Uganda: Africa’s Extraordinary, Underrated Safari Vacation spot
This journey began with a ticket credit score on Qatar Airways that was about to run out. I regarded on the airline’s route map and Entebbe, Uganda jumped out at me. Uganda could be a brand new nation for me (my 99th) and I’ve seen a whole lot of pals posting about gorilla trekking, which appeared like a kind of extraordinary experiences to have sometime. Why not now?
I posted on Fb that I used to be serious about heading to Uganda and three pals mentioned they needed to return alongside. Working with our schedules, and that of Uganda Safari Company, we chosen per week in mid-July that labored for everybody. July’s the height month for journey to Uganda, because it’s the dry season, so we had been fortunate to have the ability to get the lodges and permits we needed.
How one can Get to Uganda
I used to be touring from LA, as was one other buddy. The others had been coming from Seattle and Vancouver. I arrived at LAX a number of hours early due to the entire hassles with flying proper now, parking at The Parking Spot Sepulveda (free with factors!) and taking their shuttle to the Tom Bradley Worldwide Terminal. My Seattle buddy flew all the way down to LA to take the identical Qatar Airways flight (LA-Doha-Entebbe). The others flew Turkish Air by way of Istanbul to Entebbe. We arrived in Uganda inside just a few hours of one another.
A observe on Qatar Airways: it’s my favourite airline due to its QSuite enterprise class. All of their flights undergo Doha, Qatar, so it doesn’t make sense to take the airline to Europe from LA, however it’s nice for anyplace in Africa, India or the Center East, and typically Southeast Asia. Costs typically appear to be the very best from LA. Seattle-Doha-Entebbe was nearly twice as a lot as LA-Doha-Entebbe, which is why my buddy bought an inexpensive Alaska Air ticket and flew to LA first.
Uganda Day One: Journey
Two of us arrived in Entebbe at 4am and the others at 7am. We had been purported to have a 10am or so flight to Kasese on a small aircraft, however that flight then moved to midday, and we lastly departed at 2pm. So we had been ready on the small Entebbe airport for a very long time. Not a enjoyable strategy to begin a visit, however there didn’t appear any method round it given the flight schedules and somewhat informal method that inner flights function (extra on that afterward). Work along with your Uganda safari firm to have the least period of time on the Entebbe airport that you may. In case you do find yourself in an identical scenario as us, there are close by accommodations the place you may get a day room, and there’s a Precedence Move lounge on the airport.
We lastly flew to Kasese (1.5 hours, with one cease to drop off different passengers) and had been met by Elton, our information/driver for the subsequent few days. He drove us perhaps 45 minutes to Elephant Plains Lodge. We had dinner on the lodge and fell asleep early.
Uganda Day Two: Animals!
Elton picked us up from the lodge at 7am, we crossed the equator (touring south to north), and headed into Queen Elizabeth Nationwide Park. We instantly began seeing animals, together with waterbucks, Ugandan kobs and warthogs, however we didn’t have a lot time to cease since we had a chimp safari to get to. A bit after 8am we joined 5 others and our chimp information Harriet and set out strolling into the Kyambura Gorge looking for chimps. We discovered one group that rapidly scattered, after which walked alongside a hippo-filled river, crossed the river on a log (a bit of nerve-wracking) and located a bigger group of chimps that didn’t thoughts us hanging out with them for half an hour. We then crossed again over the river and returned to the small Kyambura Gorge customer middle, the place we ate a packed lunch overlooking the gorge.
I cherished this expertise! All of my earlier African safaris (in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Tanzania and Kenya) had been car-based, so it was enjoyable to hike to see animals for the primary time. And after the entire journey simply to get to Western Uganda, it was good to get train.
We then drove some extra by way of the park, and previous just a few villages, to get to the Kazinga Channel, connecting Lake Edward to Lake George, for a day cruise. I wasn’t anticipating a lot – simply enjoyable on a vacationer boat and perhaps seeing just a few animals. However the boat journey was wonderful! I wager we noticed a thousand animals in the middle of two hours – primarily elephants, hippos, cape buffalo, Nile crocodiles and a whole lot of birds.
