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Gorilla tracking ranks among one of the absolute highlights of a trip to Africa for most travelers, and the spine-tingling feeling that you get being so near to one of our closest relatives is hard to describe.
Mountain Gorillas are one of the world’s most endangered apes. It is estimated that there are only about 880 left throughout the world. Almost half of them can be found in Uganda, and populations can also be found in neighboring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Gorilla permit rates
The official price for a gorilla permit in Uganda is $600 per person. The price for a gorilla habituation permit in Uganda is $1.500
The The official price for a gorilla permit in Rwanda is $1.500 per person.
The official price for a gorilla permit in DRC is $400 per person and in some low season months only $200 per person.
Gorilla tracking can be done the whole year through and is evenly as good. There is no higher or lower success rate in the different seasons (95% guaranteed to see them).
In rainy season the tracks in the rain forest might be a bit muddier and your tracking might be a bit longer/ tougher because of that. However; it’s a rain forest, so difference is not all that big compared to dry season. In rainy season you are more likely to track in smaller groups.
How to book a gorilla permit?
Gorilla permits are very popular and not many permits are available (a total of 80 permits per day in Uganda). The permits get sold out far in advance, especially in high season (June – October + December – February). We advise you to book your tour and your permits far in advance.
In all our private tours that are going to Bwindi (gorilla land) the gorilla permit is EXCLUDED in the costing. We have to check availability before confirming your booking.
Can I book a gorilla permit without booking a tour?
Yes, Mystery Gorilla Safaris offers the service to book a gorilla permit for you, even if you don’t book a tour with us.
We charge a handling fee of $50 per person to arrange this for you
“HAIR ON A MAN’S CHEST IS THOUGHT TO DENOTE STRENGTH. THE GORILLA IS THE MOST POWERFUL OF BIPEDS AND HAS HAIR ON EVERY PLACE ON HIS BODY EXCEPT FOR HIS CHEST.” – ANTON SZANDOR LAVEY
Gorilla Habituation Experience
There are two gorilla groups that are being habituated in the Rushaga area of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. You can be part of that habituation program! Under a pilot program, both groups can be tracked and you can spend 4 hours with a gorilla family. You will as well be in a group with a maximum of 4 persons only, instead of 8. The costing is $1.500 USD per permit instead of 600 USD for a normal permit. The habituation experience is only offered in Uganda! The gorilla habituation tracking is only available in Rushaga.
Comparison: Tracking Uganda/ Rwanda
The gorilla tracking process is somewhat different in neighbouring Rwanda. The specific gorilla groups cannot be reserved in advance. Instead, the park ranger will assign visitors to the various gorilla groups according to age, fitness level and preference. For this reason we advise older people, or those wanting only a light hike, to track in Rwanda.
Gorilla permits in Rwanda are more expensive compared to Uganda: US$1.500,- per permit instead of US$600,-.
Uganda Gorilla Groups
There are 13 Habituated gorilla groups that can be trekked in Uganda; 12 in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and 1 in Mgahinga National Park. There are over 400 gorillas in total coming from over 36 gorilla families or social groups. There are also 16 solitary males that roam the ancient forest. In Mgahinga Gorilla Park there are 80 plus gorillas.
The 13 habituated gorilla groups that can be trekked in Uganda translate into 104 gorilla permits per day. Habituated gorilla groups are used to human beings, a process that is about two years and longer. During that time the gorillas become used to human presence and simply go about their daily business while you are visiting them.
There are four areas within Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where you can track the various habituated gorilla families from. These are Buhoma (3 groups), Ruhija (2 groups), Nkuringo (2 groups) and Rushaga (5 groups).
Which gorilla group to visit?
Many travelers ask us about the different gorilla groups and which of the gorilla groups are nicer or bigger. Others base their decision on the distance of the hike to reach the groups.
In Uganda, it’s quite difficult to say which gorilla families are easier or harder to find. Gorillas, as you are aware, are wild animals whose actions are unpredictable. The ease of seeing the gorillas depends on the movements of the gorilla family on that particular day. Some say that the Rushegura group in Buhoma is easy to spot, but we cannot guarantee this.
In Uganda you can find four different areas from which to begin the gorilla tracking. They are each between 2 and 5 hours driving from the other. Therefore, your choice of accommodation also influences the options of the gorilla group you can visit and vice versa.
When you book your tour well in advance, you can give us your preference of Ugandan gorilla group you wish to visit. Gorilla permits are sold out far in advance, so it might be that Mystery Gorilla Safaris has to choose from the few remaining permits for your dates.
When you are not that fit and you can’t walk long distances going up and down, we advise you to go tracking in Rwanda. In Rwanda all tracking safaris leave from the same point, where rangers will select easier and more difficult tracking according to your fitness level. Tracking in Rwanda, however, is much more expensive and often the forest and hike experience is less exciting.
Covering an area of over 3,840 km², Murchison Falls National Park is the largest conservation area in Uganda. The park’s name derives from its famous waterfall: the mighty Murchison Falls, which are formed where the Victoria Nile powerfully forces its way through a narrow cleft before plunging 43m down with a thunderous roar.
Murchison Falls, Uganda’s best safari experience!
The mighty Nile River divides the park into its north and south sections. At the spectacular Murchison Falls the world’s longest river explodes violently through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below. As the river attracts large numbers of game, a boat safari up the Nile provides the perfect opportunity to see and photograph the animals. Carefully watched by crocodiles, hundreds of hippos, buffaloes, water birds, apes and all the other thirsty wildlife that the Nile attracts, you go to the bottom of the Murchison Falls, which approaches you with a thunderous sound. By car or after a short hike you can reach the “Top of the falls” from where you have a perfect view of the impressive falls and the river snaking below.
It’s very important to be well prepared when going for the mountain gorilla trekking expedition; just like you prepare for a trip/ vacation, it’s this same preparation that’s required for a successful mountain gorilla trekking experience.
