Uganda is a land of wildlife contrasts and will bring you an incredibly diverse Uganda safari experience. Some scenes seem to symbolize the classic East African safari experience as lionesses chase antelope beneath the colors of sunrise and elephants plod through the camp as monkeys and baboons surround you.
You will also have incredibly intimate encounters with both rare and endangered mammals as you hike through the rainforest jungles in search of mountain gorillas, meet a large chimpanzee troop and find lions that climb trees.
These wildlife contrasts are initiated by the dramatic landscape that changes as the dense forest descends into rustic savannah and lush wetlands, and they are enhanced by the means of your discovery.
Far from spending over a week in a vehicle, the country’s classic wildlife encounters will mix adventure on foot, on water, and on wheels.
Our trip in 2019 was highlighted with tree-climbing lions, wild gorillas, endless herds and troops of rare chimpanzees were all ours to take in as the Uganda safari’s wildlife highlights combined the exclusive with the iconic.
We escaped into the wilderness to explore the country’s three flagship destinations as we traveled from the mystical rainforest to the scorched savannah and the hippo-filled channels.
Intimate and authentic, our Uganda safari itinerary was packed with some of the world’s greatest wildlife encounters. Here’s my narrative about our experience.
Eight Days of Unforgettable Uganda Safari Experience
- First Day: Sights and Sounds of the Exotic Kibale Forest
- Second Day: A Walk With the Chimpanzees
- Third Day: A Boat Safari Along the Kazinga Channel and Onto the African Savannah
- Fourth Day: An Iconic East Africa Big-Game Safari by Vehicle and on Foot
- Fifth Day: Another Game Drive on the Savannah and Into the Misty Jungle
- Sixth Day: An Intimate Gorilla Tracking Experience
- Seventh Day: Double Experience With A Different Gorilla Troop
- Eight Day: Aerial Safari as we flew back to civilization
First Day: Sights and Sounds of the Exotic Kibale Forest
Touched down in Kibale National Park, and I immediately sensed the freshness of the dew, the fragrances of endemic flowers, and the musty scents left behind by monkey troops in the canopy.
The sounds were also alien, from the distant echoed hoot of red colobus monkeys to the exotic chirping of endemic birds. In the distance, I could hear the sound of one of the park’s elephants plowing a path into the trees, and all around my camp, there were evidence of four-legged visitors, like the bushbuck and the warthogs.
One on my mates signaled me to gaze up, and right then a single scene captured the iconic and the unique as an olive long-tailed cuckoo flew above a small buffalo herd.
We arrived at Entebbe International Airport, and we immediately boarded a light aircraft bound for Kibale Forest National Park, located in the far west of Uganda.
Descended with views over the Africa’s highest mountain chain, Rwenzori Mountains, and then disappeared beneath the canopy on our transfer to the magnificent Primates lodge.
We spend our afternoon on a walking Uganda safari in the surrounding area as blue monkeys, and black-and-white colobus monkeys crisscrossed our paths with astonishing frequency.
I cought sight of a Sitatunga and bushbuck with new charm, and into the late afternoon, we were able to spot serval and various mongoose species.
It was an easy safari first day and a chance to meditate to the sounds of the forest. I later lounged on my lodge verandah after dark, and I wasn’t disappointed to see and sense the wild animals, as well as spot those that roamed beneath the lodge’s floodlight.
My first day was stupendous!
Second Day: A Walk With the Chimpanzees
Ugandan red colobus monkeys seem to mark the trail as we set off in search of chimpanzees as their tales draped down majestically and curled with an enduring grace.
L’Hoest’s monkeys and Ugandan mangabeys were the other regulars on our hiking journey through the depths of this Central African rainforest. With anticipation, fear and excitement, we walked the narrow trail the guide hacked clear of shrubs and tangled roots.
