Uganda & Rwanda 2010

Uganda is the jewel at the heart of Africa.  Located at the meeting of the East African savannahs and the Congo forest, Uganda offers an unrivalled variety of wildlife experiences in a range of habitats: from encountering groups of chimpanzees as they interact in the rainforest of Kibale National Park, to safari game-drives on the rolling savannahs of Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks; from wildlife-packed boat cruises on the Kazinga Channel and the Victoria Nile, to tracking families of endangered mountain gorillas on the ancient volcanic slopes of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Our itinerary takes in the best that Uganda has to offer, and gives a wonderful overview of this beautiful country.  In addition to the well-loved parks of Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks, we also have the chance to visit a new star on the Ugandan stage: the previously inaccessible Kidepo National Park.  Stretching along the northern borders of Uganda, Kidepo National Park protects healthy populations of wildlife, including a variety of species not found in any other Ugandan park, including striped hyena, cheetah and African wild dog, as well as 465 species of bird.

The final highlight of this adventure is an extension to Rwanda, to see the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park in the lofty Virunga Mountains.

Day 1;                        May 17th 

We arrive at Entebbe Airport, and drive to Kampala, capital of Uganda, before checking in to our gorgeous boutique hotel.  Tonight we meet for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 2;                        May 18th        

After breakfast we begin our adventure with a drive westwards across the country to Murchison Falls National Park.  Our route takes us through the towns of Masindi and Biso, before we drop down off the escarpment of the African Rift Valley, and get our first spectacular views of Lake Albert.  After settling in to our lovely lodge we begin our explorations of the National Park with our first safari drive.

Day 3;                        May 19th        

This morning we take a boat trip on the Victoria Nile to the base of Murchison Falls, looking for mammals and birds en route.  Nile crocodiles are in abundance, as are large numbers of hippos and riverine birds, including the beautiful red-throated bee-eater.  We then drive to the top of the falls for lunch, and walk to the edge of the falls where the mighty Nile River is forced through a 20-foot wide gap in the rocks before dropping 145 feet over the escarpment.  This is said to be the largest natural force of water in the world, creating what appears to be a boiling caldron of water.

Day 4;                        May 20th        

After an early breakfast we drive to the northern sector of the Park on safari.  Most of the game is to be found in this area, north of the Victoria Nile and east of the Albert Nile and Lake Albert.  This is where the movie The African Queen was filmed.  During our drive we look for a variety of game, including elephant, oribi, Rothschild’s giraffe, Jackson’s hartebeest, sitatunga, warthog, as well as the big cats, lion and leopard.  This area is also home to groups of patas monkey, a terrestrial primate found only in these arid, northern savannahs.  This afternoon we take a boat cruise downriver looking for wildlife, including waterbuck, hippos, Nile crocodiles, and a variety of birds including African skimmers.  One of the highlights of this trip is the chance of seeing the rare and bizarre shoebill, a large stork-like bird which uses its enormous bill to catch lungfish.

Day 5;                        May 21st        

Today we take a full-day drive south to Kibale Forest.  After leaving the Rift Valley we pass through beautiful agricultural countryside where a huge variety of fruit and vegetables are grown.  As we reach the lower foothills of the Ruwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the Moon), we drive through beautiful tea plantations and into Kibale tropical rain forest.  Our home for the next two days is beautiful Ndali Lodge, situated on a high saddle between two crater lakes.  The breathtaking views are spectacular, and the cooler climate at Ndali is very welcome.  The lodge was built by the late Captain Mark Price, a British tea grower, and is run as a working farm by his family today.  The rooms are decorated with local crafts, and feature high ceilings and four-poster beds with mosquito netting.  There is no electricity at this lodge, but ample candle and oil lamps are provided in the evening, creating a romantic feel of “old Africa”.

Day 6;                        May 22nd       

Today we explore Kibale Forest, taking walks through both rain- and swamp-forest to view primates and birds, our main focus being chimpanzees.  Kibale is home to a remarkable 13 species of primate, including the localised red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkey.  However, the highlight for most people is the opportunity of tracking and watching groups of habituated common chimpanzees as they play and squabble.  The forest is also home to a multitude of butterfly species and 335 species of birds.

Day 7;                        May 23rd  

This morning we return to Kibale Forest for another opportunity to track the chimpanzees, before continuing our journey with a drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The drive passes through the town of Fort Portal, and then south along the eastern length of the Ruwenzori Mountains.  We descend again into the Rift Valley, arriving at Queen Elizabeth National Park, and our beautiful lodge situated on a peninsula overlooking Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel.

Day 8;                        May 24th        

Today we take game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park, looking for some of the 100 species of mammals found here, including elephant, lion, leopard, topi, warthog and, perhaps, the rare giant forest hog.  Queen Elizabeth National Park is also one of best birding areas in Africa with over 600 recorded species.  This afternoon we take a boat trip on the Kazinga Channel to view one of the largest concentrations of hippo in the world (reported to be about 30,000).   

