12 ways to spend a Uganda Rwanda Safari
12 ways to spend a Uganda Rwanda Safari
You are planning a holiday trip to Africa most probably Uganda and Rwanda is on your list of destinations. What should you do when in Uganda? How much money should you bring? Where they stay? If your first reaction is, “I guess dinner or something somewhere nice” then this article is for you. So let’s count down the top 12 things to see and do around The Pearl of Africa.
1. See Chimpanzees in Kibale Forest National Park
Across Lake George to the northeast of Queen Elizabeth National Park in the west of Uganda is the Kibale Forest National Park. Although these forests are connected and chimpanzees are found in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, we recommend seeing our closest relatives in the Kibale area as it’s a little easier to find the chimpanzees. In fact, the Kibale Forest is recommended as the best place in the whole of East Africa for seeing chimpanzees.
The most popular trail in the park is the walk from the Kanyanchu Visitor Center, which lasts about three hours to visit the chimps and to see a diversity of wildlife en-route. When we encounter the chimpanzee groups, visitors are allowed to spend a maximum of one hour observing the fascinating animals, as they play, feed, and relax in their group.
As with the gorilla treks, to visit the chimpanzees we recommend booking your chimpanzee visiting permit and tour in advance as the visits per day are tightly controlled for the chimpanzees’ welfare and they can get quickly booked up.
In addition to the chimpanzees in Kibale, you will also encounter some of the other primates inhabiting the area, such as blue & red-tailed monkeys, red-colobus mangabeys, and the grey-cheeked mangabeys swinging in the forest’s canopy. Another of the favorite trails is the Kanyanchu Primate Walk to see some of the park’s thirteen species of primate.
2. Savanna Wildlife Safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park
The Queen Elizabeth National Park region is the most popular tourist destination in Uganda, which is linked to the area’s diversity. The protected area contains many different wildlife-filled habitats, such as forests, wetlands, savanna grasslands, and a number of lakes.
The Queen Elizabeth National Park sits on the western side of Uganda, which is a few hours drive southwest of the country’s capital and largest city, Kampala. There are a few different towns close to the protected area such as Kasese and Bushenyi.
The park contains a lot of wildlife, such as the iconic African safari animals, but is also fortunate to contain and protect a population of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees. Towards the north and across Lake George, the park connects to the Kibale Forest National Park mentioned above.
You can enjoy game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park to search for the icons of the African plains, such as lions, elephants, antelopes, and buffaloes. There are over 200 km of game tracks throughout the park we can explore.
Being part of the African Great Lakes region, there are some fantastic lakes to visit where you can enjoy cruises on the glistening waters to scout for a range of wildlife. There is also a fantastic channel to enjoy between Lake Edward and Lake George to see hippopotamus, Nile crocodiles, and a multitude of birdlife.
In addition to exploring the area on game drives, one of the most spectacular ways to experience these savanna environments is by hot air balloon, which you can book as an add-on experience.
3. Golden Monkey Trekking
The golden monkeys are a fantastic group of primates to see in the wild and can be relatively easily encountered on guided treks through the forest. There are a couple of different areas to find the monkeys, but the best place to track the monkeys in Uganda is the Mgahinga National Park at the foot of the Virunga Mountains.
The monkeys enjoy hanging around the stands of bamboo forest within these protected areas and the monkeys are now used to people, which means they’re more easily observed. However, the monkeys move fast so make sure you’re using your fastest lens speed.
The golden monkeys make a fantastic add-on experience to enjoy with the gorillas or the chimpanzees. The trip makes an ideal short stay in another area of Uganda in the Virunga Mountains to find the monkeys where there are only a few thousand individuals remaining. On tours to see these fascinating primates, you can visit the habituated groups for an hour at a time.
The golden monkeys are a relatively small primate and are covered in long, golden hair. They are classified as an endangered species and are found in the Virunga’s bamboo forests. Despite protection, their population size is continually decreasing, but because they have been habituated by researchers, finding the monkeys is relatively simple as the monkeys are used to people and don’t run away.
4. Visit Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary protects Uganda’s only wild rhinos and is located just north of Kampala near the famous Murchison Falls. In total, the sanctuary protects 15 rhinos but is also a fantastic place to see other wildlife, including a fantastic diversity of birds.
Enjoy bird watching, nature walks, relaxing, and of course finding and watching the rhinos. The rangers of the sanctuary will guide you around the reserve to find the wildlife, including the rhinos themselves but also crocodiles, hippos, and antelopes. Birders often enjoy the reserve and spend time finding some of the 250 different species. You can find some fascinating birds within the sanctuary boundaries, including a number of rare species.