Somewhat remarkably, you we were able to sense when the chimpanzees are close. Perhaps it was the subtle change in smell or the unexplainable shift in the atmosphere. A few more steps, and would hear their calls. i walked a little further, darting my eyes all over the jungle, and suddenly stopped before one chimpanzee, an old female foraging peacefully in the canopy. Creeping a little closer, with the guide’s encouragement, and more of the troop would come into view with a dozen chimps scattered across the trees.
This troop had been habituated, and they are used to this daily hour of human contact. For the first few minutes, the chimpanzees inspected us with curiosity as if wondering aloud at their visitors.
They would soon settle back into their regular daily life with hands that grasp sharpened branches and use them as tools. Peculiar expressions showcased their delight, confusion, amazement and annoyance.
“Communication in chimpanzee bands is done with the whole body, from their open, expressive mouths to waving arms”, Vincent our guide spoke in a soft voice that only a few of us near him would hear.
“Sometimes you will see a splinter family group of eight to 12 or so chimps, but on other occasions, it will be the full troop with upwards of 50 in the trees, like this one”, continued Vincent point us the canopy.
For an hour, we I took in the idiosyncratic behavior that makes every chimpanzee trek absolutely unique.
Third Day: A Boat Safari Along the Kazinga Channel and Onto the African Savannah
As the forest rescinded behind us, we journeyed into the iconic image of East Africa, with the open savanna and the short golden grass and clumps of strange trees. We arrived in time for a short walking Uganda safari around the lodge before a luxurious lunch while overlooking the Kazinga Channel. Then moved to get even closer with a boat safari that would take us past hundreds of rambunctious hippos.
The hippos are not the only icon found along the water as this channel is the park’s lifeblood, the permanent source of goodness that all animals must stay close to.
Along the banks, large herds of Ugandan kob taking a drink with their black and white spiraled horns making for fabulous photos. Nile crocodiles sunbathed on the banks while elephants disappeared beneath the water, poking their trunks up like snorkels.
Spending the day on a boat safari was somewhat a very relaxed introduction to big-game African safari as we could just sit back and absorb all of the encounters along the water.
Fourth Day: An Iconic East Africa Big-Game Safari by Vehicle and on Foot
Across the savanna we drove with the golden sunrise gracefully painting our 4×4 safari truck and watched how the savanna changes color with the rising sun.
Elephants come out of silhouette, antelopes gather in staggering numbers, and huge lumbering hippos charge towards the water. You would be searching for the giants and getting up close to those that dominate the landscape.
High in the tree, a lioness dozing the morning away with eternal elegance. Down below, the rest of the pride with two cubs impishly playing in the grass and two other lionesses bounding quickly up the tree trunk. Even the large males like to climb trees, their unique black manes flowing as they ascended into the canopy.
There are only a few places in Africa to see tree-climbing lions, and this was a real enchantment to the scene.
In the safari vehicle, we approached an elephant herd and I particularly was attracted to the curled tusks of a large bull and the cheerful demeanor of the younger pachyderms.
Mothers elephants wandered with a matriarch’s grace, and soon there would be elephants on all sides of the vehicle, towering above us from all sides like a welcome to a long lost family we were.
The shyest of the Big Five is the hardest to spot on an African safari. I hopped one of the park’s leopards, another stealthy figure lurking in the trees. Unfortunately for us, the big cat kept it’s dignity away from our prying eyes.
After lunch at the lodge, headed out on foot to get closer to the smaller animals and stout bushbuck, skipping topis, duiker, reedbuck, and the strange antelopes of the swamps would fill our eyes.
Fifth Day: Another Game Drive on the Savannah and Into the Misty Jungle
The southern side of Queen Elizabeth National Park has a lower density of wildlife yet an enhanced sense of drama. Resources are meager here with the grasslands almost burnt in color.
“Competition brings a theater of wildlife, and it will be a wonderful place to see lions on the prowl as they descend from their lofty perches to cross the savanna with menace.” Sam, our driver, spoke above the truck’s purr as our safari camp rescinded.
Intense scenes around the crater lakes as animals came to drink in sight of the predators, and we keep following the elephants as our Uganda safari journey across Uganda’s most visited national park.