Tourists should bring along proper clothing, trekking and photographing gear to ease their trekking exercise;
Long Sleeved shirts and Jackets: Trekking happens from tropical rainy forests and it tends to be chilly in the mornings or even rains sometimes. If you dress up in long sleeved shirts, you are kept warm throughout your hike and also protected from the stingy insects and branches.
Short Sleeved Shirts: These are important in case the hike gets tough and hot; tourists always dress up in layers and in case the going gets tough, they easily rip off the long sleeved shirts remaining with the short sleeved shirts. (No need to first undress for a change)
Long Light Trousers: The light long trousers apart from easing your movement through the terrain bushes will also provide you protection from tropical insects and scratchy bushes.
Knee Hugging Woolen Shocks: These are very important during the hike as you tuck in your pants to avoid insects and other forest dwellers climbing up through your trousers.
Hiking Boots: Since the terrain can be both muddy and slippery, it’s very important you use waterproof and well gripped shoes for this excursion.
Rain Jacket: The habitats to mountain gorillas are tropical rain forested areas and therefore the rains tend to fall at any time of the day even in the said dry seasons; bringing a jacket along is very much saving.
Woolen Gloves: These are to help you ease grips during the hiking exercise to avoid hurting yourself and also falling. They also keep your hands warm throughout the hike in case it rains.
Head band and Hair Ties: It’s good to have your hair held in one puff as it helps protect it from getting stingy.
TOILETRIES AND MEDICINES
Anti Malaria Pills: These need to be taken prior to your trip as a safety measure to protect yourself from contacting malaria since tropical rainforests are always associated with anopheles mosquitoes.
Insect Repellants: These are also important to protect you from various insect bites within the forests.
Toilet Papers: Much as it’s not acceptable using the jungle for such; it’s very important you bring this along just in case of anything you are prepared. Just saying.
OTHER IMPORTANT GEAR
Camera: Bring along a camera with less flash light and one with a portable battery; its waterproof bag in case of the rains etc.
Pair of Binoculars: These help you when sightseeing even distant creatures very clearly.
DOCUMENTS & MONEY
Documentary: You need to bring along your passport and gorilla permit so as to avoid stressful moments on the eventful trekking day.
Currency: You need to bring along small domination for tipping your tour guide and also paying off the porters and buying small souvenirs around the park area.
Drinking Water: To keep you hydrated throughout the hike
Packed Lunch and Snacks: It’s also important to bring along some healthy snacks, nuts and dried fruits as it’s hard at times to predict the actual time you are likely to spend on the hike.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most visited game reserve and certainly the most scenic. The park has a big variety of habitats including savanna grassland mixed with various kinds of trees and grassy plains, but also tropical rainforest, different swamps and volcanic features, comprising volcanic cones and deep craters.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is an excellent place to sight large game, track the chimpanzees in the Kyambura Gorge, go bird watching on the Kazinga Channel, and see the famous tree climbing lions in Ishasha.
Animals in Queen Elizabeth NP
The wide variety of habitats in Queen Elizabeth NP leads to many different of species finding their home there. The park includes almost a hundred types of mammals, dozens of different reptiles, and more than 600 different types of birds. The park is home to large groups of hippos, buffaloes, elephants, lions, leopards, but also to smaller mammals like antelope, warthogs, giant forest hogs, topis, bushbucks and hyena’s. A host of primate species like baboons, red tailed monkeys and the famous chimpanzee also roams the territory of this park.
In the Ishasha sector of the park you can see the famous tree-climbing lions. Some tracks in the park pass through large mating grounds of great herds of Uganda kob. The big number of different bird species makes this park a must for birders visiting Uganda. Most of our tours offers safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Boat Safari on the Kazinga Channel
Connecting Lake Edward with Lake George, the wide, 32-km-long Kazinga Channel is an excellent place to experience nature in Queen Elizabeth Park. The channel attracts a rich array of animals and birds, with one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos and numerous Nile crocodiles.
Along the banks, you will see other typical Ugandan wildlife like elephants, antelopes and buffaloes from the surrounding savannah while they are drinking and searching for some fresh grass. Birders can easily spot 60 species of birds during a boat trip including the great white and pink-backed Pelicans, African shoebill, yellow-billed stork and long-tailed cormorants.
Chimpanzee tracking in the Kyambura Gorge
The Kyambura Gorge – also called the ‘Valley of Apes’ – is located in the far eastern corner of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The gorge is drained by the Kyambura River and includes some of the most impressive landscapes you will find in Uganda. The area is an important water source for many animals and is surrounded by savanna, but is generally noted for its high concentration of primate life.
Spanning a distance of 16 km and linking to the Kazinga Channel, the gorge is another world on its own. The rich tropical rainforest is home to a variety of wildlife. Here you will find chimpanzees, baboons, colobus, vervet, and red-tailed monkeys as well as many other mammals and birds.
Tree-Climbing Lions in Ishasha
The Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park lies in the southern part of the park and is home to the famous tree-climbing lions. While lion cubs around the world frequently climb trees for fun, adults rarely do. In Ishasha it is thought that they sit in the branches to get away from the tsetse flies and to enjoy a cool breeze.
But Ishasha offers more than arboreal felines. Buffalo and Uganda kob can be seen when driving over the plains and even elephants are frequently seen in the area, but they tend to be quite aggressive since they have probably just migrated from the Virunga National Park just across the border in Congo where poaching there is a serious threat.
Landscapes in Queen Elizabeth NP
The rolling grasslands are set against the backdrop of the jagged, snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains making the breathtaking landscapes a photographer’s dream. Lake Edward and the much shallower Lake George are often visited by local fishermen, and small crater lakes are home to many buffalo and flocks of pink flamingo.
