If you think you can only do decent game drives in Tanzania, Kenya or South Africa, then think again! Uganda is more renowned for its gorilla trekking but it is definitely not lacking in other animals.
Like most people, the main reason for our Uganda trip was the mountain gorilla trekking. But we were pleasantly surprised by the amount of other wildlife we saw there. A lot of tour company itineraries barely cover anything other than the gorilla trekking.
We decided that if we were going to go all the way to Uganda, we might as well cover as much of it as we could. I’m really glad we did because we had a fabulous time, with some incredible wildlife sightings on our first African safari.
Because it was our first time in Uganda, and our first time in Africa, we decided to book a private tour. We used Gorillas and Wildlife Safaris for this trip. We had a private driver, Kassim, who did all the hard work for us. He tackled the crazy Ugandan roads, while we kicked back and enjoyed the passing scenery and wildlife.
Our 10-day Uganda safari covered 5 different national parks, each offering a different type of wildlife encounter. Although we would happily have stayed longer, we were very happy with the itinerary; it was perfect for our first visit to Uganda.
Here is how we spent our 10 days in this incredible country:
Kampala Entebbe (1 night)
We flew overnight from Jordan to Entebbe via Qatar and arrived at 2.30 pm in the afternoon to a very hot Uganda! After a week in Jordan where the weather was a fair bit cooler, we were glad (or at least I was) to be back in a country where we didn’t need a jumper!
Our arrival was pretty smooth and we passed through immigration quickly. After being picked up by our guesthouse located just down the road from the airport, we had an early night to prepare for the start of our safari the next day.
If you can afford more time in Entebbe, the botanic garden is apparently lovely and you can visit Ngamba island, a sanctuary for the chimps.
Use the search box below to find your accommodation in Entebbe:
Murchinson Falls National Park (2 nights)
Our driver arrived on time for our 8 am pick up and we headed out of the city to begin our safari. We were both very excited and looking forward to seeing our first African wildlife.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Our drive to Murchison Falls National Park was long and bumpy in parts. However, we stopped along the way at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This was the first highlight of our trip because we were able to see three endangered white rhinos! The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is a non-profit, animal sanctuary and the only home to wild rhinos in Uganda. The sanctuary is kickstarting the white rhino population again after they became extinct in 1983, after years of civil unrest and poaching. Currently, the sanctuary is home to twenty-two southern white rhinos.
We participated in the sanctuary’s white rhino trekking activity, where we entered the territory of the southern white rhinos on foot, with a well-trained ranger. He guided us through the bush to where the rhinos where, and we observed them from a distance.
First, we came across a mum and her super cute baby. Then a very big male rhino came over to visit them. He was a little scarier but the guide was not worried, so we relaxed enough to take a large number of photos. For us, it was our first rhino sighting in the wild and we were pretty stoked.
The powerful Murchison Falls
After our visit to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, we headed off again for a long drive to the top of the Murchison Falls. On the way, we had our first sightings of baboons. Baboons are really funny animals to watch because they always look so naughty. A really big male baboon walked right past us but like a safari newbie, I didn’t have my camera ready!
When we arrived at the top of the falls, you could hear the sound of the roaring water from a mile away. The Murchison Falls are on the White Nile River and they are the most powerful waterfalls in the world. That’s right, not the largest not the biggest but the most powerful.
What makes Murchison Falls so powerful is the fact that the Nile forces its way through a 7-metre wide gap in the rocks at the top of the falls. It then tumbles 43 metres down before flowing westward into Lake Albert. Every second, 300 cubic meters of water pours over the falls, all of it squeezing through that 7-metre gap. It was pretty impressive to watch and we even had a rainbow to boot!
The Murchison Falls National Park, our first ever game drive in Africa
The Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest protected wildlife sanctuary. It’s home to a large population of wildlife and we did our first ever African game drive on the way to our hotel. Our hotel was located across the Nile river, so we first took the car ferry at Parra before driving through the savanna for about 45 minutes. Although rather short, we still managed to see plenty of Waterbucks, Bushbucks, Rothschild Giraffes, Uganda Kobs and even an elephant on this game drive. Not too shabby for our first drive!