The sanctuary was founded by various wildlife and conservation organizations in an attempt to restore Uganda’s rhinoceros population. The sanctuary intends to protect rhinos from people and Africa’s predators while they breed and grow and will then re-introduce the rhinos into Uganda’s protected areas, such as Queen Elizabeth National Park. While awaiting their reintroduction, visitors can enjoy seeing these remarkable animals while also helping to spread the importance of rhino conservation in the country.
A total of around 80 rangers and guards watch over the sanctuary day and night to maintain the animals’ safety. The total land area of the area covers 7, 000 hectares, which you can explore with your highly trained ranger who knows the park better than anyone else. You can enjoy different facilities and infrastructure, such as a tourist lodge, camping area, and budget guesthouses to accommodate all types of tourists.
Explore the protected area to scout for the rhinos and other animals, including hippos, monkeys, crocodiles, and many different birds, enjoy nature walks, and canoe the different waterways.
5. Visit Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls is a fantastic natural attraction located in the aptly named Murchison Falls National Park, which with a few other protected areas creates the Murchison National Park. The park has been visited by the likes of Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and various royals over the years.
The protected area is home to many different animals, including hippos, crocodiles, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, antelopes, chimpanzees, and many different birds. However, because of intense hunting in the 1900s, the wildlife is not as it once was. Animal populations have been recovering and you’re sure to see some examples, including some of Africa’s icons.
This is the largest national park in Uganda and the Murchison Falls sits as the jewel in the crown of the protected area. The falls were named after the president of the Royal Geographical Society and is the main attraction.
Murchison Falls is a fantastic spectacle with water violently crashing through the narrow, rocky gorge. The falls eject the Victoria Nile River through a 6-meter wide chute, which cascades down 30 meters to the Nile River. Because of the spray of water, you can see a constant rainbow over the falls adding to the spectacle of this must-visit Ugandan attraction.
6. Visit Kampala
Kampala is Uganda’s capital and makes a fascinating stop on your Ugandan adventure to enjoy for a day or two seeing this important city. Ugandans, in general, are very friendly and the city of Kampala offers a more relaxed atmosphere than its neighbor of Nairobi across the Kenyan border.
The city is relatively calm and safe. So much so, Kampala has a stable ex-pat community with many different NGOs running various humanitarian and conservation projects. The city has some modern areas with top of the line restaurants and bars, which is often where the ex-pats and visitors enjoy spending their time.
You can enjoy many different markets selling a variety of produce, clothing, and crafts. There are also some different attractions to see in the city itself, which will easily keep you entertained over a couple of days. These include temples, cathedrals, markets, galleries, areas of historical significance, and museums.
Despite being an old building in need of a little love, a popular attraction is the old Uganda National Museum, which shows the cultural heritage of the country including exhibits on Uganda’s cultural and natural history. There are also a few different galleries you can enjoy the display of paintings, photography, sculptures, and exhibits from many different local artists.
7. Visit the Ndere Centre
The Ndere Centre is a highly recommended attraction to experience the country’s traditional dance and music. A few days of the week, you can enjoy dinner and theater performance at the center to see a high energy show of Ugandan culture. The dances are from a variety of Uganda’s different tribes and the show takes place in a 700-seat amphitheater on Sundays at 6 pm, Wednesday at 7 pm and Fridays from 7 pm.
The name itself is from the word for flute, which is the symbol of the troupe because of its diverse and beautiful sound, but also as it’s one of the only musical instruments found across all cultures and is a metaphor for unity.
The mission of the center and its dancers and musicians is to help rekindle a sense of pride for Ugandan culture while promoting it to the world. A team of dedicated Ugandans carefully research and respectfully present parts of all the cultures that make up the Ugandan people constantly updating the performances.
It is a repeated theme across sub-Saharan Africa where information was not written down as language didn’t exist in written form, instead the information was passed between generations through performances, such as dance, storytelling, poetry, and music.
The Ndere Troupe are a definite must-see attraction in Uganda and the award-winning performers have been practicing their art for nearly 25 years spreading the fascinating and enjoyable performances.
8. Visit Lake Mburo National Park
A relatively small protected area, the Lake Mburo National Park is classed as a savanna area containing different wildlife, such as antelopes, hyena, hippo, buffalo, zebra, and many different birds. There is also a lot of woodlands because of the lack of elephants, which are ecosystem engineers and usually tame savanna forests.
There are 13 other water bodies in the region, but the star lake is Lake Mburo. Mburo is part of the protected areas wetland system, which is why it’s such a great place for birdlife. There around 350 different bird species to see in the area and it’s a must-visit destination for birders.
