Birding + Culture Tour of Uganda – 18 days
Day 1: Arrival
Arrival at Entebbe Airport and transfer to Entebbe Travellers’ Inn for the night.
Day 2: Birding Mabamba Swamp and afternoon transfer to Masindi
After an early breakfast, we drive to Mabamba Swamp, 50 km west of Kampala. Stop en route at Mpigi Swamp for papyrus rarities. Look out for; the White-winged Warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, Yellow-backed Weaver, Northern Brown-throated Weaver, Blue-headed Coucal, and other swamp specialties.
We continue to the Mabamba Wetland. At the Swamp, most of the birding is done on a canoe, paddled by our local site guides. Watch out for the Shoebill both in the sky and down in the marsh. Also watch out for the; Swamp Flycatcher, African Purple Swamp Hen, African Water Rail, Common Moorhen, Lesser Jacana, African Jacana, African Pigmy Goose, White-faced Whistling Duck, Squacco Heron, Blue-breasted Bee-eater, Winding Cisticola, Goliath Heron, and Black Crake.
In the afternoon, we bird all the way to Masindi.
Stay at Masindi Hotel.
Day 3: Birding in Budongo Forest-Royal Mile and Busingiro Section
We bird Budongo’s famous Royal Mile in the early morning. It is a wide forestry track considered by many to be the country’s premier forest birding locality. This is the best place in Uganda for Nahan’s Francolin, Cassin’s Spinetail, and Chestnut-capped Flycatcher. There are many confusing forest Greenbuls to test us including; Spotted, Xavier’s, White-throated, Red-tailed and Honeyguide Greenbuls. Canopy flocks support Yellow-mantled Weaver, Rufous Thrush and Uganda Woodland Warbler. The undergrowth along the track holds numerous skulkers including; Scaly-breasted, Brown and Pale-breasted Illadopses, Fire-crested Alethe, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Red-tailed Ant-Thrush, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Yellow Long-bill, and Grey-throated Tit-Flycatcher. We will keep an eye on any openings in the forest canopy such as; Cassin’s and Crowned Hawk Eagles, Cassin’s and Sabine’s Spinetails, and White-throated Bee-eaters are all possible. The area around the Park Headquarters is the only site in East Africa for the elusive canopy dwelling Ituri Batis.
Stay at Masindi Hotel
Day 4: Transfer to Murchison Falls National Park
After breakfast, we drive to Murchison Falls National Park. Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest National Park (3893sq.km) and it protects a huge chunk of untamed savannah bisected by the mighty River Nile. Today it is part of the even much larger Murchison Falls Protected Area (5072sq.km) which includes the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves. It is named for the dramatic Murchison Falls where by the World’s longest river explodes violently through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge in a frothing pool 43 m below. It is one of Uganda’s oldest conservation areas; it was initially gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 to protect a savannah that Winston Churchill described in 1907 as ‘Kew Gardens and the Zoo combined on an unlimited scale. The park has 76 mammal species including; the lion, elephant, leopard, hippopotamus, Rothschild giraffe, Cape buffalo, hartebeest, oribi, warthog, and the Uganda Kob. The park also hosts 360 bird species including the rare Shoebill Stork.
Stay at Paraa Safari Lodge
Day 5-6: Birding, Game Drives and Afternoon Launch Trip
After breakfast, we have a game drive to the rolling plains where you will have chances of viewing; Hartebeest, Lions, Buffalo, Primates, Mongoose, Giraffe and Elephants. After lunch, we will have an afternoon launch cruise where you have chances to view huge Nile Crocodiles, big Pods of Hippos, and other wildlife. You will also be able to see a wide variety of water birds like; the Shoebill, Secretary Bird, Abyssinian Roller and Ground Hornbill, Pied Kingfishers and many more. Nights at Paraa Safari Lodge.
Day 7: Transfer to Kibale National Park.
After breakfast, we will drive to Kibale forest arriving in Fort Portal in the late afternoon. Kibale forest national park is the best safari destination for chimpanzee tracking in East Africa. It contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of all tropical forests in Uganda. It hosts 13 species of primates including the Chimpanzee. It has 1450 chimpanzees and these represent Uganda’s largest population of this endangered primate. It is also home to the rare L’hoest’s Monkey and East Africa’s largest population of the threatened Red Colobus Monkey.
