warthogs, buffalo, rare aquatic sitatunga antelope, giant forest hog, beautifully horned Uganda kob, topi, waterbuck, elephant and leopard. There are no giraffe, zebra, impala or rhino.

We went to the Bush Lodge and decided not to go out for a game drive, it was already getting late and although the guide offered we thought he’d done enough driving for the day, and we were glad just to sit and enjoy the view and the sound of hippos in the water below us, and try to identify the many birds around us. The accommodation was basic and simple and we had the whole camp to ourselves that night:
From their own website: “The lodge currently consists of 6 self contained units which are spaciously placed between the indigenous bush. The rooms are made from a fine combination of canvas and local materials and built to ensure the best views on the seasonal Kamera river. Each room has its own private ensuite bathroom with an eco toilet and an outside shower where 2 showerheads allow couples to take their starlit shower together”

Our only complaint was that the ‘eco toilet’ (ie long drop) smelled a bit, so I suggest using the flushing toilet near the eating area as much as possible!

The weather the first couple of days was cloudy with sunny intervals but dry and warm, comfortable for driving but not so great for photography. And certainly warm enough to shower outside.

Dinner was under canvas with a view of the river, and good again, but no choice of menu (3 courses). We’re not worried about food, we eat pretty much what we’re given, and anything served with a hippo strolling past a few metres away is fine!! Don’t expect food reviews from me, I can’t even remember what we ate, just that it was pretty good!

Next day was a full day in Queen Elizabeth NP, Itinerary: “This day is for a game drive on the plains of Queen Elizabeth with thousands of Ugandan kobs, lions, elephants etc. Also on the program is a two hours launch trip on the Kazinga channel where we will see all the animals from the waterside.”

We had a quick coffee then picked up a Park Guide and headed for the park. What surprised us about the Ugandan parks is that locals are free to use the parks and live and work (for example salt extraction from the pans) within or very near the park boundaries. Banana sellers with their bicycles piled high with bananas cycle through the park to supply the local villages – they don’t worry about the predators but have had to dodge the odd banana-hungry elephant in the past! In addition to large numbers of buffalo, we saw many antelope including Ugandan kob, defassa waterbuck and bushbuck. We also saw elephant and lions but not very close on this occasion. The day was a bit dull so not ideal for taking photos, however the drive and scenery was interesting.

We got back to camp about 11 am for breakfast, (very simple; choice of eggs, toast & preserves, fruit), lunch was offered but we asked to have a packed lunch instead and get back into the park earlier. So we had another game drive and a look around the small museum in the park HQ and a nosey at Mweya Safari Lodge which sits on top of a hill in the Queen Elizabeth National Park overlooking Lake Edward at the point the Kazinga channel exits the lake. The lodge accommodation is in terraced rooms, and the main building with bar, restaurant and lounge as well as a large swimming pool and surrounding sun deck all overlook sections of the lake or channel. It looked very comfortable but we generally prefer smaller and less formal accommodation.

The two hour launch trip on the Kazinga channel was amazing! The Chobe in Botswana is also famed for the setting, the game, the sunsets etc but this was something else. Our guide advised us to get a seat on the left (facing the front) which was good advice because we were on the shore-side for most of the trip (but you could go onto top deck for viewing). When we reached the shoreline opposite the jetty we just didn’t know where to look first: buffalo, hippo, crocs, and so many birds I couldn’t keep a record. We’ve never seen so many buffalo, hippo, & crocs lazing about in such numbers and in such close proximity before. The highlight was seeing a hippo in the throes of giving birth. The pregnant female would keep turning over onto her back and waving her pink legs up in the air, and we could spot the foot of the baby sticking out. The boat did keep a good distance away and we did move on to let her finish in peace, but went back an hour later to see the tiny baby she had produced – magical! As I said the birds were just too many and varied to remember, this from a parks website gives an idea:

“More than 606 bird species have been recognized as existing in QENP believed to be the highest total of any national park in Africa, if not the world. The bird list includes virtually every water-bird species resident in Uganda. The park is a sanctuary to the rare and most sought-for shoebill. Other key species include: the African fish Eagle, martial eagle, and papyrus gonolek. Along the Kazinga Channel one is able to watch for resident African Mourning Dove, Swamp flycatcher, black-headed gonolek, grey-capped warbler, grey-headed kingfisher and Brimstone Canary. In the short grass towards the airstrip, the following birds are common: Temminck’s Courser, Collared pranticole and red-capped Lark.”

