Having just returned from Uganda and having been there a few times now, I can honestly say that it is very fast becoming one of my favorite safari destinations.
Uganda is a very unique and diverse country and from the moment you arrive, no matter who it is that you speak to, will always say hello with a smile on their face and you find yourself very quickly in a position where everyone is telling you how much they love their country and how grateful they are for tourism.
When it comes to National Parks there are 10 National Parks include Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley, Kibale, Mount Elgon, Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki, Mgahinga Gorilla, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. These parks display the best in East Africa.
The interesting fact is that not all of them are open to the public. The parks that are not open for tourism are strictly for conservation and to preserve wild areas. Having said that, these parks make their income from the other parks that are frequented by tourist each year. This means that it is vital that we keep going to Uganda, to go and explore all the country has to offer and I can promise you from personal experience, it's a trip that just has to be on your bucket list.
With all the tourism coming into the country each year, entering the tourists parks provides the National Parks with income to sustain the park, but a portion of the money being made is put aside and at the end of the year the Uganda Authorities go around to each community and see what the community needs, for example - a new school, a new bridge or anything similar for that matter. In doing this, ourselves as tour operators along with all the other individuals that travel to Uganda, we don't just support the National Parks, but we support the community and I personally think this is a great initiative that many other parts of the world can embrace.
The trip I recently returned from was our safari - The Best of Uganda, so I would like to share a little more about my experience in Uganda and why I think it is definitely worth visiting.
So where did we stay? And what did we get up to?
We started our safari experience at Karibu Guest house in Entebbe where we overnighted and then met our local guide, David from Wild Frontiers, who then drove us to Primate Lodge in Kibble forest, along the way he gave us all some great in-depth knowledge about the area, the farming and the markets that take place. This was to be the beginning of what can only be described as a phenomenal safari.
We had the day to settle into the lodge and find our bearings before we would start the first of two Chimpanzee treks.
What to wear? This applies for chimp and Gorilla Trekking.
- Long Sleeve shirt
- Long Pants
- Hiking boots
- Long socks(to tuck your pants into) OR Gators. This stops any creepy crawlies from getting in your pants.
- Bug spray
- Camel Pack(I did this for the first time this year, it carries 3 liters of water and is more than enough for a trek)
- Gloves (sometimes in the forest you need to use your hands to move branches)
- Camera gear
- Rain gear (being in a tropical rain forest, the weather is unpredictable and changes from minute to minute)
- Walking stick (the hills and trails can be a bit tricky at times, the sticks are also provided for you)
The evening before our first trek, we sat and discussed the plan of how trekking works, what we need to take with us and everything in between. To say that everyone was excited is a serious understatement.
One thing to keep in mind is that trying to find chimps and gorillas, is that it is not guaranteed and walks to find them can vary from 5 minutes to 7 hours, depending on where the family group is. Finding both primates is also not a guarantee, but thats all part of the experience.
The morning of our first trek arrived and we were all very eager to get out and start trekking. David picked us up and off we went!
Both our treks from Primate Lodge went off without a hitch! Our first walk took us 10 minutes to find our Chimpanzee family and the second day was about 30 minutes, so we were very fortunate with how it worked out. On top of this we got to spend some incredible time with these primates and have some VERY close encounters allowing for great photographic opportunities.
Here are just a few highlights from our two treks with the Chimpanzees.
After three nights at Primate Lodge in Kibble, We set off with David to Queen Elizabeth National Park, where Ishasha Wilderness Camp would be our home for two nights.
Once again it was a beautiful drive along the country side and getting a better understanding of the layout of the land.
Before Heading to camp, we entered Queen Elizabeth National Park and headed straight for a boat cruise up the Kazinga channel. This is an absolute must! The diversity we saw on the cruise was simply spectacular. From a variety of kingfishers, skimmers, fish eagles, bee-eaters to buffalo, bush pigs, hippo, elephants and so much more!
The most enjoyable part of the cruise was the experience from a different perspective, having trekked through the forest, driven in the vehicle and now on a boat on the open water surrounded by nothing but a thriving eco system.
After our beautiful boat cruise, we started to make our way to Ishasha Wilderness camp. Along the way we saw a variety of general game, some buffalo and elephant.
On arrival at camp we were greeted by friendly faces and a breathtaking view. This is a tented camp and is absolutely stunning. Having had such a successful and long day, we decided to celebrate with a couple of gin and tonics before having dinner and discussing the plan for the following day.
Our plan was to head out for the morning and see what we could find before returning to camp for some down time.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is very well known for its tree climbing lions, which is one of the reasons we have included this Park in the safari, but that is definitely not all that the park has to offer.
We headed out for our morning safari after going to bed to the sound of thunder, lightening and rain, which on a tent is enough to give anyone a peaceful nights sleep. Heading out in the morning, the bush was wet, vibrant and the numerous smells was special to witness.
We spoke about the plan of trying to find some lions while it was still nice and cool, but as we all know, plans change. It wasn't long before our guide David saw fresh tracks of a female leopards onto of all the rain from the evening. This particular area we were driving around was nice and open and had a few great "leopard trees" so we all started scanning, we did a loop of the area and just before we were going to move on - BOOM! David spotted a tail dangling from a tree.
