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Uganda January 2013


PeterGermany

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PeterGermany

I just invested the time reading the trip report of ... amazing I have to say. Esp. because ....provides so much interesting and value adding backgrounds on the places he has visited, on top of his well expressed personal observations and feelings. I also think it is great to have a high quality trip report of Uganda on ST, as there are countless reports of the more common safari destinations. Thank you for that ....!

 

I have returned from Uganda a week ago. As I am not a skilled trip report writer and would not be able to bring across the things on the level as .... already did it, I hope you do not mind me just adding a few things, which might of interest for those considering a visit to this beautiful country.

 

For me the planning of the Uganda Trip was as easy as the planning of the many other trips to Africa before. Here it seems .... and myself have made different experiences. There are several highly rated Operators in Uganda, co-operating with the many local travel agents in the different countries offering Uganda Safaris. To that end one has to consider, that Uganda is not a cheap safari destination. Hence Uganda is a low volume tourism destination, most of the time in Queen Elizabeth National Park and in Lake Mburo National Park we were all alone and only saw a few other vehicles. It was no different in Kibale Forest NP. Interestingly January, the beginning of the dry season running until app. end of March, is seen as low season. People told me they expect more tourists starting with February. But high season is considered being the time from June to August, the second dry-season slot in Uganda. Anyway, even with double or triple as much tourists around in Uganda, you probably never get a feeling other than "low volume".

 

Every piece of our travel also went smoothly and without any frictions. The operator did a very good job. The few other people we met and talked to reported the same. Based on those experiences everybody should expect no problems while travelling in Uganda. Security level is very high also. The people in Uganda are very open & friendly and my impression was, that if a problem would have occurred ... there would have been many people ready to support us right away. We only travelled on the roads and tracks. The best way to get a real feeling for this country. To that end I can only echo what .... has already lined out in his trip report.

 

Accommodation in Uganda is excellent, the service level very high and camps & lodges we visited offered some of the best food I ever got while being in Africa. These camps & lodges are on the same level as any other camps & lodges in the higher rated safari destinations. Travelers to Uganda will not miss anything from my point of view. The portfolio of camps & lodges may be still be limited compared with high-volume tourism destinations, but this to me is an advantage rather. There is a good variety of camps & lodges in and around the National Parks for every budget.

 

For those interested these were the locations & camps we visited:

Entebbe – 2 nights Boma Guest House

Kibale Forest NP – 3 nights Ndali Lodge

QENP North – 3 nights Katara Lodge

QENP South – 3 nights Ishasha Wilderness Camp

Bwindi – 2 nights Buhoma Lodge

Lake Mburo NP – 1 night Montana Lake Mburo Tented Camp

Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary – 1 night Ngamba Island Tented Camp

 

Those who are interested in also seeing wild Chimpanzees, Kibale Forest NP is a formidable place to get a real experience. Usually people do the Chimp Trekking, which is basically comparable to a Gorilla Trekking on how it is operated. A Chimp Trekking cost around 100$ incl. park fee per person. The chance to see the chimps is well over 90% and you can stay 1 hour with the Chimps once they have been located.

We did the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience. It cost pretty double as much as the regular Trekking. But it offers the chance to find a not yet habituated group of Chimpanzees and gives a very good impression how difficult and time consuming it is to get Chimps used to the presence of humans. They move on as soon as you come closer as 50 meters. This was followed by the visit of an already habituated group. And we stayed with this group for 5 hours! We moved with them, rested with them and observed them feeding and interacting. Awesome! To find yourself in the middle of fully grown male chimps intimidating each other is a lifetime experience. Most of the time we only were a few meters away from members of the Group and there was not a single sign of aggression towards us, nor seemed the Chimps to be bothered at all by our presence (similar to the Gorillas).

 

We were out in the dense and tropical forest from 6.00 am to 5.00 pm, not easy going as you are walking “off track” (there are not may tracks in the forest) most of the time. And the chimps move a decent pace you have to keep up with. But it is doable for pretty much everybody I think. The Chimp Habituation Experience was as exciting as the Gorilla Trekking for me. The fact, that Chimps do behave quite differently from the gentle Gorillas is in itself worth doing both.

