Our Product Manager Michelle headed off to Uganda for a gorilla and chimpanzee safari. This epic experience took her from the capital to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where she went gorilla trekking. From there she enjoyed a boat safari in the Queen Elizabeth National Park before ending her trip on a chimpanzee trek in the Kibale National Park. We have a tour based on Michelle’s trip, you can view it here.
Michelle’s wrote about her amazing Uganda Safari experience:
With my bag packed and boots on, I took off from Cape Town with 2 colleagues to Entebbe to start my Uganda Safari! Entebbe is the main airport about 40 minutes from the capital Kampala. A quick overnight stop and we were back at the airport and on an Aerolink Uganda flight south, towards the Kisoro Airstrip. One of the gateways into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Kisoro is a 2h30 drive to the Rushaga sector of Bwindi.
Our guide and driver for the week met us there and we set off to Bwindi. The roads are poor and a 4×4 is imperative, but the scenery is breathtaking and excitement grows as we start climbing towards the Bwindi forests and towering mountain range. We arrived at Gorilla Safari Lodge, our home for 2 nights. Our cabins were tucked into the rainforest, spacious with a large tub to soak in and the staff brought in charcoal burners at night which warmed the room up nicely. It is chilly in Bwindi, due to the high altitude. We visited the local community and the Batwa Tribe. The Batwa(Pygmy Tribe) live on the outskirts of the forest they once called home and provide a glimpse into their traditional way of living.
Early the next morning we were up and enjoying a fortifying breakfast before setting off for the main event: Gorilla Trekking! On arrival in the Rushaga sector briefing area, the warden goes through the do’s and don’ts of trekking with gorillas and assigns us the gorilla family we will trek to find. We meet our head guide and her 2 trackers, hire a porter, grab a walking stick and head off on the trail.
Why hire a porter? Uganda is a very poor country; many people are without work. The porters can travel for up to 3 hours to get to Bwindi in the hope of earning for their family. It costs around $20 and your porter is by your side for the day. They will carry your day pack which has your water, your lunch and your camera and they will give you a strong hand to pull or push you if needed.
Our lead ranger was in contact with 2 forward guides who left at first light to the spot where they left the Mishaya Gorilla family the day before. We get a call that they have found the trail and it looks like the Mishaya family was heading straight for us. We found them about an hour later, left our bags and took only our cameras for our hour with these amazing creatures. The big Silverback, Mishaya, was impressive in size and only concerned with eating, not these humans who came to watch him. The females and a few young were around in the deep forest and we caught tantalising glimpse of the whole family. They forage on the move and the hour was over all to fast.
Note: I have been recommending to my guests to do 2 gorilla treks and spend 3 nights at least in Bwindi, the experience was so surreal the first time that I would have loved a 2nd visit with them.
We received a certificate to prove we did the trek and went back to the lodge for a well-deserved rest. The team at the lodge clean your hiking boots as a bonus! We spend the afternoon and evening relaxing in the lodge and had an early night.
After breakfast we left Bwindi and started dropping in altitude as we headed towards the Queen Elizabeth National Park, giving us the traditional “safari” in our Uganda Safari! Elephants, lions, buffalo, the endemic Uganda Kob and more was spotted in a drive. We had lunch and spent the night at Mweya Lodge, overlooking the Kazinga Channel.
The Kazinga Channel is a natural body of water that connects 2 large lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. The afternoons saw us on a boat cruise on the channel, where hippos, elephants, buffalo and lots of birds were on display, alongside small fishing villages who continue in their traditional way of life.
From Queen Elizabeth National Park we drove across the Equator with the snow capped Rwenzori Mountains, in the distance. We start to enter true crater lake country near Fort Portal. There are about many of these lakes in Uganda, some are clean clear water and others are a green colour from the toxic volcanic activity below the waters. Most are very deep. We stayed at Crater Safari Lodge in the Kibali National Park, on the edge of the spectacular Nyinabulitwa Crater Lake. This was one lodge that was very hard to leave, owed in part to the glorious vistas. Large decks overlook the lake and the sunset, the rooms were large and comfortable, and team was great!
Aside from all the natural beauty, Kibale National Park area is home to another of the great apes, the Chimpanzees! Chimpanzee trekking or chimpanzee tracking as some call it, happens twice a day, where you hike through the tropical rainforest to find the chimps and then spend an hour with them. It is an easier forest to hike through than Bwindi, wetter but flatter. Our lady guide found a family of chimpanzees quickly and we spent an active hour following the chimps as they quickly moved through the forest, calling to each other. This was a fun experience!
Around Kibale we also saw lots of other primate species including the Black and White Colobus, The Ugandan red colobus, Baboons and the forest is home to 13 species of primates. We also visited an outreach project, Wilson’s Village, a local guide who reinvested all his earnings to upskill the ladies in the village, build a safe haven for women and a school for children where they get a meal as well. It was very inspiring to hear his story and meet the ladies who are learning skills like sewing and basket making.
We left Crater Safari Lodge with a packed lunch and head back to Kampala and the Entebbe airport. The road back wound through tea plantations and small villages and the closer we got to Kampala the busier the roads got. Throughout the roads in Uganda we passed small communities, people on bicycles and small motorbikes called Boda-boda’s, generally piled high with bananas and sacks filled with cassava roots, Irish potatoes and coal.
I left Uganda filled with memories of a beautiful, warm and hospitable country with epic experiences and cannot wait to return one day!