ArchiveCategory Archives for "Uganda"
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Uganda.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Uganda.
We heard him before we could see him. A rhythmic drumming rang through the forest, echoing my pounding heart. Then 250 kilogrammes of silverback came charging through the undergrowth, football-sized fists hitting the ground with thunderous bangs, vegetation flying in all directions. I’d been warned to ignore my gut instinct – which was to run as fast as possible in the opposite direction -and just duck down and stay quiet. But like a decidedly less glamorous, latter-day Fay Wray, [couldn’t stop a short, high-pitched squeal escaping as l cowered in the bushes, head lowered demurely and eyes fixed on the ground. But Bikingyi stopped short of our small posse of Homo sapiens and, power order established, turned on his heels with a disdainful backward glance.
When I dared to look up, I saw the breadth of his retreating back, streaked with a band of silvery-white hair below the silhouette of his conical head and distinctive bulging brow. He was a familiar sight from wildlife programmes but, in the flesh, his sheer size and primordial power still took me by surprise. “He’s enormous!” I gasped, much to the amusement of my guide, Augustine. We were deep in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda. After hours of tracking, we’d caught up with a family of mountain gorillas undergoing habituation’ that gets primates used to limited human presence. Taking up to five years, this process will allow them to be observed at close quarters by researchers, as well as by those in search of one of the planet’s ultimate wildlife experiences.
Normally, face time with the gorillas is limited to just an hour but, thanks to the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s (UWA) new Gorilla Habituation Programme, l was allowed to spend up-to four hours with a family just 18 months in to the process, an exciting variation on the standard permit that enables researchers – and a limited number of travellers – to spend more time observing the gorillas. I’d also get the opportunity to spend an hour with a group more used to humans, but – as I was discovering – the longer alternative offered a very different experience from conventional gorilla tracking.
Hitting the trail – On trips to see habituated groups, usually the trackers go out at first light to find the gorillas’ nests from the night before and, soon after, the location of the apes themselves, which they radio in to the waiting guides. But there were no shortcuts on this trek, l was helping Augustine and four machete-wielding trackers to search for nests, joined by two rangers – each dressed head to toe in camouflage, with rifles slung over their shoulders in case we bumped into any aggressive forest elephants – and Stephen, my well-dressed, long-legged porter. As the sun rose, l was driven south from my lodge in Nkuringoto Rubuguri. To reach the area where we might find the Bikingyi Group, we first had to tackle the mountain that loomed over the small town.
Hikingup the rocky pathway, I couldn’t help but notice the contrast between the verdant forest and the patchwork of farmed plots that clung to the steep deforested slopes. Habitat loss created by humans is one of the mountain gorillas’ main threats, but conservation initiatives, including habituating gorilla families for tourism, have meant that the number of these critically endangered animals is slowly increasing. Reaching the mountaintop, there was no park gate or fence – the farmland simply ended and Bwindi began. This ancient, UNESCO-protected forest spreads around 320 square kilometres and is home to almost half the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population, an estimated 360 at the last census, as well as 120 other mammals. It’s known in the local language as the ‘dark place’, but it has become a shining light to primatologists over the years.
As we walked, a shy black-backed duiker – a small antelope -slipped by in a flash of russet. Dragonflies the size of small birds hovered above puddles that had formed in a forest elephant’s footprints and vociferous chimps hooted in the distance. The deeper we went into Bwindi, the denser and wilder the forest became, until we finally left the comparatively open trail and began to make our own way with machetes. It soon felt like I’d stepped on to a fantastical set from a Tarzan film. Everywhere was a maze of shifting greens, where vegetation dripped from towering hardwoods, thick lianas coiled and twined and delicate feather-like ferns came armed with vicious spiked trunks.
Before long, Stephen, who’d arrived wearing a black suit jacket, was carrying everything but me. When the going got vertical, he would hold out his hand as if he were inviting me to dance. Regardless, I pitched myself inelegantly down the precipitous slopes and scrambled back up, being whipped by wayward branches, planting my feet in seemingly bottomless tangles of roots and nearly losing a boot to the glutinous mud. But it was worth it. After several hours walking in a giant loop through the forest, we came across the gorillas’ nests not far from where we’d started.
A musty smell had led the t rackets to a group of raised piles of intertwined leaves and branches, which each gorilla builds every night, sleeps and defecates in, then abandons the following morning – only infants deep accompanied, camping in the same nest as their mothers. From these simple structures the rangers could tell how many gorillas were in the troop, and often their size and sex. By this point in the trek, at wig bed was starting to look like an appealing spot for some much- needed rest. These primates have a wide eating range, so it was a relief to know that, nests found, there was a 90 per cent chance of discovering gorillas within the hour.
As home to more than half the world’s population of endangered mountain gorillas, Uganda often tops the bucket lists of travel enthusiasts seeking to come face to face with a majestic silverback in the wild. Beyond the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of gorilla trekking, Uganda offers a diverse range of nature, wildlife, and immersive cultural activities that will open travelers’ eyes, minds, and hearts to the endless beauty of an African experience. Now planning a trip to Uganda is easier than ever with a new online visa application program, and the Uganda Tourism Board invites travelers to plan their trip to experience gorilla trekking, a “Big Five” safari, and so much more.