We saw a young lion who looked like he’d been in a few scraps mating with a lioness on way back to the lodge so the day ended pretty well. There were a few more guests in camp that night but it still retained an intimate and quiet atmosphere.

Next day was the drive to Kisoro (for Bwindi), we had hoped to drive via Ishasha, to look for the tree climbing lions but the road was impassable due to the wet conditions.

The gorillas to come, it's taking me longer than I thought to do this at my typing speed, but if I start posting I'll have the motivation to carry on!

Any questions to date I'll be happy to answer.
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 10th, 2011, 11:14 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,513
I am very excited to see this tokoloshe!

On the lauch trip how big is the actual launch? How many people on board?

Thanks so much for posting & I will be following along.
jules39 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 10th, 2011, 11:23 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,513
Oh thank you also for the photo link!
jules39 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 10th, 2011, 11:47 AM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,473
Just starting your report and photos, tockoloshe. Thank you so much for posting! When I was in Rwanda a number of people I spoke to had just come from Uganda and said the trekking was much more difficult there, so I can't to read about your experience.
Leely2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 10th, 2011, 12:15 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
Hi jules, I've added a couple of photos of the launch on the Kazinga channel at the end of 'Uganda wildlife' (I had taken that photo out thinking that the backs of people's heads wasn't very interesting!!). I think there were about 36 seats and no more than 12 (?) on the top deck at any one time.
Leely2, will try to get to the trekking shortly!
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 10th, 2011, 10:17 PM
Join Date: May 2009
Posts: 129
Really great photos!! Anxiously awaiting the trekking saga, I have not seen the gorillas yet and am trying to decide between Rwanda and Uganda. Thank you for sharing.
scruffypuma is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 11th, 2011, 07:02 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Your Kazinga Channel description is great, especially in comparing it with another water spectacle of Africa--the Chobe River. With or without a new born hippo, "magical" is exactly right!

Aiport Guesthouse is a good hint!

Looking forward to Bundago.
atravelynn is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 11th, 2011, 04:51 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
Oh dear - feeling the pressure! Here comes the gorilla trekking.
atravelynn, the Budongo visit was just a short walk in the forest, but I'll fill you in later.

Queen Elizabeth National Park to Kisoro (Bwindi Impenetrable Forest)

Next day was the drive to Kisoro, it absolutely poured all day, we felt sorry for the driver but again grateful we weren’t doing the driving.

Itinerary: “Early morning after breakfast start (8 AM) the drive to Kabale for lunch. From here the bad road takes us through a beautiful landscape called the "Switzerland of Africa". We pass mountains, hills and lakes with cultivated terraces, tropical rainforest and bamboo forest. On the last hill the landscape unfolds beneath us, in the vast plane of Uganda, Rwanda and Congo the Virunga volcanoes dominate the view. Down is Kisoro where we will stay in the famous Travellers Rest Hotel. Just outside Kisoro, this unique hotel offers a cozy stay for the tourists, who come to see the endangered mountain gorilla. The hotel, built in a somewhat colonial style, and entirely renovated in 1999, has a comfortable ambiance. In the sixties the famous American 'gorilla-woman' Dian Fossey visited Hotel Travellers Rest many, many times to do paperwork, to relax or to meet people. Fossey said about the hotel: ,,It was my second home." Driving time: ± 8 hours

The scenery was indeed stunning, very green especially in the rain, but the rain made driving difficult, and once again we were glad we could take a back seat (literally). We passed meadows which could have been scenery in the UK, complete with Friesian cows instead of the traditional long-horned cattle. On one narrow bit of marram road a truck had got stuck in the mud and we could only just squeeze past, but most of the road was tarmac. They are doing a lot of work to upgrade the roads and I should imagine that by the end of 2011 the main roads will be in good condition.

We got to the hotel in good time to have a rest and an excellent pot of Ugandan coffee in the welcoming lounge with open fire. A good library of books to browse too. Traveller’s Rest was very comfortable, the simple rooms surround peaceful gardens with a view of the Virunga volcanoes. Once again there were few guests, just one other party of 4. Dinner was buffet style for the main course, with fixed starter & dessert, good home cooking (24 Ugandan shillings pp).

