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Gorillas, Monkeys, Chimps and Birds - Uganda Trip Report

Miss Biscuit

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This trip started with a traditional first time ever safari in Tanzania (with a different TO) which I made a separate trip report for, originally was going to do one big one but decided to separate. Here is the one in Tanzania, it's long.



Our trip was with Uganda Adventure Safaris at end of June/beginning of July 2023.  flew direct from JRO to Kigali, Rwanda. I got the East Africa Visas online. Filling out the form was easy but I did have to send a few follow-up emails on the status of our visas. The website says it takes 7 days, even if it’s 7 business days, ours took longer than that. I think one took 2 weeks and one took almost 3 weeks. Anyway, no trouble at the airport.



A driver/guide picked us up. It was night time, drove us to our hotel. The next morning the same driver drove us to the border. We found Rwanda to be very beautiful and was surprised by how clean it was compared to Tanzania and then Uganda.

We did the border crossing and then our Ugandan guide, Bosco, met us and we changed vehicles. He did a stop for us to get some snacks and he picked up bottled water. We tried to find an atm that was working but were not successful. Bosco floated us some Ugandan shillings until we could get some local currency. We did eventually find a working atm the next day.

The weather our whole trip was awesome. It was cool in the mornings (great hiking temps) and evenings and comfortably warm during the day but not hot and not humid.

Our first two nights were at Mutanda Lake Resort. It’s quite a drive on really bad roads to get there but the scenery is stunning and it was beautiful on the lake. We had great views of the mountains/volcanoes. Food was good and we had laundry done for very cheap. The room was nice but there wasn’t much separation between the bed area and the bathroom (not a wall but like a half wall and right next to the bed - we don’t like that). Also, there was a sewer smell. Don’t know if all rooms had that problem. Unfortunate, as it is otherwise lovely lodging.


Here is a view from the property. The volcanoes in the distance are where the gorillas and golden monkeys are!










This is our hut



The next morning we left very early to make the hour drive to our gorilla trek meeting location in Mgahinga. I chose this location over Bwindi as I had read the gorillas are usually easier to photograph as the jungle isn’t as dense. This turned out to be accurate for our experience. We parked our vehicle and walked up to the ranger station.




There was an introduction and performance by local women. Then our ranger gave a briefing on what to expect. We hired our porter which we did not out of necessity but to contribute to the local economy. They had us carry a lot of water, much more than I’d normally take. I understand that this is a precaution in case it’s a long trek. I didn’t even drink any of my water on the trek. I did borrow a bamboo walking stick which there are many provided. I normally use trekking poles when I hike as they greatly greatly help on the descents and I was sure how much up and down we'd be doing. It did come in handy as a stabilizer. Overall, for experienced hikers it's not hard, just different terrain that a clear hiking trail.













I had bought us Goretex gaiters as I expected it to be much more wet and muddy than it was. It wasn’t really at all. But gaiters can also help with keeping ants out. You are told to tuck your pants into your socks if you don’t have gaiters or wellies. The porters wore wellies which are slick and they said the ants can’t climb on them.









Also, for this and the other treks, we had to wear masks once we reached the gorillas (and monkeys and chimps). I didn’t know this in advance and didn’t bring any but our guide had some but they were very thick and I was constantly pulling it back. I finally asked if this had always been the case or if it was a holdover from Covid and it of course is because of Covid. No indication that this requirement would go away.








While I didn’t keep a close eye on the time, I would say we trekked for no more than 45 minutes to reach the gorillas. We weren’t steadily climbing up hill or on switchbacks but more like short up and downs in a forest setting. It was just me, my husband and another man in our group which I was very surprised it wasn’t a full group.










We reached the gorillas in a relative clearing which made for very easy viewing. The young ones were playing and the adults and silverback(s) were mainly lounging and eating. The younger ones (including one that looked like a toddler) were climbing up trees and running around play fighting it seemed. One ran right by my leg. It’s an experience. We moved (not far at all) to find some different ones of the same family to watch. The hour is up before you know it. On a photography note, the challenges for me were, the gorillas are dark and the forest has a canopy but there are breaks in the canopy so you are dealing with dappled light and uneven light where a single gorilla can be sitting in both shadow and bright light at the same time. It is what it is. But the experience was amazing.


























