Regular readers of this blog will know that last year I spent four months living and working in Kampala, Uganda. During that time I took a few weekend trips out of the city, but I didn’t get a chance to explore the rest of the country until the very end of my stay, when my friend and fellow travel blogger Linn of www.travellinn.net came out to visit me, and we embarked on an epic two-week adventure that took in all the top highlights of this amazing country. I’m not exaggerating when I say this trip was one of the best of my life, with literally a new WOW moment every day, as you’ll see…
For reasons that will become clear as you read on, this is not the exact route that we did, but I think this is a great itinerary that will allow you to soak up the very best of Uganda’s culture, scenery and wildlife on the two-week trip of a lifetime. Click the links within each summary for more detailed information on the places mentioned as well as tips and accommodation suggestions.
How We Did It
It is entirely possible – and much cheaper, to get around Uganda by public transport. But if you only have two weeks, you won’t be able to squeeze nearly as much in. Public transport in Uganda is still pretty unreliable and slow, and some places are not very well-linked at all. By far the best option, if you can afford it, is to hire a private car and driver. Without having to schlep to bus stations and wait for buses, you’ll be able to see and do so much more, and if you’re in a group and can split the costs, it really doesn’t work out too horrifyingly expensive.
This is Hassan Isingoma Navid. He was recommended to me by a friend, and I cannot sing his praises highly enough. We paid him USD$100 a day to drive us around the country, plus fuel and tips. Far, far more than just a driver, Hassan was travel agent, guide, troubleshooter, photography assistant and friend. He helped plan the itinerary, booked our accommodation, park permits, and activities, recommended places to eat, and was an encyclopaedia of useful information. If you’re thinking about booking someone like him for your trip to Uganda, just ping me a message and I’ll gladly pass on his contact details.
Our route took us north from Kampala and then out to the west in a big loop. You’ll immediately notice that we’ve missed everything to the north and east, but this route takes in all the major highlights including the famous gorilla and chimpanzee tracking, and five national parks. We also took a short detour into the Democratic Republic of Congo to climb Nyiragongo volcano, which I’ve added on the map but not included in this itinerary, since it’s currently deemed too unsafe to go there. Hopefully in the future that will change – and do check, because it was an incredible experience that you should definitely try to do if you possibly can.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my recommended itinerary for a two-week trip round Uganda.
Day One – Kampala
You’ll fly into Entebbe, which is just an hour from Kampala. Get your driver to pick you up and deposit you at your hotel, and after you’ve had a rest, it’s time to explore the city. There isn’t all that much to see in Kampala, so a day is plenty. The best way to get around is on the back of a boda-boda – these motorcycle taxis are not for the faint-hearted, but will help you avoid spending your day stuck in traffic. Boda-boda sightseeing tours are available, or simply flag down a guy on the street and ask him to take you where you want to go.
Visit the stunning Old Kampala National Mosque, learn about the horrors of Idi Amin’s regime at Mengo Palace, or check out Nakasero market. In the evening head to one of Kampala’s excellent restaurants and then get an early night. Your exciting adventure is just about to begin!
There’ll be a more detailed post about what to do in Kampala coming soon, so check back soon or subscribe to make sure you don’t miss it.
Today’s WOW: being amazed by the size of the city, sprawling across seven hills, from the top of the minaret at the National Mosque.
Day Two – Kampala to Murchison Falls via Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Get up early, and head out of town before the morning traffic starts, making sure you stop at Cafe Javas for a freshly-baked almond croissant – trust me, those things are like crack cocaine! Then hit the road for the 3-hour drive to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where you can stretch your legs and get up close and personal with Uganda’s only wild rhinos on a 2-hour walking tour.
From there it should only take you another hour or so to get to Murchison Falls National Park, one of the most popular and the largest National Park in the country and home to the famous Murchison Falls, the most powerful waterfalls in the world.
Drive straight to the top of the falls and enjoy the spectacular view as the sun sets over the River Nile, and then head back to your accommodation for dinner.
Today’s WOW: rhinos and waterfalls!