Itinerary: Gorilla tracking
”The day of Gorilla tracking, From Travellers Rest in Kisoro it is 1 hour by car to Nkuringo group in South Bwindi. At 7:45 A:M you will be at the staring point of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for pre-briefing and at 8:30 you will start the trek, after finding the Gorillas you will spend with maximum 1 hour. All visitors are expected back to the starting point by 7:00 P:M. the walks can take 3-9 hours depending on where you find the Gorillas. It is a real hiking and being physically fit is recommend”

This from the Uganda Wildlife Authority website can probably describe the Bwindi Forest better than I can:

“Bwindi actually means 'Impenetrable.' This double warning is apt, for Bwind is all but impenetrable; 327km2 of tangled vegetation draped over a deeply fissured landscape of steep, slippery valleys and high, draughty ridges. But if the terrain is far from easy to negotiate, it is well worth the effort. A trek thruogh this, one of Africa's most ancient rainforests, in search of the endangered Mountain Gorillas, ranks among the world's premier wildlife encounters. Bwindi supports a tremendous biodiversity as a result of two factors. Firstly, its slopes extend over a broad altitudinal range of 1447m to creat habitats ranging from lowland forest at 1160m to rare Afromontane vegetation above 2600m. Secondly, it is extremely old. When most of Africa's forests disappeared during a rid conditions of the ice age (12,000-18,000 years ago), Bwind was on of a few 'refugia' that persisted. Consequently, while most of today's forests are no more than 12,000 years old, Bwindi's vegetation has been weaving itself into tangles over at least 25,000 years, in the process accumulating a lengthy species list. This includes 310 species of butterflies, 51 reptiles, 200 trees, 88 moths and an exceptional 120 types of mammal including 10 primates. The latter includes chimpanzee, baboon, L'Hoest's, red tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus and Bwindi's most famous residents, the mountain gorilla.”

Gorilla rules

To protect the gorillas and visitors, the following rules must be adhered to:
1. No one with a communicable disease, such as flu or diarrhoea, is allowed to visit the gorillas.
2. Do not surround the gorillas but remain in a tight group.
3. Leave a distance of at least 5m between you and the gorilla. If they approach you, move back slowly.
4. Flash photography is strictly forbidden.
5. Do not eat or smoke within 200m of the gorilla.
6. If you need to sneeze or cough, turn away from the gorillas and cover your nose and mouth.
7. Do not spit on vegetation or soil while in the park.
8. When with the gorillas, avoid making loud noises or sudden movement.
9. Contact time with the gorilla is strictly limited one hour.
10. No person under 15 years is allowed to track gorillas.
11. All litter must be removed from the park for disposal.

We knew in advance we would be tracking the Nkuringo group: “This group was opened for tourism in 2004. Nkuringo is the Rukiga word for round hill. The group was first spotted and targeted for habituation at a hill named Nkuringo. This hill is not peaked and can be distinguished by its rounded crest.” The Nkuringo group currently consists of 3 silverbacks, 4 blackbacks, 4 adult females, 4 juveniles and 3 infants.

Next morning we left before dawn to be at the starting point by 7.45. The track up the mountain was very rough, steep and winding, and a 4x4 was definitely necessary. But when the sun came up we saw that the clouds had cleared and the day was bright and sunny, and the scenery even more stunning than before as we climbed up above the lakes with the mountains of Democratic Republic of Congo, the Virunga volcanoes and Rwanda and a few short km away. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos because I thought I’d do it on the way back down, not thinking that the clouds might return (and they did)!

We got to the starting point in good time, and started the briefing, and it looked like we’d be the only 2 on the trip, but 3 stragglers arrived and after a telling off by the ranger for being late (!) and after further briefing we were ready. We’d heard that treks could last up to 9 hours so had come mentally prepared, but it was a great relief to hear that the group was not too far away. The ranger said that on one occasion they’d had to send someone back to the village to get torches because they’d walked so far that they were returning in the dark.

