I had heard of Kidepo valley national park for quite a while and I longed to visit it. Tucked away in the furthest north eastern corner of Uganda, it is ‘out of touch’ with the rest of the country and only few determined adventurous folks make it there. For a long time, it was not only the distance from the Capital – Kampala and poor road that made Kidepo inaccessible but also the war which cut it off from the rest of the world. This led to very few visitor numbers and subsequently animal populations reduced due to poaching. On a good note though, it made the park a true African wilderness like its tagline because of few visitors.
Thankfully the war is long gone and the visitor numbers have increased, it is quickly becoming a favorite place for many who brave the long car drives like we did. One should know there are options of a flight from Entebbe or Kajjansi. I was on a tour organised by nature Uganda and I must say I enjoyed my time in this wilderness. We set off from Uganda Museum in Kampala at about 7.15 am and arrived about 8 pm with a stopover in Gulu town for lunch. I wanted to arrive during day light so that I enjoy the sights leading to the park but alas, I missed.
Unlike the other Savannah national parks in Uganda, i.e. Murchison falls, Queen Elizabeth and Lake Mburo, Kidepo valley is the only park with no water body to have a boat safari. This leaves one with ample time to engage in game drives and nature walks in the park. Our very first game drive was in the Narus valley which has some water throughout the year unlike Kidepo river which is seasonal. Off we went with our fantastic ranger guide who knows Kidepo like his own home. He shared about the different animals and birds found this area and the people groups that called this their home – the Karimajong, Tepeth and the Ik people who moved to create way for the park.
My highlight on this game drive was the the scenery of the valley against the mountains, such a wow moment throughout the drive. The animal populations are generally low but recovering and we had great sightings of Elephants, big herds of Buffaloes, Zebras, Topi, Water-bucks, Jackson’s heart beast, Uganda Kobs, Giraffes and warthogs. After a while everyone was anxious for a lion, cheetah and leopard, you could easily smell the anxiety of the people as the game drive continued. Eventually a leopard was spotted in a tree to everyone’s excitement but we missed the photos because it soon descended and disappeared in the tall grass.
We started the game drive early without breakfast, we were eventually exhausted and ready to return to the lodge for breakfast. Many were disappointed because they had not sighted the King of the Jungle but thankfully we had Day 2 to search again depending on the program. For me Kidepo is more for the culture, birds and scenery and not for the animals animal sightings.
It is a new year and I am thankful for a great 2017 where I experienced God walking with me and stretching me to grow in good ways. Some days I thought I had hit dead end and could not go on anymore but every time this happened, He reminded that I have not reached it and have so much unexplored potential. I am typing this from cold Netherlands where I am attending Vakantiebeurs 2018 – a travel expo on behalf of Kagera Safaris and these conversations are on going with God.
Because I challenged myself to start writing weekly on this blog – I decided that I could not wait until I get back home before I could start writing again. There is no particular order in which to visit these areas, I will simply list them below. Here they come;
1. Jinja – Bungee Jumping – Uganda
I have always wanted to do Bungee jumping but like many activities I am interested in doing, it has not happened for a while. Water rafting was a high adrenaline experience on River Nile and it is only right that I follow it up with a “Kiss of the Nile” by doing a bungee jump.
2. Pian Upe Game reserve – Uganda
Pian Upe game reserve has been on my travel scope for 2 years now, but somehow the years end without me visiting it. This year I look forward to visiting this land of the ostrich and Cheetah with amazing cultural experiences from the surrounding tribes.
3. Mt Elgon national park- Uganda
First I must say that I currently do not have the courage to hike up the Wagagai peak of Mt Elgon but I will do a one day hike to get the feel of the mountain. I have previously been to sections of the mountain which are outside the national park and I look forward to exploring the scenery and bird life of Mt Elgon.
4. Nyero rocks – Uganda
Nyero rock paintings make it to my 2018 travel list because just like Pian Upe they have eluded me for a while. They have a deep history to them and I look to learn about it. They are believed to have been of the stone age era having been left out by the Batwa who were hunter gatherers and are currently confined in the areas near the forest of Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and Congo
5. Mt Rwenzori
Just like Mt Elgon, I will not be trying to hike up the peak of Mt Rwenzori in western Uganda. I know it takes a about 7 days in total to go up and down the mountain and lots of stamina which I currently do not have. However, who knows maybe one day I will gather up courage to explore this place. However I will do a one day hike to get the feel of this park and also visit with some of the communities bordering the park.
