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mtanenbaum

Hi, we had a lot of adventures in Uganda. All in all, I'm glad I went but I would not go back to Uganda now that I have trekked the chimps and the gorillas. More on this later, but I will try to go in order of our activities. We used Let's Go Travel Uganda as our travel agent--I had pretty much picked out where I wanted to go but they made the final arrangements and supplied us with a vehicle and guide. I would NOT recommend self-driving in Uganda. We were very glad to have a local tackling the roads there!

 

Day 1: We had a day in Entebbe after a very long trip from Los Angeles in which we rested, got SIM card for my son's phone, and turned in our paperwork for our Chimp keeper for a day experience at Ngamba Island the next day. We stayed at Karibu Hotel in Entebbe, a small friendly hotel with an excellent restaurant, set in a large garden full of birds and with a small swimming pool as well.

 

Day 2: We really enjoyed our overnight at Ngamba Island, which we scheduled before going to see the chimps in the wild. I was glad we visited there, since at Kibale despite doing the all-day CHEX experience we did not see any mothers or babies, only male adult chimps and a juvenile male. The overnight at Ngamba is quite expensive but the proceeds go to the NGO that supports the sanctuary, not to the Ugandan government, so I felt it was really a charitable contribution. We took a boat from Entebbe for a 45 minute ride to the Island, where we had lunch and then were able to help feed the chimps for their afternoon feeding. They have 49 chimps there, including several babies, and the chimps are free to forage in the island's forest but come back several times a day voluntarily for feeding of fresh fruits and veggies. The forest on the island is not large enough to support that many chimpanzees without additional food. They also encourage the chimps to come in at night to cages furnished with hammocks because if the chimps built nests every night the forest would be quickly destroyed. Almost all the chimps come in voluntarily for their evening porridge. Staying overnight, we were able to have a sunset cruise around the island and also spent the night in a comfortable tent close to the chimps enclosure. They were surprisingly noisy during the night! There are also many birds on Ngamba, including a large colony of weavers. In the morning we had to leave fairly early to go to Kibale, but we were able to watch two baby chimps meet each other for the first time, under careful supervision of their foster mothers and the human keepers. It is clear that the keepers there care deeply for their charges and it's definitely worthwhile to visit to support this NGO, if you are planning to be in Entebbe. We were able to hear stories about many of the individual chimps, who are well known by the keepers. 

 

If you wonder what the white spots are on the chimps, the island was buzzing with thousands (millions?) of lake flies, which fortunately do not bite or bother humans too much.

 

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Edited by mtanenbaum

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mtanenbaum

Days 3 and 4: The drive from Entebbe to Kibale takes most of the day; we check in at Primates Lodge, which was a pleasant place to stay and very convenient to the ranger station for the chimp trekking. The CHEX experience turned out not to be exactly what I expected; they actually took us to see chimps that were already habituated, since the others are almost impossible to see, but this is not how the park service bills it. Also, they say you will see the chimps coming down from their nests but that's not the case (I met a primatologist from the Univ. of Texas there who has been studying the Kibale chimps for the past 2 years--he said you need to be out by 5:30 to see them come down from the trees, which makes sense). We were 2 groups of 8 for the habituation trek, which took off in different directions looking for the chimps. Unlike with the gorillas, no one goes out in the morning to locate the chimps, so it took us about 1 hour 45 minutes to find them. We found them in the fig trees feeding, a group of about 8 males, including the alpha male, and then they came down to groom each other and rest. The main different between CHEX and the regular chimp trek is that you can stay all day if you want. I don't think most people do; in our group, I was ready to head back around 1 and the rest of the group stayed an additional hour or so. We were not seeing a lot of different behaviors at that point so I was ready to go. The hiking is not too bad in Kibale but I was sorry I hadn't gotten a porter, not so much to carry my things but to help me over the uneven ground. If I could have gone at my own speed I would have been fine but the ranger was walking quite fast, and didn't slow up despite my asking him multiple times. They are in.a hurry to find the chimps in order to notify the other groups that come for the 1 hour viewing. Fortunately we didn't have a large crowd that day so I didn't experience what I had read about in Kibale with rude tourists jostling for photos; everyone was quite polite and there were no more than about 15 people at a time around the chimps. 

 

In the afternoon we visited a fun community tourism project, Eco Burrito, started by an American researcher, and serving Mexican food in the Ugandan forest! After that we did the Bigodi swamp walk, although because of the late hour we completed only about half of it. I very much enjoyed that since it was just my son, myself, and the guide, and we could go slowly and pause to see the different monkeys (we saw 4-5 varieties) that congregate around there. Also the fee for the swamp walk goes directly to the community and not to the park service (or as my son and I said, for the private airplane of the Ugandan president).

