Linda's Uganda Trip Report

Linda Fox

24 Jan 2017

Day 1 & 2 : Chimpanzee Tracking 

After a late arrival in Entebbe and early departure, we set off west across Uganda. A lot of dirt roads later and we arrive in time to have our packed lunch at Kibale Forest Park Headquarters before we set off for our first Uganda primate tracking experience!  

Kibale Forest National Park, 795 km2, is home to 375 species of bird and 70 mammal species including 13 species of primates such as black and white Colobus monkeys and grey cheeked Mangabey as well as having the highest concentration of chimpanzees in Africa. Setting off from Kanyanchu visitor centre we delve into the forest with our guide and tracker. The forest trails are also home to safari ants and we are advised to keep our trousers tucked into our socks to keep them out! Our guide keeps up a constant flow of information about the trees, insects and animals of Kibale Forest while we are searching for our quarry. The chimps keep us on the move today as we go deeper into the forest. Our trek takes us over swampy areas with decaying walkways, off the path and through the undergrowth. When we are almost ready to give up and think that we are not destined to meet the chimps of Kibale, we hear their hooting breaking the quiet of the forest. They are still high up in the giant trees and looking for their dinner. A large male descends to the forest floor where we can follow his progress searching out the fallen fruit in the fading light. In one last bright spot with a little light breaking through the canopy he sits and poses for us on a fallen tree. Looking left and right, like he knew we were trying to get his good angle. 

Completely relaxed while the cameras click away, he watches us with aloof interest.

The light fades and he moves off back towards his troupe and we are left to reflect on the walk out of the forest on our last minute luck and being so close to this regal creature.

Slightly muddy and exhausted we arrive at Ndali Lodge were we are spending the night. Looking out across the Rwenzori Mountains, this colonial retreat is set high up on a crater lake. From the swimming pool the vistas across the mountains can keep you entertained for days and it turns out you can get a perfect “New York” Martini here!

Day 3: On to the Kazinga Channel

After an early morning retreat to Ndali’s sauna - so welcome for tired limbs - and an abundant breakfast on the rim of the Crater Lake on Ndali’s open veranda, we head south to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, passing crater lakes, and to the Kazinga Channel. Meeting up with our boat cruise.

The Kazinga Channel, a 32 kilometre long natural channel connecting Lake George in the East to Lake Edward in the west. The shores of this channel draw a spectacular array of wildlife. With one of the largest population of hippo in the world and plenty of Nile crocodiles, this channel is one of the best wildlife viewing areas in Uganda. The buffalo are lounging in the shallow waters at the edge of the channel, all aspects of life can be seen in a few metres of each other; from baby buffalo being born to death in the shallows with the crocodiles waiting patiently. Fish eagles soar over us as they hunt to feed their young which are waiting in the nearby trees hanging over the water’s edge. Malachite and pied kingfishers are competing for the little fish in the shallows.

Arriving late at Kyambura Gorge Lodge, we are all too exhausted to do anything other than eat dinner and sleep.

Day 4: Exploring the plains

Having arrived in almost darkness last night we wake up to views across the Queen Elizabeth National Park with “The Mountains of the Moon” in the far distance. The sun is already up as we set out on our gorge walk to explore this area a little before we have to move on. The heat is starting to set in, being down on the plains it is certainly hotter. Sadly we don’t have time to track the elusive chimpanzees down the gorge today so we walk along the rim looking down into the gorge hopefully.

Onwards through the Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP), south to the Ishasha Sector, a quieter part of the park famous for its tree climbing lions. Keeping our eyes peeled on the giant fig trees hoping for a lion or two. Passing Ugandan Kob, Grey Crowned cranes and some elephants covered with black mud as we game drive our way to Ishasha Wilderness Camp where we are staying tonight. Set on the banks of Ntungwe River,this tented camp is in a wonderful position in the QENP to explore this southern sector. Sundowners on the river bank next to a camp fire and a delicious dinner.

Discover Ishasha Wilderness Camp

Day 5: Arriving at Bwindi

After an early morning game drive we head back to the lodge for breakfast, before we head south to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where we are going to be tracking Uganda’s famous mountain gorillas. Arriving late afternoon to Buhoma Lodge we have a chance to relax and prepare ourselves for our gorilla trek tomorrow. The warm and friendly Buhoma Lodge has the fireplaces going tonight, with a little rain this evening, we are all very happy to huddle around the open fire and spend a relaxing evening in their open lounge and getting our cameras ready for tomorrow’s adventure. 