Other primates that you may see include; the Black and White Colobus, Blue Monkey, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Red-tailed Monkey, Olive Baboon, Bush baby and Pottos. Kibale forest cover predominates in the Northern and Central parts of the Park. Kibale is highest at the park’s Northern tip which stands at 1590m above sea level. The park also boasts 325 bird species, including 6 that are endemic to the Albertine Rift region. They include; the Black capped Apalis, Blue-headed Sunbird, Collared Apalis, Dusky Crimsonwing, Purple-breasted Sunbird and Red-faced Woodland Warbler. If you are lucky you may also see; the African Pitta, Green-breasted Pitta, Black Bee-eater, Yellow-spotted Nicator, Yellow-rumped Tinkerbird, Little Greenbul, Black-eared Ground-Thrush, Brown-chested Alethe, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Abyssinian Ground-Thrush, and the Crowned Eagle.
Overnight at Ndali Lodge.
Day 8: Chimpanzee tracking in the forest – Uganda
After an early breakfast we drive to Kibale National Park visitor center for briefing and chimp tracking. The activity may last from a few hours to several hours. Kibale forest is home to 13 primates of Uganda.
Birding in the afternoon along the main road may be productive. Depending on the weather predictions, birding Bigodi wetland is also productive with riverine forest birds. Kibale National Park is a good site for a number of birds that are hard to find elsewhere including; the Speckle-breasted Woodpecker, Cabanis’s Greenbul and Joyful Greenbul as well as White-spotted Flufftail, Dusky and Olive Long-tailed Cuckoos, Lesser Honey guide, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, White-chinned Prinia, Grey Apalis, Olive-green Camaroptera and White-collared Oliveback.
Stay at Ndali Lodge
Day 9: Transfer to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
After breakfast, we drive to Queen Elizabeth national park. The Park which is named after the Queen of England who visited it in 1954 is the second largest national park in Uganda. Queen Elizabeth national park boasts the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world. This is evidenced by the presence of open savannah, rainforest, dense papyrus swamps and brooding crater lakes, and the vast Lake Edward. Queen Elizabeth National Park has almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 612 bird species hence making it a superb safari territory, with elephants, a profusion of hippos, the elusive Giant Forest hog and handsome Uganda Kob all regularly sighted around the tourist village on the Mweya Peninsula – which also boasts a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Stay at EnganziLodge.
DAY 10: Game drive and afternoon boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel.
There will be a morning game drive searching for; Lions, Elephants, Buffaloes, Uganda Kobs, Waterbucks, Warthorgs and many more. After lunch, you have an exotic and exciting launch trip on the Kazinga Channel. The launch trip is one of the most exciting water activities in Uganda. The Kazinga channel is a narrow neck of water that connects Lakes George and Edward, with excellent photographic opportunities for waterside birds and abundant Hippopotamus, huge families of buffalos, and elephants. And you are likely to encounter some bird species as well.
Stay at Enganzi Lodge.
Day 11: Travel to Bwindi Forest national park
You start early after breakfast, We will also drive through the Ishasha section where, if lucky, you may be able to view tree climbing lions and continue to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Bwindi Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to approximately half of the world endangered population of Mountain Gorillas. This vast reserve offers arguably the most productive montane forest birding in Africa and supports 23 of Uganda’s 24 Albertine Rift endemic bird species. Once part of a much larger forest that included the Virunga Volcanoes in neighbouring Rwanda, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is now an ecological island within a sea of human cultivation and therefore of big conservation importance.