 

That brings me to the Gorilla Trekking. We stayed at Buhoma Lodge, which is located inside the NP (next door to Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp) a lazy 3 minute foot walk to the starting point of the trekking. The lodge is formidable at all aspects by the way. We were assigned to visit the Rushegura Group, a group having a home range also including the area around the park entrance in the north of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NP (Buhoma). And luckily we located the group already after a nice 45 minute walk towards the waterfalls. The sighting was amazing, most of the 17 members (incl. 1 silverback and 2 blackbacks) were up in huge tree feeding in the beginning. Just down of this tree there was a nice clearing where the Silverback was lazing & feeding. One by one the other members came down and joint the big boy, incl. some nice interactions of the playful juveniles. Sadly, after an hour we had to leave to be back in our lodge before lunch time! The Bonus for us was, that in the afternoon the Rushegura Group paid us a visit just down at the lodge and we could observe them from the veranda of our chalet.

 

I can only echo what .... wrote about QENP. Probably the most beautiful National Park in Africa, hence encroached by humans in the northern part. Depressing at times! Sadly the fishermen also have some livestock roaming unguarded close to the settlements, and the Basongora Herders may now be out of the park (they had invaded the park with thousands of head of cattle in 2007 and have heavily contributed to the decline of wildlife in the park, incl. a 50-80% decrease of lion, leopard, hyena and vulture numbers), but they have now settled on the northern park boundaries. This park has huge potential if only the authorities would get serious about the protection of this treasure. There is research ongoing on the lions and there is a 10 year plan in place on how to ensure their survival. This would be worth while a separate thread in the Conservation Section of ST. To increase the chances of seeing lions it is possible to hire a Ranger Guide from UWA and as of late there is a new opportunity called “Experiential Tourism”. This means you get a ranger guide and an off-road permit, this cost 50$ per person for one day. Something we did not consider. We found a pride of lions in the Kasenyi Area. We located another pride close to Mweya Lodge and Ranger Post, but due to the limited available tracks there was no chance to come anywhere close to them. We had great sightings of elephants and the Kobs of course, along with ever present Waterbucks. We also saw a few of the rare Hyenas and a leopard in Kasenyi, a lucky sighting. The boat trip on the Kazinga Channel is a must and reminded me of our boat trip on the Chobe in Botswana.

 

Ishasha was the better place for an intimate and genuine safari experience, we loved it. The Camp (remotely located directly at the Ntungwe River) was awesome and we found some of the tree climbing lions, but the best lion sighting was a group of 2 females and 4 cubs entertaining us. On top the time in Ishasha was as productive on other wildlife, incl. Kobs, Elephants, Topi etc..

 

One does not need to stop over in Ishasha on the way from QENP North to Bwindi or Virunga, but it would be a miss from my point of view!

 

The way from Bwindi back to Entebbe is an epic drive and can take up to 15 hours (bad roads and a lot of road constructions). So it makes a lot of sense to plan for a stop over somewhere. The best place is Lake Mburo National Park we thought. And this place is highly underrated. It is only 370 Km² large and surrounded by the Hima Herders, but offers a variety of habitats incl. vast wetlands, ridges, bush land & woodland as well as savannahs.

 

It is teeming with wildlife, incl. zebra, impala, eland, waterbucks, buffaloes. To me it seemed to carry the densest populations of warthog and bushbuck I have ever experienced. A boat trip on the lake offers great opportunities for birders. There are leopards in this park. There should be many given the abundant prey species. We saw fresh tracks and heard one vocalizing at night, but did not find one.

 

The problem of Lake Mburo are the Hima Herders surrounding the park. The Ankole Cattle is roaming freely and unguarded from what we have seen just outside the unfenced park. The Hima tolerate the grazers and one can see zebra and impala grazing together with the cattle. But the Hima have no tolerance towards the predators and I am not sure how many hyenas and vultures are left in Lake Mburo NP, we did not see a single one. That brings me to the lions. Lions have been wiped out in Lake Mburo NP many years ago, poisoned by the Hima. Then end of 2008 lions returned to the park believed to have come over from Ruanda or Tanzania even. At least one male, 2 females and 2 cubs. Based on what I know these lions were poisoned by the Hima again. Hence it seems new lions came in or not all of the 2008 immigrants have been killed, not sure. The Camp Manager (a great and genuine bush camp by the way) advised, that 2 big males have been around in the park for some time already, but that he believes one of the 2 has been poisoned as he has not been seen for a while. In the night I heard the remaining male roaring, first in the distance, but coming closer and closer to the camp. The last lion of Lake Mburo National Park…again. The saddest moment during our time in Uganda. We tried to find him the next morning, but to no avail. Anyway, we thought it would have been better to spend another night there.

