Birding Tours Uganda | Gorilla Encounters
Uganda (Winston Churchill’s ‘Pearl of Africa’) is a friendly and green country. This birding tour gives a glimpse of some of Uganda’s breath taking scenery and wildlife. From the terraced hillsides of fertile landscapes, to the various cultures and a very special wildlife encounter – the opportunity to track and view the magnificent gorillas in their fragile habitat is an unforgettable experience.
Day 1: Arrival at Entebbe International Airport.
Day 2: Transfer to Jinja via Sezibwa Falls. Stay at Jinja Nile Resort or Gately on the Nile.
After an early breakfast, we transfer to Jinja in the eastern part of Uganda. En route we have a stopover at the Sezibwa Falls.
Sezibwa falls is traditionally derived from the vernacular word “sezibibwa kkubo” meaning “no obstacle can stop me from moving on”. The site located about 20 miles along Jinja Road is a Buganda Heritage site, with an out span of sharp edged rocks and the magnificent sound of soothing waters flowing down the steep ridged stones. Sezibwa Falls attracts many who seek blessings due to cultural beliefs that the river was born of a woman. It’s alleged that the 2 rivers named Sezibwa and its brother Bwanda were born by a woman on her way to Kavuma Bukunja when she experienced labour pains. Nakkungu Tebatuusa whose husband was called Nsubuga Sebwato gave birth to Twins in form of water, where Sezibwa flowed west, passing many obstacles hence getting its name, while Bwanda flowed towards Nyenga in Eastern Uganda to the mothers’ homeland. The gate is normally manned by casually dressed men, and on a busy day, there are over 100 visitors including tourists, researchers, geologists, students and people seeking peace and miracles. Many of the locals come to the place for miracles as they believe the site has supernatural powers. There is a cowry shrine Mbuga ya musoke, that is believed to be a home of a python called Nalongo. Eggshells, Calabashes, backcloth, short spears and a coffee berry basket are found at the entrance of the shrine; these signify the cultural, traditional and spiritual beliefs of the site. The beautiful green vegetation composed of Bamboo and Erithina, the 7m-high waterfalls, and the harmony of bird songs above the trees create beautiful scenery for relaxation and enjoyment. Rock climbing and bird watching are main activities at the site. Wildlife here includes Bush Babies, Red-tailed monkeys and many other primates and Birds. The dark waters rise up to 90 feet during the rainy season, with fascinating sounds from the pouring waters, holding the secret not known to many, unique and rich traditions, acknowledged only by those who love culture and the serenity of the environment.
Day 3: Visit the Source of the Nile. Afternoon rafting at Bujagali Falls. Stay at Jinja Nile Resort or Gately on the Nile
After breakfast, we will visit the Source of the River Nile. There is a small memorial garden commemorating Mahatma Gandhi. When he died in 1948, his ashes were divided up and sent to many locations around the world to be scattered. Some of these ashes were scattered here at the Source of the Nile in Uganda. There is also an obelisk at the other side of the river to mark the spot where the English explorer John Speke first discovered the Source of the Nile in 1862 on his first visit to Uganda. After lunch, we will proceed to Bujagali falls. This is actually a set of rapids situated a few miles downstream from the Source of the Nile River. It is located 8km out of Jinja town, former major town in Uganda. It is a spectacular scenic spot with about 1km of raging rapids, forested islands in the Nile and an abundance of wild birds. The luxuriant vegetation covering the river banks and islands, together with the startling diversity of bird life attracted by the stunning fish, complete the vista. The falls are distinctive because of the sheer volume of the water cascading over the series of low rapids that would otherwise be unremarkable. This is the place to go whitewater rafting! If you are lucky, you will be entertained by crazy people who jump on to empty plastic jerry cans and surf through the rapids. Here you will go white water rafting and experience the thrill it offers.
Day 4-5: Participate in Community Projects, Village walks
After breakfast, you will engage in activities including guided walks and village visits around the community. While here there is the chance to help a charity project involved in building and improving local community schools. Roll up your sleeves for this chance of community interaction and involvement and make a difference!
Day 6: Transfer to Kampala stopping en route for a nature walk in Mabira Forest. Stay at Metropole Hotel or Golf Course Hotel
Mabira Forest is located on the edge of Najjembe village approximately 500m north of the Jinja – Kampala highway. The Mabira Tourism project was set up in 1995 to enable sustainable income through the creation of a recreational and educational resource for citizens, foreign residents, and visitors from abroad. This huge and beautiful forest of 306sq. km can be explored via an extensive trail network. Mabira forest is of ornithological importance with over 300 bird species recorded here. The forest is one of the two forests in East Africa where the pretty Tit Hylia has been recorded and this rare bird is seen here with surprising regularity. Other birds that you should expect to see here include the Great Blue Turacco, African Pita, Nahan’s Francolin, African Gray Parrot, Hornbill species and a variety of Sunbirds.