Forest birding in Bwindi ranks the best in Uganda. It is home to 23 highly localized Albertine Rift Endemics. Special birds include; Black-faced Rufous Warbler, Grauer’s Warbler, Banded Prinia, Black-throated Apalis, Mountain Masked Apalis, Red-throated Alethe, Yellow-eyed Black Flycatcher, Ashy Flycatcher, Dusky-blue Flycatcher, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Chin-spot Batis, Rwenzori Batis, Black-and-white-Shrike-flycatcher, Yellow-bellied Waxbill, Magpie Mannikin, Yellow-crowned Canary, Thick-billed Seed-eater, Streaky Seedeater, African Green Broadbill, Shelly’s Crimsonwing, Oriole Finch, Mountain Buzzard, Ayre’s Hawk Eagle, Handsome Francolin, Black-billed Turaco, Barred Long-tailed Cuckoo, African Wood Owl, Rwenzori Nightjar, Scarce Swift, Bar-tailed Trogon, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Black Bee-eater, Western Bronze-naped Pigeon, Red-chested Owlet, Tullberg’s Woodpecker, Elliot’s Woodpecker, African Broadbill, Western Green Tinkerbird, African Green Broadbill, Lagden’s Bush Shrike, Petit’s Cuckoo Shrike, Grey Cuckoo Shrike, Archer’s Ground Robin, Toro Olive Greenbul, Ansorge’s Greenbul, Equatorial Akalat, White-bellied Robin-Chat, Olive Thrush, White-tailed Ant Thrush, Grauer’s Rush Warbler, Short-tailed Warbler, Neumann’s Warbler, and Red-faced Woodland Warbler to mention but a few.
Stay at Buhoma Community Rest Camp.
Day 12: Gorilla Tracking.
After breakfast, we shall assemble at the Park Offices for the briefing prior to this historic event. Gorilla tracking is a very captivating activity; It might take 1-8 hours which involves walking in the wilderness in search of these gentle giants. Gorilla Tracking can be a challenging activity, therefore ensure physical fitness. Eight people are permitted per group per day. On occasions the Gorillas prove elusive but often can be found within an hour by the tracker guides. It is a wonderful experience to stare in to the eyes of these gentle giants; watch them in awe as they play and go about their daily activities. Gorilla Tracking is indeed a “once in a lifetime” experience that you must never miss. Each encounter with the gorillas is different and has its own rewards, but you are likely to enjoy the close view of adults feeding, grooming and resting as the youngsters frolic and swing from vines in a delightfully playful display.
Overnight at Buhoma Community Rest Camp.
Day 13: Buhoma Village walk
After Breakfast, we have a village walk around the Buhoma Community. We will visit the Batwa and you will observe their ways of living. The Batwa were given land upon relocation from the forest and most of their basic needs are taken care of. The money they receive out of the village walk is, therefore, used to buy clothes and food. They also use the money from sale of crafts for recreational purposes, reading and buying of alcohol. You will also observe how they go about the process of juice making. We will also visit the traditional healer and you will observe how he treats ailments using tree bark, leaves, and some animal material. He dresses in goat and cow skin to preserve the way traditional healers used to dress. You will also be taken through tea plantations and 10 sites that describe the way of life of the Buhoma Community.
Stay at Buhoma Community Rest Camp
Day 14: Transfer to Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo national park is a gem of a park. Though the park is just 370 sq km in size, its landscapes are varied and even a short drive is alive with interest and color. You will pass gallery forests, open savannah and acacia woodland, rocky kopjes, seasonal and permanent swamps, and open water as you search for the wealth of wildlife they support. A variety of vegetative habitats surround the open water of Lake Mburo. The lake’s western side is dominated by a grassy escarpment rising above a shoreline fringed with acacia forest and the closed canopy Rubanga Forest. To the north and east, grassy valley floors, made seasonally lush and soggy by rain, drain between undulating hills. These seep through expanses of wetland into the lake. Rock Kopjes are found along the eastern margins of the park. These varied habitats support an impressive variety of wildlife including 68 mammal species. These include some rarities.
Lake Mburo is the only park in Uganda to contain Impala and the only one in the rift region to host Burchell’s Zebra and Eland. In Uganda, Topi are only found in Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth national parks. Common wildlife species include; warthog, buffalo, oribi, Deffassa Water buck and reedbuck. Leopard and hyena are also present while hippo and crocodile are found in the lake.
Common conspicuous birds we will encounter on our journey to Lake Mburo include; Crested Francolin, Emerald Spotted Wood Dove, Brown Parrot, Bare-faced Go-away Bird, Blue-napped Mousebird, Lilac-breasted Roller, Green Wood hoopoe, Common Scimitar Bill, African Grey Hornbill, Spot-flanked Barbet, Nubian Woodpecker, Trilling Cisticola, Yellow-breasted Apalis, Northern Black Tit, Chin-spot Batis, Greate Blue-eared Starling, and Marico Sunbird. The woodland in the immediate vicinity of Rwonyo also supports many of these widespread species.
