Uganda, the Pearl of Africa (2020)

Rainforest, gorilla- and chimp trekking, safaris.

The idea to visit Uganda developed after our obligatory visit to the CMT travel fair in Stuttgart 2019. One of the tour operators recommended Uganda as a safe vacation destination suitable for self-drivers.

After our initial research, we found that a great many tour operators have Uganda tours in their programs, usually titled "Uganda's finest" or something like that. Usually a small group tour or at least a car with driver is offered. We wanted to drive ourselves to be able to decide a bit more freely. At the Kampala based agency "Roadtrip Uganda" we booked a Toyota Rav4, the accommodations, as well as the permits for the gorilla tracking and the chimpanzee hike.

Turkish-Airlines transport us at an acceptable price, despite high season and Christmas time, from Frankfurt via Istambul and Kigali (Rwanda) to Entebbe. In Entebbe we arrive at night around 3 o'clock. After checking the yellow fever vaccination certificate, the rest of the entry formalities goes smoothly. We draw 1.250.000 UGX (300€) each at the ATM before the driver of our accommodation Via-Via-Guesthouse picks us up in front of the arrival hall. The access road to the accommodation is very arduous on the last meters; the washed out sandy road with deep potholes demand a lot from driver and car in the deep black night.
The Via-Via is both the starting and ending point of our tour, which in retrospect turns out to be very convenient.

The route at a glance:

Start in Entebbe

After a sumptuous and varied breakfast in the garden of the Via-Via and a view of the birds at the small pond (Komoran, Kingfisher, Ibis), we walk to a shopping-centre and explore a small part of Entebbe on foot. The car does not arrive until the next day, so we have enough time to make the appropriate travel arrangements. Top priority is the purchase of a prepaid local sim card. For this we have to go to the MTN store in the Victoria Mall shopping center.
After passing the security gate, we are standing in front of a new building, built according to South African standards. Shoprite, Bata, KFC and all mobile phone operators run shops there.
Everything is decorated for Christmas, and brass Christmas music is playing from the top floor. In the supermarket we buy drinks and some provisions. Klaus takes the opportunity for a snapshot with the Ugandan Santa Claus.
We buy a SIM card with one month validity and 3 GB data volume. In addition to the use of analog road maps, the travel literature recommends the APP "". The otherwise rather poorly rated app beats google.maps by far in Uganda. Not, or poorly signposted roads are only one reason why many tour operators offer rental cars with drivers.

On the way back to the guesthouse we pass a typical African market where everything from Chinese flip-flops to live chicken is offered. In Uganda, similar to Indonesia, almost everything is transported by motorbike. According to the season, the mopeds of the so-called "porters" are loaded with Christmas shopping. 

Back at the Via-Via we have a delicious dinner and a Nile Special on tap. The evening is made perfect by discreet live music by a guitarist.

 After a short night we go to breakfast at 8 o'clock. Afterwards, the car is handed over, a RAV-4 that is far from being brand new. Nothing stands in the way of setting off for our first safari destination, the Mburu National Park.


Lake Mburu National Park and Eagles Nest

Uganda's southwest is home to some of the most visited natural attractions, including Queen Elisabeth, Lake Mburo and Bwindi national parks. There are numerous lakes in the vast savannah area between Lake Victoria and Rwanda. Our first destination is Lake Mburo (1250 m high) and the national park of the same name. Our accommodation "Eagles Nest" is located on the top of a hill with a magnificent view of the park and the surrounding villages. We reach our destination for the day after a 6.5 hour drive from Entebbe.

We tried to avoid the highway and thus escape the traffic chaos of the capital Kampala. We succeed only to a limited extent. The traffic in the city is a challenge. Flanked by hundreds of mopeds, we struggle through the various traffic circles. Changes of direction require good nerves and a precisely functioning gas foot. We are glad when we reach the overland road.

Uganda is very densely populated. Village follows after village. There are actually no empty areas along this stretch of road. The way to the accommodation leads some kilometers through banana plantations.

Shortly before 3 p.m. we are welcomed at Eagle's Nest with a fruit juice and led to our safari tent. The view of the park and the surrounding villages is magnificent.

On a first game drive into the national park we see the whole range of big game (zebra, giraffe, buffalo, antelope, warthogs) right away. New for us is the sighting of crowned cranes, Uganda's heraldic bird.