With great savanna landscapes and mountains rising up in the background, the remote Kidepo Valley NP is a true gem of Uganda’s nature. The park spans 1,442 km2 and ranges from 900 to 2.750 m in altitude. Because of its remote location on the border with South Sudan, Kidepo Valley is possibly the only national park left on the whole continent where you can almost have the park to yourself (average of six visitors per day).
Game viewing is possible by vehicle on dirt roads that crisscross the southern and western parts of the park. A few trunk roads are improved with murram and are passable in all weather.
Kidepo is also home to almost all of the animal species present in the Uganda National Parks system, including lion, giraffe, elephant, buffalo, leopard, ostrich and cheetah.
Kidepo Valley N.P. was recently rated 3rd-best National Park in Africa by CNN
Lake Mburo is the smallest of Uganda’s wildlife parks and very centrally located a few hours’ drive from Kampala and less than one day’s drive from the southwest of Uganda (home of the mountain gorillas). Lake Mburo has rich animal life with more than 315 different bird species and 68 different mammals (including impala, buffalo, leopards, hyenas, jackals, etc). Lake Mburo is also the only park in Uganda where you can find zebras.
Lake Mburo Walking Safari
Lake Mburo N.P. is one of two parks in Uganda where it is permitted to go for a bush walk with an experienced ranger. And this opportunity should not be missed.
From footprints and animal droppings the ranger will tell you which animal has left it and how long ago. It is exciting to approach the wildlife at such close range.
Lake Mburo Horseback Safari
If you are in or passing near Lake Mburo, don’t miss the chance of going on a safari on horseback. You’ll ride for two full hours sighting zebra, gazelle, buffalo, while also enjoying wonderful landscapes along the way.
The horses are very well trained and maintained by their German owners. There are horses available for riders of different levels of experience.
Sitting in the foothills of Mt Elgon and overlooking a vast plain, Sipi Falls is arguably the most beautiful chain of waterfalls in all of Uganda. There are three levels, and though the smaller two are beautiful, it is the 95m main drop that attracts visitors to this area, and most of Sipi’s lodging looks out over it. It is well worth spending a night or two in this spectacular yet peaceful place whether it is a part of your Uganda tour or in connection with a climb of the nearby volcano.
Walks to the Falls
A network of well-maintained (though often muddy) local trails gives you beautiful views of the area and on your way to the bottom of each of the three levels of waterfalls. It is possible to walk off on your own, but we recommend taking a local guide who can explain the flora and fauna and also negotiate the passage through private property.
Village and forest walks are also possible at Mt Elgon National Park’s Forest Exploration Centre nearby, though you will incur the national park fees to hike there.
Aside from the falls themselves, a highlight to visiting Sipi is a tour that takes you through the entire coffee process at a nearby family farm. You will pick the coffee berries, to de-shell and grind them with a traditional mortar and pestle, and roast them on an open fire, before – the best part – finishing with a fine cup of strong Arabica coffee.
Climbing Mt Elgon (5 – 6 days)
Lying on the border between Kenya and Uganda, Mount Elgon is the extinct volcano with the largest surface area in the world. The highest peak is Wagagai, at 4,321m. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes five days to complete, following either Sasa or Sipi trails. Mystery Gorilla Safaris can organise your trip departing and returning to Sipi Falls with all equipment included.
Undeniably the loveliest lake in Uganda, Bunyonyi (‘place of many little birds’) contains 29 islands, many of which are inhabited and terraced for agriculture. Wake to school children paddling dug-out canoes through the morning mist as crested cranes fly overhead.
Activities around the Lake
Activities include swimming, walking, and bird watching as well as canoe and motorboat rides. Cultural and historical tours of nearby villages can also be arranged.
The lake stretches out for you and is navigable by canoe skippers per canoe, shuttling back and forth between the 39 islands in this lake. Children go to school by canoe, and market products are transported in this way.
Lake Bunyonyi is the perfect place for relaxation! Only the countless birds provide still warm melodic sounds on this island.
2 day Hike Lake Bunyonyi to lake Mutanda
This amazing hike/ canoe trip is passing 3 wondeful lakes in the south-west of Uganda: lake Bunyonyi, lake Mulehe and Lake Mutanda.
Start from Lake Bunyonyi or Lake Mutanda, moderate hiking, motorboat & canoe, three lakes, fantastic views, most untouched areas, hike through the Valley of No Living, traditional healer, nursery school fun, exquisite lunch at Mutanda Lake Resort
9am daily departures from any Lake Bunyonyi lodge or Mutanda Lake Resort.
four people: USD 150 pp
three people: USD 175 pp
two people: USD 235 pp
one person: USD 355
The price includes everything during the trek (guiding, boats, activities, tented accommodation, meals and snacks, drinks), plus a tour of the Bakiga cultural museum. It does not include transport from Kabale to Bunyonyi or back from Mutanda, nor accommodation at Bunyonyi or Mutanda.
You can do the tour either from Bunyonyi to Mutanda or the other way around.
Activities at Lake Mutanda
This scenic lake lies just north of Kisoro and makes for a relaxing base from which to explore the area and track mountain gorillas in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. With the misty Virunga volcanoes as a backdrop and ringed by papyrus swamp, there are plenty of hikes, bird watching, and water activities to be enjoyed around this lake.
BIRD SUNDOWNER (boat)
Contemplate your day as you enjoy a nice drink whilst listening to the enganga traditional guitar and relax watching birds.
2 hours by canoe; 1 hour by motorboat
$10pp 5 people or more; $15pp 3/4 people; $20pp 2 people; $35 for 1 person*
MUKOZI VILLAGE LAKE TRIP
After Kyangushu Island with an ancestral burial place you will anchor near the picturesque village of Mukozi. You will be warmly welcomed by the children of the nursery school, pay a visit to a craft maker and a traditional healer and finally stop for a sip of something outrageous in the local bar.
