Gorilla Trekking – Road trip in Uganda, looking for Leopard and Silverback Gorillas
Lake Mburo – a park on the up!
Lake Mburo is mainly seen as a stop off for clients on the way back from gorilla trekking locations in the south west of Uganda and it is true to say that it is rather in the shadow of larger savannah parks such as Queen Elizabeth and Murchison. It is still a work in progress and has recently been hit by a drought which has affected herbivore populations inside the park. However with its border links with parks in Rwanda and northern Tanzania providing open corridors for the return of lions (they once roamed in this park) and increased sightings of leopards on the night time safaris, this is a park that with time and some careful management can really fulfil its potential and provide a quality safari experience to visitors.
One of the best parts about Lake Mburo national park is the commitment to make the safari experience more diverse and interesting. For some clients it can get a little boring being in the vehicle all the time and they are always happy to hear about alternatives to the standard game drives. Lake Mburo was an early adopter of walking safaris in the park and there is also potential for horse back safaris (experienced riders only!) and boat safaris on Lake Mburo. They also relatively recently gave permission for night time drives into the park, for the chance to see leopards and hyena. It is often frustrating in other national parks in Uganda that you have to leave the wildlife sanctuary, just as leopards start to get active for their nightly hunt.
So as a summary we can say that Lake Mburo national park is a park in transition but it has the potential to be a worthwhile addition to your choice of parks in Uganda and with both Mihingo lodge and Mantana Tented camp provided quality accommodation options, we would recommend at least a 2 night stay.
Gorilla Trekking in Parc de Volcans – the ultimate gorilla safari?
From Lake Mburo we drive around 6 hours to the Rwanda border and paperwork and formalities here take around 1 hour to complete. Although we often think of gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda are two completely different options, the reality is that ‘popping’ across the border from Uganda to Rwanda to experience a ‘different style’ of gorilla trekking is very easy; as the park headquarters which provide access to Rwanda’s gorilla population in the Parc de Volcans is only 1 hour driving from the border. In addition, there are many different hotels and wildlife lodges to stay in providing easy access to the start point for the gorilla treks. So really the only slight negative is the need to pay an additional $50 when you re-enter Uganda after your 2 or 3 days in Rwanda.
We were lucky enough to go gorilla trekking in both Uganda (Bwindi) and Rwanda back in 2005 and have sent many clients over the years to experience both countries. As well as wildlife enthusiast we attract wildlife photographers and film makers and they often ask us what is the difference between gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda and which should they choose. Our short answer to this is while your first gorilla trek in any country is a magical experience, generally in Rwanda you will encounter the gorilla families in more open secondary forest, which will allow you more space for photography of both individual gorillas and as a group.
Lake Bunyonyi – Not a beach resort; but great for relaxation and activity!
Uganda does not have the classic safari combined with beach resort itineraries that you associate with countries like Kenya and Tanzania. That is not to say there are not a few such resorts around Lake Victoria in the Entebbe area; it is just that they don’t quite offer that idyllic golden sand and blue skies picture postcard scene, you see in locations like Zanzibar and Lamu Island. However certain locations which initially developed as laid back backpacker hangouts have recently upgraded their accommodation options, but kept the thrill of an untouched paradise alive – Lake Bunyonyi is one such place.
To arrive by car at Lake Bunyonyi (taking the high level road) is to marvel at an almost 3D image of multiple islands ‘floating’ in beautiful blue waters like ships at anchor. Indeed several lodges have taken advantage of this stunning aspect by building their properties high above the lake, so clients can soak in the views. Although staying on one of the beautiful forested islands (transfer by boat) is another possibility; especially for the more adventurous clients as the islands tend to cater for campers and budget travellers. Finally, there are some more upmarket properties with swimming pools, great food and even cocktails and our personal choice here would be the lakeside Birdnest hotel.
Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda – This is where your gorilla videos and photography will shine!
Because the border crossing from Uganda into Rwanda is relatively painless, if you find yourself in the SW of Uganda at locations such as Mgahinga, Lake Bunyonyi and Kabale; then adding in a couple of extra days to go Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda is definitely an option. Yes, it is more expensive than Uganda but in our and our clients experience it provides the ultimate gorilla photography opportunities due to the more open habitat you encounter the gorillas in. There is a huge number of accommodation options available near the Parc de Volcans in Rwanda. If you are on a budget you can pick a backpacker type hotel or something more mid-range in the town of Ruhengeri. However if you don’t want to be in an urban environment and like to enjoy magnificent views of volcanoes like Sabinyo; then why not look at wildlife lodges such as Mountain View Gorilla Lodge. Service can be a little slow and the rooms a little tired, buts its location is superb and access to the park headquarters is quick and easy.
Many clients talk about the fact that the gorilla trekking in Rwanda is easier and less strenuous than Uganda, but it still does depend on which gorilla family group you are assigned to. Despite some tour operators talking about picking an easier group for you, the truth is you buy a permit to trek on a certain day, in a certain location; not to trek with a particular gorilla family! My only advice for clients who have some fitness issues, is to arrive at the park headquarters early and therefore have a chance to be assigned to a group which has been foraging nearby. Again, remember that gorilla family dynamics and their feeding range can change overnight, especially if a new silverback takes over.
So if you would like to follow in our footsteps and enjoy this incredibly diverse and action packed road trip through southern Uganda and across the border into Rwanda for a gorilla trekking experience of a lifetime then contact us at [email protected] or click on our Uganda and Rwanda Gorilla safari.