Lush forests, tranquil lakes, mountains and valleys. Discover the beauty and variety that Uganda, home of the mountain gorilla, offers.
Coffee and chocolate, mountains, lakes, and the great apes. These should be your first thoughts when dreaming of the vibrant East African Rift Valley country that is Uganda. Lying mostly on a high plateau, rimmed by tall forested mountains, Uganda is technically landlocked but with a significant portion of the massive Lake Victoria within its borders, and the deep, tranquil lake Bunyonyi in the south west, the country is not short of watery adventures.
Within the forests on these mountain slopes, the fabled great apes reside, and they share their habitats with a variety of other monkeys and tropical birds. To see them, you and your guide will trek through the rainforest and all its colours, scents and sights. The classic safari experience is also available, on lake shores and grassy fertile plains, by boat or by 4x4. A variety of cultures and traditions also round out the trip.
In order to show you as much of the delights of Uganda as possible, we've constructed a trip that takes in the epic gorilla trekking offered by Mgahinga and Bwindi forests, where hiking, ape trekking, and cultural experiences with the Batwa tribes will delight you. Then onwards to the beauty of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, where chimps are the focus but tree climbing lions are also worth seeing. The final stop is the restful natural wonder of the crater lakes.
This trip is structured at 13 days so that you can easily tailor it to your preferences. For example, to make a nice longer safari, we could add another few days of gorilla trekking, or more chimp trekking (for example, Mahale National Park in Tanzania would make an epic end to this journey). Another great combo would be to add a few nights in the Serengeti. Feel free to discuss the possibilities with us by clicking 'contact'.
Uganda’s smallest national park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is nevertheless spectacularly scenic, playing host to volcanic peaks, woodlands, forests and caves. The park is one of only two locations in Uganda where endangered mountain gorillas - including imposing silverbacks - can be viewed, and is also home to the rare golden monkey, giving rise to the brochure name: ‘Where gold meets silver’. In addition to being an important conservation area, the park offers a Batwa trail which gives visitors an inside look at the ancient secrets of the Batwa Pygmies, who thrived in these forests for centuries. Hiking trails lead to the peaks of three extinct volcanoes, the highest of which is Muhavura at 4 127m, and the views from the top spread breathtakingly across the lush landscape. Along the way, hikers will see crater lakes, volcanic ash fields, caves carved out by lava tubes, and swamps and streams.
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, set on the eastern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley in the corner of southwest Uganda, is a World Heritage Site covering an area of dense lowland forest, steep hills and deep valleys. It has become famous for its population of 350 mountain gorillas – the largest number to be found anywhere in the world. Due to the wildness of the terrain, visitors who take on the guided gorilla treks through the forest will sometimes find the going tough. But they will be rewarded with virtually guaranteed sightings of these awe-inspiring primates. The Bwindi Forest is one of the only forests to have survived the Pleistocene ice age, and has also become a renowned biodiversity hotspot, harbouring 11 other primate species (including chimpanzees), elephants, forest antelope, around 350 bird species and over 200 dazzling species of butterflies. The thick vegetation of the park is broken up by sparkling lakes, waterfalls and the dramatic Virunga mountain range, which can be explored along several spectacular hiking trails.
Tucked away in the section of the Albertine Rift Valley that runs through western Uganda, slap bang on the equator, Queen Elizabeth National Park is an extraordinarily diverse and beautiful reserve that encompasses golden savannah plains, lush green woodland, mystical rainforests, wetlands and round volcanic craters. Situated between Lake Edward and Lake George, with the dramatic Rwenzori Mountains as a backdrop, it is clear to see why the park is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The varied range of habitats has allowed an equally varied range of wildlife to flourish. 95 species of mammal can be found here, along with an incredible 611 bird species – the second highest number of any national park in Africa. Classic safari experiences can be had in the Kasenyi, North Kazinga and Ishasha sections of the reserve, where sightings of buffalo, elephant and antelope are virtually guaranteed on guided game drives. The Ishasha section is especially famous for its prides of tree-climbing lions, which laze in large fig trees watching the endemic Uganda Kob antelope grazing on the open plains.
The Bunyaruguru crater lake region covers an area of 52 ancient volcanic craters which have filled with water to become sparkling gems dotting the hilly Ugandan countryside. Situated south east of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, close to the town of Kibale, the region is well worth at least a few days of exploration to experience its unique landscapes and cultural attractions. Of various sizes, the lakes offer visitors the opportunity to swim, canoe and fish, all while enjoying wonderful views over lush tea and fruit plantations and the Rwenzori Mountains. The best lakes to visit include Lake Nkuruba - which is surrounded by indigenous forest brimming with primates and birds – and the twin lakes of Nyanzibiri. A sacred cave and a fascinating cultural museum can also be found here. Hikes of varying lengths can be arranged to the rims of craters, beautiful waterfalls and the surrounding farms.