See Buhoma Lodge

Day 6: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! 

At 9am we meet up at Park Headquarters for our briefing and to be assigned our gorilla family that we will be tracking today. We meet our guide, porters and trackers who will be accompanying us today. Onwards up the mountain! We start our trek up the steep forested trail helped by our porters, always at your elbow to offer a helping hand to get you up the mountain no matter what. We stop often to rest, this going to be a long climb. After we crest the mountain the trackers send word that the gorillas are on the edge of the farmers’ fields not far from where we are now. This is exciting news but it does mean a decent down the edges of the fields. Now we really appreciate our porters helping us and stopping us from slipping down the mountain.

Our first encounter: a big silverback is looking out of the think bush over the fields and watching our slow progress, the sun is shining on him out in the open here and the photo opportunities are legendary, the light perfect and the dense green undergrowth the perfect backdrop. Our guide passes on the message that we must all be still and quiet while the male walks past us on his way to re-join his family. Following him at a safe distance, he leads us to his family who are sunning themselves in the dense bush. Our tracker has to use his machete to clear a path so that we can get through. The earth is soft and steep and it is difficult to find balance without ending up in a prickly bush. Our perseverance is rewarded with finding the females and babies sleeping and playing in the sunny undergrowth. A curious baby is watching us from the safe embrace of his mother’s arms, venturing only slightly forward to have a closer look but never out of his mum’s reach. 

What a perfect scene, the sun just right, the little family resting and playing together. I feel really privileged to be allowed so close to this mountainside domestic scene.

There is a young male or “black back” as they are called sitting away from the group, I’m trying to get a good angle to photograph him from behind a bush, the guide starts shouting at me to be still, I haven’t as yet figured out what the commotion is about when the young male runs towards me and slaps my leg! Now that as a close encounter!  

Much too quickly our hour has passed and we are called to start our slow progress back down the mountain. While we are walking away through the forest, the gorilla family passes us on their way to their next stop, moving quickly and carrying their babies they disappear over the ridge.

We stopped for lunch at a Batwa hut, usually used on the Batwa Experience hike to show how this indigenous forest tribe used to live. The Batwa - small-statured people who were the original dwellers of this ancient forest - are hunter gatherers who lived here for at least 60,000 years, probably more. Controversially they were moved out of the area when the National Park was established in 1992 and relocated to an un-forested area to live in unfamiliar surroundings.

Very well timed, just after lunch, the rain starts and we slip and slide our way down the mountain, soaking and covered in mud we reach the end of our trek and head back to Buhoma Lodge for a clean-up and time by the fire to warm up and exchange stories.

Day 7: Lake Mburo

Farewell to Bwindi this morning, we drive east to our next stop, Lake Mburo. Uganda’s fourth national park, 260 sq km of grassland, wetland and acacia woodland habitat. Part of a system of 14 lakes, this area’s extensive wetland area has fantastic birdlife!

Afternoon boat cruise to explore the lakes and search the shorelines for birdlife. Pied kingfishers are nesting in the muddy banks, Malachite kingfishers are catching tiny fish in the shallows. 

We are lucky enough to see a white malachite kingfisher and an African Finfoot! Very rare.

Arriving in time for sundowners at Mihingo Lodge near Lake Mburu Park. Looking out from a rocky outcrop this lodge looks over the park and wetland areas.

Day 8: Departing Africa

Our last day and we wake up before sunrise in the hope of some last scenic pictures from my final morning in Africa for a while. My early morning is well rewarded and I get some great shots. Venturing out onto the rocks surrounding the lodge and sitting on top of a huge granite rock, the birds calling in the morning and the baboons watching me from a distance, the sun starts to creep over the lake and illuminate my rock. Sunrise in Africa, always an event! 360 degree views of lakes and nature reserves set in soft morning light, an epic morning for my last African sunrise of this trip.

Returning to Entebbe this afternoon along the muddy roads, the rainy season is really setting in and the red mud is running in rivers down the sides of the roads. A quick dinner at The Boma Hotel and time to freshen up before returning to the airport. Farewell Uganda!

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