When you think of going on a safari, Uganda most likely does not pop into your head first thing. Instead you are imagining driving along the plains of the Serengeti or through Kruger National Park in South Africa. While this trip to Uganda did not start off with the intent of being a safari destination, I learned along the way what an amazing place it is for not only seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, but for seeing a myriad of other wildlife including big game.
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Uganda: A Brief Introduction
Uganda is a landlocked country located in East Africa, sharing borders with Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Kenya and across Lake Victoria, Tanzania. Uganda is located on the equator, which surprisingly means pretty moderate weather year round.
International flights arrive to Entebbe International Airport, even though Kampala is the capital of the country. English is the official language of the country and the Ugandan Shilling is the official currency.
Many visitors come to Uganda specifically for the opportunity to see mountain gorillas in the wild. Uganda has the greatest population of mountain gorillas, making it the ideal destination for outdoor and animal enthusiasts.
Gorillas is the obvious answer, but I can’t give myself credit for this trip at all. My friend Eric at TravelBabbo needed to use a flight credit and announced on Facebook that he was going to Uganda and did anyone want to go. To be honest up until that point I hadn’t thought much of Uganda because I knew the age for trekking with gorillas was 15, so I had a few more years before my son could go (the number 1 wildlife enthusiast here!). But I said sure as I am always up for an adventure, especially with 3 of my favorite travel blogging friends.
Initially we had planned to go in February which is the second of the two dry seasons, but life had other plans and we had to reschedule for July – the height of peak season! Luckily we were able to get room bookings and gorilla permits thanks to the help of The Uganda Safari Company who managed our trip for us.
What You Need To Know Before Going to Uganda
Uganda is a safe country with low crime rates. However, it is best to always stay up to date on the latest information when traveling near the South Sudan border region or near Karamoja in the far north.
Tourist travel in Uganda typically by hired drivers/cars and by small bush planes. Public transportation is limited to the larger towns.
RELATED POST: 10 Must Read Tips on Planning Your Trip to Uganda
Best Time to Travel to Uganda
According to locals you can travel to Uganda all year long. However if you are planning to go for a safari or for gorilla trekking, the best time to visit is during the dry season from June to August and from December to February. Apart from those months, the country is in rainy season and it can be a lot harder to get around with the potential for heavy rains.
Entry Requirements for Uganda
The only required vaccination for entry into Uganda is Yellow Fever, however it is highly recommended that visitors take anti-malarial medication as it is a high risk country. In addition to these, it is always recommended to consult a travel doctor for any other vaccinations that may be suggested.
Most nationalities will need to secure an E-visa prior to arrival in Entebbe. You can easily do this for $50 online through Uganda Immigration. This is the only authentic application portal for Uganda visas. When applying for a visa online, you will need to submit a copy of your passport page, a recent passport size photo and proof of yellow fever vaccination.
Note, one of our most important Uganda tips is that you travel with travel insurance. For this trip I used SafetyWing which was affordable and covered all the activities I planned to engage in.
How to Get to Uganda?
Flying from the west coast of the United States means a long travel day with at least one connection. The best options for this trip was on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul or Qatar Airways via Doha. It is a long way on either flight, but if you can sleep on flights, they both work out perfectly arriving at Entebbe early in the morning. Other flights transit through Europe, but given the difficulties there this summer, I highly recommend going through Turkey or the Middle East for any flight into the African continent.
5 Reasons Uganda Needs to Be on Your Bucket List
1 | Mountain Gorillas (Obviously!)
One of the biggest reasons people head to Uganda is for the opportunity to see mountain gorillas. There are fewer than 1100 mountain gorillas left in the world (and none in zoos). Uganda is home to around 600 mountain gorillas, making this the ideal destination for gorilla trekking. With 18 habituated families and the only place in the world where you can participate in a habituation experience, it’s no wonder this is one of the more popular destinations for gorilla safaris.
Here you can choose to spend 4 hours with gorilla families as they are going through the habituation process (getting used to being around humans) or go for the more popular 1 hour experience with habituated gorillas. Most visitors head to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, but there is also 1 habituated family at Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the far southwest of the country.
RELATED POST: Interested and ready to know more? We have you covered with everything you need to know about gorilla trekking in Uganda.
