I (Laura) spent a month in Uganda, working in a small clinic in Amuru, a Northern district, with little ressource but with lots of beautiful, kind hearted people. It was an incredible experience, and after 4 weeks , I really felt attached to the country and its people and I couldn’t wait for Joe to arrive and share all of what I had learned about Uganda and Ugandans. We went on a one week self-drive adventure in the Southern part of the country.
Here’s our itinerary, and make sure you get to the end of it to check out our video!
Part 1 – LAKE BUNYONYI
Joe landed late at night in Entebbe. Therefore, we spent one night in a cute Bed and Breakfast before hitting the road. It was a long day of driving, but perfect for catching up after a month apart !
We arrived at Lake Bunyonyi late in the afternoon. The last few kilometers from Kabale to our pick up point was bumpy but well worth the ride. The Paradise Eco-Hub team picked us up by canoe! and took us to our “Open Nest” where we would spend the night.
We definitely recommend you stay for a few nights. It’s the perfect spot for a retreat, the food is delicious, the staff is super friendly and welcoming and the views are beautiful with incredible sunsets.
During our short stay, we met Silas, the manager of this family-run project who’s goal is to help out the community. They are eco-friendly, run on solar power and grow most of their food.
We had the chance to explore the lake by boat and hiking to the top of one of the islands for a beautiful bird view of the lake.
We even got to see Zebras on our way back!
(Note: If you stay at the paradise Eco-Hub, contact them because you lose your cellular network and let them know you are on your way, that way they can pick you up at the little port where there is a parking for your car, instead of driving along the bumpy road.)
Part 2 – BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
We thought the road to the lake was bad, Bwindi was worse! It rained as we were making our way to our lodge, which made the roads super muddy and slippery.
We were relieved to arrive at the Gorilla Valley Lodge. We were the only guests at the hotel, as it was the beginning of the low season. We had an amazing room right in the Bwindi Forest. We could hear monkeys right from our porch.
This is the main reason why Joe came to Uganda. Trekking the Mountain Gorillas was at the top of his bucket list.
The day starts early.
Grace, the manager of the lodge, had prepared our permits (you need to apply in advance and the number of permit is limited) and she guided us to the meeting point. We joined an orientation talk at 7 and then, after learning a little bit more about the forest, we were divided in groups of about 8-10 people.
Each group departs from a different starting point depending on where the rangers have spotted the gorilla families . Luckily, the family we were assigned to, the Bweza family, was hanging out not too far from our lodge. So we all hopped into our 4x4s and drove to the Valley. We had a beautiful start to our trek, until we got deeper into the Forest. We had to climb all the way up the mountain (they’re not called mountain gorillas for nothing) to realize they weren’t there and turned around. We then had to hold on for our lives from tree roots while following our rangers who were cutting through the vegetation with their machete. We finally found the family we were looking for.
What followed is simply impossible to describe.
The first sighting of the silverback up in the trees was grandiose!
The mountain gorillas are endangered and at risk of extinction. There are about a thousand of them left in the world. They can only be found in three countries: Uganda (in the Bwindi National Park and the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park), Rwanda (in the Volcano National park) and in Congo (in the Virunga National Park)
To see these animals, who look and behave exactly like us (but are just a tad hairier than us) is really special. The teenagers were playing and fighting, the babies were hanging on their mother’s back, the silverback was eating his weight in leaves. The hour we spent there went by so quickly.
After saying goodbye, we had to hike our way back to our starting point! We were hot and sweaty, but it was such an incredible experience… it was all worth it!
It’s back at our lodge, after freshening up and still talking about how amazing and unbelievable the experience we just had was, that Joe asked me to marry him, promising each other we would keep going on incredible adventures together!
Bwindi will forever have a special place in our hearts.
Tips for Gorilla Trekking:
- book your permits ahead. If you can, have your hotel/lodge requests them for you. We found it difficult to get in touch with the Bwindi Wildlife authority.
- They cost 600$ USD per person, but the money goes to the conservation and research. (Keep in mind, in Rwanda, the permits are 1500$ USD per person!)
- Wear long pants, bug repellent and sunscreen. Ideally, if you can bring chaps, they come in very useful with the mud.
- Bring a lot of water and pack a lunch (your lodge will most likely offer you a packed lunch)
- Bring a camera with a good zoom, but make sure you take a pause from taking pictures (it’s hard because you want to catch every move) and take the time to take in what is actually happening in front of your eyes.
- They will tell you, you absolutely need a porter! If you’re in a good shape, you probably don’t, but they work for tips and there are so many of them that they only get to work a few times a month. Taking a porter is an opportunity for them to get paid. Our porter was a woman, who lived miles away from Bwindi, had 2 kids, and worked as a porter once a month to make some money for her family.
Part 3 – QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK (QENP)
We stayed at the Wildtrack Overland Camp. Again, we were the only one there and the staff was incredibly attentive to us. They even set up our dinner table next to the fire camp at every dinner, just for the two of us, which was super romantic.
After doing a guided safari in the Murchison Falls National Park, where animals were along the road and crossing the road at every turn, QENP was challenging. (I will share some pictures of Murchison on another post)
Maybe it was the period when we visited or just because of how wide the park is, but you really had to look for the animals. And it’s not because we were self-driving… all the other cars with drivers were doing the same thing. But when you do come across a herd of elephants, or when you spot the lion amongst the bushes or a group of buffalos bathing in the mud, it’s incredibly gratifying and exciting (and even more when you’re the only one there!)
It was a great activity to do together, challenging us to be patient, to make decision (which direction to go), to be a (not always) good co-pilot, to drive on bumpy roads (you think Montreal’s potholes are bad? Think again). It also allowed us to spend a lot of time together, to catch up and to make future plans.
On our last day, after a lot of hesitation, we drove all the way to Ishasha, the south-west part of the park, where you can supposedly see tree-lions (we didn’t see any). You need to go when the weather is really hot – that’s when they hang out under the leaves to avoid the heat. but it was still a great adventure and we saw some incredible animals. We did not regret our decision.
Uganda is a beautiful country that deserves to be explored. People are welcoming and have a great sense of humour. The wildlife is abundant and it deserves to be discovered and protected. I hope we come back some day.
For a glimpse of our week in Uganda check out our video :