Stay at Mantana tented camp
Day 15: Whole day Birding and game drive in the Park
After breakfast, we will have a morning game drive in the Park looking for mammals including; Zebras, Impalas, Elands, Topi and Buffaloes. In the afternoon, we will have a boat trip looking for bird specialties and other mammals in the Park.
Stay at Mantana Tented Camp.
Day 16: Transfer to Kampala
After an early breakfast, we drive out of the park having our lunch on the way. We stop en route to visit the Mpambire Royal Drum makers. We also stop over at the Equator for photographs and continue to Kampala.
Stay at Metropole Hotel.
Day 17: Visit Kasubi Tombs, Uganda Museum
After breakfast, we drive to Kasubi Tombs. This is globally recognized as a major Heritage site. It is where four of the former Kings of Buganda were buried. It is a royal palace enclosure that was first built in 1881. Here there are huge traditional reed and bark cloth buildings of the Kabakas (Kings) of Buganda Kingdom. The Kasubi Tombs, also known as the Ssekabaka’s Tombs, are the royal tombs where the four former Kabakas of Buganda are buried. This site is a masterpiece of human creativity both in its conception and execution. It bears eloquent witness to the living cultural traditions of the Baganda. The spatial organization of the Kasubi Tombs represents the best example of a Buganda palace or architectural ensemble.
Built in the finest traditions of the Ganda architecture and palace design, it reflects technical achievements developed over many centuries. The Kasubi Tombs constitute a site embracing almost 30 ha of hillside within Kampala district. Most of the site is agricultural, farmed by traditional methods. At its core on the hilltop is the former palace of the Kabakas of Buganda, built in 1882 and converted into the royal burial ground in 1884. Four royal tombs now lie within the ‘’Muzibu Azaala Mpanga’’ the main building, which is circular and surmounted by a dome.
Kasubi Tombs is a major example of an architectural achievement in organic materials, principally wood, thatch, reed, wattle and daub. The site’s main significance lies, however, in its intangible values of belief, spirituality, continuity and identity.
Thereafter, we drive to the Uganda Museum. The Uganda Museum (founded in 1908) in Kampala has exhibits of traditional culture, archaeology, science, and natural history. It regularly presents performances of traditional music. It is a display of Uganda’s cultural heritage where one can see ethnological and natural-historical exhibitions. It is a vivid reminder of the country’s colorful past.
One of its most interesting features is the collection of traditional musical instruments, which one is free to play. The museum contains rich materials from Uganda and is a must see. The Uganda Society’s library is housed in one room of the Uganda National Museum. Started in the 1930’s by a group of scholars, the collection is comprised of approximately 3,000 volumes, maps, periodicals and photographs, all pertaining to African history and culture. It also contains documents on the turbulent political history of Uganda. In the period of 1971-1979, the Republic of Uganda was under the leadership of “Field Marshal” President Idi Amin Dada who wrecked the Ugandan economy almost beyond recovery. He expelled the Asians who were the backbone of the Ugandan economy.
This is the time when the Tourism industry in Uganda suffered a major stroke. Accommodation establishments were plundered and Uganda was officially pronounced a “politically unsafe place” hence not an ideal place for tourists. Despite this, the Ugandan economy was able to regain stability when the National Resistance Movement took over power in 1986 and the Tourism infrastructure was put back in place hence Uganda becoming a safe destination for tourists. Stay at Metropole Hotel Kampala.
Day 18: Namugongo Shrine
After an early breakfast, drive to the Namugongo Shrine. Namugongo is where 22 young men were burnt alive on the orders of king Mwanga for refusing to denounce their newly found faith in Christ. They were executed on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II in 1886. On the visit of Pope Paul VI to Uganda in 1969, the victims were canonized Martyrs and since then the shrine has become an important site for Uganda Christians and tourists. The site has been host to three Popes (1969, 1993 and 2015), and thousands of other religious, political and civic celebrities. To this day, every 3rd of June also known as the Martyrs” Day, Catholics from both within and outside Uganda make a pilgrimage to Namugongo to remember these young heroes known as the Uganda Martyrs. There are two churches built at the site; one for the Anglicans and the other for the Catholics.
Transfer to the airport for evening departure.