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Uganda gorilla trekking

After South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, we arrived at the last stop of our African roadtrip, our five-day adventure in Rwanda & Uganda.

From Tanzania, Kilimanjaro to Rwanda there were better flight options than to Uganda, and by the way, from Kigali airport in Rwanda (where we landed), Bwindi National Park (the gorilla paradise) is only half the distance compared to if we had gone from Kampala or Entebbe in Uganda, so it was a obvious that we chose the Rwandan combination . . .

Uganda, gorilla baby with mother

Kigali → Lake Bunyonyi, border crossing

We booked this tour with Pamoja Safaris and as it was also a private tour it was completely tailored to our needs. So, after we arrived in Kigali at six in the evening, we headed straight to Uganda, so this way we drove in the dark in the evening for several hours, rather than having to start with the long car drive the next morning.

However, the price of this was that we had to cross the border at night.

It's not the best experience to see armed men at night, but if there's even a power cut in the village and the tour guide/driver even leaves you alone, because he has to deal with the mind-numbing paperwork so that the car can cross the border, and by the way you can only see locals,not even one tourist, then the one-hour border crossing is not the most pleasant pastime. But something for something... :D In the end, after all kinds of checks, due diligence and some tip in the pocket, we luckily crossed the border.

Corruption is unfortunately an everyday thing here. Even though there are posters at the border to put an end to corruption, it is quite difficult to do so when the police, car inspectors and soldiers are also waiting for a tip...

Then, when we arrived at the hotel around midnight, armed guards let us in at the gate, but we were happy that we could finally go to sleep in safety after the extra long day.

Uganda street

Kyambura Gorge - chimpanzees

Then the adventure began the next day, because after breakfast we left for the Kyambura Gorge, located a few hours away.

Overall, driving in Uganda was controversial as we drove through incredibly beautiful landscapes, tea and banana plantations following each other, but the roads were often quite bad. And it was clear that there was indeed a lot of poverty, we went past rock "mines" several times, where men, women, children without all kinds of protective equipment, often barefoot, extracted the stone with pickaxes and hammers. Also, many small children worked on the tea plantations. And here they don't really follow the rule that "knives, forks and scissors are not for children´s hands”, because even 4-5 year old children ran around with machetes in their hands.

The Kyambura gorge is located in the north-eastern part of the Queen Elizabeth National Park and although the gorge is surrounded by savannah vegetation, the vegetation in the gorge is almost equivalent to a small mini-jungle. The wooded gorge is also excellent cooling and hiding place for animals, and also provides a constant source of drinking water for the animals. It is no wonder that the gorge is a popular place for chimpanzees. There are about 80 chimpanzees living in the Kyambura area, quite a few of them are habituated, so accustomed to the presence of humans. But of course a minimum of 7 meters distance has to be strictly kept from the chimpanzees during the tour.

Uganda chimpanzees

Since chimpanzee and gorilla trekking are like safaris, therefore success is not guaranteed at all, because we are talking about the wilderness and nature, so you need to have a bit of luck as well because the chimpanzees change their place quickly, and since the gorge is quite large and not easy to walk the whole area, so you have to be in the right place at the right time for the experience.

Again, we were extremely lucky, because when we arrived we only went to check in, and still planned to have lunch at the hotel and unpack before the afternoon trekking. However, the girl who led the tour said that  plans have changed, and we should go and hurry immediately, because the chimpanzees were on the fig tree behind her house. They came up for a bit from the protection of the gorge to leat their lunch on this lonely fig tree. There were four male chimpanzees up in the tree and two down in the bush. It is said that they rarely come up from the gorge, and we haven't even started trekking and we have already seen the chimpanzees from a VIP place.

Uganda chimpanzee

Among them there was the alpha male as well. They chewed the figs in silence and sometimes relieved themselves. We watched them for a good forty minutes, when two started to climb down from the tree and the tour guide said it was time to go.

In principle, they can be aggressive and even throw sticks and fruit at people, but this is not the norm.