However our day wasn’t over. We went to the close by Mweya Safari Lodge for espresso with warthogs, after which drove to Lake Katwe to see its salt manufacturing. An area took us round, displaying us the various kinds of salts mined from the lake (all the things from desk salt to industrial salt) and we watched dozens of individuals transferring and loading heavy baggage of salt because the solar went down. We then headed to a different close by lake to see flamingos earlier than going again to our lodge for dinner. A unprecedented day total! And it was largely surprising. After I booked the journey it was to see mountain gorillas. Then once I acquired our itinerary the chimps and gorillas had been the first components. I didn’t understand that we might be getting a pure safari expertise as properly – nearly as good as any safari expertise within the extra fashionable African nations.
Uganda Day Three: Extra Animals!
We checked out of Elephant Plains Lodge at 8am and drove to our subsequent lodge, Ishasha Wilderness Camp. However after all a drive isn’t only a drive in Uganda. We first stopped on the close by equator to take images and watch an indication of the Coriolis impact, the place water (and storms) spin counter-clockwise within the southern hemisphere and clockwise within the northern hemisphere. It’s why storms by no means cross the equator. I’ve heard that the demonstration is rigged, however it was nonetheless price $3 to look at.
Then alongside the street to Ishasha we noticed dozens of baboons, in addition to elephants and Ugandan kobs. Form of a bonus Uganda safari! We checked into the lodge and I napped for 2 hours (horribly jet lagged) whereas the others explored and obtained nice monkey and lizard images simply across the camp. We then headed out with Elton looking for tree-climbing lions. There aren’t many locations on the planet the place lions climb bushes. We searched all of their regular acacia and fig bushes for properly over an hour and by no means discovered the lions, however we did discover a whole lot of different animals, and a few of my favourite images of this journey are from this recreation drive. Even with out the lions it was a terrific expertise.
In between the lion space of Queen Elizabeth Nationwide Park and Ishasha Wilderness Camp, we stopped above a big valley for a sundowner. The lodge had arrange tables with snacks and drinks, in addition to chairs for all of us, and we sat out watching the solar go down over a valley with 90+ elephants. Such an incredible expertise! We then went again to the lodge for dinner by the river. One other magical day!
Uganda Day 4: Mountaineering and Tradition
We solely stayed one evening at Ishasha Wilderness Camp as a result of we wanted to get to Bwindi Nationwide Park, house of the mountain gorillas! We ate breakfast at 6am and instantly obtained within the automotive for a two-hour drive to Buhoma.
So right here’s the factor – it’s potential to drive all the best way to Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, however it’s a extremely lengthy drive. As a substitute the usual journey is to hike up from Buhoma to the lodge.
As a result of we couldn’t go away Ishasha till after breakfast, we arrived at Buhoma and the Bwindi Customer Middle too late to hitch the opposite mountaineering teams. This labored out to our benefit. It took some time to get us guides and porters, however once we departed an hour later we had a non-public mountaineering group for the day – the 4 of us, 4 porters to hold our baggage, two safety folks with weapons in case of animal encounters, and a information. I cherished this hike! It began out flat underneath towering bushes and big ferns, then we did a pair river crossings and headed straight up the mountain. We even hiked alongside tea plantations. No wild animal sightings, however the hike was beautiful – one of many prettiest locations I’ve ever been. We reached the street to Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge after three hours – 8 miles / 13km of mountaineering complete – and had been picked up by the lodge for the final stretch.
We checked in, had lunch, rounded up our soiled garments for the lodge to scrub (free!), and relaxed. Our butler John talked about that his spouse Evelyn bought woven plates and baskets close by and walked us over. We bought a whole lot of issues from her and different close by sellers (typically $5-10 per merchandise) and went again to the lodge. We then relaxed with Amarula and caught up on e mail.
