By Petra Shepherd | August 2017 | 5 minute read
Tourism can be a force for change and reversing trends, as has been proven in Uganda where an endangered gorilla population is currently enjoying a baby boom. Meeting this powerful but vulnerable species is just one of the many natural experiences on offer in the country.
“Gorillas are without a doubt our greatest draw but Uganda has plenty more to offer - from plains game to chimpanzees, excellent birding, culture and mountain trekking that beats that in Kilimanjaro”
COLIN MUHOOZI, UGANDA TOURISM PROJECT MANAGER
Gorilla Habituation is a new and truly unforgettable experience, only available in Uganda, and is a fascinating way to really get to know your distant ape cousins.
I took an extremely challenging three- hour trek into the Ruhija district of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, to find the Oruzogo group, a family of 17 gorillas habituated to humans presence. Little did we know that this number would soon become 18. It is common for mother gorillas to hide a new-born for up to a week, but Nykeina revealed her precious cargo to us just after it had been born. Our accompanying rangers were astounded: they didn’t even know she was pregnant.
The Bikingyi Gorilla Family, in the south of Bwinidi Impenetrable Forest, is the latest Gorilla group to be lined up for paying tourists who can now be part of their habituation by accompanying rangers to locate their 'nests', identify group members and spend time watching the typical behaviour.
Tim Henshall, of the Uganda Tourist Board UK, says the recent gorilla baby boom in Uganda is a direct result of tourism to the country: "The best way to help protect these precious creatures is to go and see them," he says.
And tourists are, with the majority of tour operators operating in the country reporting significant increases in enquiries for Uganda.
But Uganda is not all about gorillas. Chimp trekking is also on offer with Kibale Forest National Park home to the greatest variety and concentration of primates anywhere in Africa: almost 1500 chimpanzees, including a community of 120 habituated chimps. Visitors can spend an adrenaline-fuelled hour with them.
The chimps are highly mobile and active as they move around in their social groups, so keeping up with them is no mean feat – as I discovered. You hear their distinctive cries throughout the forest long before you see them hanging from the trees.
Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale began in 1991 when the first family of apes had been successfully habituated to the presence of humans. Back then the chances of a sighting were less than 20% but now stands at over 90% – a big tick on any adventurer's list.
Uganda is well known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ and has 10 national parks. These include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, with its much sought-after mountain gorillas; Queen Elizabeth National Park, rich in game and home to the tree-climbing lion; Murchison Falls National Park, where the mighty Nile squeezes through a narrow gorge before it falls over 140ft; Kidepo Valley National Park and Jinja, the adventure capital of Uganda and the source of the legendary River Nile.
Mount Elgon, once the highest mountain in Africa, is a stunning and undiscovered park near the border with Kenya. Its many feaures include the Sipi Falls, cave-dwelling elephants and some of the finest Arabic coffee in Africa (the Basigu tribe's most closely held secret).
Meanwhle, the mystical Rwenzori mountains (the 'Mountains of the Moon') offer some of the most picturesque trekking in Africa. Rwenzori means 'Rainmaker' which is why its landscape is so beautiful – but also why should recommend clients pack a pair of wellies!
Uganda is also arguably Africa's richest birding destination with an impressive 1,063 species identified. Dramatic, diverse and distinctly different, Uganda can satisfy most traveller's bucket list dream experiences.
Accommodation: On a peninsula above Lake Mulehe in the shadows of the Virunga Mountain Range, the new Lake Mulehe Gorilla Lodge from Churchill Safaris will open its doors in September.
The Rezidor Hotel Group, in partnership with AYA Investment Group, has acquired The Pearl of Africa Hotel Kampala and added it to the Quorvus Collection. The 296-room hotel will open later this year with facilities including a wellness spa and two outdoor and one indoor swimming pool.
Volcanoes Safaris' Bwindi Lodge's main building has undergone a total upgrading and redecoration of the interior. The bedrooms are also being revamped and redecorated and were due to be completed by the end of June. The changes see it join the ranks of Africa's top safari lodges.
Wildwaters Lodge is currently undergoing an eco-refurbishment, with green-friendly composite decking replacing over a kilometre of wooden decks.
The Kampala Serena Hotel has spent eight million dollars on a new main lobby, remodelling its Pearl of Africa fine-dining restaurant (including a new Champagne bar) and adding 36 additional guest rooms.The first phase of a 10-year 'masterplan' was completed in in April.
The Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort and Spa has a new Golf Academy with a putting green, pitching and bunker area and netted driving range. Nine new holes will be completed in 2018.
Mahongany Springs has opened a new Honeymoon Suite – guests can bathe in a candlelit bath tub whilst looking over Bwindi Forest. They may even get a special visit from a family of gorillas – the animals can wander into the camp for a snack.
Tours: Tour operators continue to add Uganda product, among them Africa Excel, Rainbow Tours and Titan Travel (titansafaris.com), which has a new trip offering games drives, nature walks and river boat rides.
Nkuringo Walking Safaris has a trekking itinerary that follows in the footsteps of Dian Fossey. The company is represented in the UK by Africa-Reps.
Where to book it
Rainbow Tours offers a nine-day fully-guided individual tour including a visit to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to track mountain gorillas, starting from £3285pp including flights, accommodation and permits.
The Great Apes of Uganda 12-day tour from Titan costs from £3,899pp including flights, accommodation, meals, game drives and gorilla and chimpanzee permits.
A luxury 11 -day tailormade trip from The Explorations Company is £7,000pp including all meals, two chimpanzee trekking permits and two gorilla trekking permits per person, a visit to Bigodi Swamp and Mabamba Swamp (to see the rare shoebill), a traditional lunch in a local house, community walks, park fees in Queen Elizabeth National Park and game drives as well as a boat cruise, bird watching treks in Bwindi, 4W4 road transfer with a private guide and one light aircraft flight. International flights not included.