6. Virunga National Park – DR Congo
I have not been to Democratic Republic of Congo except when I hiked up Mt Bisoke which is shared between Rwanda and DR Congo. I am excited at the prospect of Congo and the opportunity to see it after hearing so much about it.
I am interested in trekking the mountain gorillas in Virunga national park and compare the experience with Uganda’s Bwindi impenetrable national park. I would also like to hike up the active Nyiragongo volcano.
7. Kahuzi Biega national park – DR Congo
This park is close to southern Rwanda and is home to the Eastern Low land gorillas. They are much bigger that the mountain gorillas which I have seen several times in Bwindi impenetrable national park. I look forward to visiting and seeing these giants and the compare them to the mountain gorillas.
8. Zanzibar – Tanzania
After visiting Diani in Mombasa, its an absolute yes to warm beach destinations. I have heard so much good about Zanzibar with its beautiful clear ocean coupled with great history and spice gardens to explore.
9. Capetown – South Africa
This is purely from reading about this town online and several magazines that I picked interest in visiting it. However in the long run, I also want to visit every country and major city in Africa so I am beginning to tick off.
10. Swakopmund – Namibia
My interest in Namibia stems from the Namib desert and the tribal communities therein especially the Herero. I am interested in visiting the ocean shores and see the different shades of life.
This is my 2018 list of places I want to visit. I have visited some of these places before but did not do the particular activities so I look to do these activities. I will also visit many other places but my interest this year is these 10 areas which I know God will enable me visit.
Today we spent the entire day in the heart of Murchison falls national park continuing on our bird watching safari. We started off from Bakers lodge with a morning boat ride towards the Delta on River Nile in search of the Shoebill in addition to other birds and wildlife. The Delta joins River Nile to Lake Albert and is the lowest point in Uganda at 621 msl. When everyone was on board, we stopped by the Murchison River Lodge to pick up more clients and then officially start the birding tour.
The first part of the journey accorded us the usual water birds like the elegant pied kingfisher, Black crake, Black heron, night heron, cattle egret, long tailed cormorant etc, but everyone’s interest was the magnificent Shoebill. We continued with the boat ride with sightings of Hippos and Crocodiles. At some point someone claimed to have seen the Shoebill but with closer look it was the Heron to everyone’s disappointment.
We eventually disembarked the boat as the rest turned back and we got into the car for the game drive to bird in the Savannah area. After birding for over 2 hours we decide to visit the hippo pool area again with hope of finding of sighting the Shoebill and voila. We spent several minutes photographing before eventually continuing on with the game drive. We were also treated to a sight of a pair of the elusive Sitatunga feeding in the open next to the papyrus reeds.
Thereafter we continued birding with a new interest of sighting the Leopard and Lions. These are usually more elusive than the other mammals already sighted like the Giraffes, Kobs, Oribis, Elephants, Jackson’s Heart beasts etc. In the evening as we left to catch up with time for the ferry, we found 2 lions by the roadside. One seemed wounded from probably a fight and another faithfully by its side. We spend some minutes photographing before leaving for the ferry.
This marked the end of a beautiful on game drive enjoying sightings of numerous bird species, mammals and the ever beautiful landscape. Unfortunately I did not proceed to Kidepo valley national park because I needed to travel to Djibouti – a country I only heard of in the news. This therefore marked the end of the tour for me as the rest proceeded and completed the remaining 5 days.
This was one of the best days on our birding trip because we were birding the beautiful Royal mile in Budongo forest which has a part inside Murchison falls national park called Kaniyo Pabidi and the part outside which we were visiting known as Royal mile. There is also a section known as Busingiro sector but we did not visit this section on this trip.
We spent the night in Masindi town which is over an hour away from the Royal mile section of Budongo forest. It is some drive on a dirt road but very active for birders. We must have spent about 2 hours on a stretch that should take about 40 minutes because of the various bird species we found on the way. We arrived at the gate of the royal mile about 8.30 am and prepared to start birding immediately. We were mainly birding along the ‘road’ and rarely on the footpaths off the road.
The royal mile in Budongo forest is one of the best places to bird in the forest in Uganda. There is generally good light which allows you to easily view the birds and photograph them. The birds are also generally on the ground or in the lower branches of the trees and not the high up canopies (some are but not too many) like while birding in many forest destinations. The bird species that were the highlight for the day were; Chocolate backed Kingfisher and African Dwarf Kingfisher, Nahan’s Francolin, Narina Trogon, Yellow billed barbet, African Moustached Warbler, Yellow-throated Greenbul, Yellow-mantled Widow bird, and Purple Starling.