We were offered a porter for $15 and although we didn’t need 2 we were glad to employ a couple of locals. We (they!) carried water, raincoat and a few snacks (which we didn’t need because the walk was not long) in a small rucksack. Bear in mind that you have to leave the rucksack with the porters when you get nearer to the gorillas, so make sure you have your camera equipment handy. We were perched on a steep slope so it wasn’t easy to mess around with your gear – better to plan what you want to take with you beforehand. You can’t carry anything which you may accidentally put down which the gorillas may pick up, so make sure you have pockets for whatever you need to carry. Also you might need your hands free for climbing up & down some of the more difficult bits. We also took a pair of thin but tough gardening gloves, they looked a bit silly but some of the undergrowth was very thorny and when you had to pull yourself up some of the slopes it was easy to grab a thorny branch. It was a good temperature by now and we only needed a tshirt or walking shirt (I would recommend long sleeves because of the thick vegetation), but they warned us to take a waterproof because the weather could change quickly, and we could be out all day. We wore sturdy walking boots mainly because we could fit them in our luggage with no problem so thought we might as well, but a sturdy pair of walking shoes would be OK for the terrain we saw, although if you step in a muddy stream like we did you might be glad of high sided footwear. The porters wore Wellingtons and managed better than we did! The guides also told us to tuck our trousers into our socks because if you inadvertently stood on soldier ants they would be up your trousers faster than a rat up a drainpipe – a fellow trekker seconded that, and said that she had had soldier ants doing a tour of her underwear which was no fun! We put on plenty of insect repellent but I don’t think it was really needed. We were also given a good long sturdy walking stick.

We drove to a starting point a little further down the mountain, and set off through the maize fields along a narrow path – not difficult at this point, although the path was narrow and a bit muddy, my foot slipped down the hill a couple of times and I took a tumble when I wasn’t paying attention and enjoying the scenery! When we got to the trees we followed a steeper path and had a few logs and vines to clamber over. The porters were there to give a helping hand, not just carry a bag, and were actually more use going down than going up, they could hold you steady and find the best footholds when you might otherwise slip down a steep slope. When we got near to the gorillas we had to leave our sticks and rucksacks behind with the porters.

But we were lucky to find the group within 45 minutes. If I start talking about the actual gorilla experience I’d be here for hours, needless to say it was fantastic and memorable. We didn’t imagine we’d get so near, the gorillas were totally relaxed. We couldn’t get 5 metres away if we tried because the vegetation was so dense. I had a heart-stopping moment when the silverback stood up in front of me, did a mock charge and did the full grunt/bark and chest beat – and no I didn’t get a photo, I was too busy legging it! (it wasn’t aimed at me by the way, but at another gorilla behind me, which I didn’t realise at the time). One of the little ones ran right in front of me, it was lovely to see they were so unafraid. I hope the photos give an idea of what we experienced. Here’s the link again:

mountain gorillas (Nkuringo Group) Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

After about 30 mins the group started to move slowly off, when the silverback decided to move. The guide said they would probably be moving into a more open area to feed and we would try to follow. Apparently November is a good time to track them because food is abundant and they don’t have to range too far to feed. There was no path at this point so the rangers hacked a way through the undergrowth to keep us as near as possible. The smaller ones entertained us with their antics in the trees, the older ones settled down to sleep or feed. As everyone else says, the time goes by in a flash. They stopped again before they got to the open area and sadly we had to head back.

Photography was difficult in the thick vegetation but I’ll say what many have said before – just enjoy the moment! But I got a few reasonable images. The rangers did everything possible to ensure that we got as clear a view as possible, I couldn’t believe how tolerant the gorillas were to have these men with machetes hacking away at the undergrowth in front of them, then have us peering at them. It was interesting to hear that if we had picked up a machete or a stick, however, they would probably have seen us as aggressors and possibly attacked, they clearly trust the rangers implicitly. One silverback attacked and killed 2 hunting dogs recently, and sent the poachers packing, so they are clearly capable of doing serious damage to anything/anyone which disturbs them. (You can get facebook updates on what’s happening in the forest, and it’s nice to keep up with our new-found friends on ‘friend a gorilla’ )

We spent a good hour with them, and then a little bit longer since 2 blackbacks had settled down for a kip and cut off our retreat so the rangers had to hack a new way out. This meant scrambling over trees and pushing through vines and bushes again. The walk back up the mountainside was much more difficult than I imagined - we're reasonably fit 50+ but I got terribly out of breath - the legs were OK it was the breathing! I made the mistake of trying to keep up with the fit 18-year olds in front of me and got so out of breath I felt quite faint, but I learned to go at my own pace, (and pretended to stop and look at the scenery several times to maintain some dignity) and made it back OK.