Here's a short video my husband took.




Edited by Miss Biscuit
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Great photos!! I am so excited to read this! I was there (Uganda/Mgahinga) in Jan and will be going back next July. Can't wait to read the rest of your report.

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@NancySThank you! I'd love to go back myself.

We stayed another night at Mutunda Lake Lodge. Packed up and left early again for our golden monkey trek in the same national park but in a different part of the park. Once again, there was a performance to watch and a ranger briefing. This turned out to be the longest trek of our 3 treks(chimpanzees later). It took about 90 minutes to get to the monkeys. Once again, not a difficult hike, similar terrain to the gorillas but just longer. We did see a few other animals. This was a much larger group (maybe 15) and the ranger stopped periodically to make points, give information and allow those less active to catch a breath.

The monkeys are neat to watch and if you are in the area anyway for your gorilla trek, then you might as well do it. The permits are a fraction of the cost. However, I personally wouldn’t make a special trip to this area just for the golden monkeys. Come for the gorillas, stay for the monkeys.











This next one is my favorite that I got.












Again with the light and being monkeys in trees for the most part, they aren't the easiest to photograph, I didn't end up with a lot of keepers.




This evening we stayed at the Travellers Lodge which is right in the village. This was a normal hotel room which was perfectly acceptable. We didn’t do anything after our trek but take a nap and then have dinner.

I should say that we had full board everyday but lunch was usually a box lunch. I rarely eat breakfast, eat a small lunch and have a nice dinner. We were never hungry and the food was good almost everywhere.

The next day was a long travel day to our next destination, Kibale National Park.




Our route did take us over the equator and we made a stop.



There is a sign and then a very rudimentary indication of where the equator is as demonstrated in the next photo. Bosco said they are going to eventually build a park. 



We also drove through Queen Elizabeth National Park and stopped at one of the lodges to eat our box lunch. We did see a few animals but this was not a game drive.



We stayed at Chimpanzee Forest Lodge which is a gorgeous property and our hut was spacious and really lovely.








If I haven't mentioned it yet, all of the gorilla, golden monkey and chimp photos were taken with my Nikon D810 with the 70-200 2.8 and I found this to be a great kit as you do get quite close to the animals but also need that fast lens.

Other bird photos I'll post later were taken with the 200-500. And then the shoebill stork I shot with both lenses. That's at the end.

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Beautiful pictures.  Love the interaction in the video too.

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The next day began with a Bigodi Swamp walk which had to be cut short due to our chimpanzee trek timing. Originally, our chimpanzee trek was supposed to be first thing in the morning and I’m still not sure what happened. Anyway, we enjoyed the swamp walk and saw several bird and monkey species that we hadn’t seen yet. Would have liked to have stayed longer but they somewhat hurried us on to a coffee making demonstration which I would have rather skipped (neither of us drink coffee). And then a demonstration on making beer/alcohol from bananas which was entertaining if also, not necessary. I’m sure they wanted to make sure we did those activities in anticipation that we would buy something (which we did).


Here are some monkeys we saw in Bigodi Swamp:








Next, we went to the meeting place to pick up our ranger for the chimpanzee trek. We had our own ranger. I suppose since the chimps had already been located, this made our day shorter as we were able to drive to specific spot and walk maybe all of 10 minutes in the forest before finding them. Once we found the chimps, there was another small trek group there and another showed up later. But it still wasn’t too many people and the experience was quite different than the other 2 treks. The forest canopy was denser so less light. Also, there was no trail at all that we saw. Truly maneuvering through the underbrush. And then the chimps didn’t sit still much. They’d stop periodically or climb the trees but often were truly walking with them, amongst them as if part of their group (I've Googled the official term for a group of chimpanzees and got several answers, shrewdness, troop, whoop - who knows).  Often they walked right by me but one tense moment a chimp ran right by me while making that characteristic chimp scream/call. I stopped in my tracks as I had no idea what it meant. The ranger said it had nothing to do with our presence.