After a simple but delicious dinner and the appropriate amount of beer and gin & tonic, Sabine nods off on the couch. A sure sign that we are finally in vacation mode.

The entry ticket to the park ($40/pP) is valid for 24 hours, so we can enter the next morning without paying again.

In addition to the game drive, we want to take a tour of the lake. The 30$/pP are worth every cent. The accompanying ranger informs very knowledgeable and entertaining. Sightings of hippos, crocodiles and fisheagles complete the animal portfolio.

Gorilla trekking, Lake Mutanda

On Christmas Eve we set off for Lake Mutanda. There we take up quarters for the real highlight of the trip, gorilla trekking in the rainforest.

Total driving time is about six and a half hours. The main road is new and in good condition, which tempts us to drive briskly. As a result, we get into a speed checks three times. Twice we get away with a warning, the third time the policeman tells us that he urgently needs money for the children's Christmas presents. He cuts the original amount in half because we do without a receipt. His children will thank us!

In the village of Nabusanke we cross the equator. Sabine makes here at the "Friendly Filling Station" acquaintance with the dirtiest toilet on all previous trips (a photo would not be reasonable!). 

Lake Mutanda is 1800 m above sea-leve. So after the turnoff, we go almost permanently uphill on narrow and partly muddy roads.

In light rain we reach our destination around 14:00. It is wonderful here and the lake with all its islands and the over 4000 m high volcanic cones in the background is impressive. The steep slopes are planted with beans pumpkins and bananas.

Mutanda Lodge is very picturesquely located on a small peninsula and has a more upscale standard, which is also reflected in the price. But after all it is Christmas!  For the last time we spend the night in a permanent building, a small wooden hut next to the lake with a veranda and bathroom. The restaurant is tastefully decorated and makes us want to have Christmas dinner. The facility is run by a young Dutch couple, Marie-Anne and Oscar, who have only been on site for 3 months.

The next morning, Christmas Day, we leave for gorilla trekking. The required permits (750€/pP) had to be booked and paid in advance. For animal welfare reasons, the number of visitors is very limited.

To make sure we find the meeting point in time, we decide to hire a local driver. Patrick picks us up at the lodge at 6:00 a.m., drives for what feels like 1 hour criss-crossing the mountains and delivers us on time at the Information Center of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. We enter the park through Rushaga Gate in the Southern Sector. 36 tourists want to visit the gorillas today and are divided into groups of maximum 6 persons. Patrick also takes care of the registration formalities. A sensible decision, which we would make again at any time, especially since Patrick turns out to be a very sociable, humorous person, who also provides us with a lot of information. Each group is accompanied by an armed guide. Our guide is Felix. Besides us, there are 4 French people in the group.  Those who can't or don't want to carry their luggage themselves, hire Porters. Each group will visit one of the gorilla families that live very scattered in the rainforest sanctuary. We will pay a visit to the Busingye family. In order to get to the families, there are different lengths and difficulties of roads. We will drive another 20 minutes uphill by car and enter the rainforest at an altidude of 2700 meters. The jungle hike itself takes another 2 hours.

The stay with the gorillas is limited to 60 minutes and is also strictly observed by the guides.  

The jungle trails are muddy and slippery. We walk for about an hour on narrow paths before we meet the spotters. They follow "their" gorilla family the whole day and give the position to the guide. They stay with the family until they build their nests in the evening. The next day they follow the tracks of the family, starting from the resting place of the previous day. Now we leave the trails and dive straight into the impassable jungle. With machetes the guides beat the way free. We are glad that we brought the recommended gloves. Some of the bushes and vines are peppered with sharp thorns. The paths are now very steep and strenuous to walk.

Finally we reach "our" Busingye family. First we see a young animal hanging in the tree.  Now the porters and the backpacks with food are left behind. Eating and drinking near the gorillas is strictly forbidden. People with colds or other possibly contagious diseases are not allowed to the tour.

The Busingye family consists of about 10 animals. The silverback shows itself only briefly in all its splendor, but a young animal plays very close to us in the branches. After exactly 60 minutes we have to start the way back, which is not less exhausting than the way there.

After a total of five hours we are back at the cars, where we are given a certificate as proof of participation. On the way home we stop at a souvenir store, watch a traditional dance and refresh ourselves with a can of Castle.