Our sunrise game drive at Murchison Falls National Park
Our sunrise game drive the next day was even better, with so many more wildlife sightings. We even saw a juvenile lion but he was scared of us and wouldn’t venture out of the bush. We also saw so many elephants that day that we lost count. Appropriately we named it The Elephant Day.
A boat cruise on the Nile River
That afternoon, we took a three-hour boat trip down the Nile River to see the waterfalls from the bottom. On the way there we saw heaps of hippos, my favourite African animal, so I was chuffed. We also saw a couple of Nile crocodiles, more elephants and plenty of different birds. Of course, the view of the falls from the bottom was pretty amazing too. It was a boat ride to remember!
Our Murchison Falls accommodation
We stayed at the Pakuba Safari Lodge and the best part of this lodge was the wildlife. At night many of the Waterbucks and Bushbucks would come up close to the lodge. You could see them on your walk back to your room, although they were a lot more scared of us than we were of them. Not far from Pakuba is the ruins of a failed lodge, which is apparently home to a lone leopard. Of course the three times we drove past trying to find him, he wasn’t there. Those pesky leopards are hard to spot!
Kibale National Park (2 nights)
We had an early start to catch the first ferry across the river to exit the park and move on to Kibale National Park. Kibale National Park is the best place in Uganda to see primates, especially the Chimpanzees.
We knew about the chimps but we were not at all expecting the type of scenery we would encounter on the way to Kibale. There were fields and fields of tea plantations; beautiful rolling green hills all around. Then we checked in to our hotel and the view was so wonderful that we just wanted to lounge around on the viewing deck all day long. Did we really have to go hiking in the forest for chimps? I guess we probably should!
The Chimps Habituation experience
We were rather disappointed by this experience mainly because we didn’t really see many chimps. We saw a few but they were either far up in the treetops or running away, trying to avoid us. It’s nature, you can’t do much about that but what most annoyed us was the way that the habituation experience was marketed. It’s a more costly experience that very often ends with limited sightings.
Click here to read more about our habituation experience with the chimps and the difference between habituation and standard tracking. But we still really enjoyed the hike. It’s not every day that you get to hike through an African rainforest.
A walk through the swamps
On our second day in Kibale National Park, we did a Bigodi Community Walk (BICOWA). This project began in 2016, aiming to empower the community through job creation, skills development and building an awareness of conservation.
The walk gave us an authentic African experience. It started with a nature walk through a swamp, followed by a community walk through the nearby village. Our swamp walk was fantastic. Unlike on our previous day, we saw plenty of different types of primates. We saw Black and White Colobus, Red Colobus, Red Tailed monkeys and Vervet monkeys. We also learnt about the many different plants that are used for medical purposes within the community.
After our swamp walk, we went on a community walk through the village. We visited the banana beer man who showed us how to make beer and gin from bananas. I didn’t fancy the beer much but the gin was rather tasty!
We also visited a house where a lady grew organic coffee. She showed us how she picks, roasts and grinds the coffee beans. Then she made us a lovely cup of coffee.
Our last visit was a traditional medicine man. Although he had to cut his session short to make an urgent house call before he left he showed us his herbal viagra for men and women! He also showed us a few other products including being a remedy for snake bites.
All and all it was interesting to walk through the village and see a little bit about how they live.
Our Kibale National Park accommodation
The Isunga Lodge is located on the edge of the Kibale Forest National Park. Sitting up high, it gives you magnificent views over the rainforest and the Kibale National Park itself. That was not just from the reception area; our cottage had the best views as well. At night you could relax with a sundowner enjoying that view, feeling like you never wanted to leave. After dark they lit the firepit, where you could relax after dinner with a cuppa in hand, reflecting on the day’s activities while checking out the stars. Bliss!
Use the search box below to find your accommodation near Kibale National Park:
Queen Elizabeth National Park (2 nights)
Queen Elizabeth National Park was our third destination and it only took us 4 hours to reach it. That’s a short drive in Uganda!
Our first game drive at Queen Elizabeth National Park
On our first game drive in Queen Elizabeth, we saw a couple of “Tree Climbing lions” sleeping in a tree. Pretty cool right? Of course, we saw way more than that but the Bushbucks, Buffaloes, Topis, Warthogs and Uganda Kob aren’t quite as exciting as Lions! We loved them too though, but the Lions win, always!
