What to do in Uganda
Home to mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, tree-climbing lions, crested cranes and elephants aplenty, Uganda offers one of the most diverse safari experiences in the continent. Landscapes are also varied across the country. From vibrant forests to the mountainous Rift Valley, the different landscapes in Uganda offer great homes for animal species and bird life. The mountain gorillas thrive in dense forested environments, and the Virunga Mountains (covering Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo) are the only places you can see them in their natural habitat.
With so many colorful forests and national parks, there are plenty of safari experiences to do. Primate encounters with chimpanzees and mountain gorillas can be done in Kibale Forest and Bwindi respectively. Game drives and boat safaris can be enjoyed in destinations like Murchison and Queen Elizabeth National Parks. The semi-arid valley in Kidepo also offers game drive opportunities, with stunning views on offer while you enjoy the classic safari sundowner.
Bwindi National Park in Uganda is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. A silverback gorilla can weigh up to 150 kilograms and is the head of the family. It is his job to protect everyone in the family, so guides are always extra cautious around the silverbacks. Although they are used to the presence of humans (as they have been habituated for several decades now), we are still approaching their home territory so of course they can be inquisitive and cautious. Although it can be a daunting experience, the hour you spend with them is truly life-changing. It is a humbling experience and, with only about 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the wild today, it’s an experience that only a small percentage will get to do. The team of dedicated rangers, guides and porters are exceptionally professional and, however nervous you may feel beforehand, they will make you feel relaxed. After your safety briefing in Bwindi Park headquarters, you will be appointed a gorilla group to visit. Once your trackers and guide have found the group, you will have one hour with them.
Kibale Forest is one of the best destinations to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat. These primates are extremely social and intelligent, so watching their behaviour and interaction with one another is very interesting – we’d even say it is on par with the gorilla trekking. Kibale Forest is beautiful. It’s a dense forest of exotic vegetation, tropical colors, delicate flora and fauna, and above all, a real sense of animal life on the forest floors and among the treetops. Your chimpanzee trek will begin with a safety briefing in the Kibale Park headquarters. Here, you will be briefed about the chimpanzees – their social interaction and behavior with one another. The rangers will discuss the rules and restrictions during your trek and from there, you will be allocated a guide per group (maximum six per group). Your guide will trek with you through Kibale Forest until you find the group of habituated chimpanzees. At this point, you will have one hour to observe them before heading back to your camp. With the same time limit as the gorilla trekking, the hour goes go by exceptionally fast, so try to take it in as much as you can.
Bird watching in Uganda
Uganda is one of the best places for birding enthusiasts in Africa. There are so many diverse landscapes across the country, including beautiful ancient forest, papyrus-fringed swamps, flowing rivers, mysterious crater lakes and vast open space. Bordering the African Rift Valley, the country is very mountainous and compared to other safari destinations, it is exceptionally green all year round. Many people visit Uganda for the chance to see unusual species like the prehistoric-looking shoebill, the grauer’s broadbill and the green-breased pitta. A bird that is seen almost daily in Uganda is its national bird – the crested crane. These birds are very memorable – with long necks, a bright red chin and a yellow spikey hair do. The shoebill is another exceptionally memorable bird. Found in landscapes like the Mabamba Swamps in southern Uganda, this stork can reach up to five feet tall, with an eight-foot wingspan! Bird enthusiasts from all over the globe travel to Uganda for the bird life as there have been over 1,000 species recorded. The country has both native and migratory birds and in general, the best time to go for birds is between May and September, when there is less rain and better viewing conditions.
See the tree-climbing lions
Located between Kibale Forest and Bwindi National Park is the safari highlight of Uganda – Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park homes a number of landscapes, from vast open plains to dense, moist swamps. In the southern part of the park is an area called Ishasha. This is famous for its tree-climbing lions which always make for a good photograph. There are many theories as to why the lions began climbing the trees. It is very uncommon for lions to do so and there are only a couple of other places where you can see this (Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania being one of them). One theory is that they sit up in the trees for cooler weather, and to avoid the tsetse flies. Interestingly, the Ugandan guides have noticed that prides further north in the park have started to adopt this same behavior. Along with the lions, you’ll also see elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile and antelope aplenty. If you are combining the park with Kibale and Bwindi, then two nights is a good length to stay in Queen Elizabeth National Park, staying in the fantastic Ishasha Wilderness Camp.
Hike Murchison Falls
Located in the western part of Uganda is the beautiful Murchison Falls National Park. As its name suggests, Murchison Falls is a spectacular waterfall and from the top, views of the River Nile over the extensive forests can be enjoyed. The hike itself is usually done as an afternoon activity. The first part is a boat cruise which takes you to the bottom of the falls. From here, you follow a trail through the forest up to the top of the falls – which takes approximately 45-60 minutes. The trail is all up-hill but if you take it slow and steady, it is a beautiful hike to enjoy. The force of the waterfall and gorge at the top is so powerful and really gives you a sense of perspective.
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