Back at the ranger’s office we got our certificates and had a wander round the small craft shops and bought a couple of things to help support the local community. We noticed that the whole area looked quite well-maintained with good housing, so at least some of the tourist dollars seem to be filtering though to the populace.

We got back to Kisoro about 3pm, had a good hot shower then had a wander into the town to have a look round and find an internet office. People were very friendly and we didn’t get hassled at all. Another quiet evening and tasty dinner at Travellers Rest and early to bed after all that day’s excitement!
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 12th, 2011, 11:51 AM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,473
Wonderful photos and report. I need to rebuild my FF miles so I can get to Uganda. It is a joy to see the gorillas, isn't it?

Thank you very much for sharing your experiences!
Leely2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 13th, 2011, 05:19 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
Thanks for kind comments.
Yes, Leely2, 'joy' is a good word to use for seeing the gorillas!

I forgot to say that the temperature was a lot cooler in Kabale, where we stopped for lunch, and Kisoro, although a light fleece would do. It is mountainous so the altitude makes it fresher. (I can blame the altitude on getting breathless on the walk too!)

Kisoro – Entebbe

Itinerary: “After breakfast, the last part of the journey will bring us back to Kampala. We will stop in Mbarara for Lunch and then continue, after Masaka town we will stop at the Equator for Tea/Coffee break and buying souvenirs. We will bring you back to The Boma Guesthouse in Entebbe for overnight. Driving time: ± 9 hours”

The drive Kisoro (Bwindi) -Entebbe was actually 10+ hours, a long day. But even though the road trip was long, we enjoyed seeing local life and roadside scenes. It was a hot sunny day, so we could see that the weather in that season is quite changeable. Mbarara, where we stopped for lunch, is a university town and seemed a lively place. It got hotter as we approached Kampala and Lake Victoria. The traffic in the outskirts of Kampala was terrible, and after such a long drive the last leg seemed endless.

We stayed at the Boma Guesthouse in Entebbe that night, a really lovely place, very homely and welcoming, and although Airport Guesthouse had been fine for an overnight stop (or 4-hour stop in our case), the Boma was much more comfortable, with swimming pool, lush gardens with various places to sit and relax and bird-spot, free internet access and the restaurant was open for meals and snacks all day. We’ve stayed in 4* hotels less comfortable than The Boma, - highly recommended.

Next day we went into Kampala, taxi fares seem disproportionably high, a single is about US$45, but our guesthouse negotiated a US$70 return deal. The traffic was as bad as everyone warned us! After taking care of business we had a look round Garden City Mall, I’m always interested to see what’s in the local supermarket as much as what’s in the local craft shops! Apparently Garden City has ‘the feel and atmosphere of a typical western shopping centre or mall and is designed with richer Ugandans and foreign visitors in mind. There is air conditioning, an omnipresent security force, plenty of space and even seating and fountains to complete the luxury feel of the complex’. It did have a good mix of shops, the book shop and the craft shop ( were particularly interesting. The crafts there were a good price, even cheaper than on the roadside stalls I’d seen. Good quality baskets were 8,000 Ugandan shillings (US$3.5) .

We made our way back to Entebbe and had a look round the lakeside and the Wildlife Education centre, which aims ‘to foster educational programmes on conservation, rescue and rehabilitate animals and run captive breeding programmes’ , and most of the animals have apparently been rescued from poachers, illegal trade or accidents. I’m not a fan of seeing animals in captivity but it was good to see many parties of schoolchildren visiting, and they reinforced the message ‘animals have feelings too, don’t hurt them’. One interesting part was a large medicinal plants garden, which was well labelled and explains how the plants are traditionally used to cure diseases. We didn’t go much further than seeing the shoebill storks, and instead enjoyed a meal of the local Lake Victoria fish (tilapia – a very tasty fish) overlooking the lake. We put the botanical gardens on hold until we came back from Murchison falls, quite honestly I was quite hot and bothered by then, it was a hot sticky day and I was in need of a shower and a cold drink.

