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, like a lioness chasing an antelope beneath the sunrise golden colors and elephants plod through the camp as monkeys and baboons surround you.
You will also have incredibly intimate encounters with rare and endangered mammals as you hike through the rainforest jungles searching for mountain gorillas, meet a large chimpanzee troop, and find lions climb trees.
These wildlife contrasts are initiated by the dramatic landscape that changes as the dense forest descends into rustic savannah and lush wetlands. They are enhanced through your innocent 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 Uganda safari trip in 2019 was highlighted with tree-climbing lions, wild gorillas, endless herbivore 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 my Uganda Safari experience.
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 was evidence of four-legged visitors, like the bushbuck and the warthogs.
One of 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 Africa’s highest mountain chain, Rwenzori Mountains, and then disappeared beneath the canopy on our transfer to the magnificent Primates lodge.
It was an easy safari first day and a chance to meditate on 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 Uganda safari experience first-day was stupendous!
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, 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, 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.
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 African 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 African safari big game as we could sit back and absorb all of the encounters along the water.
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 late morning away with eternal elegance. The rest of the pride with two cubs impishly playing in the grass and two other lionesses bounding quickly up the tree trunk down below. 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 curved 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 its dignity away from our prying eyes.
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 the 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 the 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.
At first, we walked on a handmade trail, but then we 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. The whole troop would soon 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 a 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 ten 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.
My experience spending a day with a silverback and his family in Bwindi
Off from the same trailhead, our Uganda safari party walked towards a different habituated gorilla troop. Every family troop is unique, from individuals and makeup to their behavior and social structure. This time it was all about the experience, no cameras, no gear, no equipment to disrupt me from the authentic experience.
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 females’ clusters and suggested a potential split in the troop, three gorillas 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 witness 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 another bound around ebulliently, searching for new bark to gnaw.
With a second gorilla trek, you witness completely new behavior. 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.
After a picnic on the trail, we return to the lodge, where a final night of fine dining ushered in our last evening amongst the misty African jungle.
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 flight from Kihihi local airstrip back to Entebbe early in the morning, the plane looping around Bwindi Forest before crossing open swathes of savannah plains. 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 a bag of memories and unforgettable African tales.
The gorilla trailhead we took on (Nkuringo, southern sector) required a moderate physical level because of the uneven terrain. On our first trek, we had to hike downhill for almost 1 hour and back up later. So, do an honest assessment of your physical condition and your priorities, then choose a site that best fits your abilities and wishes. Porters are available to assist with carrying bags and in an emergency can carry you down and out of the forest – but if this is a result of your lack of physical ability, it’s going to cost you a rather large sum of money!
Through Destination Uganda Guide, we were connected directly with Nkuringo Safaris, a local operator. The whole process, from planning to reservations and ground handling, was rather handled really well.
Uganda is relatively safe to visit during COVID. It is one of the countries that has had a low Coronavirus infection/death ratio. If you head directly to your attraction and avoid the crowds, you’ll be safe from any infection. Entry requires that you have a valid negative PCR COVID-19 test certificate issued 72 hours before your entry and keep your facemask on. See the other requirements here.
Your packing list should include everything that might not be readily available when you need it, and carry as minimal as possible. Must pack is hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, facemasks, and this extensive list of items.
You have to consider the major costs of the trip like a gorilla trekking permit (USD 700 pp), Chimpanzee trekking permit (USD 200 pp), Accommodation (ranges from 200 – 1000 pp full board), and the rest are relatively based on which safari operator you use. Destination Uganda will definitely connect you with a vetted local operator who will give you the best local rates for an all-inclusive expedition. This is why they’re in business, and the best part is that you don’t incur any agency fees.
The best time for a Uganda trip is in February! Well, it’s because we traveled in February and everything fit like a puzzle. June to August and December to February is the dry season in the country. Common advice is that trekking is easier during that time, and torrential downpours will not threaten your itinerary. Read this post for advice on the weather and the best time.
What was most interesting about this experience was the planning process. Read this; this trip was entirely customized for us. Seriously! They assigned us a local expert, who, between calls and emails, laid down the whole experience of going on safari in the Pearl of Africa. We made our choices, and they made it happen for us with a few adjustments to our expectations. You, too, can customize your own experience in Uganda, that is the beauty of this country. One last piece of advice; stay longer, ease up to the destination, meet the people, taste something new, catch the tiny moments, and don’t forget to be present. Just go!
Leave a comment, let me know what you think, or ask me a question below.