Legends create electrifying experiences in remote Uganda. White rapids surging on the River Nile, silverback gorillas drumming their chests, endangered chimpanzees clambering above your head. Moments of pure adrenaline are matched by soul-soothing encounters, like infant gorilla twins or a golden monkey troop's peculiar gaze. Featuring two gorilla treks and stunning micro flights, this 9-day Uganda safari contrasts untrammeled thrills with the country's ambiance of charm.
Jinja – Relaxing Along the River Nile
From the lodge balcony, the River Nile looks calm. It slowly drifts between steep terraced fields, then turns between lush climbs of indigenous forest. Blues and greens are complemented by the raw red of the earth, the distinctive hue seeming to represent the ancient splendor of Africa. Around the corner, the Nile descends through a series of rapids, but that is for tomorrow; today is for lounging on the terrace and admiring the surreal landscape paintings of Uganda. You touch down at Entebbe International Airport, where you're greeted for the 2-hour transfer east to Jinja, a journey that skirts the shores of Lake Victoria. Dinner is included at the lodge.
Jinja – Grade Five White-Water Rafting On the White Nile
Softly and slowly the waters start. You drift, gliding beneath branches that spill high above the Nile. And then you descend. The raft suddenly picks up speed, magnetically pulled by the gushing waters of the first rapid. In an instant, you're over the edge, dropping three meters before paddling furiously to escape the swirl. Relax. Shake your eyes clear of the water as another rapid is coming, this time, a grade five, the highest that can be navigated by non-professional rafters. Intuition suggests you should stop paddling, but when the adrenaline is at its highest, you must keep pulling through the water, bringing the raft clear of the rapid's suction. There's no time for recovery as the rapids keep coming, a series of grade four and five rapids bringing vertical drops and the occasional flip. You will get wet. The usual question is whether you'll be soaked by the splash or end up floating downstream after being catapulted from the raft.
White-water rafting has been offered in Jinja for over 20 years and was one of the pioneering forces behind Uganda's rise as an adventure tourism destination, particularly in the late 90s. The experience has lost none of its impact, each turn and twist down the Nile another rapid to negotiate. You're guided by members of Uganda's national rafting team (their training is another positive spinoff from tourism here), and the rafting company has an exemplary safety record. The second half of the day is a little calmer than the first, the rapids more widely spaced, giving time to appreciate the scenic splendor of the Nile.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – The Misty Swirls of the Ancient Rainforest
Flying in a light aircraft isn't merely a convenient mode of travel. The low cruising altitude offers an uninterrupted vista onto the rolling hills, each stretch of green punctuated by the red trails of rural Uganda. Moving west the hills become mountains, and the green fields become swathes of thick forest. Mist swirls, iconically, quickly suggesting that this is the home of wild mountain gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has a small airstrip, and it feels like you've landed in the heart of the forest. Note that earlier today you'll first be transferred from Jinja to Entebbe to catch the flight.
Disembark and continue the journey on foot, tracking rare golden monkeys beneath the canopy. It's a short and easy expedition, one that helps prepare you for the gorilla trekking conditions tomorrow. With their strange blue faces and shimmering fur, these unusual primates are just one of many to be found in Bwindi, a forest that has always been too thick and steep for man to tame. The golden monkeys scamper above your head then scramble across the ground, each troop seductive with their strange colors and sometimes skittish behavior. A packed lunch will be taken for the walk, and you'll be transferred to the lodge in the late afternoon, where the dusk view over the forest is one of Uganda's most fabled.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – Gorilla Trekking
Gorillas in the mist, that's the preconception as you set off along trails created by Bwindi's forest elephants. The reality is more like gorillas on the move, as the troop you're tracking is marching on all fours, moving this way and that as they seek to avoid pachyderm encounters. You can see them on the slopes, barely 200 meters away. But gorillas are surprisingly nimble and easily crawl at the same speed as you can walk. Sometimes it takes less than an hour to reach your designated troop. At other times, it could be four hours. Maybe you see them after an hour, but spend the next 90 minutes following them until they stop to feed. It's all part of the experience, the unpredictability enhancing the feeling of being deep in the wild.
They've stopped, and you get closer, the guide slicing through bamboo shoots and encouraging you to step forward. Yet as the adrenaline surges, it feels like your feet are stuck in the mud; when six mountain gorillas stare your way, it's hard to fight the temptation to step backward. Two wave their arms in a domineering dance, bounding left and right while eyeballing you without pause. It's a form of welcome, one that clearly says that the world's largest primates are to be treated with the upmost respect. As these six gorillas move away, you can keep moving forward, coming into a clearing where the rest of the troop feeds. Now it feels more relaxed, the adrenaline dissipating, replaced by an endearing calm and enchantment.
