Day 7 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was spent in Mubwindi swamp deep in Bwindi impenetrable national park – Ruhija sector. I was really torn between taking on this hike through the forest as we continue our birding tour because I was aware of how steep the hiking to this swamp is. The Mubwindi swamp also gives a name to the entire park and has an interesting folktale about how the swamp got its name. Eventually the urge to go superseded the need to stay in bed but the main motivation was the fact the lodge we were staying at did not have power throughout the day so there was no way I could stay behind at the lodge and work.

The site bird guide asked us to leave very early in the morning for the Mubwindi swamp so that we arrive before the other birding groups who we had seen the previous evening birding. We left early morning and entered the forest before any other group. We had an amazing time sight several bird species but the high light of them was the African Green broad bill which is currently known as the Grauer’s broad bill. This bird is an Albertine rift endemic and is only found in Bwindi impenetrable forest, Ruhija sector near the Mubwindi swamp.

We chose to take the steep route down hill to the Mubwindi swamp because it was shorter hence leading us to the prized bird in this area faster. I am thankful that I chose to go because the experience in the forest is like no other other, being surrounded by pure nature and enjoying the fresh air. We then hiked up from the Mubwindi swamp arriving at the starting point a few minutes after 4 pm where we left for the lodge immediately for the much needed rest.

After this rest we left for an evening birding in search of the handsome francoline and Rwenzori night jar. We instead found a large family of L’hoest monkeys having their evening feeding but no Mr. Handsome. We were also lucky to see the Rwenzori night jars on the way back to the lodge – we therefore called this a worthy day which was extremely fruitful.

Day 6 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today we transferred to Ruhija sector from Nkuringo sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park. The main interest of clients on this tour is birding which is spiced up with primate trekking and beautiful landscape. It was a more relaxed journey with a focus on transfer and birding along the way. The entire trip would normally take 2 hours from Nkuringo to Ruhija but because of several stops and birding it took us about 5 hours in total including the stops.

We left Nkuringo about 8.30 am for Ruhija, our first major stops was birding right after entering the park where the clients saw the rare Dohertys Bushrike, it was the highlight of the day. There were lots of Black&White Colobus monkeys and the terrrestrial L’hoest monkeys. Ruhija is well known for birding in addition to it being home to four habituated gorilla families available for trekking. Just like all the other locations, a gorilla permit needs to be obtained in advance from Uganda wildlife authority before embarking on this activity. The earlier you purchase the permit the higher the chances of choosing the location you prefer between – Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga, Nkuringo and Mgahinga.

The plan was to bird all the way and arrive at the lodge in the afternoon because after all we had carried packed lunch. We arrived at our lodge in time for lunch and after enjoying our meal we checked into the lodge for a some rest. I remember when I prepared the itinerary the clients made it clear that they did not need any free time as they intended to use every moment birding and photographing but the tiredness started setting in and so the rest was needed after all.

In the afternoon, we took on birding the community trails before the gorilla briefing areas. Ruhija is one of the best places to bird especially for Albertine rift endemics in the Bwindi impenetrable forest. We were joined by a local site guide who knows the location of most of the birds and is excellent in bird calls. The day ended towards 7.00 pm back to the lodge – Ruhija can be cold but the fire places and hot water bottles make it bearable.

Day 5 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was the long awaited gorilla trekking for the clients in Nkuringo sector of Bwindi impenetrable national park. We stayed at the beautiful Nkuringo Bwindi gorilla lodge which is a few minutes’ walk to the briefing area, however one needs to drive about 20 minutes to the trail head where the trekking starts. It was an early start for the eagerly waiting clients, I joined in to the briefing point and the trail head before releasing them to start their experience in the jungles of Bwindi forest.

I have done gorilla trekking twice so I was not eager to join and instead preferred to sit by the terrace of the lodge sighting the Virunga where I worked. I managed to get some amount of work done on my computer for which I am truly thankful, this way I get to travel but also get some work done instead of having it pile up on my return. The gorilla trekking took them in total about 6 hours with 1,5 hours to where the gorillas were which was downhill, an hour spent with the gorillas and almost 3 hours on way back because it was mainly uphill.

Bwindi impenetrable forest is mainly known for gorilla trekking and birding even though it is home to over 300 tree species, 12 primate species, 300 butterfly species etc. On this tour we shall visit 3 sections of Bwindi i.e. Nkuringo sector – this is now home to 2 habituated gorilla families, Ruhija sector – home to 4 habituated gorilla families and Buhoma – home to 3 habituated gorilla families. In the other two sectors we are mainly there for birding following the various trails into the forest.

This then was a good break for  me on the trip because I got to spend time alone working and planning several other trips for others. I think that for anyone interested in gorilla trekking, you want to consider booking any of the locations in Bwindi impenetrable national park or Mgahinga gorilla national park – which in total has 16 gorilla families.

