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Uganda Park Profiles
Gorilla trekking in Uganda
Murchison National Park
This park has always had more of a wilderness feel than the much more popular Queen Elizabeth National Park, which most visitors stop at on their way to Bwindi for Gorilla Trekking. There are also some interesting 'diversions' en route as your drive north past the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Budongo Forest (chimp treeking) and the Royal Mile - one of Uganda's premier birding trails. There are some charming accommodation options to stay at either side of the river; from small scale camps to hotels with a view. The big wildlife stars in Murchison are Elephant, Giraffe, huge herds of Buffalo, Lion and a chance to see the incredible Shoebill in the Delta area of the park. In addition, a real highlight for our trip there in 2010 was taking the famous ferry journey to the mouth of the falls, then being dropped off to hike to the top of the falls where we met our guide and camped there for the night. This not only allows you to see hundreds of Hippo, herds of Elephant and African Fishing Eagles during the ferry ride; it also lets you see the mass exit of bats from the caves by the falls just before sunset - watch out for Bat Hawks swooping in and catching their prey!
Kibale National Park
Rightly the premier location in Uganda to come and see wild chimps. Not only are the chimp families here the largest in the country. The level of organisation, choice of activities (you can also take a full chimp habituation day!) and variety of accommodation is much better than any other park. The forest is incredibly beautiful and rich in both flora and fauna, but the main focus for most visitors is to go chimp trekking with an expert guide and locate one of the families. The walking is much easier than Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi, but it is very humid and there are plenty of trip hazards on the floor, so care must be taken to stay hydrated and some people might be well advised to take walking sticks. When you reach the group you have to remain nice and quiet and sometimes this allows many of the chimps to descend from the trees on mass, so you can get a much closer look at them; a real highlight of your gorilla treking tour in Uganda.
Another walking safari we regularly organise for our clients visiting Kibale is the small but productive Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary. This is a 'real' community project with the money raised being used to build a secondary school and local library. You walk with a local guide around 4km on a trail just on the fringes of the forest which gives you the opportunity to see up to 6 primates - we found it very good for Red Colobus - and many different types of birds including the spectacular great blue turaco and papyrus gonolek.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
A must visit national park for every visitor to Uganda, as not only is it Uganda's best savanah park with 95 mammal species, with good chances to see Lion and Leopard, it also has the largest bird list of any park in the country, with over 600 species recorded; of which 54 are raptors. The beautiful Kazinga channel, which you can take wonderful boat safaris on, along with Lake Edward divides the park into southern and northern areas. The Ugandan Kob is one of the symbols of the park and provides a good food source for the several prides of Lions which dominate the area. Camping in Mweya and listening to the Lions howling over the Kazinha Channel is an experience we can highly recommend. Other highlights include the boat safari along the channel, which is fantastic for elephant, hippo, buffalo, huge monitor lizards and a great variety of birds including yellow-billed storks, african fishing eagle and black headed gonolek.
Our clients also visit two other main areas assocaited with Queen Elizabeth, Kyambura (Chambura Gorge) for uncrowded chimp trekking in a beautiful, thicky forested river gorge; there are some spectacular accommodation choice here as well. They also stop off in the much drier southern section of the park which is called Ishasha. This is fairly straightforward to include as you drive the 5-6 hours south to Bwindi for your Gorilla Trekking. However if you stop of in Ishasha at one of the lodges or camps, you will increase your chance of seeing tree climbing lions. Our first visit here in 2005 resulted in a sighting of a male lion in a huge fig tree, followed by a female just 400m down the track on her own fig tree throne. Probably a mating pair and it afforded us some wonderful photographic opportunities, as they were incredibly relaxed and we were the only vehicle in the park.
Gorilla Trekking from Buhoma
The most famous location in Uganda for Gorilla Trekking; the excitement starts to build immediately you arrive in the little town of Buhoma where you accommodation will be located. Wildlife Trails always chooses lodges with open, direct views into the beautiful primary forest that is the Bwindi Impenetrable and sometimes our guests are lucky enough to see a Gorilla family from their own private balcony. The real action starts in the morning with a visit to the nearby Park Headquarters to learn with Gorilla family you will be visiting and the neccessary precautions to ensure they are not harmed by your visit. The first group in Uganda to be habituated was the Mubare; this was started in 1991, with the first tourists allowed to view them in 1993. This gorilla family is still around and is one of the 3 gorilla groups which can be trekked from Buhoma.