Also, they are mostly herbivores, but sometimes they even eat smaller animals, but more than 98% of them eat plants.

Even though we had already seen the chimpanzees, we decided that we wanted to do the hike in the gorge as well, so we descended into the gorge with our tour guide, who by the way was armed (if we met aggressive animals, she could scare them off). As soon as we got close to the river, a huge noise broke the silence, because not far away a large group of hippos were resting, and as soon as they heard us, they got scared and splashed loudly into the river, and that's not all, because from then on we continuously heard the roars of nearby hippos. These roars were not addressed to us but to another group of hippos, marking their own territory. But it was still terrifying, especially because up until now, on all safaris they emphasized how dangerous hippos are.

During the tour, we saw smaller monkeys, but no chimpanzees anymore.

Chimpanzee trekking costs around US$100, but that's nothing compared to gorilla trekking, which costs around US$700 in Uganda, but it can be even double price in Rwanda.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

We went on a couple of game drives in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, but if I'm being completely honest, it didn't even come close to the safaris in Tanzania and Botswana. We saw animals here too, but none of the big cats, for example. So if someone wants a real safari experience, then this should not be his/her No1 destination. So this way that the national park was anyways on our way it was good, but it wouldn't have been worth flying here just for that.

Hippo on the street

By the way, the bigger surprise came on the asphalt road outside the national park, when a hippopotamus walked across the road in front of us, and two elephants were grazing on the other side. It was really great to see them almost next to each other and to see the huge difference in size, because the hippopotamus is not a small animal, but it next to the elephants it looked so tiny.

Uganda Gorilla trekking

One of the best places for gorilla trekking is Bwindi National Park. Almost half of the world's mountain gorilla population lives here, 463 gorillas. The other 600 live in the Virunga Mountains on the Rwanda-Uganda-Congo border.

"Bwindi" means darkness, which is due to the dense vegetation of the rainforest. This thousand-year-old rainforest is so lush and in some places impenetrable that progress is impossible without a machete. Along the road leading to the gorilla trekking meeting point, there are a couple of forest paths from where you can start the tour. There are several gorilla families in the forest that are habituated, but there are wild families that cannot tolerate humans. Gorillas, just like chimpanzees, are very intelligent animals. Gorillas share 98.4% DNA and chimpanzees share 98.7% DNA with humans.

Gorilla baby with mother

During gorilla trekking, the tour guides are very strict about the time limit. The program itself can be 2-8 hours long on average. The duration of the tour depends only on how long it takes you to find gorillas, even the complete extreme case can happen, such as you find gorillas after a few minutes of walking, or you can also expect up to 10 hours of hard hiking, but even then it is not guaranteed that you will see them, because this is the wilderness. But what is certain is that from the moment you find them, the clock is ticking, because you can stay near a gorilla family for a maximum of 60 minutes per day. During this time, you can follow them at a decent distance, if you can keep up the pace through the thick bushes, but it is also possible to stand still and watch them, for example, if they are resting or hanging out on a tree.

Well, we didn't have much time to wonder what kind of experience we would have, how far we would have to hike to find them, because after 2 minutes of walk we saw them on top of a big tree. 

At dawn, a couple of local people enter the forest to map and discover the area in advance, if they see any tracks of the gorillas, they will notify the tour guides, and the tourists at 8 am will start the discovery tour in that direction. But this dawn they were not seen anywhere, not even their tracks. But by the time we left, somehow on another road they came to that tree that crossed our hiking route. 

Uganda mountain gorilla

Our tour guide has been doing this tour daily for 13 years and has NEVER found them so quickly. Thus, the well-prepared backpacks with water, sandwiches, and raincoats for a whole day's hike turned out to be unnecessary in our case, but of course we were super happy even if the hike only took two minutes. We found them in a very good place, we were only a few meters away from them, moreover in our gorilla family, which consisted of 13 gorillas, all ages were visible, from the eight-month-old babies to teenagers even the senior silverback male, so it was really a first-class experience.