(boat & walking); 3-4 hours
$20pp 5 people or more; $25pp 3/4 people; $35pp 2 people; $60 for 1 person*
LAKE MULEHE TRIP
The boat takes you to Kyangushu Island where in former days the ancestors were buried. Back on the mainland the children of the nursery school will give a short performance. After the school visit, an experienced local fisherman will explain his ways of catching fish. Your local lunch will be served in the village , where you will also see a craft maker at work. The trip will end with a visit to a traditional healer.
Boat & walking); 6-7 hours
$30pp 5 people or more; $35pp 3/4 people; $55pp 2 people; $95 for 1 person*
MUTANDA ISLAND TRIP
Our ride to the burial place of Kyangushu will be followed by Mutanda Island, the biggest and the only inhabited one. On a clear day it offers views of Bunagana (Congo border), Lake Mulehe and Bwindi NP. On a Sunday you can dance with the 70 villagers in their church.
3-4h; 2h motorboat
$l5pp 5 people or more; $25pp 3/4 people; $35pp 2 people; $50 for 1 person*
Visit a Batwa (Pygmy) hideout at Garama Cave
A new tourism trail, result of a collaboration between the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda, is helping the indigenous Batwa pygmy people to keep their culture alive, following their eviction from the forests of southwest Uganda more than two decades ago. The Batwa are Uganda’s traditionally forest-dwelling pygmy people. About a century ago, there was a conflict between the Batwa and the Bantu speaking people in the region. The Bantu tried to expel the Batwa people from the area, so they hideout in Garama Cave. The Bantu had no idea there was a hidden cave in the forest and therefore could not find the crafty Batwa. Your guide will explain how the Batwa lived and fought out of this cave. The cave is 342 meters in length and 14 meters deep, and is now only inhabited by bats, The walk to and from the cave passes through mountain woodland with plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery or watch birds ($85,- pp, including Mgahinga NP fee).
Difficulty: Moderate – Hiking time: 3 – 4 hours – Distance: 3 km – Elevation gain: Very little
Hike in Sabinyo Gorge (‘’where it is always wet’’)
This hike takes you deep into Sabinyo’s lush gorge. It is moist, with thick vegetation and there is a beautiful moss-lined stream along the walk. This trail reveals the true height of Mount Sabinyo. At the end of the gorge you find yourself looking straight up at the peaks. With the peaks up and a small waterfall by your side, the end of the gorge is a great spot for a rest. Keep your binoculars ready! The gorge is one of the best birding spots of the park. Look for the Rwenzori Turaco, Duikers, and Golden Monkeys ($50,- pp, including Mgahinga NP fee).
Difficulty: Moderate – Hiking time: 4 – 5 hours – Distance: 6 km – Elevation gain: Little
Climb Mount Muhabura (‘’the guide’’)
een from all over the Kisoro district, Mount Muhabura truly acts as a guide. Towering above the land, this typical cone shaped volcano provides some of the best views in Uganda. On a clear day one can see all the other Virunga volcanoes, Lake Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi and the peaks of the Rwenzori Mountains. Muhavura does not have the thick forest that Mgahinga and Sabinyo offer. Much of the climb is gradual incline up a rocky surface covered by grasses and small shrubs. The low vegetation gives you excellent views of the area throughout the day. At the top (4127 meter) you are awarded wit fine views over Congo and Rwanda, and a clear crater lake about 36 meter wide. Look out for scarlet-tufted malachite sunbirds among the giant lobelias (65,- pp, including park fees).
Difficulty: tough, very steep! – Hiking time: 8 – 10 hours – Distance: 12 km – Elevation gain: 1700 m.
Climb Mount Sabinyo (‘’Old Man’s Teeth’’)
Mount Sabinyo offers three challenging peaks to climb. The trail takes you up a ridge along the Eastern side of peak 1. If you wish to continue, the climb to peak 2 involves walking a ridge with breath taking drops into the gorges of Rwanda and Uganda. Finally, the hike up to peak 3 is steep with several ladders and much scrambling. You are sure to get your hands dirty en route to peak 3. On top of peak 3 (3669 meter) you will be in Rwanda, Uganda and Congo at the same time! The Sabinyo hike takes you through all different vegetation belts, and you have good chances of seeing Golden Monkeys, Duikers, Rwenzori Turaco and Sunbirds ($65,- pp, including park fees).
Difficulty: tough, very steep! – Hiking time: 8 – 10 hours – Distance: 14 km – Elevation gain: 1300 m.
Activities in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
It is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth, where half the surviving population of the endangered Mountain Gorilla lives in its jungles. The forest has been recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its biological significance.
Bwindi is a large primeval forest located in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Albertine Rift. Designated as a national park in 1991, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park now covers an area of 331km2 and ranges in altitude from 1100 to 2600m. The climate in the park is tropical with annual mean temperature ranges from 7 to 27°C and rainfall ranges from 1,400 to 1,900 millimeters.
The park’s forests are afro-montane, a rare vegetation type found only on the African continent. The park has more than 220 tree species and 100 species of fern.
Bwindi is thought to have one of the richest faunal communities in East Africa. There are an estimated 120 mammal species in the park, ten of which are primates. It also contains more than 350 bird species and more than 200 butterfly species.
Gorilla tracking in Bwindi is the absolute highlight of any trip to Uganda. Entrances to the park and access to the various gorilla groups are as follows:
Buhoma – nestled in the northwest corner of the park, and currently hosting three groups of gorillas, this was the first section to open for gorilla tracking.
Ruhija – located in the remote east of the park, this entrance is home to two groups which can be visited by non-researchers.
Nkuringo – set in a spectacular portion of the southwest of the park; though there is only one group in this section of the park, it is considered one of the most entertaining and relaxed.