We had a picnic lunch in the beautiful forest and soon started to bird. No sooner had we started to bird than it started raining, even though this is something to expect when in a tropical forest in Uganda, we were a bit frustrated because we had geared up for a full day birding. We returned to the lodge in preparation for the day tomorrow to Murchison falls national park through the Rift valley escarpment with views of Lake Albert. We climaxed the day with local food at Kolping Masindi which was an experience.
Today was a continuation of birding in Bwindi impenetrable national park – Buhoma sector. Yesterday after arriving in the early afternoon to the lodge, we had enough time to rest and recoup energies as we prepared for today’s birding on the waterfalls trail. The day started early at 7.30 am, we drove from the lodge to the gate where we started the birding.
Once on the main trail in the park, we were welcomed by Blue monkeys and L’hoest monkeys in the trees feeding. This was surprising because L’hoest monkeys are generally terrestrial monkeys. The clients have a high interest in the primates so we spent time to capturing pictures of these two monkey species before we officially started the birding.
The waterfall trail is rich in different Albertine rift endemics. We spent time birding this area which offered good photographic moments. The bird of the day must have been the Bar tailed Trogon which was kind enough to pose for photographs at various times, Purple breasted Sunbird was another good find but was difficult to capture on camera as it continually hoped on and off the branches. Unfortunately for me I forgot to charge my camera battery so today it blacked out a short while after the start of the birding. I know that for proper birding photography I need to purchase bigger lenses but for now I will enjoy watching more than photographing.
After a while birding, we continued the walk to the 3 water falls deep in Bwindi impenetrable forest. These provide beautiful views and rest while on this birding trail. We spent a few minutes admiring nature at each waterfalls stop as we took pictures and took in the sights and sounds of the forest. From the waterfalls, we walked back towards the lodge with brief stopovers of birding for only those species that were close by the road.
It was a good day, the terrain was generally flat except when we got deep in the forest towards the waterfalls but even this was manageable. This is what I needed after the steep terrain of Mubwindi forest. For any serious birder coming to Uganda, you must include Bwindi impenetrable forest on your itinerary because it has 23 of the 24 Albertine rift endemics especially between Buhoma sector and Ruhija Sector. Tomorrow we leave for Semuliki national park and Semliki wildlife reserve for the central African species.
This year because of increased work in office, I have not had much time to explore this beautiful country of ours – Uganda. So when I received an inquiry for birding, primates and photography safari around Uganda for 25 days I decided that I will be part of this tour. I was really excited to join in on the tour but was also not sure considering the amount of work piling up waiting for me. I want to try and write everyday I am on this Safari depending on how active the days are and availability of internet.
Day 1 was arrival of the guests and pick up from Entebbe international airport which is currently the only international airport serving Uganda. The rest are small airfields which serve the smaller air crafts traversing the country transporting especially tourists and NGO workers. Entebbe airport is by lake Victoria – the 2nd biggest fresh water body, this gives pleasant beautiful scenery of the Islands during the day but certainly not at night when it is more darkness than light.
We left Kampala about 7.10 pm with the plan of reaching Entebbe latest 8.30 pm because of the unpredictable traffic jam on the Kampala – Entebbe highway. This stretch is only 40 km but it can take one 2 hours or more to drive it because of the heavy traffic that comes from the numerous people who live along this route and the airport. For anyone taking a flight out of Entebbe from Kampala, we usually advise that you plan for 2.5 hours drive to be on the safe side otherwise you risk missing your flight.
We arrived about 8.38 pm and waited for the 9.00 pm flight. I spent time catching up Ugandan style with people I knew who were waiting to pick up a friend. We were then out of the airport about 10.30 pm arriving at the new beautiful Best Western Hotel in Entebbe town located on Victoria mall with beautiful rooms and great service.
The day ended with me arriving at my house about 12.00 am and taking a short sleep before starting the journey to Kihihi the next day for the afternoon pick up of clients who were coming with Aero Link via Kasese. They flew into Kihihi because the morning flight to Kisoro was full and the next best alternative was Kihihi in the afternoon. After this we then drove for about 4 hours to Mt Gahinga lodge near the entrance of Mgahinga Gorilla national park.