Trip Report — Uganda Gorillas & Chimpanzees (November 2018)

The mighty silverback: baby sitting
  • Staff Member: Dan Crandall
  • Trip: Uganda / 10-days November-December 2018
  • Destinations in Uganda: Kampala,  Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Murchison Falls, Kibale National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Bwindi, Lake Mburo National Park


Famed for its rare gorillas and chimpanzees, Uganda offers a fantastic travel experience for the returning African travel connoisseur for much more than that. The rolling green countryside, an impressive multitude of butterflies and rare birds, an attractive range of classic African game, other unique primates, plus countless waving, smiling children along the way round out a typical safari here. Despite the fact we traveled in late November – normally the rainy season – we largely enjoyed fantastic weather. The best times to visit, overall, are December – early March, then again June – September. Sometime in October, heavy rains can begin to set in, lasting some time into November, then they return in force by sometime around mid-March, lasting into May.


  • Rhino tracking on foot at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
  • Game drive and a small boat safari on the Nile River in Murchison Falls
  • Chimp trekking in Kibale
  • Exploring Queen Elizabeth National Park including a small boat safari on the Kazinga channel and a game drive
  • The ultimate thrill: Gorilla trekking in Bwindi
  • Walking in Lake Mburo National Park

Day 1: Friday 23rd November 2018

Arrival – Kampala by way of Entebbe Airport

On the morning of November 23, I met my safari guide, Peter, and we traveled about 1-hour by road to Kampala, for a quick look at Kampala’s thoroughly congested downtown. Kampala itself allows an interesting introduction to an African metropolis: dusty, colorful, brimming with people, congested traffic, movement everywhere.

Overnight: Cassia Lodge

Views of Lake Victoria from Cassia Lodge, Entebbe

Day 2: Saturday 24th November 2018

Kampala – Murchison Falls National Park

Today we departed for arguably the most beautiful protected area in Uganda: Murchison Falls National Park. En-route we made a wonderful if brief stop to stretch our legs at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, home to the only wild rhinos in Uganda.

  • Driving Time: 350km / About 7-hours
Endangered rhinos at Ziwa

This small reserve was created to reintroduce rhinos to Uganda which have been extinct since 1982. Together with a knowledgeable local ranger/guide, we trooped through the bush on foot, tracking rhino, in which we found — perhaps not surprisingly — great success, finding a mother and a baby rhino grazing together in the thick savanna. What surprised the guide was when another mother rhino and an even smaller baby rhino came looping in. We watched the younger baby attempt to play with the older juvenile with mixed success. It was great fun watching the young ones interact at length, so very unique. It’s important to note that travelers coming here directly aid in rhino conservation generally and specifically the support of the rhino reintroduction project in side Uganda. Plans are being finalized to begin moving several of the rhinos here into a large national park soon.  After some time – maybe 45 minutes- we returned on foot to the vehicle, and drove briefly back to the main lodge on site for lunch. Following lunch at the Rhino sanctuary, we continued our drive to Murchison Falls National Park. 

It’s important to note that travelers coming here directly aid in rhino conservation generally and specifically the support of the rhino reintroduction project in side Uganda. Plans are being finalized to begin moving several of the rhinos here into a large national park soon.  After some time – maybe 45 minutes- we returned on foot to the vehicle, and drove briefly back to the main lodge on site for lunch. Following lunch at the Rhino sanctuary, we continued our drive to Murchison Falls National Park. 

Murchison Falls National Park is the largest protected area in Uganda. The waterfall for which the park is named is the most stirring sight of its type in East Africa. The southern part is mostly covered by dense woodlands and harbors one of the most varied forest faunas in East Africa, and is a premier sight for bird watchers, as well as one of the best- and most affordable – places to track chimpanzees. The northern part is mostly covered by green grasslands with scattered acacia trees, borassus palms and riverine woodlands. The world’s longest river, the great River Nile, is rich here with hippos, crocodiles, waterbucks and buffaloes. Wildlife includes giraffe, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hartebeests, oribis, Uganda kob and more.

Overnight: Budongo Eco Lodge

Uganda is full of friendly suprises – a band performing at the Nile ferry landing

Day 3: Sunday 25th November 2018

Murchison Falls National Park (All day)

After an early breakfast we traveled about 1 hour to the river, where we boarded a simple ferry boat to bridge the River Nile. Once on the other side, we began our introductory game drive on the northern bank of the Nile, seeing lots of Rothschild giraffe (it was breeding season, the one time of year when these generally solitary animals merge into larger herds), elephants, Jackson hartebeest, oribis (a cute little antelope), waterbucks, and a range of savanna woodland birds. Very lucky travelers could see lions or leopards too.