Our second game drive at Queen Elizabeth National Park
It was another good day for a game drive. After searching for them for over an hour and after instead seeing many Hippos, Elephants, Buffaloes, Topi and Uganda Kob, we finally saw a pack of 4 Lions! They were wandering around and two crossed in front of our car!
Our boat ride on the Kazinga Channel
Another boat ride and yet another fantastic two hours spent watching herds of Elephants, Buffaloes, Hippos, Crocodiles and so much birdlife. Simply amazing!
Our Lion Tracking experience
The next morning in Queen Elizabeth, we did a Lion tracking experience. What’s that? During Lion tracking, a ranger locates the Lions that have been fitted with radio collars with the help of an antenna that he holds out the window of the jeep.
Once located, the ranger leads the groups of jeeps to the Lions, to observe them in their natural environment. Unlike in normal game drives, the jeeps are allowed to go off track where necessary, to ensure successful viewing. During our Lion tracking experience, we were lucky enough to observe and photograph a group of 5 Lions, followed by a group of 7 Lions, which included a few juveniles. It was an experience of a lifetime and a highlight of our Ugandan trip.
Our Queen Elizabeth National Park accommodation
We stayed in an established tent at the Bush Lodge. For many reasons, it was another highlight of our Ugandan trip. The main reason was that the Hippos came so close to our tent at night that you could hear them munching on grass and make their Hippo noises. It was awesome! They kept us up half the night (they are loud rascals) but we didn’t care. After all, Hippos are my favourite African animal and it’s not every day that you get to wake up to the sounds of happy Hippos!
We also had a family of Vervet Monkeys visit us at dusk on our second night. They were very curious and pretty cute, especially the young baby.
The tents were basic but comfortable. We had a private bathroom next to our tent with an outdoor shower and on our first night, we showered under the stars. It’s not every day that you can do that either!
Meals were served outside next to the river. Sometimes uninvited guests (i.e. Hippos) show up but we didn’t have any such visitors during our dinners there. One thing that worried us initially but we later found quite fun was that you couldn’t walk back to your room alone at night. Instead, you had to ask for a guard to escort you. This was in case you ran into a hippo, a buffalo or an elusive leopard. Apparently, leopards are very rarely seen on these walks, which is just as well. As much as I’d love to encounter one, I’d prefer to do it from the safety of a jeep!
Bwindi impenetrable forest (2 nights)
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was the place we had been looking forward to the most. As I mentioned earlier, the gorillas were the main reason that we’d headed to Uganda, so we were really looking forward to this part of the trip.
We had signed up for the gorilla habituation experience which was similar to the Chimpanzee experience in Kibale. That meant that after our very limited sighting of the chimps in Kibale, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t more than a little worried about the gorilla experience.
Would we see them at all? We’d heard lots about the trekking part, how it was a really tough hike through dense forest, how the weather could turn nasty all of a sudden etc. In the end though, we had the most incredible day. Not only was the hike a lot easier than we expected, it only took us two and a half hours to find the gorillas. That was a lot quicker than expected.
Yes the trekking was mostly uphill and yes some parts were challenging; but once there, we spent three and a half hours in the company of the gorillas. The most amazing moment came when the silverback walked straight past us without a care in the world. That feeling of being scared and excited at the same time was incredible. Even though it was the most expensive day trip we have ever done, it was worth every single penny.
Find out more about our time with the gorillas here.
On the way down the rain came to greet us but after the day we’d had, we couldn’t care less about getting wet. It all added to the experience, that once in a lifetime experience.
Our accommodation at the Bwindi National Park
In Bwindi Nationa Park we stayed at the Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge. Getting there was definitely an experience and thank god that we weren’t the ones driving! But the lodge was beautiful and gave us a full mountain lodge experience. Both the restaurant and our room had fireplaces in them and we actually needed them because it was so much cooler on the mountain. The lodge had a beautiful deck to relax on after a day of hiking, with great views across the surrounding hillside.
Use the search box below to find your accommodation in Bwindi:
Mgahinga National Park (1 night)
It was another early start with a 5 am departure time; what? Seriously, sleeping in does not exist in Uganda! Being two and a half hours away from the Mgahinga National Park and with our habituation experience starting at 7.30 am, it was just another middle of the night wake up call! Thank heavens that the wake-up call at Nkuringo Gorilla Lodge came with a pot of coffee!
