Today we welcome AAC Journey Specialist Diana Lopez-Ruiz to the blog. She traveled to Uganda earlier this year and is excited to share her experiences!
One of the biggest reasons I chose travel as a profession was its huge potential for personal growth. As I travel to stay up to date on our destinations, including checking out new accommodations and experiencing the activities we recommend to our guests, I also have the chance to meet new people, seek out new environments and push my personal boundaries. This latest adventure in Uganda hit all the right notes and I am excited to have new ideas and the very latest information to share with our travelers.
When I arrived in Entebbe, Uganda’s second largest city, my luggage didn’t arrive with me. I knew I should have carried on, but I took a chance that ultimately did not pay off. Thankfully, I knew what to do – I filled out a claim form and planned to pick up some essentials in the morning. My luggage eventually arrived – just in time for the big treks on my trip – I was so grateful! Going forward I plan to only travel with carry-on luggage, just as we recommend to our clients.
I stayed at the Protea Hotel in Entebbe. The location is magical, with most rooms having views of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria. I was there during the rainy season and was lucky enough to see and hear a few spectacular thunderstorms over the lake during my stay. While in Entebbe, I had the opportunity to visit Ngamba Island, a sanctuary established in 1998 to provide refuge for formerly captive chimpanzees. I learned it takes anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to integrate new chimps into the group that now live on the island. It was very special to learn and see all the work that goes into making sure these chimps can live as wild a life as they can on the island. The keepers have such passion and care for what they do. The boat ride to the island was amazing as well – about 1 hour each way and the driver stopped on the equator on the return boat ride back to mainland. It’s neat having that compass picture!
My second morning I took a boat trip to the Mabamba Wetlands in Lake Victoria to see the shoebill stork. It’s a spectacular pre-historic looking bird and often a bucket list species for birders. I loved every minute of this activity – from the 40-minute boat ride to the wetlands, the equatorial rain, jumping into a canoe to glide through the wetlands and finally spending a full hour with the shoebill. I recommend this to anyone adventurous with extra time in Entebbe!
Next up was Murchison Falls National Park, with a stop along the way to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. There I enjoyed a fun trek through the forest where we were able to get within 20 feet of rhinos. It was incredibly memorable, and it really made me appreciate the work the trackers do watching the rhinos 24/7. My favorite activity in Murchison Falls National Park was the delta boat ride. My goodness, what majestic scenery! I saw so many bird species, huge hippo pods and experienced serene quiet. We were the only boat on the river that day. The sky reflecting on the river made for some of the most beautiful surroundings I’ve ever seen.
There aren’t many lodging options in the park, making for a more exclusive experience for visitors. I fell in love with Nile Safari Lodge which was newly rebuilt. Each of its 8 bandas overlook the Nile River and have indoor and outdoor showers, a large soaking tub, his and her sinks, an extra-large bed while offering some of the best hospitality in the country. Guests are totally spoiled during their stay! Other activities to enjoy while at the lodge are seeing the incredible Murchison Falls, a boat ride on the Nile to the bottom of the falls, game drives, lion tracking and more.
Then it was on to Kibale Forest National Park, known for chimpanzee trekking. I highly recommend this activity! It’s an adrenaline rush to be trekking through the forest, hearing all the sounds, making sure to follow your guides instructions and keeping up with the group until you find the chimps. The chimps are fun and fascinating to watch – we were lucky enough to see the chimps both in the trees and on ground. A whole family walked right past us, going about their day.
We stayed at Ndali Lodge, located about 50-minutes’ drive from park headquarters. It’s a beautiful, owner-run lodge that feels like a home away from home. Dinners are candlelit and take place at a communal table. The food is superb with many of the ingredients coming from the farm across their scenic crater lake. You can enjoy not only chimp trekking while staying at Ndali, but also a crater lake hike, farm walks, canoeing, swimming and more! Another option is Primate Lodge, where I stayed as well. It’s located about 10 minutes from park headquarters and is newly rebuilt. I was happy to see such a happy and excited team running this lodge. The meals were delicious, and the rooms were expansive with a very comfortable bed. You’ll love your stay at either lodge!
Up next was Queen Elizabeth National Park, which was a nice change of pace, taking us from water and jungle to open savanna. As soon as we drove into this region, we were met by elephants crossing the road. It was magical and made me appreciate Uganda’s vastness and diversity. The Nile River also runs through this park, making for excellent water safari activities. I enjoyed a boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel – it was amazing to see how many hippos live in these waters! We stayed at Elephant Plains Lodge, nestled in a beautiful setting at the top of a hill overlooking the park. The views from the lodge are jaw-dropping (especially the sunset!), you can see a multitude of birds on the grounds and it has a fantastic pool! Kyambura Gorge Lodge is another accommodation option in the area. The lodge is quite beautiful, with massive rooms, indoor and outdoor showers and myriad activities to enjoy like chimpanzee trekking in the Kyambura Gorge, hiking, tree planting, community village tours and more!
I then went to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Seeing the mountain gorillas was an experience I will cherish for the rest of my life! We came face to face with a family that had a 5-month-old baby. The little one was quite curious and always stayed by her mom’s side. The strapping silverback gorilla kept expressing his dominance, slapping his chest and staring us down. Two brothers joked and played and pushed one another around. It was an unforgettable experience. The guides and trackers were outstanding in making the experience safe and ensuring the gorillas were not bothered, explaining how we must act and show respect to the gorillas during our time in the forest – we were guests in their home after all.
My guide was truly special and a wealth of knowledge; I learned so much from him. He shared his wisdom about Ugandan culture and I lost count of the number of bird species he helped us identify during our travels. In addition to fantastic plains game and other species, he managed to track and find the famous tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park. A guide really makes or breaks a trip like this one and we work with some of the best in the industry!
Uganda lives up to its nickname, the “Pearl of Africa.” From hundreds of bird species, small and large wildlife, impenetrable forests and rolling hills to wide open savanna, small and large primate species, and Africa’s largest lake – there’s something for every tourist to enjoy. The accommodations were lovely, comfortable and safe, and I met some of the kindest humans I’ve ever encountered. It’s an incredibly special place on a wonderous continent.
Photos courtesy AAC Journey Specialist Diana Lopez-Ruiz