A bit after 5pm a bunch of faculty kids got here by to carry out. One wonderful thing about Clouds is that 30-40% of revenues go straight to the area people, funding colleges, clinics and different organizations. 90% of the staff on the lodge are from the group. So totally different teams of children come by each few days to sing as a method of thanking the visitors for supporting them.
The efficiency was magical! I’ve movies on my Instagram Uganda highlight. This journey to this point had been all about animals, so it was fantastic to have the cultural aspect. We then had dinner on the lodge (all meals was wonderful) and we went to sleep.
Uganda Day 5: Gorillas!
Lastly, the day had arrived to hike to see mountain gorillas! The way it works: upfront our safari firm had secured permits for the 4 of us. There are 30 or so gorilla teams/households in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and there are solely eight permits issued per household per day. There’s one gorilla allow middle close to Clouds, and others that it is advisable to drive to. We discovered the evening earlier than that we might be departing from the closest level.
Within the morning at 8am we placed on our mountaineering garments, packed water and lunch and headed over to the gorilla middle for a briefing (we wanted to remain 10m from gorillas, we needed to put on masks and go away our packs and poles behind with the porters, and we obtained one hour with the gorillas) and realized concerning the three close by teams – Nkuringo, Bishaho and Christmas. We had been assigned to the Christmas household with its 9 gorillas together with two infants. Our group consisted of the 4 of us, a Dutch couple and a Brit.
As I discussed above, the group is closely supported by tourism. A few of the allow cash goes to the group, however you’re additionally inspired to rent porters for the hike. There are such a lot of porters that every one solely will get perhaps one hike a month, and a whole lot of mornings porters come to the middle for work and are turned away. So all of us employed porters. However it’s not charity in any respect – the porters carried our backpacks and helped us up and down the steep mountain. My porter was a small man named Nathan. I didn’t want a lot assist with the hills, however it was very good not having to hold something!
Trackers had gone out on the morning to seek out the Christmas household. They did, they usually radioed the situation again to Peace, our information. We then hiked all the best way all the way down to the river – some alongside flat paths, some by way of tea plantations, and a few pure bushwhacking with machetes. Once we reached the river a few us crossed on a non-stable log, once we discovered that the gorillas had been now again on our aspect of the valley so we crossed again over and lower by way of a whole lot of forest to get to them.
It took us nearly two hours complete to achieve our household, after which our one hour with them began. They had been in an space that had by no means been cleared earlier than, so our guides did the very best they might to get us areas to face to look at the gorillas. More often than not we had been nearer than the 10m requirement, just because it was not possible to clear away sufficient brush for us to maneuver again, plus the gorillas stored transferring. If there’s a great gorilla-watching scenario, this wasn’t it. It was exhausting to see them at occasions, the infants had been barely seen, and there have been only a few wonderful picture alternatives. However after all one thing like this isn’t all concerning the images, and the troublesome circumstances inspired us to place our cameras down and recognize the expertise.
After our hour was up, we began the hike again, stopping at one level to have lunch. It wasn’t a straightforward hike, however the porters helped significantly. It took 5.5 hours complete from the highest all the way down to the gorillas and again.
Again at Clouds we had a day snack (they’ll convey you something you need, anytime!), relaxed with Amarula, and went to purchase just a few extra issues from Evelyn and the opposite distributors. Dinner was as soon as once more glorious.
Uganda Day Six: Again to Entebbe
Day six was imperfect. Two of us had 4am flights out on day seven, and the opposite two had 5:30pm flights. For these of us with later flights, it could have been extra enjoyable to spend one other day at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge and fly to Entebbe simply earlier than our worldwide flight. However we caught collectively as a bunch and all flew again to Entebbe the morning of day six.
We wakened at 5am (John introduced us all espresso in our rooms), ate breakfast early and left at 6am for the drive to Kisaro Airstrip. It was a reasonably tough street by way of the impenetrable forrest, and we arrived on the airport at 7:45 for an 8:45 flight.