Although we could have slept on the way to our habituation experience, the bumpy roads made it pretty much impossible! So we arrived at the park a little cranky and tired! I personally was not in the mood for another trek through the bushes but we had no choice but to suck it up and walk.
When we met the ranger, he pretty much told us that although they’d do their best to show us the golden monkeys, it was nature and they promise that the monkeys would show up. We know how nature works but to be honest, this barely made us want to begin the trek. We realised that the golden monkeys would be just as hard to spot as the chimps had been. I was so tired from the previous day’s trekking that I really couldn’t be bothered with the golden monkeys. Still, I pushed myself to participate anyway.
The start of the hike was ok, just walking through some beautiful scenery with a view of Mt Mgahinga in the background. During our hike to the golden monkeys we learned about some great hikes to be done on that mountain. For example, you can hike for 8 hours to a crater lake at the summit. Had I not been exhausted, I would have jumped at the opportunity to do that. But instead, it was duly noted for next time.
The hike to see Golden Monkeys was a little trickier, not because of the uphill parts, not because it took longer but because of the bloody huge stinging nettles. I was wearing tight lycra pants (huge mistake) and I kept getting stung by the nettles, even though the rangers tried to clear them with they machetes as they walked in front of us. Needless to say, it did little to fix my bad mood!
We eventually saw some Golden Monkeys, they were high up in the tree and moving really fast. Our team of trackers and guides tried so hard to help us get good photos but the monkeys were just not cooperative. They were non habituated monkeys, so as we had learned, it would always be tricky. I eventually caught some on camera but my zoom was nowhere near big enough to get the money shot!
Our accommodation at the Mgahinga National Park
The Mt Mgahinga Lodge was nothing short of incredible. It offered superb views of the three nearby mountains, with some stunning rooms to retreat to after the hike. When we first stepped inside our suite at the Mt Mgahinga, we were in shock. It was almost as big as our entire house back home! Plus we had our very own private butler. Seriously! Just a quick phone call and someone came rushing in to light the two fireplaces. We loved that place. Unfortunately one night there was not enough. We wanted to live there!
Back to Entebbe (1 night)
The drive back to Entebbe was a very long one! It took us almost 9 hours if I recall correctly. It was a long day sitting in the jeep but the scenery along the way was pretty impressive, especially driving through the hills near Lake Bunyonyi. We made a short stop at the Equator line where we saw a demonstration of how the water flows in different directions in the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Very interesting indeed!
That was the end of our trip to Uganda and what an amazing trip it was. It’s an amazing country that deserves more tourism. We’re really glad that we included it as a part of our African trip.
How to travel around Uganda?
Driving Uganda by yourself can be done and we saw a few tourists doing that. But to be honest, having seen what some of the roads are like (especially near the Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks) we are glad we did not attempt this by ourselves. You’d need to rent a 4WD and be an excellent driver. Many roads are in the process of being sealed, so in a couple of years, it might be a totally different scenario. But for now, I would let someone else do the driving.
Booking a tour
This is the easiest option and the one we chose. By booking a tour, the itinerary was set up for us but customisable if required. Our tour agency organised our accommodation according to our budget and we had a driver the entire time. It was very easy and pain-free. We recommend this option. We used the company Gorillas and Wildlife Safari and we were very happy with them. All we needed to do was pay the gorilla and chimps habituation permits as a deposit and the rest was paid just before we started the tour.
Hiring a car with a driver
This is another option if you’d like to plan everything and book your own accommodation. You can hire the car and driver only, give them your itinerary and they will take you around. Some rental car agencies will also organise your gorilla permits as well.
Is Uganda safe to travel in?
As in every country in the world, there are parts of Uganda that are more worrying than others. We were told to be more careful in Kampala and Entebbe and not to walk around at night, flash our wealth etc. But this is also the case in lots of other places worldwide. We found the locals to be extremely welcoming and always happy to help us out. We never felt unsafe in Uganda.
What about the Ugandan visa?
Visas to enter Uganda can be applied for online here or you can request one on entry. The cost of the visa is $50 USD. If you are also visiting Kenya and/or Rwanda during your trip, you should get the East Africa Visa for $100 USD instead which covers all three countries.
Be aware that you will need proof of Yellow Fever vaccination to enter Uganda.