Next day would be the trip (2 nights) to Murchison Falls
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 14th, 2011, 11:32 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,513
I am still following you tok. Uganda winning as the destination for our next trip!
jules39 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 15th, 2011, 06:53 AM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
No pressure! 45 minutes, no torches--that's a successful gorilla outing. Will be checking photos.

Looking forward to Murch Falls and what you saw. Again, no pressure.
atravelynn is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 19th, 2011, 11:03 AM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 75
fantastic and detailed review-thank-you! I hope to go Gorilla trekking in 2/2012!
smgapp is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 19th, 2011, 11:16 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
prepare yourselves!:
(anyone else think it's the gorilla's idea of a huge joke??)
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 21st, 2011, 05:13 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
Entebbe- Murchison Falls (approx 350km)

The Nile river crossing (ferry) at Paraa is approximately 5hrs drive from Kampala. Paraa is 85km on marram roads from Masindi town by the direct route.

Since it was a shorter journey to Murchison Falls next morning we could leave at a more civilised time of 8.30 with our new driver & vehicle for this leg of the trip, a 4x4 7-seater minibus with opening roof - we hadn’t travelled in one of these before but have noticed they are much used in Kenya & Tanzania. It was actually very comfortable & spacious and handled some very tough driving conditions extremely well. The roads to get there were in good condition, even the marram track after Masindi. However the tracks in Murchison Park itself were quite difficult after heavy rainfall, a few vehicles had difficulty in the mud.

We noticed that the area towards the north seemed less well-off than in the west, the children were more often than not barefoot and poorly dressed. The guide told us that many did not go to school because the parents needed them to work. However, as elsewhere in Uganda we always got an enthusiastic welcome from the children shouting ‘Mzungu’ (white person) as we passed and waving madly. We felt like royalty sitting there waving at everyone. It was refreshing to see they didn’t ask for money, they were just excited to see us! When we got back home we saw news reports about Ugandans having to live on foreign aid in the far north/north-east, and it seemed such a great contrast to the agricultural abundance we’d seen on our trip.

We chose to stay in a cottage at Sambiya River Lodge, Murchison Falls. The layout was impressive, with large lodge and swimming pool, and cottages in the grounds, with the usual warthog ‘lawnmowers’ in residence. The pool looked inviting but we didn’t have chance to use it. However the cottage had a pervading smell of damp in the wood, especially the wardrobes. The bathrooms were tatty and water-stained but clean, but the mosquito net had holes in it; this was the least impressive of the accommodation we used. The main lodge had ample room to relax or dine, but it felt big for only 2 guests – I guess this was out of season travel! The staff were delightful, very friendly. There were blue flags out to combat tsetse flies, but we didn’t come across any in the lodge grounds, just in an area further down towards the river (we had to close the car windows for a couple of km to avoid them flying in).

We checked in then went straight out to drive to the top of Murchison Falls, about an hour away. Here the Nile is forced through a narrow gap in the rock (only 7 meters wide), before plunging down 43 meters - very impressive to see the thundering water – we would see the bottom of the Falls the next day. There is a walk to the bottom of the Falls, but we didn’t feel like doing that. It was much hotter and more humid in the Murchison Falls area, however a big storm in the night cleared the air somewhat the next morning, but made the roads very muddy.

Back at the lodge we ate early, the food was good again, but a limited menu (choice of 2, one meat and one vegetarian), probably because we were the only ones there. The heat and humidity was getting to us, and all we felt like doing after dinner was dragging ourselves off to bed. The storm in the night was quite spectacular, and when I opened the door to have a look outside I found a large buffalo outside my room (I smelled him before I saw him!) so I took on board the advice not to wander around in the dark.

We were up and out by daybreak to do the hour’s drive to the ferry crossing into the park. We passed ‘Red Chilli Rest Camp’ very near to the ferry, more convenient for the park and a budget option much frequented by backpackers and overlanders. The other popular option in the park is The Paraa Safari Lodge, a luxury lodge overlooking the Murchison Falls near the ferry. It was disturbing to see the oil workers going across with us on the ferry – disturbing because oil has been discovered in the park and so Uganda could lose a large area of park for oil production if the explorations prove it profitable.

