THE ICONIC MOUNTAIN GORILLAS ARE THE BIGGEST DRAW, WITH THE COUNTRY HOLDING AROUND A THIRD OF THE GLOBAL POPULATION. TRAVEL BEYOND THEIR MONTANE HABITAT AND YOU'RE SURE TO BE REWARDED WITH A CORNUCOPIA OF WILD BEASTS, BOTH FEATHERED & FURRY
THIS TWO AND A HALF WEEK EXPEDITION TAKES IN THE BEST OF UGANDA, TRAVERSING SAVANNAH, FOREST, MARSH LAKE AND MOUNTAIN.
Uganda's tremendous diversity is due to its position on the three-way junction of the East African savannah, Central African Rainforest and semi-arid Sahelian zone of North Africa. No country in Africa offers such variety in such close proximity and the ideal way to explore the country is on a private road trip by engaging a guide and 4x4 staying in a variety of excellent camps, lodges and the occasional hotel along the way.
I never knew a morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy.”
PREHISTORIC BIRDS & BEASTS: SHOEBILL AND RHINO
Arrive in Entebbe and spend a day in the Mabamba Swamp seeking out the enigmatic Shoebill. Meet your guide and receive a full pre-safari briefing before heading up to Masindi via the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary - the only place in Uganda where you can walk with rhinos. Overnight in the Masindi Hotel, opened in 1923 this grande dame of the East African safari-circuit has billeted Hemingway, Bacall, Bogart and Hepburn and still excudes the charm of its salad days.
THE ROYAL MILE
One of Uganda's best forest-birding sites the Royal Mile supports a wide range of localised and sought-after species. Various monkeys are also likely to be encountered along with Giant Forest Squirrels and the bizarre Chequered Elephant-shrew.
THE MURCHISON FALLS
Drive to Murchison Falls, stopping at the top of the falls enroute. Take a sundowner boat cruise to the base of the waterfalls and spend the following day sport fishing for large Nile Perch and Tiger Fish. Explore the Delta region by boat for another chance to see Shoebill and other papyrus specialists and explore the park by vehicle.
THE CHIMPANZEES OF KIBALE
Uganda's premier chimpanzee-tracking destination is dominated by rainforest, interspersed with tracts of grasslands and swamp. At least 60 mammal species are present in Kibale National Park, primates being particularly well represented with 13 recorded (the highest total for any single area in the country). Kibale Forest is an important stronghold of Uganda Red Colobus and supports eight more diurnal primates - other mammals such as elephant, leopard, buffalo and Giant Forest Hog, while present are difficult to spot. The aptly named Primates Lodge is less than five minutes walk from the Chimp-tracking trailhead.
Uganda's original tented safari camp, Semliki Safari Lodge is one of the best in the country, boasting a truly remote bush setting overlooking a stretch of riverine woodland teeming with birds and monkeys.
Semliki is much less visited than Murchison and being ecologally linked to to the Congo offers a very different safari experience. Exploration by boat, vehicle and on foot.
Drive from Semliki to the wild Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth NP via the Kazinga Channel. An astonishing 547 bird species have been recorded in QENP one of the highest figures for any single protected area in the world - but you need not be a birder to enjoy the Park. Famed for its fig-tree climbing lions this is Uganda's best big-game area and there are plenty of elephants, large herds of buffalo, leopards, Giant Forest Hog and thousands upon thousands of Uganda Kob.
Ishasha Wilderness Camp is certainly one of Uganda's finest and the only lodgings actually inside this sector of the park. Perched deep within riparian woodland on the edge of the Ntungwe River there's always something stirring.
THE GORILLAS OF BWINDI
The drive from Ishasha to Bwindi is straightforward and interesting, climbing in to a picturesque tea-growing region before hitting gorilla country. While Bwindi Impeneterable Forest National Park is perhaps not quite as impenetrable as its name suggests it is definitey an impressive forest of enormous hardwood trees, giant ferns, tangled understory and great hanging lianas. The gorillas are of course the main reason most people come here with five habituated groups being visited by groups of up to eight tourists on any given day, but anyone with an ornithological bent is likely to delight in what must be some of the most productive and rewardind deep forest birding to be found anywhere.