Uganda kob, Uganda’s national symbol
Elephant family along the Nile

After a delicious al fresco lunch, we went on a Nile small boat cruise to the bottom of the waterfalls with game viewing en-route as another highlight. We were able to approach wildlife at fairly close quarters, including a family of elephants. Once you view the falls from the water, guests would want to do a moderate 1 – hour hike to the top of the falls (travelers are dropped off at a small jetty/ladder, then you hike along the river to the top). It has great views. Afterwards, we returned to the lodge for dinner and overnight, in the process enjoying a fire right by the river’s edge as hippos harrumphed nearby.

Overnight: Bakers Lodge

Murchison Falls

Day 4: Monday 26th November 2018

Murchison Falls – Kibale Forest National Park

Following breakfast, we departed Murchison Falls and headed south to Fort Portal. Not long ago, this was a tough drive, but they are rebuilding the roads and making excellent progress. By around June 2019, I suspect the road work will be finished. For now, about half the road is improved, and that alone has made an enormous difference. There is tangible excitement among Ugandans regarding this important development for tourism and trade.

Fort Portal rests in the shadow of the Ruwenzori Mountains and is famous for the many serene, bright green tea plantations in the area. We ate lunch at the
Kyaninga Lodge, enjoying more of the expansive views of nearby mountains and pretty, rural countryside. Afterwards we continued to Kibale Forest National Park.

  • Driving Time: 400km / 7.5-hours

Overnight: Primate Lodge

Day 5: Tuesday 27th November 2018

Kibale Forest National Park (All day)

Early this morning, the forest opened her doors for a sensational chimpanzee tracking experience.

Following the pre-tracking briefing, we split up into smaller groups and walked to the trailhead. From there, we followed the ranger who was in contact with other rangers and together, working as team, they discovered the location of the troop we were to visit. Once on site, we followed a sprawling, active, eerily-howling and habituated family of about 120 chimpanzees. Chimps climbed vines, sat in trees eating fruits, lounged in their “forest couches,” and scrambled on all fours through the forest floor, all around us, for the duration of our time with them.

Through it all, the park ranger/guide shared stories and facts about the chimps, forest botany, and the park’s other inhabitants including Black and White Colobus, Red Colobus, Red tailed monkeys, and Olive baboons. We spent an unforgettable hour with the chimpanzees watching them up-close as they ate, groomed, played, and generally went through their daily routine.

Some important things to note: even though you are split up into groups, the groups will almost inevitably merge into one super-group following the chimpanzee family. It can feel a little congested with photographers jockeying for angles and some travelers taking selfies and the like. I just moved a little this way and that and found my own space, and my own experience, up-close with the family, including a sweet, contemplative moment with the alpha male. For travelers wanting fewer travelers around while observing the chimps, choose the longer, more expensive all-day habituation experience, which visits an entirely different family of chimps in another area.

We encountered 2 of the several species of primates in Bigodi Swamp, including these busy body Red-Tailed Colobus Monkeys.

In the afternoon, we did a 2-hour guided nature walk through the nearby Bigodi wetland. The Bigodi Swamp Walk is an initiative of the local community and is known for its diversity of birds and primates. The path and board walk can be flooded and muddy after heavy rainfall so bring your waterproof hiking boots or shoes that can get wet and dirty. The longer walk is about 4km in length, taking 3 hours with a knowledgeable local community guide at the helm. All proceeds from the activity go back to into the community, a conservation project well worth supporting. After, we returned to the lodge for dinner and overnight.

Overnight: Primate Lodge

Day 6: Wednesday 28th November 2018

Kibale Forest – Queen Elizabeth National Park

After early breakfast, we drove through the scenic crater lakes region that surrounds the dense forest of Kibale National Park. We continued on to Queen Elizabeth National Park, checking into our simple overnight lodge for the evening, Simba Safari Lodge. I would not recommend the extremely budget Simba Lodge except for travelers looking for the cheapest of lodging in the area.

Buffalo, hippos, elephants and water-related birds were abundant in Kazinga

In the afternoon, we took a classic small boat cruise along the Kazinga Channel, a natural canal that joins Lakes Edward and Lake George. 33 kilometers long and 2 to 3 kms at its widest points, the Kazinga channel was formed by tectonic activity millions of years ago during the formation of the rift valleys. On our 2-hour boat ride over a 12 -14 km stretch of the channel, we enjoyed some truly excellent wildlife sightings including many hippo, big herds of wallowing buffalo in and out of the water, elephants, tons of birds, and more.