We picked up our guide, and all the vehicles from the ferry seemed to take the same road, actually this was fortunate, because we came across a very muddy stretch and 2 vehicles had already got stuck, but there was plenty of manpower to help get them out. Our driver decided to try and get round them and promptly got stuck too (I think I could have learned a few local choice swear words at that point), but we were soon manhandled out and got on our way. By the way, it was interesting to learn that there are 43 individual ‘living’ languages listed for Uganda, and the common language between them is English, with Swahili.

Murchison Falls National Park encompasses a large area of African savannah, sliced in half by the Nile River. It is Uganda's largest national park (3,840 and it may look familiar to some since it was featured in the old movie ‘African Queen’. Murchison Falls is more scenic than Queen Elizabeth, in my opinion, with wide and varied vistas, maybe you can see from the photos what I mean. The game viewing was excellent, no cats for us that day but hyaenas (running off, not very close), elephants, more buffalo than I have seen elsewhere, lots of hippo, hundreds of Uganda kob, oribi, hartebeests, Abyssinyan ground hornbills and Rothschild’s giraffe. I felt we saw a lot in a relatively short time (about 4 hours). We went back on the ferry to the restaurant/bar at Red Chilli Camp for lunch – this is where we would have done things differently had we been doing our own self-drive, and would have just had a picnic at a game-viewing spot, but we compromised with what the driver had planned even though we didn’t want anything to eat.

After lunch was a boat trip to the foot of Murchison Falls, leaving from the same place as the ferry:
“The launch trip from Paraa to the bottom of Murchison Falls is the major activity at the Murchison Falls. On the launch many hippos and crocodiles can be seen as well as buffaloes, elephants, waterbucks and birds such as Cormorants, Herons, Fish Eagles, Bee-eaters, Kingfishers, water ducks, and the rare Shoebill.”
This was a pleasant way to spend 3 hours, lots of bird life and hippos (again!), but much of the time we were mid-river so there was not much to see, and also the clouds came over and it started to drizzle enough to get quite wet. But definitely an activity to do. The tsetse flies were attacking some passengers on the way back, but we had a good repellent cream and didn’t get bitten. By the end of this second day I felt very hot and exhausted and didn’t even feel like dragging myself into dinner, I think I had caught a bug/virus which manifested itself the next day.

On the way out of Murchison Falls we stopped in the Budongo Forest to do a forest walk (Budongo Eco Lodge ) :
“Budongo Eco Lodge, also known as the Kaniyo Pabidi Ecotourism site, is located in the heart of Budongo Forest Reserve, in Murchison Falls National Park. The lodge provides comfortable accommodation and a wide range of activities in the midst of the marvelous natural beauty of the rainforest. Whether you would like to go for bird watching, explore the forest by a guided nature walk or make an unforgettable chimp tracking and watch our cousins from a close distance... Budongo Forest provides all ingredients for an exciting jungle experience!”

I wasn’t feeling 100% but didn’t want to miss anything, and thought a nice stroll would be good in any case after being in a vehicle for so long. It was interesting to see huge mahogany trees and strange flowers but there was not a great deal of wildlife to see, apart from colobus and red-tailed monkeys high up in the trees. However we did see and hear the chimps close up, and the guide took us crashing though the forest to try and keep up with them (to no avail), so I returned from my ‘relaxing stroll’ looking like I had been dragged through a hedge backwards – well, I had been practically dragged through a forest forwards! The loud screaming of the chimps as they leapt about in the trees made quite an impression, I can’t say I felt a bond with them in the same way as the gorillas. The guide told us about an extremely rare bird found only in this patch of forest, which bird watchers come from far and wide to see, and lo and behold we saw it perched in front of us. The guide was in hysterics of laughter because although we made polite noises of appreciation I think she could see we were wondering what all the fuss was about, yet she’s seen twitchers spend days looking for the little thing and go into raptures at the sight of it! For the record it was an ‘Illadopsis puveli’ – does that do anything for anyone out there?? A bit more about this patch of forest:
“Two species of birds found on Budongo forest are not found elsewhere in East Africa. The forest is the second most important in Uganda (after Semliki National Park) for species of the Guinea-Congo forest Biome. Yellow-footed Flycatcher, only known from Budongo in Uganda, used to be common in mature forest, but is now extremely hard to find. Illadopsis puveli, a recent addition, is not known elsewhere in East Africa. Other species that make Budongo amongst the best bird watching spots in East Africa are include Ceratogymna fistulator, Smithornis rufolateralis, Ixonotus guttatus, Neafrapus cassini, Sylvietta denti, Batis ituriensis and Zoothers camaronensis. These species are also known from a few other forests in Uganda. Twitchers in Budongo forest birding are always treated with rare species also present in the forest such as Pitta reichenowi and Parmoptila woodhousei, both with multiple recent records. Bird watching in the forest is well facilitated with an extensive well maintained 115km trail system.”