From Bwindi it's back down the hill to Kihihi to catch the schedule flight to Entebbe for your international flight out.
A NOTE FROM ROD
INSPIRATION AND MISCONCEPTIONS
"We're gonna go and see the gorillas then head over to Tanzania for a safari" a fellow passenger told me on a flight across Uganda towards Bwindi earlier in the year.
For too long Uganda has been associated primarily with Great Apes and birding - both of which are admittedly spectacular here - but for some reason the many more mainstream safari attractions are always spoken of in apologetic tones. Rare indeed is any article on Ugandan wildlife that doesn't mention the poaching during the Amin era (1971-1979). The truth is that there's not a country north of the Zambezi that didn't suffer a poaching apocalypse through the 1970's & 80's: Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya certainly all did, yet not everything that you read about their parks drones on about recovering numbers.
Uganda's wildlife is spectacular and in my view holds its own against anywhere. Go to the right areas and you are almost certain to encounter lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, elephant, giraffe, hippo, an array of antelope a couple of hogs, multiple monkeys as well as gorillas and chimpanzees. The birdlife is arguably better than any on the continent and the variety of habitat extraordinary. Further to this the parks are rarely busy so sightings seldom shared, you can often walk (a rare treat in East Africa) and the whole country has a wonderfully fresh and uncomplacent feel to it - as if it is just emerging as a safari destination, waiting to be discovered. And in some ways it's exactly that - a recently as 1992 there were no facilities to track gorillas, nor any realistic chance of getting close to chimpanzees and security problems through the nineties and noughties put areas now as mainstream as Murchison Falls out of reach.
I was born in Uganda although we left for Zambia before I was old enough to hold any memory of it my parents were there before and during the early years of the Idi Amin madness. There's always been a touch of melancholy in our family history about the country; a once wonderful place full of hope and promise destroyed by the actions of a single deluded despot, a land of lost content.
On a recent trip to Uganda it struck me how the long shadow of Amin's relatively short reign (8 years), which ended almost 40 years ago still casts such a long shadow over its reputatation - and yet the reality on the ground is that it offers an absolutely first-class safari experience. The need for any apology is definitely over.
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It takes genuine local knowledge to craft trips that go beyond the ordinary.
All of us at Natural High have over 20 years’ experience in the countries we offer. We’ve lived there, worked there and arranged countless one-off journeys for clients. We live to travel – and love to share our tips on what’s really worth doing. For expert advice (and a traveller’s tale or two), speak to one of our team. They’ll be happy to let you in on their travel secrets, and help you plan a tailor-made trip that’s truly unforgettable.
Perfect holiday from start to finish.
"Absolutely excellent service. The itinerary was spot on and the whole holiday worked like clockwork. The pre holiday notes and briefing were most useful too. I would have no hesitation in recommending Natural High Safaris to others."
Fabulous trip to Tanzania
"This is the second time we have used Natural High Safaris, and again they organised an outstanding holiday for us, this time in Tanzania, combining a safari and beach holiday that was top-notch. Highly recommend them, with huge range of experience and desire to really understand what it is their clients want - and then delivering! Thanks to Catherine Ronan."
An outstanding trip to the Himalayas superbly designed by Natural High.
"Natural High organised a 2 week family trip to Ladakh in August 2018. Andrea Hulme used her local knowledge to design an exciting trip that included a 5 day trek, white water rafting and numerous cultural visits and experiences. Their local partners Shakti were absolutely outstanding and we loved staying in the village houses as opposed to hotels. Their female Ladakhi guide Sonam was really one of the best we have every had on our travels."
"Yet again another great holiday arranged by Natural High - Air France tried to ruin it but Natural High and their local agent were very helpful in resolving the problems caused. ."
Gorilla trekking Safari in Uganda’s Bwindi Forest