Mountain gorillas thump their chests, tree-climbing lions survey the savannah, while wild rhinos and chimpanzees are tracked on foot. Uganda is filled with the most exquisite of wildlife experiences, a range of national parks offering a seductive mix of endangered species and unique activities. This 3-week safari explores the best of this mystical country, culminating in two gorilla treks and a few days of peaceful serenity on Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Victoria.
Entebbe – All the Colors and Charms of Old-World Uganda
Entebbe is frozen in time. Broad boulevards are flanked by colonial villas, their pastel colors softly faded by the African sun. It's quiet and inviting, a breeze flicking off Lake Victoria and rustling through the bougainvillea vines. Draped across the lake's shore, Entebbe still feels like an old-world colonial city, with architectural treasures rising above the water. It's an idyllic place to spend the first day in Uganda, the village-like feel and soothing waters quick to squash any travel fatigue. You'll be greeted at Entebbe International Airport and transferred to your five-star hotel on the lakeshore.
Jinja – Kampala City Tour and the Source of the River Nile
While Entebbe is calm and charming, neighboring Kampala is chaotic and colorful. This is the country's modern capital, a throbbing maze of streets that are crowded by stalls and hawkers. The only consistent color is that of the orange-red dust that lightly swirls. Everything is else is a kaleidoscope – the clothes, traders, vehicles, baskets, cafes – and every panorama has a thousand things to look at. A short guided Kampala city tour is followed by the journey east to Jinja, where you stop at the source of the Nile River, and then spend the evening at a lodge that overlooks the famous waterway.
Jinja – White-water Rafting Along the Nile River
As the first few miles of the Nile twist away they descend, dropping down cliff faces and creating thunderous grade four and five rapids. For over 20 years, these waters have offered Africa's best white-water rafting experience; it's almost guaranteed that the raft will flip at least once. If that sounds a little daunting, then the Nile rafting can easily be swapped for a day trip to Sipi Falls, which are hidden amongst swathes of coffee, sugar cane, and maize plantations. Jinja was the favorite hangout of colonialists in Uganda, and the small town provides a relaxed evening along the Nile.
Masindi – Wild Rhino Tracking at Zziwa Sanctuary
Wild white rhinos maraud across the savannah at Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Some drop and roll in the mud, frolicking with youthful abandon. A mother nurtures a calf, never allowing more than a few meters to separate the family's footsteps. Large males appear rough and powerful, yet they're bashful and benign, illustrating the calm of a vastly misunderstood species. These rhinos are an astonishing sight from a safari vehicle. Today you see them even more intimately, by going rhino trekking with local rangers. And they're far bigger and more impressive when you're sharing the same savannah. Zziwa is a non-profit sanctuary helping to reintroduce rhinos back into Uganda; you'll stop here for a few hours before continuing for a night in the northern town of Masindi.
Murchison Falls National Park – The Thunderous Cascades of Murchison
Rainbows spiral across the mist of Murchison Falls, adding seven new tones to a gorge dominated by lush green moss and branches. These falls are similar to Victoria Falls in appearance, broad sheets of water thundering 40 meters into a chasm then reappearing as mist. While they're not as big as those in Southern Africa, you're able to get frighteningly close by standing just above the precipice. After lunch at the falls, you game drive through Uganda's largest national park. Buffalo charging, hartebeest grazing, elephants and giraffe on the move, oribi and waterbuck galloping across the plains. The diversity of this national park makes it an easy introduction to big-game safari.
Murchison Falls National Park – Big Game Safari by Vehicle and Boat
Hippos frolic in the dawn light, returning from their grazing lands to fill the park's river channels. Elephants and giraffe are along the banks, hydrating for the day before loping into the distance, Ugandan kobs are also drinking, their ears on high alert as lions lurk in the surrounding grasses. Birdlife is active at this time, cormorants and kingfishers amongst the hundreds of species that flicker above the crocodiles. On a morning boat safari, you sit back and savor the scenes, every corner bringing a new assortment of wildlife along the banks. In the late afternoon, a game drive continues the encounters with Uganda's largest mammals.
