There are some journeys in life that are not simple exploring journeys, but real soul journeys, trips in which you have the chance to see beautiful places but also beautiful people who make you appreciate your experience more, and manage to put question marks on your everyday life. My trip to Uganda was one of those. It was a big initial struggle to go there, especially because of people questioning me and persuading me not to go there. I have heard literally any cliché in the book: “Uganda? Where the hell is that?”, “Isn’t it the country with the genocide?”, “You go to see the gorillas? But you can see them in any zoo in town!”, “You know people might eat you there, right?”, “Be careful with HIV and ebola, those sons of bitches are everywhere!”, “how are you going to manage all mosquitoes?. Eventually, I decided to make all these voices shut up and just follow my instinct. A beautiful country, small enough to be visited in 10 days’ time, crossed by the Equator, with huge forests, and unique animals, what was the harm there? And thank God I followed my instinct, as what I experienced in Uganda was one of the best trips ever. An incredible journey through the lungs of Africa.
Some recommendation before starting this trip (yes, because I am sure everybody will be facing concerns from other people about Uganda, but just don’t listen to them):
- From a bureaucratic point of view, the access to Uganda is very simple. Nowadays you can apply for an on-line visa (50 USD), that will be approved in 24hours time.
- Uganda is nowadays a very accessible country. You can have direct flights from Entebbe, or if you have more time available I would suggest to arrive in Kigali, Rwanda, and visit both countries and end it in Entebbe. Nevertheless, traveling inside the country is more difficult. In fact most of the roads are not with concrete, but just muddy with huge holes (which means also that to make 90km it might take you almost 3hours). On top of that, direction signs are almost inexistent. Therefore it is very difficult to do a self-drive trip, unless you master the driving in bumpy roads and you have a great sense of orientation. Buses can be an alternative, but bear in mind that there are very few buses and with no timetable, and not reaching any corner of the country. So the bus can be a good and cheap option unless you have a lot of time in front of you. For those who are short in timing, you can easily hire a driver who will take you everywhere. The price is very cheap, and you won’t have any hassle trying to figure out how to go from a place to another.
- Apart the classic ones, there are some other mandatory vaccins before accessing Uganda. At arrival, your vaccine book will be checked to make sure you are protected against yellow fever. Besides that, make sure you take the antimalarial pills.
- Depending on the time you travel, the anti-mosquitoes spray might be useful. I travelled during the rainy season and I got no issues at all, apart in the lake area.
- In term of clothes, make sure to bring the worst clothes you have! Consider that you will be dealing with mud, impenetrable forests, dust… so at the end of your trip your clothes will be extremely dirty and some of them torn.
- Make sure you pack a “practical” suitcase, nothing fancy but very useful to face some small challenges. For instance, many accommodation don’t have electricity in their rooms, so foresee a portable charger, or a torch (since in the night there are no lights), dry shampoo for the ladies (the water used in the accommodation is rain water, so quite dirty), water purifier pills (although you can purchase bottled water everywhere), etc
- Life in Uganda is ridiculously cheap. You can have some street food at less than 1 euro, or have dinner in a restaurant at less than 5 euros. Nevertheless, everything related to tourism is ridiculously expensive. For instance, in order to see the gorillas you need to purchase a special permit of 600 USD ( 450 USD in October and November), and 100 USD for the chimpanzees. Since these are two activities that you must do in Uganda, foresee enough budget for it.
- Food in Uganda is pretty good. It mostly comes from family productions, having each one a small vegetable garden. There is not a huge variety, but at least it is healthy and tasty. Most of dishes are made with bananas, or with rice, or with chicken, as these are the most easy-to-find ingredients. There are also some local beers that are absolutely worth tasting. And for the tea lovers like me, you cannot miss neither the delicious local teas.
- One of the best things of Uganda is certainly its people. Screw those who are concerned about safety and blabla, Uganda is one of the safest places, and its people are simply adorable. Very simple people, hard workers, living with what the ground gives them, with a strong sense of community and helping each other. They don’t have as much as we do, but they are happy this way, and they always welcome you with a big smile and some nice English words. At first they look at you as if you are an alien, and after few seconds that they cool down they do a big smile, and wave at you saying “Hello muzungu” (white person in Luganda). You can talk to them, play with their kids, watch a football game, play pool, eat with them, they are always ready to welcome you. Don’t make the big mistake to avoid them, people is one of the real richness of Uganda.
DAY 1: ENTEBBE
The first day in Uganda is very relaxing, no need to rush in anything when you have just come back from a long flight. I arrived there at noon, so I chilled out for few hours and then went for a walk around Victoria Lake. Entebbe is a very quiet laid back town, nothing to do with the chaos of Kampala. You can have a nice walk around the lake and visit the local villages, explore the big food markets, have a nice walk in the beautiful Botanical Gardens, or have a bike ride in the city.
DAY 2: FORT PORTAL
Time for an early wake up with a delicious breakfast, and a long drive to Fort Portal. All rides in Uganda will be long, but absolutely worth. You will be indeed surrounded by wonderful landscapes: country sides, mountains, tea plantations, banana plantations, greenery everywhere!
Fort Portal is famous for its tea. This area is gifted by nature with a cool climate which ensures a relatively slow plant growth rate resulting in the production of high quality tea. Besides that, you will be able to admire the crater lakes and the beautiful water falls. In the evening you can be transferred to Kibale National park.