At 6:00 pm the lodge invites us for Christmas dinner. There will be champagne and a choice menu. Manager Oscar is our seatmate. We chat animatedly, enjoy the food and a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Next day we relax at the lake and revover from the exhausting gorilla tour. It is so relaxing that we forget to apply sun-protection. The result is a proper sunburn.  In the afternoon we experience a real tropical storm. Lightning and thunder arrive right next to us.

We discuss the route for the next day with Patrick. He gave us his map of the area with all the marked turnoffs, which is very helpful. With google maps we would not have found these paths.

Queen Elisabeth National Park

The park extends over 1980 km2 between the two lakes Edward and George to the Congolese border. The park is divided into two halves by the 33 km long Kazinga Channel, which connects lake Edward and lake George. Due to its location directly on the equator between the Ruwenzori and Virunga mountain ranges, relatively little precipitation falls here, with daytime temperatures between 25 and 30 degrees.

Our first destination is the Ishasha sector in the south.

Enjojo Lodge in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

We follow Patrick's advice and drive straight through Bwindi National Park. The sand road is in excellent condition and insanely beautiful.

After the park the roads are much worse. The sand road to the lodge is a muddy track due to the rain. Halfway it is blocked by a stuck truck. Klaus drives with a lot of courage and momentum around the obstacle and through the mud and we make it to the lodge without getting stuck. After 7 hours we reach our destination. 

The facility, safari tents on high platforms and wooden houses accessible via footbridges in the swamp, is beautifully situated. A closer look shows that the tents in particular are getting on in years. Stains everywhere and the zipper is defective. In addition, the pillow smells. The communal shower offers only cold water. We meet a Dutch family with 2 children who have been living in Kampala for seven years. He works as a private pilot and flies for aid organizations.

The restaurant is appealing, the price level is a bit higher than before. We would not necessarily recommend this lodge. The staff was reserved to unfriendly. The next morning we continue early to the Ishasha Park. We hired a ranger (Oliver) because the park is very wet after heavy rain and in places impassable. The goal of the day is the world famous tree lions, which should be found on the imposing fig trees. For the time being we only see Uganda kobs and topis

We drive around each fig tree at least twice but the lions are not to be seen. Oliver tells us that three days ago a group of Chinese drove too close to the trees and scared the lions. That's why this would be the first tour in a year where he doesn't find any lions. At 11am we call off the lion hunt unsuccessfully and make our way to Bush Lodge, only 60km away, our next destination.

Bush Lodge

After about 60 km and 2 hours of driving, we arrive at the Bush Lodge on the southern bank of the Kazinga Channel. We get a friendly welcome, the tent is great, in very good condition and overlooking the canal. After a short break, a light lunch and a Nile special, we set off for the northern part of Queen Elizabeth Park. For this we have to cross the canal on the only bridge. We first check the area along the canal. We see mainly elephants, which are probably on their way to the canal. Also on the way to the canal is a group of soldiers. They are completing something like an orienteering march with full assault packs, but have obviously lost their bearings. They seem exhausted and ask us for directions. Shortly decided we load all 5 of them with weapons and assault baggage into our small car and drive them to the canal. Now we know that the Rav4 can take seven persons, five rifles, marching luggage and a 20 l water can.

The evening at the bush camp ends appropriately with beef stew, vegetables and Chenin Blanc. 

At 6:30 we hit the road to finally find lions and meet our guide for today, Moses, at the Shell gas station in Kattunguru. We are the fourth car in the park and the ranger on the moped has already communicated the location of the lions. Moses drives us directly there. Two females and a young male are in sight. They seem to be still exhausted from their night activities and hardly move. We continue our search, but cannot find any more lions.  On the way back, a considerable number of cars have gathered at the lion sighting site.

We book a boat tour in the canal for 11am. The animal sightings surpass anything we have seen by car: Lots of hippos, elephants in the water, buffalos, bucks. 

During the night hippos "visit"us. At 3 o'clock in the morning they were grazing right next to our tent. Unfortunately there are no photos, because the flash failed. 

 Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest

We leave for Kibale at 8:15 am and cross the equator for the second time. The road conditions alternate between very good and terrible. In Hima the road construction is in full swing. The navi shows us a turnoff which we do not find. So we drive towards Fort Portal and find a shortcut towards Katwenghe. At 12:00 we reach the camp.

It is nicely hidden in the dense forest overlooking a small pond.