Kibale Forest National Park – Unusual Primates in the Forest
Gorillas and chimpanzees are two of the well-celebrated highlights of Uganda. But there are many more, unusual and endangered primates that aren't found elsewhere in East Africa. They occupy the country's western forests, where conditions are more akin to Central African rainforest than East African savannah. Golden monkeys with blue faces, mystical colobus monkeys with sweeping red tails, rare Uganda mangabey and L'Hoests' monkeys. On a guided nature walk, you follow their tracks and discover up to a dozen different species, along with an assortment of antelope and the odd forest elephant. By spending the next two nights at a lodge deep in the park, you're likely to see a surreal procession of these primates swing past your balcony.
Kibale Forest National Park – Unique Chimpanzee Tracking
Chimpanzees are the most revered of Kibale's primate residents, and they're usually tracked by hearing their long sonorous hoots. Follow the echoes to their source and you are quickly within a few meters. Sometimes it's a family group of seven or eight, their emotions revealed through expressive eyes and noisy mouths. On other occasions, you find the entire troop together, a handful of family troops roving in the trees in front, above, and behind you. Intricate details dominate the experience, each chimpanzee seeming more and more humanlike the longer you spend admiring. Kibale has habituated some chimpanzee troops so spotting these special apes is almost guaranteed, although you should be prepared for a one to three-hour walk through the forest to reach them.
Semuliki National Park – Exclusive Nighttime Big Game Safari
You're now in far western Uganda, winding through the forests that are tucked up against the border with the DRC. Occasionally javelins of light flicker through the thick forest canopy, but you're mostly guided by sounds, that of wild primates hooting from the trees and antelopes thudding their hooves across the ground. When the forest opens onto a clearing, there are unusual hunters, like white-tailed mongoose, serval cats, mongoose, and the tiny genet. It's at nighttime that they usually emerge, their hunting guided by moonlight in a park that's away from Uganda's typical tourist trail. After a relaxing morning, you drive to Semuliki for lunch, then spend the late afternoon and evening on a game drive, admiring the contrasts between day and night in the forest.
Semuliki National Park – Second Chimpanzee Tracking Experience
Semuliki National Park's chimpanzees are a little more elusive than those in Kibale, yet the small-group encounters have a certain exclusivity. Visitors often find the chimpanzees wandering into the lighter forest and open savannah, where they are seen walking upright, an extremely rare sight in the wild. Fewer tourists visit this park, so the chimpanzees display an enhanced sense of curiosity, approaching closer to inspect their primate cousins (i.e. you). The length of the experience is unpredictable, and the walk could be anything from 20 minutes to four hours. Hundreds of bird species occupy the journey, and there's often an alluring flutter of the wings as you travel beneath the rainforest canopy.
Queen Elizabeth National Park – Tree-Climbing Lions and More Safari Highlights
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda's flagship safari destination, home to the giants of Africa and some quirky behavior. Elephants and buffalos march in their hundreds, their bulky frames a constant along the horizon. Hippos bathe in the mud while lionesses trail Uganda kob across the savannah. Sometimes they're on the ground. But keep looking up, because these lions also climb trees. Draping themselves across the branches, they look down on their kingdom, continually inspecting the dinner menu as they laze away the afternoon hours. There are only a couple of parks in Africa where these tree-climbing lions can be found, and they'll be the focus of your day's game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park – Boat Safari and Game Drives Around the Kazinga Channel
Abundance makes this park so revered, particularly the large numbers of hippo and elephant. On a boat safari, it's hard to go a few moments without seeing some of them, whether splashing in the shallows, marching along the savannah, or wandering a lonely journey after being cast out from the group. Serene and surreal, traveling along the water also brings encounters with the rest of the park's cast; everything must come to drink and the morning hours are a prime time to hydrate. An afternoon game drive also focuses on the game-rich area around the Kazinga Channel, hoping for more tree-climbing lion encounters while also seeking to follow the trail of leopards.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – From Big Cats to Big Apes
Big cats occupy some trees and as you travel further south it's another giant that dominates the forest. Gorillas, around 320 of them, roam in family troops through a landscape that's dappled with mist. Tomorrow you'll follow forest elephant trails beneath the canopy; today you gaze upon the forest and admire its mystique, finding a place of solace in the furthest corner of Uganda. Dramatic hills rise, innumerable valleys stretch onto the horizon, and your lodge has the ultimate Bwindi panorama. As an optional activity, you can visit a rural village community during the afternoon.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – Gorilla Trekking in Uganda
Gorillas aren't tracked by their calls. The bashful giants live deep in the thickest swathes of forest, hiding amongst the lushness and avoiding contact with others. Trackers head out three hours before you do, following the troop's trail and radioing in the rough location. The walk can be challenging, heading uphill along trails that often have to be sliced open by the guides' machete. But the reward is unimaginable, an entire gorilla troop roving around just a few meters away. Arrive at the troop and the silverback may appear unimpressed, pulling down an entire tree and seeking a little solace; on other occasions, he might greet visitors with a rumble on the chest or a wave of the arms.
