Uganda. The Pearl of Africa. Somehow known as a safari destination, but with its pristine forests and green countryside it has so much more to offer. A true discovery, worthy of recommendation! Let’s talk about our adventures …
- Our self-drive route
- The parks
- Lodging & camping
Our self-drive route
A 12-day trip with a packed schedule. Google Maps seemed to provide accurate timelines for car transport. We went for a self-drive with jeep rental from Gorilla Hub Tours. This agency also provides a rooftop tent with sleeping equipment and cooking gear. Drop-off and pick-up was right on time, and the crew was super friendly in showing us the tricks of the trade.
Although the jeep had seen better years, it was still sturdy and we were thankful for its decent suspension on the rocky roads. Some might even consider the slow acceleration as a safety feature, to discourage you from mingling too much in the assertive traffic. The agency was investing in a new car park so by next season our Land Cruiser might already be enjoying retirement 😊
The beauty of a self-drive trip is that we felt more connected to the country, taking back-alley streets, stopping on locations for pick-nicks and exploring parks on our own behalf. The slide-open roof was one of those premium features we used all the time for wildlife spotting in the parks!
Gorilla Hub Tours on Tripadvisor
selfdrive4x4uganda.com /gorillahubtours.com /driveeastafrica.com
Uganda offers a fair chance of spotting the big 5 in their safari parks and much more. Tracking expeditions to the mythical mountain gorillas and chimpanzees and bird spotting in the swamps and lush forests provide an all-exclusive bonus to the abundant country.
Our top list of sightings:
- Lake Mburo (Warukuri track, Zebra track and Lake side drive): 2 leopards on a night drive, zebras (nowhere else in the country)
- Bwindi NP: mountain gorilla family of ten with 2 silverbacks and 2 younglings
- Queen Elizabeth NP (Ishasha sector): famous for its tree-climbing lions, but none spotted. One more leopards on an evening drive with a fresh kill
- Queen Elizabeth NP (Mweya area): another leopard between our campsite and leopard trail
- Kasenyi plains: 2 mating lions at a night drive (feeling like kinky voyeurs), a pride of 12 lions crossing the road, a sleeping leopard in a tree and a (permanent) flock of flamingos at Lake Munyanyange
- Rwenzori mountains: various monkeys like Black-White and Red Colobus, Olive Baboons, Blue, Mangabey, Red-tailed monkeys … But also the famous multi-colored Turaco birds and the tree-horned and pygmy chameleons
- Kibale NP: chimpanzees, various other monkey species and a myriad of butterflies
- Murchison Falls NP: Pride of 8 lions at Queen’s and Victoria track, elephants, over 40 giraffes, hyena’s, ant-eater, turtles, jackals, hippo’s …
Across the parks and nature we sighted many other amazing bird species like the long-crested eagle, hamerkop, marabou and other storks, fish eagle, vultures, crested crane, guinea fowl, kingfisher species, colorful bee-eaters and sunbirds, hornbills …
Lodging & camping
Via Via – Entebbe
A perfect starting point for your adventures in Uganda. Via Via offers fantastic views from your glamping tent to a jungle-fenced pond. Curious monkeys greet you on your royal breakfast. Shower in the open air bush and immediately feel that you are away from home. Not too far from the airport and close by supermarkets for stocking up.
Mihingo Lodge – Lake Mburo
We probably never felt more welcome on any location then here. The broad-smiling and laughing staff seem genuinely happy to serve you. Both diner and wine were brilliant, especially in combination with astonishing views on the valley and the heated pool. Our lodge felt like a glamping tent combined with organic architecture. Big windows and the terrace views in the morning made us feel we were truly in touch with nature. Smart mosquito nets prevented us from being too close 😉
Mihingo Lodge on Tripadvisor
Trackers Safari Lodge – Bwindi Buhoma
This lodge probably offers the most luxurious overnight experience Uganda. Enter this site like a mini village and stroll over the wooden bridges to find your spacious lodge with straw thatched roofing. The bar and winter terrace offers an authentic decor for relaxation after your mountain trekking. Don’t forget to explore the campfire site and refreshing pool. If you are not really into hot water bladders in your bed and hot towels before diner, this one might be a bit too much for you.
