Travel slow and travel deep in Uganda and you will be rewarded with a variety of scenery, activities and accommodation, that you could never have imagined. It was with this in mind that on our return to Uganda we decided to explore new locations and tackle some activities that few other visitors allow time for. The result was an adventerous camping road trip, where we also stayed at some truely unique lodges and managed to go walking through the Bwindi Impeneterable forests, go gorilla trekking at Nkuringo and climb a volcano over 3500M high!
Not all travellers arriving in Uganda for gorilla trekking have the time to fit in a trip to Murchison Falls national park, yet they still want to explore ‘the path less travelled’ and stay in a Ugandan wildlife lodge which fits in seamlessly with its environment. So why not head off with your expert Ugandan wildlife guide and explore the crater lakes, hiking trails and famous Amabere Caves close to Fort Portal. In addition, the town is only just over an hour away from Kibale, so at a stretch you could include a day trip to visit Kibale national park for the chimp trekking or chimp habituation.
There is only one place to stay in town when visiting Fort Portal and actually it isn’t in the town at all. Hopefully the road signage is a little better than when we first visited, but I can tell you a visit to the magnificent Kyaninga Lodge is well worth the extra trouble. The stunning location of these 8 interconnecting but individual wooden lodges with cantilevered balconies ‘balanced’ on the very rim of Kyaninga crater lake is only truly appreciated as the property comes into view. That first look from your vehicle will have you reaching for your cameras and swooning with architectural love. However it is the view from your private balcony, with the eye following the gentle sweep of the other connected lodges towering above the beautiful blue lake which is the defining moment. Although for Uganda this wildlife lodge is on the high end of the price scale, believe me it is worth a couple of nights here; just to chill out, enjoy the views and take some gentle hikes along the rim, or a short boat safari on the lake looking for birds and primates.
A relaxing half-day drive from Kyaninga Lodge brings you to Queen Elizabeth national park, which is probably the most famous of the savannah type sanctuaries in Uganda and part of many gorilla trekking itineraries, as it provides a natural break and some alternative safari activities for the drive from Entebbe to Bwindi. When I first visited in 2005 I stayed at the ubiquitous Mweya Lodge which is still a firm favourite with the larger tour groups. This colonial style building has a stunning location high above the Kazinga Channel. As you enjoy a light lunch prior to the boat safari, you can easily see Buffalo and Elephants coming to the waters edge below to drink or bathe in the calm waters. On our return to Queen Elizabeth in 2010 we visited more of the up and coming wildlife lodges in the area (many owned by Ugandans) - such as Kyambura and Katara wildlife lodges - which although further from the park entrances provide a more intimate experience, while retaining the concept of an elevated position and stunning view of the interior of Queen Elizabeth national park.
The Ishasha district of Queen Elizabeth is famous in Uganda for the chance to see tree-climbing lions, but unless you spend a couple of days in the area (most people just drive through on their way to Bwindi) you are far from guaranteed to see them. If you do have a reasonable budget and plan to stay for at least 1 night then I can highly recommend the stunningly located Ishasha Wilderness Lodge. It’s beautiful river setting and concept of low impact moveable camps fits in well in this fragile, dry eco-system and some visitors have even been lucky with a leopard sighting close to camp.
For our first visit to Ishasha it was almost like the lion viewing was choreographed! We set off from our lodge mid-morning, hoping the increased heat would ‘force’ the lions into the shady embrace of a giant Fig Tree and suddenly there he was; one large male lion with an equally massive stomach lounging in the main V of the trunk and only opening his eyes occasionally to check on the inquisitive human observers. We were the only jeep on that particular track and headed off very content with our photographer, only to come across a lioness just 400m down the road in another fig tree. She was slightly more active than the male lion and changed position a few times before settling down for her nap – what a wonderful hour spent with the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth national park.
When I returned to Uganda for a 3 week road trip, I was keen to go gorilla trekking in a new location and I was very excited to hear about Nkuringo walking safaris and the option to walk from Buhoma to Nkuringo via the Nteko ride. Not only would this interesting walk give us the chance to see Albertine Rift endemics and wildlife such as monkeys and Duikers (small antelope); it would be a fantastic way to arrive at our hill top lodge and take in the magnificent panorama of the 8 volcanoes (one of them active) which form the border of 3 countries – Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. This walk initially follows parts of the celebrated waterfall trail out of Buhoma (famous for birders) and involves walking on a wide open forest track. Later we start to descend using the Kashasha river trail, before starting an initially gentle but getting stepper trail up toward the Nteko ridge. You can stop for frequent rests or consider the alternative Ivy River trail which takes less time.
One of the most interesting aspects of gorilla trekking in Nkuringo is you often start the trek from above the gorilla families; so in effect the ‘walk in’ is downhill and not too physically demanding. For all the main gorilla groups at Bwindi you tend to have a steep climb for the first 1 hour of trekking. Another difference with the Nkuringo gorilla family is that you quite often seen them out of the forest eating in the nearby plantations, which can make photography of the whole gorilla family easier than in Bwindi – obviously each gorilla trek is unique and these are only rough guidelines based on our own gorilla safari.
If you would like to follow our footsteps and visit the amazing Kyaninga Lodge, observe tree climbing lions and go gorilla trekking in Nkuringo; then check our this stunning bespoke10 day gorilla safari.