While this was the reason for our trip as well and is a worthy reason in its own right, there is even more to see in this majestic country.
2 | Chimpanzee Tracking
Not only can you see mountain gorillas in the wild here in Uganda, but you can also go chimpanzee tracking. Clamoring through the forest, over log bridges, chasing down the loud and rascally chimpanzees is such a treat. Once you find them, chilling under a tree or playing with their chimp friends you will be in awe. Just like with the gorillas, once you find your chimpanzees you will get to spend 1 hour with them in the wild.
Chimpanzee trekking is mostly in the Kibale Forest National Park, but can also be found in Budongo Forest in Murchison Falls National Park, Kyambura Gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park (where we went), Semuliki Wildlife Reserve and Kalinzu Forest.
While on the trek you will most likely see other primates like the black and white colobus monkeys and red-tailed monkeys. This experience tends to last 1-3 hours, with 1 hour spent with the chimpanzees themselves.
3 | See Other Wildlife Including Big Game
One of the biggest surprises on this visit to Uganda was the abundance of other wildlife in the country. I had my sights so narrowly set on the mountain gorilla experience that I was so excited to find there is so much more to this country than I had expected.
Away from tracking jungle dwellers, Uganda has an abundance of grassland species as well waiting to be spotted on game drives or a river cruise. Here in Uganda you have the opportunity to see African lions, plus the rare tree climbing lions near Ishasha, African elephants, leopards, cape buffaloes, rhinos as well as crocodiles, hippos and more than 1000 species of birds including the shoebill stork.
Most of these animals and so many more can be found in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park, Semuliki Valley National Park and the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Our top picks include a river safari boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and game drives through Queen Elizabeth National Park.
4 | Hospitable Locals
While this trip was quick, one of the things that stood out the most was how amazingly friendly and welcoming the locals are. From the moment you step off your plane in Entebbe, you will notice the wide smiles and happiness expressed by Ugandans. Uganda is a true melting pot of cultures with more than 30 indigenous languages represented by 5 ethnic groups distributed across the country.
No matter where you go, you will be presented with waves and hellos by all that you pass. English is the official language of the country which helps in connecting more easily with locals. From our excellent guides to hotel staff, vendors on the roadside and children everywhere, I felt so welcomed. No matter where I went I was welcomed with open arms and friendly smiles.
5 | Myriad of Other Adventures
Uganda is filled with a whole host of outdoor adventures that are well worth exploring during your visit to the country. From white water rafting at the source of the Nile River in Jinja to hiking to the top of Murchison Falls after taking a cruise along the Victoria Nile there is so much on offer. In Jinja alone, you can bungee jump, kayak, go horseback riding and more.
The unbeatable natural beauty of Uganda along with favorable weather year round make this one of the best countries for adventure seekers.
Where to Stay In Uganda
While this trip was short, the accommodation options were some of the best I have experienced anywhere in the world. This trip had a variety of options from unique safari type tents to luxury mountain escapes. I would return to every one of these hotels in a heartbeat.
The things I loved most about these 3 properties were their focus on being eco friendly – no plastic water bottles to be found. Each of the hotels provided filtered water in the rooms and in the lobby, eco friendly toiletries and none of the 3 had air conditioning. The service at all three was outstanding and the food was extraordinary! We literally ate our weight in salad at the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge! These are not budget accommodation options by any stretch of the imagination, but if your budget allows, I highly recommend finding your way to these hotels.
This short trip to Uganda was an eye opening experience providing a new view into the country often only known for gorilla trekking. I was so surprised by all of the animal encounters we had on our drives from one destination to another and on our Kazinga Channel boat safari. The animals were outstanding, but also the people were extraordinary nice and welcoming of visitors. This country is really underrated in the safari and adventure destination realm. While not the same experience you might get in Tanzania or South Africa, if you are looking for a one stop safari destination, this is it. You get gorillas, chimps and all the other animals too!
Our trip was booked through The Uganda Safari Company and was not sponsored. They were amazing and really took care of everything we needed. Our guides Elton and Eric were outstanding and just all around amazing people to spend time with. If you reach out to them, please let them know you heard about them here.
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