It goes without saying that gorilla trekking is a must in Uganda, but that’s just one of the myriad ways to feel completely exhilarated in this remarkable country. The chance to respectfully see chimps and gorillas living their wild, natural lives is beyond moving and worthwhile. But just as uplifting are all of the opportunities to genuinely connect with local people, vibrant communities, and your fellow travellers. From quiet contemplation of the changing landscapes to enthusiastic enjoyment of banana gin, here’s my top five not-to-be-missed moments on the Uganda to Rwanda: Gorilla Treks & Safari Drives tour:
1: Go whitewater rafting on the Nile
For those arriving a day before the trip starts as we did, this is an amazing extra activity. We hopped on a bus at 6:00am and headed to the rafting headquarters, a garden set up with breakfast and coffee, for our safety briefing. Along with the rafts we shuttled to Jinja, a small fishing village and the starting point for our rafting adventure — after I’d been reassured multiple times that it was croc-free!
We were taught basic paddling techniques and what to do if the boat capsizes, which was followed by a number of hilarious attempts to get back in the raft from the water. Accompanied by a team in kayaks and a guide in each raft, we paddled down the river stopping before each rapid to discuss our ‘action plan’ for staying on board. We took on four rapids ranging up to level four, which involved whirlpools, waves, and drops, which had us paddling, leaping into the boat and clinging on, and at one point flipping completely. The whole experience was exhilarating and well balanced with tasty snacks of fresh pineapple, enjoyed in calmer parts, or swimming in the river and letting the gentle current pull us along.
2: Trek to see chimps in Kibale Forest National Park
People often focus on gorilla trekking, but the journey to see chimpanzees is a must. Kibale Forest National Park is a 795 sq km park located in the western part of Uganda and has the highest number and diversity of primates in East Africa. There are 13 species of primate including chimpanzees who call it home. Led by Prossy, our female ranger, we walked through the jungle in search of chimps. To protect the primates, the park enforces strict mask wearing and minimum distances to help animals avoid sickness and overexposure to humans. Within ten minutes we found a family of chimps high up in a fig tree, enjoying a fruit breakfast. Our whole group was thrilled to have stumbled upon a family so quickly and we stood, binoculars pinned to our faces, for a good 20 minutes as they swung through the trees. Little did we know the best was yet to come…
Prossy gestured for us to follow as she darted off into the jungle and we stumbled over roots and ducked under branches. She’d spotted a chimp who had come down from the trees and was making its way effortlessly through the forest. Respecting the distance, we watched from afar before it turned, walked straight past us, and sat on a log for its daily groom.
3: Meaningfully engage with local communities
A trip to Uganda lets you to see some of the world’s most incredible wildlife and landscapes, but it’s also an opportunity to interact and learn about local communities in positive ways. As a pioneer of community tourism, the G Adventures Uganda to Rwanda trip includes lots of great experiences with local people, where you can support their businesses and learn about traditional ways of life. From a community-hosted lunch at the Bigodi Community, to a walk through the local village where you can learn traditional coffee making and the local tipple, banana gin. Fair warning — the double distilled option really packs a punch!
Another highlight is the opportunity to meet a traditional medicine man, who explains how he uses plants and herbs to heal minor ailments in the community, a skill passed down through generations. The money spent on the community lunch and walk goes directly back into supporting initiatives like schools and education.
4: Trek the Impenetrable Forest to see wild gorillas
As mentioned, the highlight for many people visiting Uganda is undoubtedly the gorilla trekking and our group was beyond eager. Heading to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we got up early to register at the park office and meet the rangers. Everyone who enters the forest to see the gorillas must hold a permit (included in your tour price) and is a fantastic example of tourism helping to protect wildlife. Employment from gorilla tourism generates funding for local communities to help stop poaching and encroachment and has supported a rise in the gorilla population.
After a briefing, where rangers explained gorilla families and how to behave when nearby, we headed into the jungle. Before long we learned how the forest earned its name, as we left the path behind and headed into dense foliage. We hacked through undergrowth and tried to move as quickly as possible to avoid red ants making every effort to get inside our boots. With a group of rangers ahead tracking the gorillas, we had a rough idea of their location but were told that gorillas move constantly so we could be trekking for an hour or up to ten.
After crossing muddy streams, steep valleys, and thick undergrowth, we finally spotted our first gorilla, a mother and two youngsters playing above us on the hill. We masked up and watched intently — gorillas always travel in families so we knew a silverback and the other females must be close by. And then we heard it… a low, gentle grunting which the rangers explained is a noise the silverback makes to track his family and tell them all is well. The rangers started mimicking the noise to tell the silverback we were there and not a threat. Next thing we know, five more females and youngsters appear followed by the silverback.
For many in the group, this was a moment we’d been dreaming about for so long and the emotion could be felt in the silence as we all watched in awe of these gentle creatures. A real highlight was seeing a mother feeding with her baby clung close to her chest. With the park only allowing groups to spend an hour with the gorillas, we captured a few photos and then spent the rest of our time simply watching, soaking up this once-in-a-lifetime moment.
5: Go on a safari… on land and water
This trip really does offer every kind of wildlife and for nature connoisseurs, two days of safaris in the Queen Elizabeth National Park certainly won’t disappoint! In your G Adventures safari vehicle, you can pop the roof and cruise through the park, keeping your eyes peeled for buffalo, lions, elephants and hippos. We were lucky enough to spot a male lion and his family relaxing on the side of the road, hoards of hippos cooling off in the water and, just as we came to the end of the day, a group of elephants who were enjoying an evening meal, making easy work of the vegetation on the park border.
An optional extra not to be missed is the Kazinga Channel Cruise, run by a local community, which takes you out on the waterways of the park, where you can see wildlife from a totally unique perspective. Knowing the riverbanks like the back of their hands, the experienced guides knew exactly where to look, from elephants coming down to drink, buffalos taking their daily dip and even a female crocodile who made her way onto an island bank.