 

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Edited by mtanenbaum

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mtanenbaum

Day 5: We leave Kibale and head to Queen Elizabeth National Park through the highly scenic Toro lakes district, filled with volcanic lakes. We pick up a local guide to do a hike down to a lava pipe that is known as Mwitampungu, a place that kills eagles, since it can suck in birds in flight. The afternoon finds us in Queen Elizabeth National Park, with a complete change of landscape. QENP looks like the traditional African savannah, and you will find there the typical plains animals such as elephants, lions, baboons, Ugandan kob, impala, warthogs, etc. The density of the animals is not like what I saw later in my trip in Kenya, however. We stayed at Parkview Safari Lodge, which had a nice view of the park below. The service there, however, seemed sub-par for what was supposed to be a 4 star lodge, I think because two high-ranking Ugandan ministers happened to be there with their families at the same time. We were warned by our guide not to talk about politics since the lodge was crawling with secret service agents. 

 

 

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Edited by mtanenbaum

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mtanenbaum

Day 6: we had a game drive in the morning (more Uganda kob and an elephant or two), a lovely lunch at a hotel overlooking the Kazinga Channel, and then the Kazinga boat trip, which has been described in other trip reports. It was very enjoyable with lots of wildlife to see along the channel, especially large groups of elephants, water buffalo, hippos, and of course many water birds.

 

Day 7: We took off for Bwindi and the gorillas; we were supposed to do a game drive through the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth but decided to skip it; it was cool and cloudy so our chances of seeing the famous tree-climbing lions were very slim, since they tend to go up in the trees when it's hot. We stayed in Bwindi in Mahogany Lodge, which was my favorite of the Uganda hotels/lodges we stayed in. A spectacular setting, good food and service, and plenty of hot water. That afternoon we did a bird walk in Bwindi which I very much enjoyed. I am not a birder, but I enjoyed the slower pace and trying to find the birds in the dense forest. Our guide was very good although I was surprised that he called the birds with an app on his phone! (although he also could make the calls himself).

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Day 8: I was very excited for our gorilla trek; since I am not in the best shape we asked our driver to get us the closest group. We wound up trekking the Rushegura group, which is usually closest to the ranger station (although not always). It took about 1 hour and 45 minutes to get to them. We were lucky that most of it was on the main trail that runs through that part of the park, with only a small portion off-trail. Still, it was challenging for me and I had to stop frequently for water or to catch my breath! The rangers there were not in as much of a hurry as in Kibale, so this was less of a problem for me. Also, we had hired porters which was very helpful. We actually stopped for about 20 minutes or so while the rangers were waiting for the gorillas to come down closer to the park, which also worked well for me! I was glad to have the special quick-drying hiking clothing for this trek. Reaching the gorillas was very exciting, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed that they were not more active. They already had had their morning meal, and the adults were pretty much all lying down and resting during the hour we watched them. The three babies, however, were busy swinging in the trees and playing with each other, as well as practicing beating their chests! Photography was very challenging since it was a sunny day and we had a lot of patchy light in the forest. Still, I managed to get a few decent shots, mostly of the babies. I was surprised at how close we were allowed to get to the gorillas (carefully watched by the rangers of course). I never felt at all frightened or nervous since the gorillas seemed to be completely OK with our presence. On the way back we were fortunate to have some good monkey sightings.

 

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Edited by mtanenbaum

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offshorebirder

Thanks for this trip report @mtanenbaum.

 

Looks like you had a good time in Bwindi!

 

Question:  are there trails or extensive grounds to explore (bird) at Mahogany Lodge?

 

Another question:   what is the little primate at the end of the last post?  

 

 

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mtanenbaum

Day 9: we left for Lake Bunyonyi, the lake of little birds, where we stayed at the pleasant Bird Nest Resort. We had a boat trip around the lake, including a stop at the local market, which was very colorful. We also visited a local school on one of the islands which was not in session, but where we met one of the teachers. The school was so barren it was pretty shocking even in a poor country like Uganda. 