DAY 3: KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
Kibale National Park is a must in your trip to Uganda, as it is home to several species of chimpanzees. In Kibale indeed you can do what is known as chimp tracking. In small groups you will walk inside a beautiful forest, admiring the chimps hanging on the trees. At some point the chimps will come down the trees and you will be able to be surrounded by them and following them throughout the forest. Chimpanzee are the most sought after primate by visitors, but you should look out for the black & white colobus, red tailed monkey or the grey cheeked mangabey. You will be allowed to spend some time with them, as you observe them swing from one tree to another, feed, play about or progress speedily on the ground right in front of you.
After this wonderful experience you can transfer to Elizabeth National Park.
DAY 4: ELISABETH NATIONAL PARK
Elizabeth National Park is the most visited national park in Uganda. It occupies an estimated 1,978 square kilometres, and extends from Lake George in the north-east to Lake Edward in the south-west and includes the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes. Queen Elizabeth National Park is known for its wildlife, including buffaloes, hippopotami, crocodiles, elephants, leopards, lions, and chimpanzees. It is home to 95 mammal species and over 500 species of birds. The park is also famous for its volcanic features, including volcanic cones and deep craters, many with crater lakes, such as the Katwe craters, from which salt is extracted.
In the morning you can wake up early and do a game drive, where you will be able to see plenty of wildlife.
In the late afternoon, you can take a cruise in the Kazinga channel, and admire the animals around this area: hippopotami, crocodiles, buffaloes, and several birds.
DAY 5: ISHASHA NATIONAL PARK
On the 5th day, it is time to leave Elisabeth National Park and heading to the deep south. Before getting there, you can pass through Ishasha, one of the most beautiful parts of the Elisabeth National Park, that is very famous for its tree-climbing lions.
The road to Bwindi is long but simply astonishing: from the savanna landscape to the infinite green hills with tea plantations till the big and dark mountains. A long road that will keep your eyes wide open.
DAY 6: BWINDI IMPENETRABLE FOREST
The 6th day of the trip in Uganda has been for me the most emotional one, since it is the day of the gorillas, the day we get in touch with these wonderful animals.
Time for an early exciting wake up to head to the entrance of the forest. The Bwindi forest is a huge forest spread in the Ugandan, Congolese, and Rwandan territory. It is highly protected by the government and associations, as it is home to a huge diversity of species. It provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low elevation) sector has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species, the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift.
The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos.
But, apart those animals, this forest is famous to be home of the half of the world’s population of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. Four habituated mountain gorilla groups are open to tourism. You will be able to see them and get in close touch with them through an enjoyable but very sporty hike. Starting from the park entrance, some guides will take you in the middle of the forest. This hike is very challenging, as there is no designed path, you will have to pass through muddy areas, with unwelcoming flora, with difficult uphill and downhill paths. We talk about kms and kms of difficulty, but that will take you in the heart of the forest and will make you admire fantastic places, some sceneries that will make you feel part of a movie et in the jungle.
During your trail, the guide is in contact with some rangers who will tell him where they could spot some gorillas and instruct them to get there. And once you get there the emotion is simply unique: you will face a family of gorillas, living their life in a normal way, with no fear, used to have people around. Of course you cannot pet them, but you can approach them till 2-3m distance with no issues. You can see then how gorillas behave, how roles between male and female are distributed, how the babies love playing. And you can get lost in their beautiful eyes when they look at you. This was probably one of the most emotional moments in my life, it is something difficult to describe without experiencing it. So I strongly suggest to put the gorilla tracking in your bucket list and do it as soon as possible.
After a great morning, it is time to leave the beautiful mountains behind and go towards east, this time to the peaceful lake Bunyonyi. Once you get there, you can have a suggestive boat cruise around the lake and see its islands (around 35). Each island is very different and home to several animal species (zebras, impalas,…) and flora. One of the island that captured my attention was the so-called Punishment island, that in the past was the island where unmarried pregnant girls were left to die. A cruel part of history that fortunately nowadays is history.
DAY 7: EQUATOR AND ENTEBBE
Unfortunately the trip to Uganda is almost over. If you have more time available I would suggest from Bwindi to cross the border and continue your trip to Rwanda. If the time is tight, then you can start your trip back to Entebbe, which will take you more than 10 hours.
On your way to Entebbe, you can stop visiting the Equator. There is indeed a drawn line where the Equator crosses the country, and a funny experiment to do to understand how the magnetism works in line 0.
After you cross the Equator, you can decide where to head to. In my initial plan I was supposed to go to Kampala and visit the capital city. However, after reconsideration, I decided to finish my trip in Uganda in a quiet place, surrounded by nature, instead of traffic and chaos.
DAY 8: ENTEBBE
The last day in Entebbe was also under the name of relax. Since I had my flight in the morning I went to visit the beautiful Botanic Garden, have a walk around Victoria Lake, and in the afternoon just chill out and did some souvenirs shopping. Of course if you are in Entebbe you can do the same, or if you are in Kampala you can wandering in the busy streets, do some shopping, eat in one of the several restaurants in town. Whatever you decide to do, make sure you enjoy this journey in Uganda at its full and leave with the best memories.