Day 7: Transfer to Masindi. Evening Cultural Entertainment
On this day, after a leisurely breakfast, we drive to Masindi having lunch en route. later on in the evening, you will have cultural entertainment.
Day 8: Visit the Palace of the Omukama (King) of Bunyoro. Afternoon transfer to Kibale Forest
After breakfast, we head off to the Karuzika Palace, the official residence of the king of Bunyoro. It is located on Kabarole Hill, the highest point in Fort Portal town. The kingdom of Bunyoro is as a result of three dynasties; the Batembuzi dynasty, the Bachwezi dynasty and the Babiito dynasty. The first kings were of the Batembuzi dynasty. Batembuzi means harbingers or pioneers. The batembuzi and their reign are not well documented, and are surrounded by a lot of myth and oral legend. The second dynasty is that of the Bacwezi. They are credited with the founding of the ancient empire of Kitara; which included areas of present day central, western, and southern Uganda; northern Tanzania, western Kenya, and eastern Congo. Very little is documented about them. Their entire reign was shrouded in mystery, so much so that they were accorded the status of demi gods and worshipped by various clans. The bachwezi dynasty was followed by the babiito dynasty of the current Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara. Any attempt to pinpoint the dates of this, or any other dynasty before it, is pure conjecture; as there were no written records at the time. Modern day historians place the beginning of the Babiito dynasty at around the time of the invasion of Bunyoro by the Luo from the North. The first mubiito (singular) king was Isingoma Mpuga Rukidi I, whose reign is placed around the 14th century. To date, there have been a total of 27 Babiito kings of Bunyoro-Kitara.
Day 9: Chimpanzee tracking, afternoon Bigodi Swamp Walk
We start after an early breakfast, carry packed lunch and go to the forest for chimp tracking. Tracking the chimpanzee that is our ‘cousin’ is a very interesting experience. The way they feed, climb trees, respond to humans, caring for their young ones, is just phenomenal. This is a drama of life in a rain forest. This park is notable for its primate population, with the chimpanzees being the most famous. In the afternoon, we have a nature walk at the Bigodi wetland Sanctuary. This Sanctuary demonstrates a successful story of the ecotourism development benefits. Located just outside the park, in Magombe swamp, it known for a wide collection of wildlife that includes primates, like chimpanzees, black and white colobus,red colobus and other mammals which include the bushbuck, sitatunga, otter & mongoose. The wetland Sanctuary is also a home to 138 bird species. You have a chance to see all these during your guided nature walk on boardwalk trails and viewing platforms. This Wetland sanctuary is a community-run opening aimed at conserving an exclusive biodiversity & environmental values of the wetland.
Day 10: Transfer to Queen Elizabeth national park
Today, we shall start early after breakfast and drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Our route to the park will be determined by road conditions, either passing through the Ishasha sector, well-known for its tree climbing lions, or alternatively driving through the beautiful sceneries of Rukungiri district. The park, which is named after Queen Elizabeth who visited it in 1954, is the second largest national park in Uganda, and ranks highest with respect to overall diversity, with a species list exceeding 600. The park is from open savannah to rainforest, from dense papyrus swamps and brooding crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, it is little wonder that QENP boasts one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world. Almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 6012 bird species make this superb safari territory, with elephant, 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 of a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains. It also boasts the occasional Lion, Leopard, Hyena, Side-striped Jackal, Baboon, just to name a few.
Day 11-12: Whole day Game Drive and Boat Cruise on the Kazinga Channel that joins Lake Edward to Lake George, Explore Lakes Edward and George
We start early at dawn with an early cup of coffee and go for a game drive to look for the big game and beautiful sceneries. Later in the afternoon, after our lunch at the lodge, we have a boat cruise on the spectacular Kazinga Channel which lasts about 2 hours. The Kazinga Channel is a wide, 36km long natural strip of water that links Lake Edward to Lake George. It is a dominant feature of Queen Elizabeth national park because it attracts a varied range of animals and birds; both perennial and migratory bird species. Owing to this fact, there are great photographic opportunities of all this amazing wildlife while on the boat cruise. The shores are lined with numerous birds, schools of hippos, buffaloes, elephants, etc. Also lining the opposite shore of the Channel to Mweya are fishermen from the fishing village of Kazinga setting out their flimsy boats for the night’s fishing. They opt to fish at night to avoid the hippos (which of course graze on land at night and spend the days in the water). Hippos, as is well know, kill far more humans in Africa than any other large animal.
Lake George is a small shallow lake of about 250 sq km with an average depth of 2.4m at an altitude of 914m above sea level. Lake George is mainly supplied by inflows from the Ruwenzori Mountain Range. The out flow is the Kazinga Channel which drains into Lake Edward. The level of water fluctuates from time to time.
Lake Edward was “discovered” by Henry Morton Stanley in 1889 and named after the prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII (9th November 1841- 6th May 1910). Lake Edward is one of the Great Lakes of Africa lying in the Western Rift Valley (Albertine Rift). Its length is about 65km and the maximum width is 38km and it covers a total surface area of 2150 sq km.