Trackers Safari Lodge on Tripadvisor
Crater Safari Lodge – Kibale NP
If you are into ‘waking with a view’, check out the Crater Safari Lodge. Every lodge overlooks a gorgeous crater lake, which you can access via a staircase to enjoy the sunsets. The main hall for diner is nicely decorated and the nearby campfire provides a romantic touch in the evening. You will be greeted and served by amazing staff and chefs that know their trade. The pool was a bit chilly but worth to visit on a sunny afternoon. Furthermore, the location of this lodge is perfect if you are going to track chimps and the crew provides tasty takeaway lunch boxes.
For those interested in a more luxurious stay across Uganda, check out Crystal Lodges Uganda, the group that manages this lodge besides lodges in Bwindi and Rushaga sector.
Crater Safari Lodge on Tripadvisor
Nile River Camp – Jinja
Jinja is considered the adventure capital of Uganda, so we had to take a stop over there. Nile River Camp was a great base for the rafting trip with Nalubale, and provided campgrounds and public showers (perfect for refreshing before heading to Kampala). The cosy main hall is perfect for enjoying a beer while overlooking the vast Nile.
Nile River Camp on Tripadvisor
Ruboni Community Camp
Spending a night at Ruboni community camp, all guests have a chance to go looking for chameleons during the local walks in the community. The community has created a 100-acre forest reserve in the border of Rwenzori mountains national park and this is a chameleon paradise. The skilled local guides have talented eyes that seem to be linked to chameleons. During the walk, the guide will point out to the various types of chameleons on the side bushes, flowering plants or high trees. They know the best weather and time to look for chameleons.
Ruboni camp on Tripadvisor
Camping is possible at a few lodges, but most of them don’t allow it so check that out up front. Camping in the national parks is allowed at your own risk at selected areas. There are no facilities present like a toilet, water faucet or shelter, so be prepared for basic camping! Usually a ranger guards the campsites, but we never encountered one.
We felt that those nights in our rooftop tent were really cool. Cooking and going to the toilet while watching your back felt pretty exciting, especially if you just bumped into a curious hyena, hippo, lion or leopard near the campsite (which happened to us on four different occasions).
Uganda offers an amazing variety of activities, besides visiting the beautiful National Parks.
Rwenzori mountain trekking (Mahoma)
The misty mountains of the Rwenzori (NP) provide a playground for hikers of all levels. Easy-walking forest tours and multi-day expeditions, even to the great peaks of Mount Stanley (5.109m) are offered via Ruboni Community Camp. This organization reinvests their profits in local education and community development. Besides our local guide was a funny man with a passion for the mountains and a backpack full of stories connected to the local culture. Furthermore, he was a great spotter of monkeys and well-hidden chameleons!
For our Mahoma trekking, Ruboni also provided porters that carried our tent, sleeping bag and cooking gear and smashed together an awesome meal at our hut in the evening. Guided trekking seems advisable for short tours, and inevitable for multi-day trekking. Proper gear is necessary to climb the slippery paths and the icy crossings higher up the Rwenzori.
Jinja White Nile rafting
To our surprise, this location was listed as a global top 5 destination for rafting, with a proper portion of Class 5 rapids along the way. A quick online search revealed that class 5 was the highest allowable level for rafting and defined as […extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids which expose a paddler to added risk. Drops may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes].
Nevertheless, it was properly guided by an organization operating with the highest safety standard and great upfront training. Your own raft is accompanied by a safety raft, containing first aid stuff and up to 4 crew in rescue kayaks. You practice how to act when being tipped over, caught underwater, how to hold the raft etc. Before the most challenging rapids, the guide asks how to approach the rapid (medium, hard or … crazy – which pretty much means that you’re gonna tip over violently). Whoever doesn’t feel comfortable can enter the safety raft that takes an easier route and re-join the raft after the rapid.
You start in the morning, devour around 10 rapids of various difficulty, get some snacks on the boat and lunch right after you exit. We were back at the starting point around 3 PM, still a bit soaked and sunburned but high on adrenaline. Pictures are being taken to capture your terrified face in the moment. Although chances are really slim of getting it, some concerns exist about bilharzia/schistosomiasis in the water. So contact your GP to evaluate your situation around 5-6 weeks after your adventure (ie. Get your blood tested).