Uganda gorilla family

In the one hour we were with them, they were on top of the tree, we saw them climbing down the tree and then we followed them into the jungle. You have to be very careful, because there are places where you have to use your hands to climb, but you also have to be careful, because there are plants that cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, it is advisable to bring thin gloves, but if someone does not bring them, you can even buy them on the spot before the tour. We were also very surprised that during the one hour when we were near the gorillas, we had to wear masks in order not to catch any infection from each other. (I just took it down for the photo).

Uganda selfie with a mountain gorilla

Also, if you don´t want to carry stuff and want to have a helper on the tour, you can "hire" locals for this purpose and you can also ask for a hiking stick, which is certainly very useful in certain sections, but it can also be a hassle at times.

The activity and location of gorillas is completely unpredictable, if you saw them somewhere the day before, it does not mean that they will be there the next day, or even that they will be near you at all. But their voices can be heard from further away, which can then be a good guidance. By the way, the tour guides can make a snoring, rumbling sound that is deceptively similar to what gorillas do. And by the way, they used this regularly when we were a few meters away from the gorillas, to make them feel that "we belong to them" and not to be seen as a source of danger in their eyes. Many times I suddenly didn't even know whether the gorillas were roaring or the tour guide...

Mountain gorilla

All in all, meeting the gorillas was a great experience, if someone can afford this pricey ticket, then I think you should not miss this adventure, it's something you probably don't do very often in your life anyway.

Lake Bunyonyi

At Lake Bunyonyi, there is a great program that I recommend to everyone, a few-hour short boat ride (by motorboat), during the tour the guide tells many interesting stories. And it is worth mooring and walking up to a lookout point from where this wonderful view opens up to you.

Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi was formed about 18,000 years ago as a result of a volcanic eruption.      According to locals, the depth of the lake sometimes reaches 900 meters. There are also 29 smaller islands on the lake, some of which have residents, some of which even have a mini animal park with zebras, but there is also completely uninhabited small islands as well. An example is the Punishment Island. According to the locals, unmarried women were sent to suffer to this tiny island in an attempt to teach them and their companions not to get pregnant before marriage. And this custom only ended in the first half of the 20th century. The men who made them pregnant were not punished at all...

And the legend of the "Upside Down Island" is that there was a family celebration on the island, an stranger woman arrived and asked to join the celebrations, but they said it was a family event, so no. Then the woman only asked to be taken to the mainland, the celebration people helped her, but when they were about to go back to the island, the island turned upside down and was swallowed by the lake.

Based on this, there is no problem with people's imagination here either... 🙂

During the boat ride, we even saw cormorants and otters.

Lake Bunyonyi

But the most authentic experience during the whole tour was when we docked and climbed to the top of the hill to see the panoramic view, but in the meantime it started to rain heavily and luckily we were not far from the house of our tour guide's brother, where we were invited in the from rain. And there we talked for about half an hour with his sister-in-law, who recently gave birth to her baby. We talked in the "dining room", which had no door and actually looked like the outside of the house also on the inside, there was only plaster on the walls, a clay floor, a table and chairs, and in the corner a hen's nest with an egg in it. Rolled up in the corner was a large "carpet" that was woven by several people together for 6 days from dried grass. So, to put it mildly, the conditions were quite modest, but nevertheless the mother seemed happy, the older children were happily running up and down barefoot in the rain. This was a very special experience, because "normally" tourists do not see this real face of the country, because the hotels where they stay are usually similar to European standards. But they are quite far from the local reality.

So in the end we were very happy with this sudden rain and after the rain stopped we climbed to the top of the hill.

We really enjoyed the whole tour, the surroundings of Lake Bunyonyi are beautiful.

House with a boat on the lakeside

On this wonderful day however, we have reached the end of our African roadtrip.

So we could tick off from our bucket list:

I always feel after a trip that it was so well done that it's impossible to have a better one in the future. And I felt exactly the same here. Everything really worked out so, or even better, during the whole trip, how we had planned it.

Weaver birds

I hope you liked my blog posts. If so, stay with me on my further travels!


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