Day 4 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Day four started with a short birding trail near the lodge towards the park entrance. This was because we preferred to have a hot lunch at the lodge and leave for Nkuringo sector in Bwindi impenetrable national park later in the afternoon for our next adventure. I decided that I will not work on my computer and instead armed with my camera, I joined the short 2,5 hours birding. This was more fruitful that I imagined, I am not keeping a birding list for the trip because I more interested in photographing the birds which is rather difficult with my small lens but occasionally I manage to get a good picture.

Stephen our bird guide led the way as we looked around for possible endemics in this area. Our walk started right in the lodge area towards the cottages and eventually outside the gates into peoples compounds, offices and gardens. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of species we saw in that short time – about 30 bird species and I managed to get some photos of the birds.

After this short birding we then got back to the lodge for our hot lunch before proceeding to Nkuringo Bwindi Safari lodge where we would be staying for two nights. We drove with stop overs for photography of the beautiful landscapes of interlocking hills and terraced hills. Our major stopover was after sighting a large group of grey crowned cranes in a garden by the roadside. They must have been feeding on left over sorghum after harvesting, what a beautiful sight of these graceful elegant birds. It was 26 pairs in total and we had a field day photographing them from all angles.

We arrived at Nkuringo Bwindi Gorilla lodge later that evening and continued birding in the gardens of the lodge before and after check in. The views of the impenetrable forest and the volcanoes are to die for. I think I will literally recommend every place we visit because it keeps getting better. You want to explore Uganda in this life time and see what beauty there is and possible opportunities for you to engage on the tourism value chain.

Day 3 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Yesterday was majorly spent on the road so I really needed rest from the traveling. Mt Gahinga Lodge offered this much needed rest with its comfortable beds and beautiful spacious rooms with hot water – this is very needed in this part of the country where temperatures drop to about 14 C in the evening which for me is cold, being used to Kampala’s beyond 25C.

Today the people had a visit to Mgahinga gorilla national park for morning birding and afternoon golden monkey trekking. As for me, I made my office outside the lodge in a beautiful open area with views of two of the Virunga Volcanoes i.e. Mt Muhabura and Mt Gahinga. These were such spectacular views that motivated me to get down working on my computer with a smile on my face. Today I did  not engage in golden monkey trekking because I have done this before, my main interest on traveling along this trip is to check out the lodges and their services.

Every time I traverse Uganda I am amazed at what beauty I experience, it is easy to miss it and take it for granted but surely we are a blessed people with all this beauty. I am happy that even the local communities are benefiting from tourism in various ways. Uganda wildlife authority gives 20% of gate collections to the surrounding communities to be used for pending community projects like schools, health centers, water projects etc. They also get jobs in the various establishments surrounding the park, start and run their own community projects and lodges plus craft shops.

The highlight for me today was the beautiful views of the Volcanoes because of the great weather, and several birds that came to drink water besides the place I was working from – it also worked as their cooling off place which i referred to as their swimming pool. On the whole it was a successful day and as usual I highly recommend Mgahinga gorilla national park with various activities which include gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, birding, Batwa trail and hiking.

Day 2 of 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

Today was the start of the 25 days Exploring Uganda Safari with a transfer to our first national park – Mgahinga gorilla national park. Mgahinga gorilla national park is the smallest national park in Uganda and was set aside mainly to protect mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The park has over 180 bird species and several mammals including forest elephants and Buffaloes which are shy and rarely seen, in fact one will normally find their footprints as opposed to sighting them.

The reasons most people visit Mgahinga gorilla national park is to do gorilla trekking, golden monkey trekking, birding especially in search of the Albertine rift endemics, the Batwa trail and to hike the volcanoes. The park has 3 of the 8 Virunga volcanoes within its boundaries and each of them is a one days hike to any of these volcanoes.

The Virunga volcanoes in Mgahinga gorilla national park are; Mt Gahinga – this is the shortest of the three Volcanoes and the easiest to hike. Gahinga is translated ‘piles of stones’. It generally takes 6 hours for a round hike to and from – it is shared between Uganda and Rwanda. Mt Muhabura is the highest of the 3 volcanoes it generally takes 8 hours to the summit and back for a typical hiker. Muhabura is taken from the local luggage to mean ‘guide’ because it always gave them a sense of direction depending on where they were – this volcano is shared between Uganda and Rwanda. Mt Sabyinyo which is translated ‘Old mans teeth’ because of the formation on the top and it is shared between Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo.

Today was mainly for transfer from Kampala to Mgahinga gorilla national park. The clients traveled with Aero Link from Entebbe to Kihihi airstrip and were picked up from there and transferred to Mt Gahinga lodge. The lodge is such a pleasant place to stay while you explore this park, a short minute walk from the trail head for golden monkey trekking. We arrived in the night and the staff were very pleasant waiting for us. It was a tiring hectic day but it ended well with some sighting of the L’hoest monkey, Blue monkey and the Black&white colobus monkeys as we drove through the Bwindi impenetrable forest to Kisoro – Mgahinga.

Day 1 of the 25 Days Exploring the Pearl of Africa – Uganda

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.