Nalubale Rafting on Tripadvisor
Safari (night) drives
I considered a night drive a bit counter-intuitive to spot game. Nevertheless, the big cats and hyenas are typically way more active right after sunset, so with a proper guide and a strong search light, you might have better chances of an encounter. Furthermore it was quite exciting to spot a pair of blinking eyes among the abundance of antelope and ‘diner-type’ wildlife. (who usually only have one eye facing you vs. the predators).
We got lucky on both night drives (between 7-10 PM) and spotted leopards on the move and with a fresh kill and also a couple of mating lions. Being accompanied by an official UWA ranger (mandatory), you get a bit more liberty to explore the park. Also, like true Pocahontas’s, they listen to the air and read the signals on where to go. Forty dollars well spent!
Our guide Fazil’s direct booking site
Kazinga channel boat cruise
This trip takes you to the shores of the river and gets you up close with various crocodiles, hippo’s, waterbirds (eagles, storks, kingfisher …) and elephants coming down the river to refresh. A pretty relaxing trip and a welcome alternative to the bumpy safari park tracks.
Kazinga Channel boat trips on Tripadvisor
Kazinga boat trips on Google
Our guide Fazil’s direct booking site
Gorilla & chimpanzee tracking
The gorilla tracking in Bwindi was probably the main reason why we selected Uganda as a destination. With high anticipation (and empty pockets after the 750 USD admission ticket) we joined a small group of 8 tourists on a search for these magnificent creatures. Trackers were being sent upfront to the five families of habituated gorillas to ensure you a 60-minute observation time. And oh my, what a delightful experience that was! After 10 minutes of shy hide ‘n seek, the gorilla family felt more at ease and starting to pick up their routines again. Two young primates were messing around in a tree, a mother was nursing, and there rest was eating leaves and branches like there was no tomorrow. The two silverbacks of the group were carefully keeping an eye out but allowed us up to 10 meters or even closer. Big smile time!
For the chimp tracking in Kibale NP we selected the habituation program, allowing us to stay for a longer period near a group. The added cost (250 vs 200 USD) for 4 hours instead of 1 hour felt justified for us. We departed at 7 AM to be in the woods when the chimps woke up and started scavenging. After a 45-minute walk (lucky for us!) we got to a giant fig tree, with at least 5 chimps stuffing their mouths. Contrary to the gorilla tracking, these primates were high up in the tree where they stayed for the 4 hours. They seldomly come down, and especially the group to be habituated was at ease with our presence. So bring your binoculars and prepare for a neck ache from looking up 😊
Bwindi Forest NP on Tripadvisor
Kibale Forest NP on Tripadvisor
Murchison Falls boat trip
During this trip you get to check out the most powerful waterfall in the world, where the longest river in the world squeezes through a 7-meter gap and then drops down 45 meters. The round trip takes about 2.5h and there are little spotting stops along the way. The waterfall is well-hidden and hard to get a closer look to (unless you are paying 10 USD for a car entry to the viewing point) if you are not taking this boat. So all in all worthy of the 32 USD ticket if you don’t want to miss this marvel of nature I guess?
Ziwa rhino sanctuary
After two weeks of safari parks, the Ziwa sanctuary felt a bit more like a zoo to us. After being recently extinct, the UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) started a repopulation program in 2005 to bring back the indigenous but endangered with rhino. Currently over 35 rhinos are grazing the fields of this 70 km² fenced park, guarded 24/7 by a team of rangers.
Together with a ranger, we took a short walk and encountered 6 rhinos, including a big bull and a mother with calf. The rhinos seemed quite at ease with our presence so it felt great to get up close to these horned, flesh & blood bulldozers. Worth of a short detour if you are travelling from Kampala to Murchison Falls, and your only chance of completing your ‘Big 5’ list in Uganda.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on Tripadvisor
Bigodi swamp bird spotting
The Bigodi swamp is home to over 200 bird species and various primates. It started raining quite heavily when we were walking so we didn’t get to spot a lot of wildlife, but it might be a perfect afternoon activity when combined with the chimpanzee tracking. By the way, great chicken soup at the Bee Hive bar nearby!
Bigodi swamp spotting on Tripadvisor
Disclaimer: We partner with activities and companies that share our vision on adventurous travel. As we were planning this trip to Uganda, we connected with the mentioned companies. In return we wrote this honest review on our experiences.