Gorilla Trekking from Nkuringo
We have been lucky enough to go Gorilla Trekking in both Buhoma and Nkuringo, so are in a good position to compare and contrast the experiences. Although the park rangers at Nkuringo would love for the Nkuringo Gorilla family to stay in the protected forest, the reality is that they often come out and feed in the nearby plantations; for which the local farmers have to be compensated. This actually provides more open viewing of the entire Nkuringo family; which is one of the larger groups. So for photographers who are not looking to add on an extension to Rwanda, we would recommend Nkuringo as an ideal choice. We also encourage physically fit clients to walk from Buhoma to Nkuringo - as we did in 2010 - to firstly enjoy part of the spectacular waterfall trail for Albertine Rift endemics and sometimes an irate Silverback! Then proceed downwards to the small Kashasha River, before making a long and sometimes steep ascent of the Nteko ridge to overnight at Nkuringo Gorilla Camp - good preparation for the Gorilla Trekking the next day!
Gorilla Trekking from Ruhjia
Until the habituation of the Bitukura Gorilla Group and the construction of more comfortable accommodation options in Ruhjia, this was mainly a location for birders keen to walk one of the best birding trails in Uganda - the Mubwindi Swamp - where specialities include African green broadbill and Grauer's rush warbler. The nearby road can be good for primate viewing, especially Black and White Colobus Monkeys and be a little cautious, as this is an area where Forest Elephants are often sighted. However it is this remarkable Gorilla family which attracts most of the human visitors, due to the atonishing 4 silverbacks which reside in a group of only 13 (as of Nov 2013).
Gorilla Trekking from Rushaga
Became Uganda's newest gorilla trekking site in October 2009, with a big hollywood style event to celebrate it. It should be said that the heavy protection afforded to the Gorilla families in the first decade of the new millenium has significantly curtailed poaching and increased overall numbers, which is great news. Rushaga was until relatively recently home to the largest gorilla family in Uganda. The Nshongi group consisted of 25 members, before 10 individuals split off and formed the Mishaya Group; which is now the second gorilla family you can trek to from Rushaga. Accommodation is not as as varied as the other main treeking areas, but budget and mid-range lodges are available.
Gorilla Trekking from Mgahinga
It is very important to point out that the Nyakagezi Gorilla Family which occasionally reside here are 'drifters' and move effortlessly between Uganda, the Congo and Rwanda, so careful, up to date planning needs to be done to ensure you are not wasting money by buying permits for a group you cannot trek to. That said, more than any other Gorilla location in Uganda, there are lots of other activities to be done out of Mgahinga, that will give you a completely different feel for the SW region of the country. Rather than just spending a few minutes watching the Batwa dance for you in Buhoma, it is much more ethical to walk with them in the forests near Mgahinga for 3 hours and see how these masters of the forests thrived with their bush skills. A wonderful experience that we shared with them in 2010 before finishing with some hauntingly beautiful singing in their sacred caves. We also decided to climb Mount Sabinyo from our base in Mgahinga and although visiblity can be temporary on its peak at 3700M, it is incredibly rewarding to make the ascent and a very good all day work out for your legs. Finally, this is the cheapest place to go trekking for the beautiful Golden Monkey, so why not add that to your list of activities on your Ugandan wildlife tour?
Instead of the usual beach ending to a wildlife holiday in Africa, why not consider chilling out at Lake Buyonyi for a few days to rest those tired legs after your Gorilla Trek? Many of our clients go gorilla trekking in both Uganda and Rwanda and are then looking for a few days to relax before flying home. Given how close Buyonyi is to all the main trekking centres in both Uganda and Rwanda, it makes a lot of sense to stop off here on your way back to Entebbe. There are some wonderful accommodation lodges with views of this amazing crater lake, dotted with many forested islands, that really take the breath away. Birding trips can be organised from the lodhe, as well as canoes and even mountain bikes. It is also rewarding to drive to a lodge at a higher elevation for an almost 3D view of the islands below.
Its a little unfortunate for this park that it has a reputation as a location to just make a quick stop off en route to either Queen Elizabeth or the various gorilla trekking centres in SW Uganda. We have always tried to stay at least 1 night inside the park and take both jeep and boat safaris inside the park. There are some rare bird species here such as African fin-foot and the park has the highest number of antelope species in Uganda. Occasionally Lions have entered the park from Tanzania, but more needs to be done to stop encroachment, the threat of poaching and secure viable prey populations to ensure the permanent return of Lion prides to the park. From our own experience we can say that self-camping at Lake Mburo and enjoying a morning walking safari to view the very rare Eland is a real highlight of your Uganda safari and a great end to your gorilla trekking tour of Uganda.
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