Some of Bwindi's gorilla troops have been habituated to human presence, so they are used to the one hour of daily interaction. At times, the gorillas react and interact, perhaps getting closer in a playful manner or pulling across a branch for a degree of privacy. At other times, they continue as if you're not there, feeding and playing amongst themselves. Look one way and you're transfixed by two gorillas attempting to gnaw through tree bark, all the while oblivious to another three crawling past behind you. Spend an hour with the troop then walk back to the trailhead, stopping for a packed lunch on route. After the gorilla trekking, you're transferred to the lodge where a serene evening is punctuated by the excitement of the day's memories.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – Tracking the Nkuringo Gorilla Troop
Gorilla troops can be tracked from four different trailheads in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Perhaps the most unique of these is the Nkuringo troop, visited from the Nkuringo trailhead. While the other trailheads lead you to a variety of habituated troops, the Nkuringo troop dominate an abnormally large swathe of the forest in the southwest of the park. The troop's four silverbacks are an obvious highlight, such an abundance of testosterone casting a blanket of tension across the encounter. Infant gorilla twins are another, and they are believed to be the only wild gorilla twins in the wild. 19 gorillas make up the troop and within a few years, they are likely to have split, the upcoming silverbacks taking their pick of females away from the rest. But for now, they're one of Uganda's most surreal encounters.
Like yesterday, the trek is an exquisite part of the experience, with trackers on guard for wild forest elephants and a strong possibility of encountering other primates in the ancient rainforest. Arrive at the troop and it's just as exhilarating as yesterday, especially the first encounters, when you find four different silverbacks looking back your way. With such remarkable wildlife encounters, it's easy to spend most of the experience hammering away at the camera, which can detract from its raw authenticity. Gorilla trekking twice means you have time to take the photos, then time to relax and savor the thrills of these critically-endangered primates.
Kibale Forest National Park – Unusual Primates in Kibale
Other unusual primates fill the forests in western Uganda. Red colobus monkeys occupy the high branches, elegant and enchanting as they seek a realm of tranquility. Vervet monkeys and baboons seek out confrontation, banging the trees and sneaking through open car windows. Another ten monkey species swing through the trees in Kibale, each with distinctive faces and their own peculiar behavior. After the morning drive from Bwindi, you spend the afternoon on primate safari, traveling on foot to find an array of Kibale's primates. On this excursion, you can expect to see half a dozen different monkey species, some leaving an air of calm, others continuing to push up the adrenaline levels.
Kibale Forest National Park – Exclusive Chimpanzee Tracking Experience
Visit gorillas and the first impressions are of their size. Within an instant, you know that they're the kings and queens of the forest. Visit chimpanzees and the first impressions are of the little details. Immediately you're struck by how similar they are, how they look like close cousins you've never met before. Even when a troop of 50 individuals fills the forest, you quickly focus on the affinities; hands that grip stone tools and fruit, eyes the wander then focus with intent, faces that speak without the mouth opening, communication that's made with waving arms. It sometimes feels that you can interpret what the troop is saying, as if the channels of communication are shared between yourself and the endangered apes.
Much like in Bwindi, you're spending an hour with a habituated troop. And like with the gorillas, there is no predictability. Infant chimps approach with a fascinated look, a mother cradles a hairless baby to her breast; teenagers play with gleaming eyes, and a couple sneaks off to get intimate away from the rest. Sometimes they're eating, picking at fruit as they slowly cross the canopy. At other times they snooze, resting against a tree in a pose of equanimity, even though half the troop is shouting and yelping in their ears. There are moments of pure adrenaline, like when you turn around to find three chimpanzees jumping between branches directly above your head. And sometimes it's absolutely serene, watching 50 or more chimpanzees interact in the clearing.
Entebbe – Connecting With Culture Along Lake Victoria
A direct flight brings you back to Entebbe, offering splendid views of rural Uganda on the 90-minute journey to the old colonial capital. You're greeted by a guide and spend the day exploring two distinctive sides of the country's culture. First, the past is evoked by the broad colonial streets of Entebbe, where dusty red lanes are graced by villas of faded grandeur. Then the colorful future, on the streets of Kampala, where traders sell everything from apples to batteries, and women wander past carrying vibrant baskets on their head. On the tour, you visit the Bahai Temple and Uganda's national museum, before traveling out to Namugongo and the Uganda Martyrs Shrine. The guide is flexible, and the tour can be tailored towards the colorful chaos of Kampala, perhaps with visits to local markets. Or you can soak up the tranquility of Lake Victoria, where boat journeys lead you along the past glories of Entebbe's shoreline.
Entebbe – Departure
Depart Uganda from Entebbe International Airport, connecting in Nairobi onto your homebound flight. You have full use of the hotel's facilities until departure.
- Experience all the thrills and charms of gorilla trekking with two distinctive experiences with wild mountain gorilla troops in the forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Track wild chimpanzees in Kibale Forest, coming face-to-face with a large troop of these exquisite and endangered primates
- Spend an hour with the Nkuringo gorilla troop, which contains four silverbacks and an unusual set of infant gorilla twins
- Choose your trail through Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and track one of habituated gorilla troops from the Rushaga trailhead
- Discover a whole world of primates, including golden monkeys, red colobus monkeys, and raucous baboon troops
- Experience Africa's most exhilarating white-water rafting with a thrilling journey through the grade five rapids of the White Nile
- Explore a colorful history in the colonial capital of Entebbe, then enjoy a whirlwind tour through modern Uganda in Kampala
- Fly across Uganda in light aircraft, quickly connecting remote forests and enjoying sublime views over the mountainous landscape
$9,175 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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