  • Driving Time: 185km / 3-hours

Overnight: Simba Safari Lodge

Day 7: Thursday 29th November 2018

Queen Elizabeth – Bwindi National Park

After breakfast we steered south, passing the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. This part is called Ishasha and is famous for the 3 prides of tree climbing lions. We checked out fabulous Ishasha Wilderness Camp, a lovely and tranquil high-end property, then continued our brief game drive in this area before we continued to Buhoma village, a gateway to Bwindi National Park. Driving through a green countryside, we passed a slew of traditional homesteads. By afternoon we arrived at Bwindi National Park, home of the endangered mountain gorillas.

  • Driving Time: 200km / 3 – 4 Hours

Overnight-Mahogany Springs

Topi – the “painted antelope” – are abundant in Ishasha

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, home of the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, lies on the edge of the albertine Rift Valley in southwestern Uganda, with a extensive altitude range between 1,160 – 2,600 meters. The forest itself, dating back to the ice ages, is one of Uganda’s oldest and most biodiverse, with almost 400 species of plants, 350 species of birds including 23 Albertine Rift endemics plus 120 mammal species including gorillas, baboons, himpanzees, elephants and antelopes.

Day 8: Friday 30th November 2018

Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi National Park

Today was easily the highlight of the safari, and easily a top-5 African travel experience: an intimate, hour-long, eye-to-eye encounter with the gentle mountain gorillas. This, dear reader, is the ultimate highwater mark for any keen nature and wildlife enthusiast.

Following breakfast, we traveled by road just a very short distance to the national park office where we were briefed and split (by gorilla family) into small groups of 8 and allocated an experienced and knowledgeable gorilla tracking guide. Before the briefing, we were entertained with a singing and dance performance by Ride4AWoman an outstanding locally run NGO helping vulnerable women get back on their feet.

The first gorilla we bumped into was a huge brownback gorilla eating … flowers!

After being paired with our local community porter, we started the hike right from the ranger station, beginning on a wide gravel path then veering into the jungle, or rather, “penetrating the ‘impenetrable forest’,” as our ranger slyly noted. Travelers should prepare to walk long distances in steep and often slippery conditions with a chance of rain overhead, which can be tough for non-hikers.  In our case, we hiked to the Rushegura group, a family just about 45 minutes hiking away. The group quietly made our way through the thick jungle, which was full of mossy vines, huge rainforest trees, and giant ferns. The rangers used primitive GPS (hooting…) to locate the trackers, who had served as an advance party to locate the family. We passed a gorilla nesting site, then gathered close to the ranger for final instructions.

Watching the 4 juveniles play like little kids was a highlight

From there, we pushed forward a few yards and began our 1-hour of viewing. First, we came upon a huge “brownback,” a male gorilla not quite old enough to be a silverback. We watched him, mesmerized, feeding on flowers. It was quite an incongruous sight: such a huge, powerful animal, carefully nibbling down dainty white flowers. We then followed the ranger further, slightly downslope. We rounded a jungle thicket and before us, squatted the mighty silverback.

My first impression was “this is a huge animal.” The silverback had an enormous head, and huge, powerful arms and legs, the muscles clear as day. Here we had encountered him eating. Initially, he ate a bit more, then looked at us, measuring us up, it seemed, then he simultaneously gut-roared and charged – a lightning quick little 3 jumps –  right at me and my friend Peter. Peter, an ex- British soldier, bravely stood his ground, but I, a simple Wisconsin kayaker, I flinched – I took a step back. The tracker behind me then put a gentle palm on my back, whispering, ‘don’t move’. Then the silverback jumped forward again, huffing. This time I stayed still. The silverback assessed us, noticing we neither retreated or charged back, and realized we were neither a threat or food (?), and slowly turned away and loped back a few yards to his resting spot.

After a quiet moment close to the silverback, our ranger then asked – “are you ready to see the babies?.” He did not need an answer. We quietly slogged through puddles and over slippery rock and root to the young ones, all four of them, playing together, roughhousing really – just like human boys – and we squatted there for the remainder of our time.  The young ones climbed trees around us – just a few meters away – and splashed water in a little puddle. They banged their chests, imitating daddy, and chased each other relentlessly, hug-wrestling on contact. Small chirps from the young ones and loud guttural calls from adults occasionally filled the air, otherwise sound was reduced to just the rustle of the forest from the gorillas. Thrilling!