There are many different activities to enjoy both on and around Lake Mburo, such as boat cruises on the lake itself to see hippo, crocodiles, and a number of different birds. Around the lake, you can then enjoy game drives in the protected area to spot the different African wildlife, such as zebra and impala, which are the stars of the park and the most easily seen animal here.
You can also enjoy guided walks around the lake to see the beautiful scenery and chance wildlife sightings or you can choose to explore the park by horse.
9. See the Kasubi Tombs
Another attraction in Kampala, to learn a little about the recent traditional cultural history of the region, we recommend a tour of the Kasubi Tombs, which is a Unesco World Heritage Listed Site and the burial grounds of four Ugandan kings and the royal family. Originally built in 1882 as the palace of Kabaka Mutesa I and converted to his tomb following his death, the site was then the burial place of the three following kings.
The site gives a look at Buganda culture, and not only the care they took over their royalty, but other culturally important artifacts, such as the Buganda drums used to communicate important events over long distances.
The palace is composed of around 35 buildings and around 300 people live on the grounds themselves. A fireplace is in the middle of the area where the fire is kept lit to warm the king’s spirits.
The Buganda Kingdom is the largest of Uganda’s four tribal kingdoms and has high cultural importance for the country. On tours of the palace, you will learn about the various practices and rituals of Buganda and a visit gives a fascinating insight into some of Uganda’s traditional ways of life.
10. Visit the Ssesi Islands
The Ssese Islands are an archipelago in Lake Victoria that deserves their own mention. Positioned in the north-west corner of the lake, the largest of these islands is Bugala Island where you can find Kalangala town.
The Sesse Islands are home to the Bantu people and were a very spiritual location for the local people. Some of the 84 different islands are only 10,000 square meters (2.5 acres) in size while Bugala Island (the largest) is around 275 square kilometers (67,000 acres). Around half of the archipelago is inhabited, with fishing for the Nile perch and tourism being the main economy.
The islands are not just home to people but are inhabited by a variety of wildlife including some different monkeys, which you can visit on island tours. As a vacation and relaxation spot, you will also enjoy the fantastic white-sand beaches. You can visit the islands aboard a ferry from Entebbe. Although not full of activities, the archipelago offers attractive scenery and makes an excellent relaxation spot for a few nights as there are a number of accommodation options on the islands. There are also areas where you can hire a canoe and have a paddle around.
The most easily accessible is the largest island of Buggala, but you can also visit a number of others, such as Banda Island and Bukasa. Each island has its own charm with Banda Island being an old backpacker destination and the isolated Bukasa Island home to some fantastic beaches.
11. Stand at the Equator
A popular attraction is to visit the equator, which is one of the most famous landmarks in the country. The mark represents the part of the Earth that receives more sunlight than any other and because of this, it’s where you find the world’s most wildlife-rich forests. Tropical rainforests cover only 7% of the world’s surface but contain 50% of all the Earth’s animals and plants.
Uganda is one of the world’s areas where the equator passes straight through the country. The main equator landmark is about 70 km from Kampala towards the southwest of the district and it takes about one hour to reach from the city. There are also markers in other areas following the equator as it bisects the country with others placed in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is the largest national park in Uganda.
With the different equatorial landmarks, you can enjoy some great photographs to document the moment and to imagine where you actually are in the world. You can then buy a little souvenir to remember the area, enjoy internet facilities to send someone an email from the equator, and relax with a coffee thanks to the renovations made by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2007.
12. See the Start of the Nile
While you’re in this region of Africa, it’s worth heading to see the start of the Nile River to imagine the important events in history and the countries this great river has touched before gushing into the Mediterranean Sea. This all starts in this region and you can visit one of the Nile’s sources.
The Nile is one of the longest rivers in the world and ranks along with the Amazon River. One of the sources of this incredible waterway, you can see the start of the Nile at Jinja, which is about a two-hour drive from Kampala through the Mabira forest.
You can enjoy some boat trips around the lake and visit to the hydroelectric power plant at Bujagali Falls. The area around Jinja is also known as the adventure capital of East Africa. You can enjoy mountain biking, horse riding, and other adrenaline activities. The town itself is also worth a visit to see some examples of colonial architecture.
While here, there are many different accommodation options to choose from to make your stay comfortable. The lodges can often arrange your tours and cruises in the region to help maximize your experience at the start of the Nile.
Uganda and Rwanda are the best places to visit in the middle of the year since the climate at this time of the year is warm and favorable for a tour to some of the remote areas with cool views.