Big Game And The Mighty Nile – The dramatic landscape of Murchison Falls National Park provides a breathtaking backdrop for Uganda’s most robust wildlife viewing. Located at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, an hour northwest of the capital city Kampala by air, Murchison Falls boasts 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds. Big game in Murchison includes elephants, lions, leopards, and buffalo, along with giraffes, waterbucks, warthogs, and more. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, where resident crocodiles and hippos and other visiting wildlife can be found. The river plunges nearly 150 feet over the remnant rift valley wall to create the dramatic falls – the centerpiece of the park – and the mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert.
Chimpanzee Trekking In Budongo – Primate lovers come to Uganda for the gorillas and stay for the chimpanzees. (Just ask famed researcher Jane Goodall, whose institute founded and operates Budongo Eco Lodge here.) Budongo Forest Reserve, located within Murchison Falls National Park, is home to nearly 700 of these playful primates including six groups habituated to humans. Knowledgeable guides follow the chimps’ daily movements and lead trekking groups of up to six people into their habitat. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day to locate a group of chimps, giving ample time for participants to learn about the forest’s ecology before spending an hour watching a chimp family play, swing from trees and interact.
Conservation in Action At Ziwa Rhino And Wildlife Ranch – Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is the only place in Uganda where visitors can see rhinoceros in the wild. The ranch, a collaborative effort between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Rhino Fund Uganda, serves as a sanctuary for 1 5 southern white rhinos, allowing the animals to live and breed in a protected environment. In addition to the rhinos, more than 40 species of mammals, reptiles, and birds call Ziwa home. Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is located halfway between Kampala and Murchison Falls and is a fun and educational way for those traveling by road to break up the five-hour trip.
Birding In Queen Elizabeth National Park – Classified as an Important Birding Area by Birding International, Queen Elizabeth National Park in southwestern Uganda is home to more than 600 species of birds -more than any other national park in East Africa. Its diverse landscape comprised of savanna, forest, and crater lakes allows visitors to spot species from eastern and central Africa such as the Martial Eagle, Black-Rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer, Pinkbacked Pelican, African Broadbill, and Shoebill.
Immersive Cultural Experiences – The culture of Uganda is defined by its colorful communities and more than 50 distinct tribes. Each area of the country offers opportunities for visitors to interact with the locals and learn about their lives, customs, and livelihoods. Activities like The Batwa Experience offer a glimpse into the living history of this pygmy tribe that once called Uganda’s forests home. Communities across Uganda that focus on sustainable economic projects such as basket weaving and beekeeping teach visitors about their craft and give them a chance to test their skills first-hand. Many lodges support nearby villages by providing a portion of their nightly rates to help fund community development projects. Because of this close relationship, community organizations often visit lodges to interact with visitors and put on cultural performances featuring dance, music and song.
The chance for an encounter of the closest kind with a rare mountain gorilla in its last remaining habitat is here in Bwindi National Park. The numbers of this powerful but gentle creature have been gravely reduced by poaching, while the political unrest in neighboring Rwanda has curtailed the great strides that were made by the late Dian Fossey at the Karisoke Research Center.
Today, half of the dwindling population of about 600 beasts lives peacefully in Uganda, a country that is once again courting tourism. Small, controlled numbers of visitors accompanied by authorized guides are permitted to track the gorillas through what was formerly called the “impenetrable” jungle.
The trail through the tropical rain forest is challenging and exciting, and while there is no guarantee that you will see the gorillas, the local guides are experts at interpreting every broken twig and second-guessing the animals’ daily routines. Different family groups of gorillas have been partially habituated to the human presence and eventually come in close to investigate their visitors – first the mighty silverbacks, the leaders of the groups, then the younger ones, followed by mothers carrying or nursing their babies.
The guides, many of whom are affiliated with the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, are primate specialists – adding an invaluable element to these trips.
Winston Churchill described Uganda as “the pearl of Africa.’’ In a country on the mend from past political upheaval, you’ll sometimes feel you have it all to yourself.
Murchison Falls are uncontested as one of the world’s great natural wonders and were once described as the most exciting thing to happen to the Nile in its 4,200-mile stretch. Unlike the massive 5,600-foot expanse of the Zambezi cataracts at Victoria Falls, here the mighty Nile narrows from nearly 1,000 feet and explodes through a rock cleft barely 20 feet wide before plunging 130 feet with incredible force. It is a mesmerizing sight, whether approached on foot or by boat.
A water launch on the Nile quietly approaches the base of the falls, slipping past numbers of massive animals – sometimes 100 hippos around one bend, and everywhere some of the world’s largest crocodiles, immobile, watching. There are few concessions to the 21st (or even the 20th) century’ here, and it takes little to imagine yourself a 19th-century explorer in search of the source of the Nile.