We slowly started making our way into the sighting when we saw another leopard, this one was much smaller. What we had come across was a mother and her cub, her cub being about 4 months old and still very shy of vehicles. The youngster quickly disappeared into the bushes nearby while we watched and photographed mom in the tree. It wasn't the perfect tree and we wondered why she chose this tree when there were so many other much bigger and more open trees for her to rest in. It wasn't long before she came down and showed us, some time in the night she had taken down a fully grown topi. This means that it was too big for her to drag off. What she did was very cleaver, as the sun started to get higher in the sky, she came down the tree and went and covered the carcass with a whole bunch of foliage, this masks the scent a bit, but more importantly, it stops raptors and birds such as vultures discovering her food and drawing unwanted attention.
After this she then when back up the tree and started to relax again.
After arriving back at camp, we were faced with a couple of decisions. What would our afternoon plan be? We had not seen any lions, but there were reports of lions seen quite far away.
I mentioned to the guests that I think our best bet would be to go back to the leopardess and her cub, because there is a number of things that could potentially happen and/or not happen. She could have lost the kill during the day, the two of them could have fed on it quite a bit making it lighter so it could be in a tree or we could get there and maybe by some chance see her move the carcass and put it up in a tree. So the options were there and after the discussion, we had made our minds up that we would be heading back to the leopard.
Leaving camp, once again we saw numerous general game and when we got back to where the leopard was, the carcass was still in the same place and after 5 minutes of searching, we found the cub, still shy, but we knew that if the cub was there and the food was there then mom would also be there.
Committed to our plan, we decided to park near by and wait it out, as the opportunities were there, we just needed to be patient.
After a while of waiting, looking into the distance we could see a group of at least 100 if not more cob just staring all in one direction and alarm calling. Knowing that the female leopard was somewhere in the area, we thought that maybe the had been opportunistic and caught a young cob. so we headed over and what we found was two male cobs locked horn in horn and unable to break free.
This is something I have seen a couple of times before, especially with impala. From where we were positioned, we could also see the area where the leopardess was. Our decision was to sit tight, because with all the commotion of the horns and the alarm calls it could attract other predators such as lions, hyenas and most likely that leopardess that was near by.
It didn't take long before we saw a leopards head pop out the grass. There is a twist though, this wasn't the leopardess from the morning, this was a young male leopard. He tried jumping on them and tried his best to take one of the cob down but to no avail. Suddenly, the female leopard joined the sighting and at first growled at the male leopard before attempting to take the cob down herself, which she too was unsuccessful. The cob eventually separated and headed off into the distance.
The female leopard watched the male closely and made sure he headed in the opposite direction to where her cub was. Unfortunately during all of this action, two hyenas moved in and stole the leopardesses kill.
We then left the sighting to head home and wow what an incredible afternoon it was! One that I have no doubt will stick with my guests and I for a very long time to come.
Our last morning at Ishasha Wilderness Camp we decided to have a bit of a lie in before heading off to our final destination, Buhoma Lodge, Bwindi Impenetrable forest.
Once again David fetched us and we did a short drive through the park before setting off and leaving Queen Elizabeth National Park. The scenery and the drive to Bwindi is absolutely beautiful and I often say it's these small moments in between the big moments that mean just as much on a safari, especially after the last couple of years the world has faced, it just adds that much more value onto the experience as a whole.
On arrival at Buhoma we were welcomed and briefed as to how the lodge works and how our 3 days of Gorilla trekking was going to work. We then had some down time to relax, which was much needed after all the excitement the safari had already provided.
When it comes to gorillas and trekking, it's not a very early morning start, so we would meet at about 7am for breakfast and then head to the centre to get our morning briefing by one of the rangers and given the gorilla family group that we would be looking for on that particular day. One interesting fact that stuck with me was that in the last 30 years the gorilla population in Bwindi itself has double to 459 individuals. This just goes to show how well conservation in this National Park is doing and how important it is for people like us to keep visiting these amazing parks, because each and every single person makes a difference. The census is done every couple of years and there are a number of wild gorillas in the forest that are not habituated to people, which I think is a great thing, so having said that, the census is a great indication of how the growth of the population is expanding but there could even be more gorillas than the 459 individuals they counted.
The treks can once again range from 5 minutes to 7 hours of which we experienced both on this trip.
We did 3 treks, which I highly recommend because each trek is different and each gorilla family is different. I will refer to what I said earlier in the blog, the small moments are just as important as the big moments and when hiking through the impenetrable forest, there were many moments where I would just stop and take it all in, the view of the forest, the bird calls, the distant sounds of gorillas and monkey or even just the gentle trickling noise of a stream flowing close by, its those moments that all add up to make the experience.
We were very fortunate in that 3 out of 3 gorilla treks we got lucky and had some incredible opportunities to photograph them and just to sit and admire them. Between Gorillas and Chimpanzees they both share DNA which is very close to humans and its only really when you put your camera down or review your images that you can really see how similar they are. For me it's the moments watching their behavior, seeing how they feed, looking at how they interact with one another and how they communicate with each other that stands out to me. It's very difficult to portray through images or videos, trust me you simply need to go and experience it for yourself and I can promise you, you won't regret it.
All in all, Uganda has so much to offer, not just the three places I have mentioned above and it is a country well worth the visit, from the wildlife and conservation efforts to the incredible people, it simply has to be on your list of destinations to visit!
Until next time,
Best Of Uganda
Join Wild Eye for this incredible adventure which includes not only the experience of getting close to and photographing the critically endangered Mountain Gorilla, but also two full days of trekking Chimpanzees in Uganda’s Kibale National Forest, and a two day visit to the famous Queen Elizabeth National Park, known for its tree-climbing lions. This safari itinerary to give you the opportunity to photograph a much wider diversity of subjects than purely primates and will leave you with an incredibly well-rounded portfolio of Uganda.