We were back in Kampala for a late lunch, but I was feeling decidedly queasy and even declined an offer to tour the craft markets, so my husband knew I couldn’t be feeling well! Back at the guest house the inevitable happened, but at least I was in comfortable surroundings - there’s not much worse than being on the road when you think you’re going to need the bathroom urgently! I think it was some bug I picked up compounded by the heat.

We were leaving in the evening the next day so had planned a fairly relaxing day visiting the botanical gardens in Entebbe, but neither of us felt too good all day, every movement was exhausting (it was a very hot day). Luckily we kept the room as a day room and gave up on the idea of going out, and spent the day relaxing by the pool and in the gardens observing the bird life – not what we usually choose to do but it was all we had the energy for. The guesthouse provided us with a lift to the airport in the evening and we bid a sad goodbye to Uganda!

We loved Uganda and the Ugandans are very friendly. Needless to say the gorilla experience was something to remember! The food was also excellent everywhere we went. My only complaint was that we didn’t have time to do all the things we would have liked to do: stay longer everywhere (!), visit more of the national parks and lakes, explore more of the forests, visit to Ngamba Island near Entebbe (home to orphaned chimpanzees, a project of the Chimpanzees Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust established to provide a home as well as conserve their forest habitat), a visit to the Batwa pygmies in Bwindi, trip to see the source of Nile (and the chance to do white water rafting if you like that sort of thing), .... .

I wouldn’t say Uganda is ‘classic safari’, it clearly hasn’t got the game attractions of Kenya or Tanzania, but it does offer a wide variety of activities as well as the mountain gorillas.

I think many people still harbour uneasy feelings about Uganda – say ‘Uganda’ to many people and they come back with ‘Idi Amin’ and ‘Last King of Scotland’. I can admit that it wasn’t the first country on my own ‘to see’ list, and we only went because of a work commitment, but I’m so glad we did! I hope more people will see that the country has moved on and is a worthwhile tourist destination.

Some ‘new’ wildlife in Uganda (for me):
Uganda kob
Abyssinian ground hornbills
Rothschild’s giraffe
East African waterbuck (no ‘target’ on the rear end like Southern African waterbuck)
Shoebill stork
Crowned crane (Uganda’s national bird)
Black and white colobus monkey
red-tailed monkeys
Illadopsis puveli (!!) and so many new birds I can’t remember

If I can answer any specific questions please ask.
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 21st, 2011, 05:40 PM
Original Poster
Join Date: Mar 2008
Posts: 371
I missed 'mountain gorilla' from the list above !!!
tockoloshe is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 22nd, 2011, 11:22 AM
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 1,513
Great report!! Thanks so much for putting it together.
jules39 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 23rd, 2011, 02:05 PM
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 3,237
Your photos of the gorillas are wonderful. What kind of photo equipment did you take on the tracking day? And, if a DSLR, what lens would you recommend for the experience?

And yes, great report! Thanks for posting.
althom1122 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 23rd, 2011, 06:31 PM
Join Date: May 2008
Posts: 8,473
You've sold me on Uganda for sure. And Budongo Forest sounds excellent. I hadn't known that oil has been discovered in Murchison Falls park. Huh.

Loved this bit:
The storm in the night was quite spectacular, and when I opened the door to have a look outside I found a large buffalo outside my room (I smelled him before I saw him!) so I took on board the advice not to wander around in the dark.

Oh, Africa!

Sorry you were a bit unwell but as you say, at least you were in comfortable surroundings with the appropriate facilities.
Leely2 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Feb 24th, 2011, 01:01 AM
Join Date: Sep 2008
Posts: 624
What a lovely report. Uganda is so beautiful and I'm glad that it is becoming a safari destination again. I'm off to look at your photos now.
twaffle is offline  
Reply With Quote

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 08:44 AM.