Day Three – Murchison Falls National Park
It’s another early start as you’ll need to be up before sunrise for your first morning game drive. Bring a packed breakfast and enjoy it as you wait for the ferry, and then it’s time to get your first look at Uganda’s wildlife. Murchison Falls is home to 75 mammal species, including lions, giraffes, elephants, hippos and hyenas, so with a bit of luck there should be plenty to excite you.
After lunch it’s time for a different point of view – from a boat on the Nile. The three-hour round trip gets you super close to all the animals that frequent the river’s edge, and allows you to get great view of Murchison Falls from the bottom. If you like, you can get out here and walk back up to the top of the Falls, or stay on the boat and take the easy route back to where you started.
Today’s WOW: getting close to wildlife on the banks of the Nile.
Day Four – Drive to Kibale National Park with a stop in Fort Portal
You can have a bit of a lie-in this morning if you like, but don’t sleep too late as you’ve got a fairly long day’s driving ahead of you. The route south-west takes you from the lush green wilderness of the national park into the rolling hills of the Rift Valley, with its ancient volcanic landscape peppered with crater lakes. Stop for lunch near Fort Portal at Kyaninga Lodge, a luxury hotel perched on the edge of a crater lake (if you have time and can afford it, definitely spend the night here!), and then carry on to Kibale.
After your long drive, you might want to stretch your legs by going for a wander round the area. Kibale is very calm and peaceful, with rolling farmland and tiny villages, where children will rush out to say hello to you. Or just relax in your hotel with a cold Nile or Club beer and make sure your camera batteries are charged for tomorrow’s chimp adventure.
Today’s WOW: a five-star lunch overlooking the stunning Kyaninga crater lake.
Day Five – Chimpanzee Tracking and Swamp or Village Walk
It’s chimpanzee day! Be at the ranger station for 8 am for your briefing, and then head out into the forest with your guide for this incredible chance to see chimpanzees in the wild. If you’re lucky, they’ll come down to the forest floor, and you’ll be able to get within just a few metres of them. Read about the experience in full in this post.
We did the half-day, but you can choose to do a full day if you prefer. If you just do the morning, then in the afternoon you can relax at your hotel, take a walk around the area, or if you’re still hungry for more wildlife, head into the Bigodi Swamp for a nature hike and a chance to see more birds and monkeys.
Today’s WOW: chimpanzees, of course!
Day Six – Travel to Queen Elizabeth and a crater drive
It’s only three hours driving from Kibale to Queen Elizabeth National Park, so have a lie-in and a leisurely breakfast, and then get on the road again. When you arrive check in to your hotel and relax for a bit before heading into the park for an afternoon crater drive. Soak up the stunning landscapes, and there’s an excellent chance you’ll see amazing wildlife including masses of elephants, and possibly, if you’re lucky, a leopard like this one.
Today’s WOW: the stunning crater landscape – and OMG that leopard! I can’t promise you’ll see one, but you never know…
Day Seven – Game drive and boat trip on the Kazinga Channel
Yesterday was pretty chilled, so today it’s another pre-dawn start for a sunrise game drive in the park. Animals are more active in the morning, so there’s a good chance you’ll see hyenas, hippos, elephants, and maybe even some lions.
Then, in the afternoon, take a two-hour boat ride on the Kazinga Channel. This short, shallow river attracts a huge array of wildlife, including the highest concentration of hippos anywhere in Uganda. As a result, you’re pretty much guaranteed some of the best animal spotting you’re likely to experience anywhere in Uganda.
Today’s WOW: elephants and hippos just metres away from the boat on the shores of the Kazinga Channel.
Day Eight – Tree-climbing lions and on to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Back on the road again for the short drive to the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park and a chance to hunt for the famous tree-climbing lions. Spend a few hours tracking and hopefully watching these beautiful creatures, before leaving the park behind and heading on to the mysterious hills of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Today’s WOW: the tree-climbing lions.