Rushaga – the newly opened portion of the southeast of the park; includes three groups available for tracking.
Kibale Forest National Park is located in west-central Uganda just east of the Rwenzori Mountains, near the town of Fort Portal. The 766 km² park predominantly covers evergreen rain forest and ranges between 1100 and 1600m in elevation. Kibale Forest is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests and forms a continuous forest with Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Tracking experiences in Kibale are excellent thanks to several well-maintained walking trails and a large number of resident chimpanzee families in the forest. There is also a wonderfully diverse concentration of other primates (more than any other forest in East Africa, in fact), including: red colobus, red-tailed guenon, white-nosed monkey, gray-cheeked mangabey, blue monkey, L’Hoest’s monkey, and the black and white colobus monkey. In addition, you may see olive baboons, bush babies and nocturnal pottos. Most of our tours offer chimp tracking in Kibale Forest!
Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary
This swamp 6km south of the Forest is home to around 200 species of birds, as well as butterflies and eight different species of primates, including grey-cheeked mangabey. Two- to three-hour swamp walks will take you through grassland, small communities and some beautiful scenery, where the locals are likely to greet you with enthusiastic waves. Many visitors spot three or four different primate species during this walk, though the highlight is catching a glimpse of the great blue turaco!
Activities in Jinja
Jinja has a vibrant downtown and broad leafy residential streets set next to the Nile River. Tourism has grown to compete with the manufacturing past of the town as nearby watersports draw visitors from all around. Here you can get your fix of kayaking, whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, horseback riding, and mountain biking.
Before the arrival of Europeans, Jinja was a small fishing village on the edge of the mighty Nile River which constituted the border between two distinct peoples – the Baganda to the east and the Basoga to the west. With the arrival of British colonial rule in 1906, the town began to grow as a trading centre and important river crossing.
By mid-century, the town had grown significantly with Indians, Africans, and Europeans living in somewhat segregated neighbourhoods on the west side of the river. With the arrival of hydroelectricity (from Owen Falls dam) and the railroad, Jinja was ideally situated to become the industrial capital of the country with sugar and cotton processing making up a large part of employment. During the difficult political crises of the 1970s, Jinja’s trading and manufacturing economies suffered.
White-Water Rafting on the Nile
The stretch of rapids along the upper Nile near Jinja is considered one of the most spectacular places in Africa to go white-water rafting. Despite the intensity of some of the rapids (grade IV and V), most people who venture here are first-time rafters seeking an adrenaline rush as part of their tour in Uganda.
Safety standards are impeccable; with all rafting trips accompanied by a fleet of rescue kayaks and a safety boar you can retreat to if you find things a bit too adventurous for your tastes. In addition to the standard big water runs, there are also less extreme options including a family float trip.
Another way to experience the white water is by solo kayak. Full-day packages include a training course, lunch, and guided trip through the raging rapids. Those seeking a quieter and more effortless experience can choose a tandem or sit-on-top kayak trip.
Some prefer to take in the sights and sounds of the river at a more leisurely pace. Sunset and half-day cruises can be arranged with or without drinks and snacks included. A trip to the source of the Nile is another popular option.
For those seeking a big motorized thrill on the Nile, an exhilarating 90 km/h speedboat trip over the rapids is definitely the preferred activity. The 30-minute trip (US$75 for adults) includes plenty of 360-degree spins, jumps and near misses.
Quad Biking Around Jinja
Quad biking along the beautiful banks of the Nile is a thrill you won’t soon forget. Trips ranging from one to 3.5 hours including visits to local villages can be organised though reputable providers who also giving lessons on their practice circuit.
We can arrange a range of guided tours including visits to the villages between Bujagali Falls and Jinja, which can finish with a boat ride to the source of the Nile River. More intense trips through Mabira Forest Reserve and tailor-made trips can also be organised.
Horseback Ride along the Nile
When you’re in or near Jinja anyway you don’t want to miss the chance to ride horse back for a different perspective. A two- or three-hour ride on these great healthy horses is just one of those special experiences you will not soon forget. The views over the Nile are great and the people waving to you as you pass their local villages will surely bring a smile to your face.
The horses are very well trained and maintained by their Australian owners. There are horses for riders of all experience levels.
Uganda’s only bungee jump departs from a platform perched 44m over the waters of the Nile River. For those with the stomach, this will be an unforgettable experience.
Fishing on the Nile
Both the Nile River and Lake Victoria are home to one of the largest freshwater fish species in the world, the mighty Nile Perch. We can now offer you the opportunity to pursue these fish on both water bodies. You can book from Jinja either full day, morning, or afternoon trips which cater for either the first-timers or the experienced anglers. Multi-day camping trips can also be organised.
All fishing gear, camping equipment (if staying overnight), safety gear and drinking water is supplied.
If you’d like an authentic Ugandan experience, we strongly recommend that you join one of our hiking and cycling tours through the village of Namwendwa just east of Jinja. During your visit, you will learn how to cook the local food (such as the banana mash known as “matoke”), brew your own Ugandan Gin (“waragi”), and of course meet the local people and experience how they live day-to-day.
You can choose to either stay at a local homestead or camp on the farmer’s land. Our trained resident guides will accompany you and introduce you to the members of the community. This is a great opportunity to mix with local people and experience the true flavour of Uganda!
Due to its small size and relative low level of development, Entebbe retains a distinct charm. Most of the broad tree-lined residential streets will eventually lead you to the lakeside or to one of the town’s two golf courses. Though it is tempting to head straight to Kampala from your flight, Entebbe has a few attractions of its own that are worth your time.
Sitting on a peninsula in Lake Victoria less than an hour’s drive south of Kampala, Entebbe is a pleasant town of 80,000 inhabitants. Once the capital of Uganda during British colonial rule, the town continues to host the official residence of the president, a small number of ministries, and UN missions. Entebbe is often the first town in Uganda visitors see since it is also where the international airport (‘EBB’) is located.