However issues by no means go that easily! It was extraordinary windy. Our incoming flight couldn’t land on its first method however then was in a position to circle again and land. The pilot although got here in and mentioned that he wasn’t assured he might take off in that wind with all 9 of us and our baggage. He ended up leaving with 5 others first and taking them to the (non-windy) Savannah touchdown strip roughly 20 minutes away. He then got here again for us, we flew to Savannah to choose up the others, and all of us continued on to Entebbe. We had been purported to arrive at 11:25am and arrived roughly on time even with the detour. The flight schedules are properly padded!
In Entebbe we obtained our baggage and headed to close by Hotel No 5 to examine in and have lunch. We then met up with Eric from the Uganda Safari Firm who took us on a brief tour of the town. We went to the native crafts market, however didn’t take pleasure in it. In Bwindi we had been shopping for issues from the individuals who really made them. In Entebbe it was apparent that most individuals promoting gadgets hadn’t made them, and a whole lot of them had purchased t-shirts, woven gadgets and woodcarvings from the identical distributors. I’m positive it was all nonetheless Ugandan, however it didn’t really feel almost as genuine as in Bwindi and the the agricultural areas.
We then headed to the primary fruit/vegetable market, which felt much more genuine, and we walked round for some time. I actually loved this tour total. We then headed to Lake Victoria the place we had a non-public sundown cruise for 2 hours. We noticed some birds however no different animals, however it was a pleasant strategy to finish the journey. They’d sufficient snacks on board for us that it turned a de facto dinner cruise. We introduced our personal Amarula to drink. They’d water, gin and beer for us.
We went to sleep on the resort, and two of my pals left at 2am for his or her Turkish Airways flight.
Uganda Day Seven: Lodges and Flights
For the primary time, we slept in! We obtained breakfast round 9am on the resort after which checked out at 10am. We needed to guide a day room at Lodge No 5 for the day, however they had been full, in order that they took us over to the close by Protea Hotel by Marriott as a substitute. The resort has a seashore and pool, however we opted for checking e mail, enhancing images and getting spa remedies as a substitute. My therapeutic massage was $32 for an hour and was fairly good.
At 3pm we headed to the airport for our 5:30pm flight. The resort is simply a mile from the airport, however it nonetheless took half an hour to get by way of the safety checkpoint after which stroll the final stretch to the airport. We first waited in line to indicate our covid and yellow fever vaccination playing cards (unsure why they examine these if you happen to’re leaving the nation?), after which went by way of preliminary safety, checked in with Qatar Airways, waited in line for immigration, went by way of safety once more, and eventually made it to the Precedence Move lounge the place we relaxed for half an hour earlier than boarding.
Uganda Safari and Gorilla Trekking: Abstract
This was a brief however wonderful journey. I used to be blown away by the entire animal encounters, and gorilla trekking is a magical, bucket listing expertise. And Uganda impressed me. The folks had been extraordinary good and appreciative of tourists – particularly within the rural areas.
We traveled with Uganda Safari Company and paid usually. They had been wonderful. We had initially scheduled this journey for February, however my spouse broke her knee and I couldn’t go. They rescheduled all the things for us for July, and moved ahead our deposits. They organized completely all the things in Uganda, and even scrambled on the finish to arrange the town tour, boat journey and day room since we weren’t positive till that day what we needed to do. Elton and Eric, our guides in Queen Elizabeth Nationwide Park and Entebbe, had been glorious. In case you contact them, please inform them you examine them right here!
Entebbe isn’t thrilling. If potential manage your flight schedules to reduce your time there. On the time we visited, Qatar Airways solely flew out of Uganda at 5:30pm each different evening – in any other case it could have been good to fly again from Kisaro on day six, wait on the airport just a few hours and take that flight. The final 30 hours of our journey had been kind of wasted, however there was no method round it since we couldn’t shift dates, and we needed to spend the final day with our pals, who had an earlier flight.
Our three safari lodges, Elephant Plains Lodge, Ishasha Wilderness Camp and Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, had been all unbelievable. The meals was glorious all over the place and to the very best of my data none of us had abdomen points. Service was good. Each morning we had espresso delivered to our rooms as a wakeup name!