This was truly a world-class, unforgettable nature experience. Even the most jaded or most experienced travelers of Africa and beyond are visibly moved by it.

After our hour was up, we hiked back to base and then transferred on to the lodge, enjoying a calm afternoon, later watching a quick but powerful thunderstorm move into and out of the valley.

  • Trekking time : 3 hours

Overnight-Mahogany Springs

Day 9: Saturday 1st December 2018

Bwindi – Lake Mburo National Park

After breakfast, we departed Buhoma village and headed to Lake Mburo National Park, stopping for smoothies and coffee along the way. As we entered the conservation area encircling the park, we saw local cattle and a number of zebras, impalas, and unique birds we had not yet seen.

Lake Mburo has a nice variety of plains and savanna game headlined by Burchell’s zebras

We had the option of a night game drive, and for those who’ve not done one before, it does present a nice opportunity to fit one in. Instead, the group chose to relax this nice breezy afternoon at the lodge, enjoying the views and quiet other than the pitched stirrings of millions of cicadas throughout the bush around us.

Night game drives are best in the dry season, when grass is low and leaves are fewer on the trees. The best months would be July-September then again January-February. During the dry season, travelers have a pretty good (~ 60%) chance of seeing leopard, the main objective.

Night game drives are optional, at an extra nominal cost, and are done in open Land rovers with a spot light. The drives often last about of 2-3 hours and can provide a chance to see leopard, genets, large owls, and African porcupine mainly, and sometimes civets and other nocturnal animals.

This evening before dinner, we had the opportunity to watch a typically cute female bushbaby come to the dining area, where a staffer fed her a couple bits of banana. The close-up views of this fascinating primate (e.g., they have no eyelids…) were a treat. In the night, back at the tent, the star gazing was exceptional as toads and frogs chirped nearby.

  • Driving Time: 250 km / 5-hours

Overnight-Mihingo Lodge

Right outside my tent at Mihingo, a natural waterhole drew this alert group of baboons, wary of people and leopards

Lake Mburo National Park is one of Uganda’s smallest national parks covering about 260 square kilometers. Lake Mburo is the largest of the five lakes that lie within the park boundaries, all fed by the Rwizi River. The other parts of the park are predominantly covered by savannah and acacia woodland. It is the only park in the country that has a large population of the impala, after which Kampala is named. Lake Mburo National Park is one of the only three parks where the Burchell’s zebras can be found. Other animals include the buffalos, hippos, warthogs, some primates, hyenas, and other antelopes. Lake Mburo National Park is probably one of the best places in Uganda to see Acacia related birds, which are part of the 315 bird species recorded.

Day 10: Sunday 2nd December 2018

Lake Mburo National Park – Kampala – Entebbe

Before breakfast, following the sunrise, I had arranged to have a staffer take me to the local hide, about a 15 minute walk away. Because there are buffalo in the area, and at least one large hippo, it’s important to request a guide take you. Staff are local and have a far better understanding of how to deal with an angry buffalo than we do.

When we arrived at the hide, I opted to sit in the next door “den,” a smaller hide that requires some crawling to get into. We surprised a huge eland antelope on the way. In the den, I watched kingfishers and spurfowl, and listened to the general chatter of the birds. Unfortunately, we were too low to see the hippo lounging in the waterhole in front of us and it was too cool for other animals yet.

Lake Mburo is more than just the lake

I returned with the guide to the lodge and ate a big breakfast, as usual, in Uganda. The dining area overlooks the waterhole too, where it’s common to see baboons, warthogs, buffalo, and zebra. I returned to my tent to enjoy a troop of baboon hanging around the little waterhole near my tent.

Following a little time to rest, we headed to Kampala and were dropped off at the Entebbe airport. Saying goodbye to our guide, Peter, was hard, but leaving Uganda was even harder. The country is a one of a kind, with wildlife experiences that are nearly impossible to replicate nearly anywhere else in the world.

  • Driving Time: 270 km / 5-hours

All of our Uganda and Rwanda safaris are custom and private, you can start them any day, and tailor them to the length of time you have available to travel, from 3-14 days.  We can help travelers with mid-range and luxury lodging or you can mix and match. Contact us >> for more information or for quotes, or visit our Uganda/Rwanda >> page for trip ideas too. The shorter 3-5 day trips are excellent extensions to a Tanzania or Kenya safari, while a longer 8-14 day tour would be an excellent trip all on its own. 

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