 

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Day 10 and 11: We spent 2 nights at Mgahinga National Park, which I had selected in case I wanted to do a second gorilla trek at the last minute (they have only one habituated family but because it is much less popular than Bwindi they sometimes have permits available at the last minute) and also to see the golden monkeys, which can be seen only in that part of Uganda which is very close to the Rwanda and Congo (DRC) borders. The scenery in that part of the country is especially beautiful, with volcanic mountains and lots of greenery. We stayed at the Mount Gahinga Lodge which was excellent. The first afternoon we had been scheduled to do a visit to the Batwa village. This was my least favorite activity of the trip. I am leery of "poverty" tourism, and I felt this was a real example of it. We walked up the grassy slopes to their village, which is incredibly poor even by Ugandan standards. The children were all in rags and many looked sick, with runny noses, etc. We were shown their huts and then they performed a few songs and dances, as well as demonstrating how they make fire. Of course you are also expected to give a donation or tip, which doesn't seem like it could make even a small dent in their problems. 

 

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Day 11 was our golden monkey trek. Unfortunately, this proved to be the most difficult physically for me since there were three separate very steep parts to the hike and after completing the first I realized I wouldn't be able to make it to the monkeys! My son did complete the hike with the other 2 tourists and the guides, and I headed back for a leisurely stroll through the scenic forest. 

 

 

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We ended our Uganda trip with a night in Kigali, and then I flew to Kenya for a stay in  Mara North, which I will put on a separate trip report! We did not see too much of Kigali, except the Genocide Museum, which we toured the morning we left.

 

Uganda is a beautiful and scenic country with friendly people and lots to offer tourists. However, I felt the roads were so bad that put a real dent on the vacation. Each time we changed location meant a 3-6 hour drive on roads that were in terrible condition; the paved roads sometimes seemed worse than the dirt roads because of the constant potholes. Flying between locations was really not an option since there were only 2 of us and if they don't fill the other seats on the plane, they charge you for them, so that didn't seem viable, but if you're going with more than 2 people, I would recommend flying instead of driving between locations. 

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amybatt

Thank you for sharing your report.  You make good points about the drive-ability of Uganda (or lack thereof) and the costs of flying in.  That's something to keep in mind.  You also give good realtime experience about CHEX, something else I'll keep in mind!

 

I meant to comment earlier that I'd had two safari planners tell me they won't book anyone into Ngamba Island because it's too much like a petting zoo or not a "real" rehab experience.  I'm glad you went there and didn't seem to feel the same.  I would want to do it myself, but apparently would have to book that myself.

 

Thank you for a great report, can't wait to read about Mara North, which is my new home away from home!  :-)

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mtanenbaum

Thanks, Amy...I enjoyed Ngamba quite a bit and the other couple that was doing the overnight at the same time as us had already visited Kibale and seemed to be really enjoying the experience. Not really a petting zoo since they didn't let us touch the chimps or actually get too close to them! I think they are very concerned about visitor safety...If you are really into chimps I think it's definitely worthwhile since the keepers have many good stories about the individual animals!

 

Also about Mahogany springs lodge, there are some trails there although we didn't wind up having time to explore them! Also, the little monkey is a L'Hoest Monkey--aren't they pretty? We saw a big group of them in Bwindi and also saw some on our Bigodi Swamp tour in Kibale. My little Uganda animal book says they prefer dense forest. 

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Atravelynn

" We were not seeing a lot of different behaviors at that point so I was ready to go. "  But the photos you DID get are very expressive and not so easy with chimps compared to gorillas. 

 

For the CHEX, would it be an option to stay until they make their nests for the early eve?  Similar to you, it took us forever to find the chimps in the morning,  midday they were often high up so not much observation possible.  But the very quick nest making about 5:30 pm was cool to see.  Am I correct to assume that participants could peel off from the CHEX group when they wished?  You mentioned by 1 pm you were ready to wrap it up but others stayed.  What I am getting at is if someone wants to remain longer are they at the mercy of a group that does not want to remain?

 

Your comments on long drives is one reason why Rwanda is often the choice to see gorillas.  It is a quicker in and out of the country.  But, as you know, Uganda has lots to offer.

 

Thanks for your detailed report @mtanenbaum!

Edited by Atravelynn

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mtanenbaum

Yes, I think it would have been an option to stay until the early evening to see the chimps make their nests. No one in our group stayed that late, though! It would have been a really long day to stay out there from 7 AM until 5:30 pm--I don't think I am in good enough shape to have made it! I think we were lucky to have had a good viewing of a group of male chimps, and I didn't feel too bad about the lack of babies since we had seen some really cute babies when we visited the chimp sanctuary near Entebbe. And as it turned out we went later that afternoon for the Bigodi Swamp tour, which was really nice for out-of-shape me, since it was just my son, myself and the guide, so we could go at our own pace. We also saw a lot of different monkeys there which we didn't see in Kibale because the guide was so concentrating on chimps. 

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