Located on 40 lakeside hectares (98 acres), the Entebbe Botanical Garden is an excellent place to relax and observe nature. Visitors are given the chance to see a wide variety of flora endemic to Uganda and other tropical climates. Bird watchers will marvel at the sounds and sights of so many species. And several monkey families also call the garden home. This is a lovely place to spend a few hours or even enjoy a picnic on the peaceful grounds.
Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
Set on the shores of Lake Victoria this former zoo boasts of a wide variety of indigenous wildlife housed in natural settings. Lions, rhinos, giraffes, birds, and many more are spread out over a large area with beautiful walkways. Entrance fees go to support the maintenance of the centre as well as animal conservation efforts throughout the country. A small restaurant serves simple local dishes.
Uganda Reptile Village
African rock python, three-horned chameleon, and forest cobra are just a few of the many species of the fascinating reptiles you can find at the Uganda Reptile Village on the edge of a village just north of Entebbe. Founded and run by a local boat captain with a vision, the “snake park” makes for a fun and educational visit.
Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Ngamba Island
Situated on a small rainforested island a short boat ride from Entebbe, this sanctuary provides the perfect habitat for the rehabilitation of chimpanzees. Some of the rescued chimps are orphans and others were born into captivity without the required skills to make it on their own. The sanctuary staff care for the lovable apes and, in time, attempt to reintroduce them into wild populations. Day and overnight trips to this amazing experience can be organised. Just ask us about the options when booking your tour.
Sunset Cruise on Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria is one of the largest lakes in the world. Why not go on a late afternoon boat cruise among small islands on your way towards the equator line as you view the sun sink towards the horizon? Watch the fishermen cast their nets and enjoy the snacks and drinks provided on board.
If you are an avid bird watcher and have a bit more time we can also incorporate a visit to the Mabamba papyrus swamp area – home to several pairs of the rare shoebill stork. As well as the possibility of seeing these elusive birds, there is an abundance of other water birds, wildlife such as otters and much more to view amongst the tranquil waters of this area.
Situated 320km drive west of Kampala, Fort Portal makes for an ideal base from which to begin discovering this side of Uganda. Queen Elizabeth, Kibale Forest, and Semiliki are all within easy striking distance and with an altitude of 1480m, the evenings are cool and the views over the nearby Rwenzori Mountains are spectacular.
Fort Portal (pop: 48,000) acts as the cultural centre for the Toro kingdom and as agricultural processing centre for the nearby hinterland, espcially the beautifully verdant tea plantations. The downtown is quite clean and well-maintained allowing for comfortable evenings strolls or a browse in the local markets.
Tooro Botanical Gardens
This wonderful public garden is a unique environment where a variety of flowers, medicinal plants vegetables and fruits are grown. It is a magical place to wander around, taste locally grown fruits and vegetables and get to know the rich biodiversity of the region. Birds find an especially favourable environment here. Only minutes away from the centre of Fort Portal, this makes for a nice relaxing sidetrip.
Crater Lake Hikes
The Bunyaruguru crater lake region is located in Western Uganda, only 26km south of Fort Portal. Many of the verdant hillsides containing rich black volcanic soils are still farmed using traditional methods producing diverse plants and herbs and a bewildering variety of crops from tea and coffee through pineapples, passion fruits, bananas, mangoes, avocado; to millet, sweet potato, cassava, sorghum, peanuts, yams and hot chilies.
Hikes of varying lengths among the crater lakes can be organised. Depending on your interest and fitness level, the experience can include waterfalls, crater rims, coffee terraces and even banana gin brewing in oil drums. There are also plenty to see for those fascinated by birds, butterflies, and primates.
The Local Market
Get to know the friendly local sellers and sharpen your bartering skills. The Fort Portal market is located in the lower part of town between the Mpanga River and the junction of the Mubende Road opposite the Pepsi depot. There is always a large choice of fresh vegetables and a huge selection of second-hand clothes.
Located on the border between Uganda and DR Congo, this impressive range includes the third highest mountain in Africa, Mt. Stanely which includes snow-capped Margherita peak (5109m). Stretching about 110 km long, the Unesco World Heritage Site includes an extraordinary range of landscapes, from thick tropical rainforest on the lower slopes transitioning to the bizarre afro-alpine moorland, before finishing in glaciers at the highest reaches.
The quantity and variety of rare plants and animals are still being researched, with new species discovered every year. Two mammals are endemic to the range, the Rwenzori climbing mouse and the Rwenzori red duiker, as are 19 of the 241 known bird species.
Mystery Gorilla Safaris offers an exciting opportunity to combine a 10-day hike to the summit with visits to the mountain gorillas and chimpanzee at lower altitudes.
The Rwenzoris are considered a much more demanding climb than Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya with many of the trails being wet, muddy, and slippery. Treks to suit all levels and needs are available, from one-day jaunts in the forest to 10-day treks with technical climbs. Our 17-day Rwenzori & Apes Tour includes an assent beginning from Kilembe town, including a summit of Margherita Peak (weather permitting).
Activities Mount Elgon National Park
Lying on the border between Kenya and Uganda, Mount Elgon is said to have the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world and a caldera which covers over 40km2 at the top of the mountain. The highest peak, Wagagai, sits at 4,321m and is the second highest in Uganda (after Rwenzori) and the eighth highest in Africa, though millions of years ago it was the continent’s tallest.
Its cool heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provide diverse habitats for flora and fauna. The lower slopes are clothed in tropical montane forest with extensive stands of bamboo. Above 3000m the forest fades into heath and then afro-alpine moorland, which blankets the caldera. Rare plant species present here include the giant groundsel and the endemic Lobelia elgonensis. As far as mammals, the duiker are more commonly seen, but lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of leopard, buffalo, hyena or elephant. Birdwatchers will enjoy the endangered Lammergeier vultures, Jackson’s francolin, and white-starred forest robin.