Day 13: Transfer to Bwindi Impenetrable forest.
After breakfast, we head towards Bwindi Impenetrable national park. The Park is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to approximately half of the world population of 600 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 immense conservation importance. Buhoma lies in the valley of the Munyaga River at 5100 feet and is flanked by steep, forested hills. Excellent forest birding, not least the prospect of numerous rare and localised Albertine Rift endemics, makes this a true birding Mecca.
Day 14: Gorilla tracking, afternoon community walk
On this day, we set off early, with packed lunch, to the park headquarters for a briefing prior to Gorilla Tracking. This is the most exciting lifetime experience of all time. Tracking the gorillas may take anywhere between 1 hour to 8 hours hiking on a hilly terrain hence it is very important to be in good health and physically fit. Porters are available to help you carry your bags. Gorillas are very sociable creatures and live in families of 12-20 individuals, led by a dominant male (the so-called ‘silverback’) together with several adult females and numerous young. (NB: group sizes on trek are kept small to minimize the impact on the sensitive natural habitat.The gorillas are gentle animals and it is an unforgettable experience to photograph them as they interact. 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. It is indeed a “once in a lifetime” experience that you must never miss. Each encounter is different and has its own rewards; 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. We will also look for other primates like the L’ Hoest Monkey, Black and White Colobus; Red tailed, and Blue monkeys. Mammals include the Rwenzori Duiker, Yellow back duiker, Caruthers squirrel, Bohm’s and Alexander squirrels, and many other species.
Later, we have a village walk around the Buhoma Community where you will visit the Batwa and 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.
Day 15: Guided walk on Munyaga Trail, afternoon community walk
After breakfast, we take to the Munyaga Waterfalls Trail to explore the freshness of the forest on a nature walk along River Munyaga. This trail provides an excellent feature involving a profusion of tree ferns, epiphytic ferns, orchids, and Bwindi’s array of butterflies. The trail heads south on a track that was initially intended to be an access road through the forest to Nteko Village. After approximately 2km, the trail branches on to a winding forest path that crosses the rushing Munyaga River 3 times before the last waterfall. There are also many spots to sit and soak in Bwindi forest. There are also great birding opportunities along the way. Later in the afternoon, we have another community walk where you have yet another chance to interact more with the local community and visit their projects.
Day 16: Transfer to Lake Bunyonyi.
After breakfast, we take a scenic drive to Kabale – Lake Bunyonyi passing through the beautiful terrain of the rolling hills with terraced landscapes. The combination of the beautiful scenery and the cool temperatures in this area has qualified it to be referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa” since it nearly resembles the Swiss Alps. We will have a convenient stopover at the Bakiga Museum in Kabale to discover the culture of the people living in the area. Lake Bunyonyi (Place of many little Birds) lies in south western Uganda between Kisoro and kabale close to the border with Rwanda. Located at 1962m above sea level, it is about 25km long and 7km wide. The depth of the Lake is rumored to be 44m and 900m, which if true, would make the Lake the second deepest in Africa. It is one of the few lakes in the region which is free of Bilharzia and therefore safe for swimming. Although the hills surrounding the Lake are heavily cultivated, a combination of forest groves, gardens, farm fields, open water and extensive marshes attract a wide diversity of bird life (over 200 species). The resident spot-necked otters are readily seen as you fish along the shore. Needless to say, the spectacular scenery makes for an overnight experience at Lake Bunyonyi more desirable than staying in Kabale. Later, after having lunch, we have a boat ride on Lake Bunyonyi. The boat ride will take you to various islands for bird viewing and sightseeing. The islands on Lake Bunyonyi include Akampene (Punishment) Island, Bushara Island, Bwama and Njuyeera (Sharp’s Island), Bucuranuka (Upside Down) Island, etc.
Day 17: Transfer to Lake Mburo.
After breakfast we set off, admiring the beautiful sceneries as we proceed to Lake Mburo national park. Upon arrival, we have a game drive in the park. There is a superb wetland and Acacia savanna sanctuary. Birding here is a delightful experience, with superb scenery and a markedly different fauna to other reserves. This is the best place in the country to see game animals such as Eland as well as Zebra, Topi, Impala, and acacia-associated birds. The lakes within the park attract Hippos, Crocodiles and a variety of waterbirds, while fringing swamps hide secretive papyrus specialists such as Sitatunga, plus much rarer Roan, Leopard, Hyenas and Jackals.
Day 18: Game Drive and Boat trip in the park.
After breakfast, we have a game drive and a boat trip in this superb national park. You have chances of seeing game like Water Buck, Impala, Eland, Buffalo, Topi, Burchell’s Zebra, Bush Buck, Warthog and Dwarf Mongoose among others.
Day 19: Transfer to Kampala – Entebbe via the Equator.
On this day, we have an early breakfast, and have another game drive as we drive out of the park. We have lunch en route. There is a chance to take more photographs at the Equator.
Day 20: Departure