Day 9;                        May 25th        

This morning we take an extended game drive through the National Park towards Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.  Our drive takes us into the Ishasha region of the National Park, in search of the famous tree-climbing lions that inhabit this area.  Afternoon takes us out of Queen Elizabeth National Park to drive southwards to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (a World Heritage Site).  On arrival we settle into our lovely permanent tented camp, situated on the edge of the National Park.

Days 10 & 11;          May 26th & 27th        

We have two full days here, and we track the gorillas each day.  After breakfast we take a short drive to Park Headquarters to meet our local guides and trackers.  We then hike into the forest to where the gorillas were seen the night before and track them from that point.  The trekking can take anything from one hour to the whole day.  The terrain is rough and at times steep and muddy, and the trek will take us off the trails.  Although the hike is physically demanding the beauty of the forest and surrounding scenery make the trekking worthwhile.  Once the gorillas are located all fatigue is forgotten.  The experience of watching the gorillas is often described as being the most profound natural history experience in the world.

Day 12;                      May 28th

This morning we say farewell to Bwindi Impenetrable, and drive to Mbarara passing through the region known as the “Switzerland of East Africa”, and into Ankole cattle country.  These cattle are highly prized by the locals for their spectacularly large horns.  We continue to Lake Mburo National Park and enjoy a late afternoon game drive.

Day 13;                      May 29th

Lake Mburo National Park is made up of savannah and lakes, and we will take game drives and boat rides looking for wildlife.  The savannah is home to herds of eland, zebra, impala and the rare roan antelope, as well as spotted hyæna; while Lake Mburo shelters hippos, crocodiles and a variety of waterbirds.

Day 14;                      May 30th        

This morning we take one final game drive before bidding farewell to Lake Mburo and driving back to Entebbe airport to connect with our international flights.

 

Extensions:

I am offering two extensions to this tour since there are so many great places to visit while you are here.  There is a pre-extension to Kidepo National Park, and a post-extension to Rwanda to see the mountain gorillas.

Kidepo pre-extension:

This extension will run before the main Uganda tour begins.  Day 5 of this pre-extension is Day 1 of the main tour, and we will fly from Kidepo to Entebbe in time to meet up with the rest of the group at our lovely hotel in Kampala for the start of the main tour.

Day 1;                        May 13th        

Arrive into Entebbe Airport on your international flight, and transfer to our luxurious hotel in Kampala.  Tonight we will meet for our welcome dinner.

Day 2;                        May 14th        

Early this morning we take a charter flight north to Kidepo National Park, one of Uganda’s most beautiful parks.  On arrival we start our exploration of this little-known National Park with a game drive.

Days 3 & 4;               May 15th & 16th        

Kidepo National Park is home to more than 80 species of mammal, with a healthy population of carnivores: lion, leopard, bat-eared fox, spotted and striped hyæna, aardwolf, caracal, cheetah, side-striped and black-backed jackals, and African wild dog, as well as some rare ungulates, including lesser kudu, Chandlers Mountain reedbuck, klipspringer, dikdik and bright gazelle.  Birdlife is also prolific, with more than 465 species found here, many not found anywhere else in Uganda.  We have two full days to enjoy the National Park, and we will spend our time on game drives and walk, as well as visiting a local Karamojong village.

Day 5;                        May 17th

This morning we take a last game drive before our charter flight back to Entebbe where we meet the rest of our group before the main Uganda tour begins.

 

 Rwanda post-extension:

This extension will run after the main Uganda tour ends, with Day 14 of the main tour being Day 1 of this post-extension.

 Day 1;                        May 30th        

On arrival back in Entebbe from Lake Mburo we bid farewell to the rest of the group and we fly to Kigali, capital of Rwanda.

Day 2;                        May 31st        

This morning we explore the highlights of Kigali on a city tour.  From here it is a three hour drive to the edge of Virunga National Park.  On arrival we settle into our beautiful lodge and admire the spectacular views over the extinct volcanic peaks of the Park.

Days 3 & 4;               June 1st & 2nd

We have two full days, with permits on both days, to track the mountain gorillas.  The Virungas offer a different gorilla experience to that at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park since here the gorillas live higher up in the mountains, and in different habitat: a mix of Hagenia and bamboo forest.  On occasion they also venture out into the afro-alpine grasslands, where they feed amongst the giant lobelia plants.  Although the gorillas here live at higher altitudes access to them is generally easier than at Bwindi.  Gorilla classification has undergone a revolution lately, with mountain gorillas now considered a sub-species of the eastern gorilla (together with eastern lowland gorilla).  The taxonomy is still in debate, with the mountain gorilla population in Bwindi likely to be elevated to sub-specific status within eastern gorilla, and therefore a separate sub-species from the mountain gorillas of the Virungas.

Day 5;                        June 3rd        

This morning we drive back to Kigali, visiting Ruhengeri market en route.  We have lunch in Kigali before heading to the airport for our flights home.

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