Mount Gahinga is a traditional Ugandan-styled lodge set in the foothills of the Virunga volcanoes, on the border with the mountain gorilla haven of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The lodge is filled with rustic but comforting charm, accommodating guests in well-equipped stone and thatch ‘bandas’ surrounded by lush gardens and countryside.
The lodge has been designed specifically to mirror the style of a Batwa dwelling, but retains western levels of comfort. At the main lodge, guests can relax on comfortable wicker armchairs and cushioned wooden couches, enjoying the warmth of a crackling central fireplace. A spacious sunroom adjoins the living area, allowing guests to keep in touch with the beautiful natural surrounds even when it is raining. Outdoors, the terrace is a fantastic spot to savour the views with a drink in hand. Wireless internet is available in all of the communal areas.
While the awe-inspiring gorilla encounters are the main attratcion while staying at Mount Gahinga, each and every guest should find something that appeals to them. The lodge’s grounds and the surrounding countryside are perfect for gentle strolls, taking walkers past small streams and through lush pastoral landscapes. A complimentary massage will contribute towards soothing away the stress. More active guests can take one of the hikes to the top of the mystical volcanic peaks, passing through an everchanging tapestry of forests, volcanic rock and sparkling lakes.
Because Mgahinga is contiguous with national parks in Rwanda and the DRC, gorilla viewing is less reliable than in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The one habituated group of gorillas sometimes sneaks over the border into the neighbouring countries, but tourists still have a very good chance of encountering them. Gorilla trekking safaris depart from the Ntebeko Entrance gate in the morning and take between two and four hours.
Part of the Virunga mountain chain, the park’s three conical volcanic peaks have great spiritual significance to the Ugandan people. Muhavura was used by the Batwa tribe to orient themselves. Gahinga is named after the local practice of tidying volcanic debris from the farmlands. Sabinyo means ‘old man’s teeth’ in reference to its jagged summit. Swamplands rest between the volcanoes, creating an important habitat for waterbirds and amphibians, while also acting as a water source for animals such as elephants, buffalos and antelope. The numerous caves are sacred places for the Batwa, particularly the Garama Cave close to Ntebeko. On the Batwa Trail, visitors can learn about how this beautiful cave was used as a shelter during battles and as a hideout for looted treasures.
The quickest way to reach the park is via a one hour flight from the town of Entebbe to the Kisoro Airstrip, but a four wheel drive vehicle can also be used to make the journey from the capital of Kampala, through Kabale and to Kisoro.
As with most of the gorilla viewing destinations in Africa, the best times to visit the park are during the dry seasons from December to February and June to October.
The remote, comfortable Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is surrounded by the lushness of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, making it the perfect base for once-in-a-liftetime encounters with some of the national park’s 350 mountain gorillas. The camp has eight thatched luxury tents, as well as a spa, open-sided communal area and outdoor campfire. A warmly African feel in the comfy lounge, bar and dining area is complemented by smiling staff members who go out of their way to make guests feel at home. The lawn in front of the main building is often used for al-fresco dining, while a small set of steps leads down to a campfire surrounded by handcrafted wooden armchairs. There is also a mini-spa which offers a soothing range of treatments and massages.
Accommodation comes in the form of eight luxury tents with canvas walls and thatched roofs, each occupying its own secluded location in the forest. The tents each house two Queen-size beds - one for each guest - leading to a bathroom with a huge bathtub featuring forest views. During relaxation time, guests can enjoy a cocktail on their polished wooden viewing deck. To ensure highly personalised service, each tent is allocated a personal attendant.
Whilst the camp is arguably Uganda’s best base for gorilla treks, guests may not even have to depart from its laidback atmosphere, as inquisitive gorilla families frequently wander straight into camp!
Gorilla treks take several hours of walking through the dense forest, often in slippery conditions. The guides are expert trackers who can spot the tell-tale signs of the primates moving through the undergrowth, and will give fascinating insights into the lives and habits of mountain gorillas during the precious one hour period that tourists get to spend with them.
Tourists who want to just hike also need to be accompanied by a guide. The Munyanga River Trail is ideally suited for visitors who are pressed for time, and travels along the edges of the forest, where birds, primates, ferns, orchids and butterflies will be encountered. The trail ends at three wonderfully clear waterfalls. Longer hikes include the Rushurra Trail, which showcases panoramic views over the western rift valley floor, the Virunga and Rwenzori mountains and Lake Edward. The Muzabajirro Trail, Ruizi River Trail and the Bamboo Trail are just as spectacular.
The park has worked hand in hand with the surrounding communities to preserve one of the most ecologically diverse areas in East Africa. Tourists are able to support these communities by taking illuminating walks with the Batwa Pygmies who were the original dwellers and keepers of the forest, or by visiting the villages or community hospital.
The most popular times to visit Bwindi are during the drier seasons from June to September and December to February, as these are when conditions are easiest for gorilla trekking. During the low season, tourists can take advantage of lower rates for permits.