I have several pics of yawning chimps.
























Here is a yawn series:












My husband kept saying he saw a mom with a baby but I never saw it.  The whole experience was quite fascinating and amazing.

Here's a short video my husband took to demonstrate our walk amongst the chimps: 




If you have Netfilx, I highly recommend the documentary, Chimp Empire. It was shot in Kibale and it is quite excellent and visually stunning. I watched it not long after we returned at it made me want to go back. 


Here is an ok photo Ross' Turaco that we saw at Chimpanzee Lodge. The only one we saw. I saw several Great Blue Turaco's as well but didn't get decent photos of them until our next stop at Mabamba Swamp.




Spent another night at Chimpanzee Forest Lodge.

As an aside we bought and tried jackfruit for the first time. We thought it was durian, they look similar, and my husband wanted to smell it. The kitchen workers at Chimpanzee lodge cut it up for us. They probably thought we were silly. Well, it wasn’t durian and so it smelled nice. But we really loved the fruit. I can’t really describe the taste but it’s delicious.


I'll finish up the report at the Mabamba Swamp in a bit.


Edited by Miss Biscuit
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Thanks for this @Miss Biscuit- I assume you need much the same gear for the chimp trek as the gorilla trek? 

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7 hours ago, madaboutcheetah said:

Thanks for this @Miss Biscuit- I assume you need much the same gear for the chimp trek as the gorilla trek? 

Yes, everything the same. I wore the exact same clothes and gear for all 3 treks and took the same photography gear Nikon d810 and 70-200 2.8. And I should say that even shooting wide open, I had to use a high iso. It was particularly dark with the chimps.

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I corrected what I said above about the Netfilx documentary. It was of course shot in Kibale NOT Kigali. 

Edited by Miss Biscuit
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Ok, lets finish this up.


Next day was another travel day to Mabamba Swamp were we stayed at Nkima Forest Lodge. This was another lovely location and their grounds had many birds and monkeys so we spent the evening bird watching and exploring. It was really lovely. This was the one place though that I didn’t care for the food.


Great blue turacos. It was challenging to get these shots. I never seemed to be ready to shoot or didn't have my camera when I saw them. My husband and I would joke that they were mocking me. 












Red-tailed monkey









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The next morning after breakfast and we were mostly packed up, we went for our shoebill stork tour in the swamp. This was a cool ride in a hallowed out canoe with our guide and TO owner who we just met. We saw many lovely birds and in what seemed like no time at all, we found a shoebill. So we were able to sit and watch and photograph it for quite some time. It was a beautiful morning.




Here's a lot of shoebill stork photos.







































And some other birds we saw in the swamp






















After our tour, we returned to the lodge, got cleaned up, finished packing and headed for the airport to begin our long journey home.



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Fantastic shoe bill shots !!!  I saw them in Zambia - but, not nearly as photogenic as this! 

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Asante Sana for this excellent trip report @Miss Biscuit.    The video of walking with Chimpanzees is incredible!    And you got so many great photos - the Shoebill ones blow me away.


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Superb pictures. Particularly like the excellent Shoebill images! 

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Ditto. Thanks for sharing. 

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Thank you everyone! I'm told we were very lucky with the shoebill. I feel we were lucky for our whole trip. Very grateful, it was amazing. 

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WOWOW!  Great photos!  Love the black and white ones of the primates, gorillas and chimps and the golden monkeys are really striking!  I'll be in Uganda early next year and hope to have luck seeing the shoebill --- fantastic pictures of them!!!  Are the swamps on the edge of Lake VIctoria?  I wouldn't mind going fishing after a morning of seeing the shoebill if it's possible...

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@gatoratlargeThank you so much!

Yes, Mabamba Swamp is on the northern part of Lake Victoria. It was quite a lovely area. Apparently, we were very lucky as we've talked with people that went out for up to 3 hours and never saw the shoebill. I think someone told us that the rhino reserve in Uganda also has some shoebills (not certain if I'm remembering that right). 

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