 

Last but not least a few words on Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. Usually people come over by boat from Entebbe for a half day experience (45 minute boat trip). Ngamba Island is home for 48 Chimpanzees, most of them confiscated as pets or rescued as orphans (app. 5,000 Chimps fall victim to humans every year, mostly due to bush meat poaching or human-wildlife conflict). Visitors contribute to the Sanctuary by coming over, get a lot of useful information and are able to observe the feeding of the chimps (they live freely in the forest of the island, the human facilities are fenced off). Worth while going there!

 

We did the Chimpanzee Integration Program and stayed one night on the Island. It was wonderful. The accommodation is great, the food very good and the Care Takers took care of us the entire time, providing all information, showing us the facilities and explaining their daily work. The Integration Program is basically a 1 hour walk early in the morning with some of the younger chimps, most of them part of the Juvenile Group not yet being integrated in the big group and living in on separate part of the island. This means direct interaction with these chimps, playing, grooming and carrying the lazy ones on the shoulder (that was my part basically). An amazing experience. Once these chimps become fully integrated members of the big group, there is no physical contact with humans any more. To be able to participate in this program, you need to prove a long list of vaccinations and a recent negative test result for TBC. Before you go over to the Island you have to show up in the office of the vet and you get a briefing (all not valid for half day visitors). Ngamba Island is a paradise, we loved this place and its great people … of course the chimps.

 

These remarks got longer than I thought. Hopefully there are a few useful adds to .... report.

 

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Atravelynn

Thanks for your comments, Peter. What company did you use? You really spent a lot of time exploring QENP. Did you see some Giant Forest Hogs?

 

The Last Lion of Lake Mburu is similar to the plight of Lady Liuwa in Liuwa Plains, who also was the only surviving lion for many years. So sad about Mburu and the poisoning.

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PeterGermany

Thanks for your comments, Peter. What company did you use? You really spent a lot of time exploring QENP. Did you see some Giant Forest Hogs?

 

The Last Lion of Lake Mburu is similar to the plight of Lady Liuwa in Liuwa Plains, who also was the only surviving lion for many years. So sad about Mburu and the poisoning.

 

We got good offers from Churchill Safaris and Great Lakes Safaris, but ended up with a smaller company called Merit Safaris. A very good choice.

 

I compromised on the Murchison Falls NP to have time enough to get a good impression about QENP and to have time to talk to some UWA Rangers as well. Of course I was determined to find some lions and it was not an easy one. After the rains lasted longer than the calender is suggesting, the grass was pretty high in most parts of the park. Another challenge. But being basically alone out there and once you leave the settlements behind (factually and mentally) QENP offers a genuine safari feeling. We did not see any Forest Hogs though.

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PeterGermany

 

Content deleted included discussion of planning obstacles i.e.  comparative lack of private mobile camp options or intimate small bushcamps.

 

 

Thanks for clearification on the planning obstacles .... Ishasha would have delivered to you as well, Lake Mburo Tented Camp is a similarly small and remote bush camp.

 

I thought it was bad to not go to Murchison Falls, but we needed to come back after 2 weeks and I wanted to spent time enough in QENP. I am sure there will be a next time in Uganda and I will defenitely visit Murchisons then.

 

To find the Gorillas so easily was pure luck!

 

Amazing you are going to Kidepo, from what I have heard from the locals ... the best piece of wilderness in Uganda beside the Big Forests. Wishing you a great trip!

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Atravelynn

Thanks for the info on Merit, Peter!

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twaffle

Excellent information which many of us will be using in the future, at least I will!

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madaboutcheetah

Thanks, Peter. Looks a super trip!!!

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PeterGermany

quoted content removed at ex-member's request

 

.... from Ndali Lodge it is a 45 minute drive to the starting point of the Chimp Trekking ... mostly downhill on small tracks and passing several small villages. Make sure you have a real 4x4 safari vehicle (it helps everywhere in Uganda). I have heard nothing about Kibale Forest Camp, but it is defenitely much closer to the starting point. From the looks it is very close to the Community Managed Bigodi Wetlands (where you can do a nice trekking with a guide ... we did it and enjoyed it while seeing Black & White Colobus, Red Colobus, Vervet Monkeys and Grey Cheeked Mangabeys).

 

http://www.naturelodges.biz/index.php/kibale-forest-camp1/getting-there/

 

You can book the Chimpanzee Habituation Exercise just like you book the Trekking. The Operators should know about this opportunity.

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  • 4 weeks later...
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Tom Kellie

~ @@PeterGermany

 

After carefully reading your Uganda trip report and the comments, I'm grateful for all that you wrote.

The balance in your information appealed to me, providing a clear feeling of how your safari proceeded.

I especially appreciated your travel details.

This trip report is a valuable resource for Safaritalk members and visitors.

Thank you!

Tom K.

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