The younger gorillas are in playful mood, and they swing through the trees, often comically as they're not the most confident of climbers. Troops number from nine to 25 individuals and the interactions are a highlight of the experience. You're never just seeing a gorilla troop; you're admiring how they act and behave in their natural habitat. Spend a full hour with the troop, which is more than enough time to admire the different individuals, see the resemblance with yourself, and follow their antics in the forest. It's then a walk back through the forest to the trailhead, usually with a stop for a packed lunch on route.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – Second Gorilla Trekking Experience
Gorillas are too special to only see once. This morning you set out through the forest again, this time on the trail of a different habituated group. Two adult females come out to say hello, their inquisitive stare followed by a flourish of the arms as they bound off to tell the rest of the troop. Two blackback males emerge from the trees, and they're very inviting, picking fruit from the low branches then gazing longingly towards you and the small group of trekkers. All gorilla trekking groups are limited to eight and a small team of guides and trackers ensure you get close, but not too close to upset the giant apes. Going gorilla trekking once is thrilling. Going twice is relaxing, as you head out in the knowledge that you've already encountered and photographed a wonderful troop. So it's easy just to stand and watch, fully taking in the beauty of the experience.
Day 16 - 17
Lake Bunyonyi – Relaxing Along the Mystical Lake
Mist also swirls across Lake Bunyonyi, dissipating as it floats up across green terraces and the odd thatched-roof hut. Locals continue to cross the lake in wooden canoes or hang their fishing rods out from tiny traditional vessels. The panorama is one of peace, of nature's harmony and birdsong-interrupted silence. After two weeks of adventure, the next few days are about lying back along the water, starting in Lake Bunyonyi. Paddle out in your own canoe, visit uninhabited islands on the lake, wander to welcoming rural villages, and watch the sun set evocatively across this mystical landscape.
Day 18 - 20
Ssese Islands – Escaping to the Island Charms of Lake Victoria
While Bunyonyi is small and enchanting, Lake Victoria is where you can easily get lost. Africa's largest lake stretches for some 26,828 square miles, and it's filled with remote islands of bamboo and palm. Two hours from the mainland are the Ssese Islands, where a luxurious lodge hangs above a private island beach, and there's little but the sound of the wind softly fluttering through the trees. It's Uganda's ultimate getaway, a place where time has no meaning, and it's easy to kick off the shoes and never put them back on. Ssese is a small and lush archipelago, and the lodge is set on its own island, with a broad sandy beach flanked by sweeping palms. A boat is at your disposal for excursions across Lake Victoria.
Ssese Islands – Departure
After the private boat transfer from Ssese Islands to Entebbe, you're transferred to the international airport for your departure flight. It's onwards from Uganda, the camera roll filled with exquisite wildlife encounters, the memories thinking back to gorilla trekking, wild chimpanzees, rhinos, and lions in the trees.
- Savor the charms of tracking wild mountain gorillas and visit two distinctive gorilla troops in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Admire the emotion and interactions of wild chimpanzees with chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest and Semuliki National Parks
- Wander across the savannah and track wild rhinos on foot at Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary
- Discover the abundant hippos and elephants of Murchison Falls National Park, with game drives and boat safaris bringing an array of other wildlife treasures
- Gorillas and chimpanzees are just two of dozens of unusual primate species to be found in Uganda, and each of the five national parks visited offers an alluring mix of monkeys and other apes
- Explore a nocturnal world with a nighttime big-game safari in Semuliki National Park
- Find rare tree-climbing lions to be amongst the highlights of two days of safari in the exceptional Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Complete the Ugandan experience with five days of serene lake relaxation, first on the mystical Lake Bunyonyi, then on a small island in Lake Victoria
$20,995 per person (excluding international flights)
- In-country transportation
- Some or all activities and tours
- Expert trip planning
- 24x7 support during your trip
Your final trip cost will vary based on your selected accommodations, activities, meals, and other trip elements that you opt to include.
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