Day Nine – Gorilla Tracking and a visit to the Batwa Pygmy Community
Time for the number one attraction in all of Uganda and what may well turn out to be the highlight of all highlights: gorilla tracking. Put on your sturdy boots and pack a waterproof just in case, and then meet at the ranger station to be allocated your gorilla family. It can take anything from an hour to the whole day to find them, and then you’re allowed to spend just one hour watching. But I guarantee it’ll be one of the most memorable hours of your life. Read all about the experience here.
If you have time, in the afternoon a local guide can take you to visit one of Bwindi’s Batwa pygmy villages. The Batwa pygmies used to live a traditional hunter-gatherer life inside the forest until the national park was created and they were kicked out. Now they live around the edges of the park, and earn money by welcoming tourists and demonstrating their traditions. A visit is a great way to learn all about them and help support the community.
Today’s WOW: I’m pretty sure you can guess this one!
Day Ten – Travel to Lake Bunyonyi
It’s time to leave the impenetrable forest behind and head for some relaxation at Lake Bunyonyi. It’s only a short hop so you’ll easily be there by lunchtime, and will be able to spend the afternoon relaxing in an idyllic lakeside retreat. Take a boat trip on the lake to learn some of the area’s weird history (there’ll be a post about this coming soon), do a village walk, go for a swim in the lake, or simply relax in a hammock with a book and a beer after all your exciting adventures so far.
Alternatively, if you have time, this is where you could take a little detour into Rwanda. Bwindi nudges right up against he border, so it’s only a few hours drive to cross over. You could use this as a jumping-off point for a bigger exploration of Rwanda, or do what we did and travel straight into the Democratic Republic of Congo to climb the volcano Nyiragongo and see the world’s largest lava lake. This detour will take three days: on Day 1 travel from Bwindi to Gisenyi in Rwanda; on Day 2 cross the border, climb Nyiragongo and sleep at the top; on Day 3 descend and travel back to Lake Bunyonyi and then pick up the rest of this itinerary from there.
Unfortunately, just a few weeks after I was in DR Congo, a couple of British tourists were kidnapped and the area was closed to tourism until further notice. That’s why I’ve left that part out of this itinerary, but the situation may have all changed again by the time you come to read this, so do check, and if it’s possible to go, then I cannot urge you strongly enough to go do it.
Today’s WOW: the stunning peace of Lake Bunyonyi.
Day Eleven – Travel to Lake Mburo
By now you may feel like you’ve seen enough of Uganda’s National Parks, in which case you might want to spend a full day relaxing at Lake Bunyonyi rather than getting on the road again, and then tomorrow just drive all the way to Entebbe. But if not, hop back in the car for the drive to Lake Mburo. There are no lions here, so this is the place where you can get active without fear of being eaten. Go mountain biking or horseback riding, and if your budget can stretch to it, spend the night at one of Uganda’s top places to stay, the stunning Mihingo Lodge.
Today’s WOW: the views out over Mburo National Park.
Day Twelve – Travel to Entebbe, stop over at the Equator
Your final drive takes you about five hours from Lake Mburo back to Entebbe where you started. Split the journey with a stop at the equator to take that all-important photo and find out whether water really does go down a plughole in the opposite direction.
When you get to Entebbe, it’s time for a well-deserved sunset drink on the shores of Lake Victoria after all your adventures.
Today’s WOW: a fruity sunset cocktail by the lake.
Day Thirteen – Entebbe
On your last day, a chance to explore all that Entebbe has to offer. Stroll through the botanical gardens, visit the Reptile Village, or do the amazing Behind The Scenes Tour at the Wildlife Education Centre and get acquainted with some very friendly animals. Read more about what there is to see and do in Entebbe here.
Today’s WOW: feeding the giraffes at Uganda Wildlife Education Centre.
Day Fourteen – Fly home
You should have enough time before your flight to pick up some souvenirs if you haven’t already, and then that, sadly, is the end of your trip. If you can spare a few extra days, you could head back to Kampala and from there head east to Jinja or Sipi Falls. Otherwise it’s time to pack up, head home, and start making all your friends jealous with all your incredible photos!
What do you think? Have you been to Uganda? How did your itinerary differ? Did I miss anything important? I’d love to hear your comments below.
And if you’re planning a trip and want more information or advice, please comment below or contact me.