It would be a further three-hour drive to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park as we stopped to visit a traditional village on route. Eat our sumptuous Ugandan picnic at a viewpoint before disappearing into the pleistocene age old forest trees and ascending to our lodge, the magnificent Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla Lodge pinned on the forest ledge overlooking one side of the whole forest.
The afternoon would be relaxed with glorious views over the volcanic mountain forest of my porch as the mist swirled through the colors of the golden sunset.
Sixth Day: An Intimate Gorilla Tracking Experience
At first, we walked on a handmade trail, but then we will veered off to follow tracks left by forest elephants. The canopy enveloped us completely with rare and exotic flora found on every side.
Vehicles have never penetrated this forest, and the going can be challenging with steep ascents and tangled trails.
Our gorilla tracking group of 8 tourists, one guide and a ranger were assigned the largest gorilla family, Nkuringo, which is commonly known as the hardest one to track and the most entertaining of them all. We were yet to find out.
For many, the chance to travel in such exotic forest jungle makes a longer hike worthwhile, with some troops said to be four hours away from the trailhead. Others will prefer to meet the gorilla troop closest to the trailhead.
Trackers radio the troop’s position, and the excitement would build as we closed in, the last part of the trek hacking through the thickest part of the jungle.
There, standing upright for an immediate show of power that would command our respect, two gorillas greeted us. Three juveniles close by, foraging with enthusiasm, their black eyes radiant in the shade. Soon the whole troop would come into view, the females scattering across a wide area, the youngsters and males feasting from two trees.
And without warning, the silverback (patriarch) stirred up the excitement, beating a rolling rhythm on his chest before wandering onward on four knuckles. That just about upped the experience for me because very few get to witness such display of masculinity.
Not long after, the troop followed slowly and so did we, savoring the rest of our allotted hour with the gentle giants.
Strict rules allow you within seven meters of the gorillas, and this is more than close enough as there are incredible feelings of intimacy felt from even 30 or 40 meters away. And only an hour with the troop is allowed, and our guide was very generous when it came to timing.
Seventh Day: The Double Gorilla Trekking Experience With A Different Troop
Off from the same trailhead, our Uganda safari party walked towards a different habituated gorilla troop. Every family troop is unique, from the number and makeup of individuals to their behavior and social structure.
The gorilla troop for our second encounter had an aging silverback, a slow, languid fellow who tore down branches with bare hands, yet there were three blackback males, imposing figures starting to reach the age of maturity. They were not as big nor as strong, but they were much louder and boisterously jumping on two legs and staring with a degree of menace.
The ranger pointed out two clusters of females and suggested a potential split in the troop, three feeding on one side of the clearing, another two with infants on the other.
Meeting a gorilla troop is so much more than getting incredible photos as you are witnessing a family unit in all its glory, from the confrontations to the charms.
An infant climbed into the trees above my head, snapping branches and throwing them towards his brother. Two females retreated into the undergrowth, seeking solace, while yet another bound around ebulliently, searching for new bark to gnaw.
With a second gorilla trek, you witness completely new behavior, and you will also have time to really relax and savor the experience knowing that you already have plenty of great photos with the gorillas.
The hour moved much slower and I could really hone in on the details as a juvenile who seemed to communicate with me passed by, and I gazed at the silverback who appeared cast in melancholy.
We return to the lodge after a picnic on the trail, where a final night of fine dining ushered in you last evening amongst the misty African jungle.
8 Day Uganda Safari: Gorillas, Chimps & Wildlife Wanderlust.
Eight Day: Aerial Uganda Safari as we flew back to civilization
Uganda is marvelous from above with the volcanic hills draped in dense forest and the golden plains divided by ochre-red dirt roads.
We ended our Uganda safari with a light back to Entebbe early in the morning, the plane looping around Bwindi Forest before crossing open swathes of savanna. It was a dreamy aerial safari and a chance to savor the scale of what we had just explored. A great way to leave all that life back and fly back home with just memories of our experiences.