For the afternoon we book a guided hike through the surrounding forest for $50. We strengthened ourselves with Tilapiafilet and rice. For the first time Castle Lite is offered. After the many Nile special the taste is rather thin and the 375 ml are emptied too quickly. 


After a delicious breakfast, all the residents of the lodge head out for chimpanzee trekking. About 80 visitors are welcomed at the Information-Centre and a lecture about the life of the Chimpanzees gets us in the mood for the day. With 4 Indians we are assigned to a nice female-ranger and led into the forest. The walk is very easy and after 15 minutes we see the first chimps, but high in the treetops. Later we meet a group of chimps on the ground. They let us get very close and allow for nice photos.

On our way back to camp, we discover Café Beehive next to the road. We eat, play darts and have a nice conversation with the manager of Taracco Lodge (Belgian). 

Now we are excited about the New Year's Eve menu. The employees have dragged all the furniture from the restaurant to the bonfire. The "fireworks" are set off as early as 8:00 because the staff still wants to get home in time to celebrate New Year's Eve with friends and family (without annoying tourists). As an improvised "fireworks" display, a few liters of gasoline are used to produce a stinging flame. Imaginative!

 Stop Over at Fort Portal 

On January 1, we set off for Murchison Falls National Park. The distance seems a bit too long for us, so we decide to spend a night in Fort Portal. While looking for our Hotel Kontiki we see a sign pointing to the Tooro Golf Course. It is an old 9-hole course, probably from English colonial times. I get rental clubs and a caddy, pay 6€ and may start. The caddy introduces himself as the best youth golfer in the region.

After some searching we find our hotel with main house and several roundavels. The garden is populated by families and countless children. The noise level is accordingly.  

 Murchison Falls National Park


After 180 km we enter the park. The Chinese are busy building a highway directly through the park. This becomes understandable after we learn that huge natural gas deposits have been discovered in the park, which the Chinese want to secure. About 10 km before our destination for the day, the Murchison River Lodge, we make a detour to the Murchison River Falls. The white Nile falls here with a lot of noise. The falls are known as the location of the classic movie "African Queen" with Humphrey Bogart

Then it's off to the lodge. Great location. We move into tent number 5 right on the water. After lunch we go on our first game drive. The Murchison National Park is with 3877 km2 the largest protected area in Uganda and forms together with the game reserves Bugundgu (473 km2) and Karuma (675 km2) and the Budongo Forest (435 km2) the Murchison Fallls Conservation Area. The white Nile divides the area into 2 halves. We want to concentrate on the part to the right of the river. For our first game drive in the afternoon we have to cross the river by ferry. There is no bridge here. The landscape is rather open savanna with palm trees or acacias. Ideal for observing animals. 76 species of mammals and 460 species of birds live here. Dominated in the steppe are undoubtedly the Rothschild giraffes, of which we see 500. The next morning we repeat the tour, for the afternoon we book a boat trip to the delta of the Nile into Lake Albert. In Lake Albert the borders to the Republic of Congo and South Sudan run. 

On the boat tour, we hoped for sightings of the impressive Shoebill bird, which is said to be common in the riparian vegetation. Unfortunately, we had no luck. 

As always in Africa, we still stay relaxed. After all, today is Sabine's birthday. We celebrate with champagne, a small birthday cake and traditional music in a live concert.

Return trip with obstacles

The vacation is almost over. We just have to drive back from Murchison-Falls via Kampala to Entebbe to catch the return flight to Frankfurt in the night. The drive usually takes 6 hours. When we start the car at 8:00 am, the warning light for the alternator is flashing. After consulting with the car rental company, we drive off anyway. We have just left the park when the car stops. After 1 1/2 hours the "authorized workshop" from Masindi, 25 km away, arrives with a replacement battery. With this we drive to the "workshop", where the mechanics immediately start to repair. Apart from the alternator, the brakes are also resurfaced. We don't have to pay anything.  In the meantime, we are rather skeptical whether we will be able to get everything done in time. The car mechanics don't lose their cool and we can leave shortly after 14:00. Around 19:00 we reach the Via Via Guesthouse in Entebbe, and enjoy, for the last time, their delicious food and cold beers. At 2:30 am we are taken to the airport and land safely in Frankfurt the next morning.

Conclusion: Uganda was incredible and definitely worth a recommendation.