Our two Entebbe accommodations, Hotel No 5 and Protea Hotel, had been letdowns in comparison with the safari lodges. My room at Lodge No 5, one of many top-rated locations in Entebbe, regarded out over the parking zone. As I mentioned above, skip Entebbe if you happen to can.
Uganda Safari Bills
This was peak season (dry season), and we splurged on a high-end journey. After not touring for a few years, it felt good to splurge! Bills per particular person broke down as follows:
- $50 for a Ugandan visa
- $700 for a gorilla allow
- $50 for a chimp allow
- $4,687 for the safari, accommodations, guides, drivers, meals and inner flights
- $75 for the sundown boat cruise
- $68 for a day room in Entebbe
Safaris aren’t low-cost, however there are methods to do that journey much less expensively, like touring in off-season, driving from Entebbe to Queen Elizabeth Nationwide Park as a substitute of flying, and staying in less complicated lodges. My ideas for reserving an reasonably priced African safari are relevant in Uganda. And as all the time, let the tour firm know your price range and ask them what they will create for you for that quantity.
We overtipped all over the place – a $50 as a substitute of a $20 means much more to them than to us. I’d estimate I spent $500 or so in ideas, together with our guides, drivers, porters, butlers, housekeepers and different lodge workers.
Packing Listing for a Uganda Safari and Gorilla Trekking
I overpacked. I introduced 21kg (46 kilos) of bags complete, together with my laptop computer, digicam and lenses, which I believed was fairly good. However based mostly on our climate, the truth that I by no means used a pool anyplace (3 out of 5 accommodations had swimming pools) and the laundry service at Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge, I might have gotten by with much less. What I ought to have packed – based mostly on a July (dry season) journey:
- 3 merino wool shirts (two short-sleeve, one long-sleeve). I really like Unbound Merino.
- 2 pairs mountaineering pants
- 1 pair shorts
- 6 pairs merino wool socks
- 4 pairs underwear
- 1 mountaineering pole
- 2 water bottles
- 1 fleece jacket
- 1 pair good mountaineering boots
- 1 pair comfy strolling footwear
- Sun shades
- Baseball cap (for solar)
- Insect repellent
- An antibiotic kit (fortunately not used)
- Thick gloves for the gorilla hike
- Plug converters (3-prong UK model)
Rain jackets are advisable too however we by no means wanted ours.
And a observe on packing for a Uganda safari. We had been advised that we wanted to convey soft-sided duffels solely (no wheels) and that we had been restricted to 15kg of bags per particular person for the interior flights. Any extra weight could be charged at $3/kg. In actuality solely our checked baggage had been weighed in Entebbe, they usually weren’t weighed in any respect in Kisaro. We weren’t charged further. And it could have been high quality to have wheeled duffels. On condition that porters needed to carry our baggage for hours on the best way to Clouds I used to be glad I had packed in a tender duffel, however the inner flight necessities aren’t as stringent as your tour firm might let you know.
My Uganda Safari Digital camera Setup
The images on this submit had been taken with my Canon 6D MII DSLR and an iPhone 13 Professional. I introduced two lenses for the Canon – a 24-70 f/2.8 and a 70-200 f/2.8 – in addition to an 1.4x extender. 60% of my footage had been with the iPhone – just about all lodge, meal, folks, aircraft and mountaineering images. The DSLR was for animals. I used the 1.4 extender for all animal drives and for the chimp hike. We had been too near the gorillas for me to want the extender.
Lastly, don’t neglect journey insurance coverage! There have been so many issues that would have gone unsuitable this Uganda safari, with 4 of us beginning in other places and assembly up in Africa: cancelled flights; missed connections; misplaced baggage; Covid; altering entry restrictions in Uganda; household emergencies. Fortunately we had no points in any respect, however I slept lots higher figuring out that insurance coverage would cowl me if something occurred. I’m pleased with my annual plan from G1G.