Numerous day hikes depart from the Forest Exploration Centre near Sipi Falls, which the most popular being a trio of short loops taking in valleys, ridges, and caves.
From the Mbale side of the mountain it is possible to access the Wanale Ridge where day-long hikes can be organised to pass through a variety of heath and moorland landscapes with caves along the way.
Trekking to the Top
Mt Elgon is considered a good alternative to climbing Rwenzori in Uganda or Kilimanjaro in Tanzanis since it offers a milder climate, lower elevation and much more reasonable prices. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes five days to complete, following either Sasa or Sipi trails.
Mystery Gorilla Safaris organises this tour to start from Sipi Falls. Full-board accommodation before and after the trekking is included at the great Sipi River Lodge overlooking one of the many waterfalls. A day of hiking to the falls (1800m) is also included to help you adjust to the altitude and climate. Hence, you will need to allow a total of six days for this option.
All equipment is included, so you only have to bring good clothes, your camera, and… eh… yourself!! The best times to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry seasons of June-August and December-March. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main caldera or the peaks. A choice of trails are available, making for interesting and unique flora, fauna, waterfalls, lakes, caves, gorges and hot springs.
Set on a large plateau between the mountains of Sudan and the Eastern Rift escarpment of Kenya, Karamoja has been the home of a proudly unique people still surviving as pastoralists. The climate is dry and windswept, but reveals beautiful panoramas, sunsets over the mountain peaks and amazingly starry nights.
Culture and Activities
The colorful blankets, piercings and beads they wear, as well as the language and other cultural traits of the Karimajong set them apart from other tribes in Uganda. These differences and the cattle raiding that is practiced across the border in Kenya has been a source of tension in the region.
Karamoja remains one of the least developed areas and one which few tourists venture into. Safety was once a serious issue, but things have calmed down significantly in recent years encouraging visits the regional capital, Moroto and Kidepo Valley National Park. Those interested in a cultural scene reminiscent of the American Wild West will want to head to Kotido for the Wednesday morning cattle market.
Kampala (pop: 1.5m) is a dynamic and engaging city, with few of the hassles of other capitals in the region. It’s safe to walk around virtually everywhere in the daytime and many of the city’s leafy hills have pleasant restaurants with a surprisingly diverse selection of cuisines.
This is a city full of stark contrasts. From the impossibly chaotic jam of central Kampala, with streets packed with shoppers, hawkers, and mind-boggling bus stations, one can easily head up Nakasero Hill with broad tree-lined streets, expensive hotels, and foreign embassies.
Modern-day Kampala (or ‘hill of impala’) has grown out of the traditional capital of the Buganda kingdom. Beginning with the arrival of the British who had originally placed the seat of government in nearby Entebbe, the city has expanded to encompass over 40 hills and valleys and to become the economic, political and cultural capital of the country.
Nearly all of our tours will spend at least one night in the capital city, and there are several worthy attractions that may interest you.
The huge thatched-roof palace is of great significance to the Buganda kingdom. The Unesco World Heritage-listed site was tragically destroyed in an arson attack in 2010, but reconstruction has recently begun (this time with more fire-resistant fibers). The four most recent kings in the lineage are buried here, and as per tradition, the families of their widows have constructed their homes in the compound surrounding. Interesting guided tours are available.
Uganda National Museum
Considered one of the best museums in East Africa as much for its contents as for the building design, there’s plenty here to hold your interest for an afternoon. In addition to the collections covering archeology, ethnography, geology, and natural history, there is an interactive display of traditional musical instruments and even an old Model T Ford. A number of different tribal huts has been constructed in the back garden which can, of course, be toured as well.
Once rumour got around that a man named Owino had staked out a small spot under the eaves of the Nakivubo stadium to sell his wares, many other sellers got the same idea. Today, hundreds of stalls have been set up offering everything from traditional medicine and second-hand clothing to televisions and hot meals. Finding your way through the maze of mostly wooden structures can be a challenge, but it is part of the fun!
Bicycle Tours Around Kampala
These popular tours are designed by our partner Uganda Bicycle to combine recreation with the highest safety standards. Explore some of the less visited parts on the outskirts of Kampala, including craft shops, schools, local villages, and green areas. Bikes can also be hired if you’d like to go solo.
Kabaka’s Palace in Mengo
Built in 1922, this former home of the Buganda king has also served as army barracks during the Obote and Amin administrations before becoming a museum. Though visitors cannot enter the building itself, the guide will give you a good overview of the recent history of the kingdom and the palace grounds including a visit to the armory which was allegedly used by Amin’s henchmen as a torture chamber.
Sitting on a hilltop surrounded by expansive and well-kept gardens, this temple represents the center of the Bahai religion on the African continent. It is worth a visit both to learn about the history of the Bahai as well as to get away from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. Bring a packed lunch and enjoy the peace and relative quiet.
Old Kampala Mosque
The prominent National Mosque was begun by Idi Amin in 1972 and finished in 2007 by Colonel Gadaffi with the assistance of Moroccan and Middle Eastern craftsmen. Guided tours take visitors through the main payer hall and up to the top of the minaret for commanding views of the surrounding city. Female visitors must cover shoulders and legs (shawls are available for hire) and no visits allowed during Friday prayers.
Activities and tours around Kisoro
Set in the beautifully verdant hills of the southwestern corner of Uganda, Kisoro serves as a popular base for tourists, here primarily for nearby Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, track golden monkeys or to climb volcanoes. The town isn’t much to look at, but affords a kind of frontier atmosphere that many find charming.
Visiting the Ssese Islands!
This lush archipelago of 84 islands along Lake Victoria’s northwestern shore boat some stunning white-sand beaches and a very slow rhythm.