Mweya Safari Lodge is a classy African-style lodge spectacularly perched above the Kazinga Channel in the beautiful Queen Elizabeth National Park, surrounded by the mystical Rwenzori Mountains. The lodge offers a wide range of rooms, suites, tents and cottages, as well as good facilities and activities ranging from chimp trekking to boat cruises.
The elegant restaurant is a romantic setting to savour the lodge’s chef-prepared menu of local and international dishes. Saturday nights are made particularly memorable by a open air barbeque, accompanied by traditional dancing. Another special feature is a spectacularly positioned swimming pool surrounded by vast wooden decks, loungers and umbrellas. The Mweya Health Club has everything needed to soothe the body and soul, with facilities include a fully-equipped gym, a luxuriant spa, sauna and hair salon.
With the wide, animal-attracting channel winding below, offset by a dramatic mountain backdrop, the lodge commands one of the most stunning settings in the park. Guests can enjoy fabulous views from the balconies or verandahs. Those who appreciate independence are well placed for self-drives to all of the park’s best attractions, while guests itching to do more can expect a wonderfully varied experience encompassing guided drives, boat cruises, chimp trekking, bush breakfasts, cultural encounters and hot air ballooning.
The Kazinga Channel bisects the park from west to east, connecting Lake Albert to Lake Edward. Boat cruises along the channel are a wonderful way to enjoy a laidback safari. The boats launch from the Myewa Peninsula, which showcases stunning views over the channel and surrounding savannah. The dramatic Katwe Explosion Crater, which marks the reserve’s highest point at 1 350 metres, is a short hop from here too, as are the dozens of smaller explosion craters, carving out round basins in the terrain.
Visitors can track chimpanzees in the Kyambura Gorge or the Maramagambo Forest, looking out for some of the nine other primate species that occur here too. In addition to a mouth-watering array of birds, Maramagambo also features a bat cave with a viewing room that allows visitors to watch the comings and goings of these erratic avian mamals. East of Kyambura Gorge, the Kyambura Wildlife Reserve features beautiful crater lakes with a splendid array of nesting water birds. Lake George, a Ramsar wetland site, has scenic papyrus swamps that are home to the elusive Sitatunga antelope and the much sought-after Shoebill Stork.
In addition to its incredible wildlife attractions, the park has a fascinating cultural history, offering many opportunities for visitors to engage with the local communities, experiencing their energetic dances, hard-working demeanours and friendly attitudes.
The park has two rainy seasons, occurring from March to May and September to November. Although visits can be made throughout the year, the dry seasons are the best times for game viewing, as animals gravitate towards rivers and waterholes.
Ndali Lodge is perched on the edge of a spectacularly scenic crater lake on a large farm in the heart of the Bunyaruguru Crater Lakes region, close to the chimpanzee trekking hotspot of the Kibale Forest National Park and the incredible diversity of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. This long-established family-run lodge offers rustic, comfortable accommodation.
Dating back to 1996, the lodge is set in beautifully lush gardens and blends a colonial feel with traditional touches such as thatch roofs and colourful African decorations. Overlooking the forest-fringed lake, the main area houses a high-ceilinged lounge and a dining room, as well as a large terrace where guests can dine in the company of particular memorable lake views. Adventurous guests can take a dip in the lake, while more conventional spirits may prefer to relax in and around the swimming pool. To stay in touch with the tranquil surrounds, the lodge has no electricity, preferring to keep things alight by romantic candles and bright lanterns.
The homemade food at Ndali Lodge is just as warming as the atmosphere, comprising international and Rwandan flavours prepared with the freshest produce grown on the farm. At the end of the day, dinner can be enjoyed by the romantic glow of dozens of candles in the dining room.
Formed around 12 000 years ago, the Bunyaruguru crater field is one of four major fields in Uganda, a country with one of the densest occurences of volcanic craters on earth. Hikers could spend days exploring the magnificent landscape, experiencing both the natural and cultural beauty of colourful Uganda, encountering waterfalls, rugged crater rims and fertile agricultural lands.
Close to Nyanzibiri, Lake Kamwezi has a lovely cave with a stream running through it, which in ancient times was used for sacrifices and spiritual cleansing, and more recently as a refuge for those fleeing the brutality of Idi Amin’s government. The cave, as well as a fascinating cultural museum that reveals everything about the Bunyaruguru people, can be easily visited from Nyanzibiri Eco Campsite.
Driving further along the road, make sure to stop off at Lake Nkugute, a place shrouded in myth. Meaning ‘swallow’ in the local Runyaruguru language, the lake was believed to have swallowed up two children - a boy and a girl – annually. The local people are more than willing to share their age old tales of the supposedly ferocious lake. The Kitagata Hot Springs, thought to have healing properties, are nearby and open to the public.
The Bunyaruguru Region is perfect as a stopover point for motorists travelling between the towns of Kibale and Fort Portal, and is also conveniently close to the Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, the Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Bunyonyi – the second deepest lake in Africa.