Ssese remains a great place to kick back and read a good book. There are canoes for hire, but swimming is unadvisable due to risks of bilharzias and the occasional hippo or crocodile.
Early in the last century, sleeping sickness hit the islands, which forced the original inhabitants to flee. People slowly drifted back and most settlement dates from the 1980s. There are few Bassese people anymore and their Lussese language has almost disappeared.
Because of the lack of settlement, the islands were largely unspoiled, but things have changed drastically in recent years. Overfishing and massive deforestation to make way for palm oil plantations have taken their toll on the biodiversity of the area.
Whereas most visitors to Ssese spend their time on Buggala Island where the ferryboat disembarks, Banda Island is a much more peaceful escape from the mainland. The Island Resort there offers comfortable accommodation and good food. Guests can walk around the island, paddle around Lake Victoria in canoes or kayaks or just hang out in a hammock slung between two palm trees.
Hoima (pop: 43,000) is a pleasant and fast-growing town in western Uganda roughly 4 hours’ drive from Kampala and 1 hour from Masindi. It is part of the Bunyoro-Kitara kingdom and the administrative and commercial centre for the district of the same name. It sits only 20 miles from the shore of Lake Albert across which is the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The lake is the site of newly discovered oil reserves which are expected to bring changes to Hoima and the district in the near future.
St. Peter’s Anglican Cathedral
Located in lovely grounds some 2 km from the town centre in the direction of the Butiaba road, the cathedral is a beautifully serene site in the early mornings. A visit for Sunday mass is a very special experience whatever your faith.
Located 4 km from town along the Masindi road, Mparo was chosen as the capital of Bunyoro kingdom in 1872 and marks the site where King Omukama Kabarega was interred in 1923. The burial ritual was quite grisly and is best described by the guide when visiting the site to more fully imagine the scene at the time. The grave site is includes many of the Kaberega’s personal effects in a dome-like structure made from natural materials similar to the more famous Kasubi Tombs in Kampala.
Another interesting site in Hoima is the royal throne room of Bunyoro-Kitara which is open to visitors by prior arrangement. It includes the traditional nine-legged throne swathed in leopard skins and barkcloth. An array of spears, royal headdresses and musical instruments are also on display.
This sleepy fishing village on the shore of Lake Albert is the permanent resting place of the lake steamer SS Coryndon which was shipwrecked during the floods of 1962. For much of the first half of the 20th century, the western rift valley lakes were used extensively to traverse the continent. It is possible to visit this site en-route to Murchison Falls National Park.
Activities and tours in Gulu
This is the largest town in northern Uganda and one of the hardest hit during the decade-long Lord’s Resistance Army conflict. However, optimism reigns as nearly half the city now seems to be under construction, store shelves are full, and people are arriving from elsewhere in the country hoping to cash in on the coming economic boom partly through trade with South Sudan just to the north.
In addition to being a stopover on the way to Kidepo Valley National Park, visitors may be interested in going on a guided tour of a charity project assisting war-affected children to reintegrate into society.
Typical of secondary towns in Uganda, the main road of Kabale (pop: 41,000) is potholed and relatively uninteresting. However, it is the green, scenic, and heavily cultivated hills surrounding the town that make the area special. Kabale serves as a gateway to relaxing Lake Bunyonyi, gorgeous Lake Mutanda, and the thrilling gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Home of Edirisa
This interesting little museum houses a replica traditional homestead, built of sticks and papyrus, showing how the local Bukiga people lived a century ago. In addition to the museum, you’ll find a small travellers’ village tucked away in the polka-dotted building. There is menu with interesting meals, a good gift shop and internet access.
This is also the departure point for Edirisa’s canoe trekking in the highlands north and west of Kabale. A wide range of multi-day options combining hiking and paddling among the lakes make for an excellent way to experience the region.
This national park covers 220 sq km of the valley floor that forms a link between the heights of East Africa and the vast, steaming jungles of central Africa. It harbours some intriguing wildlife and sulphur hot springs which can be seen on a short day walk.
Birdwatchers come for the central African species residing at their eastern limits, such as the Congo serpent eagle. At least 130 of the 144 Guinea-Congo forest bird species have been recorded here and nearly 50 species are found nowhere else in East Africa. Nine primate species call this park home, including De Brazza’s monkey, and many endemic mammal species such as Zneker’s flying mice.
TORO-SEMLIKI WILDLIFE RESERVE
Activities in Semliki Wildlife Reserve
Recovering slowly from years of war and pillage, this reserve now hosts a significant number of wildlife species including waterbuck, reedbuck, bushbuck, buffalo, leopard, elephants and hyenas. A number of lions have also recently returned to the reserve, most likely refugees from the conflict in neighboring DRC.
In and around the Lake
Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and the chief reservoir of the White Nile. Its waters fill a shallow depression in the centre of the great plateau that stretches between the Western and Eastern Rift Valleys. Among the freshwater lakes of the world it is exceeded in size only by Lake Superior in North America.
The search by Europeans for the source of the Nile led to the sighting of the lake by the British explorer John Speke in 1858. Formerly known to the Arabs as Ukerewe, the lake was named by Speke in honor of Queen Victoria of England. Though other headwaters in the mountains of Rwanda and Burundi are being researched, the mighty Lake Victoria is still seen by many to be the source of the Nile.
Waters from the large lake leave via the Victoria Nile to head north to join the Albert Nile in northern Uganda to become the full White Nile.
What to do
The lake also offers plenty of tourist activities. You can visit the source of the Nile in Jinja, visit one of the Ssese islands, feed the chimpanzees at Ngamba Island or relax at one of the fine resorts which are located on islands or peninsula’s in Lake Victoria. Of course you might also consider a fishing trip on the lake in search of the giant Nile Perch! Lake Victoria has more than 200 species of fish, of which the Tilapia is the most economically important.