Drive yourself on an adventurous journey, exploring a mix of attractions in Uganda. I had the absolute joy of reaching out to 4×4 Car Hire Uganda that managed to arrange for us a four-week trip with the rooftop tent to explore Murchison Falls National Park and other parks then last at Mabamba Swamp outing. Maike was responsive to my request and questions, with about a delay of a day as I was writing from the USA.
They were able to help me choose which park would be best for what I wanted to see and also accommodated me with my additional request to see Mabamba Swamp. Since I am a birdwatcher, they suggested a combined guide/bird expert to which I agreed and was well worth it.
The guide Kaggwa, was knowledgeable on birds and wildlife, culture, history, and just about every question I had. He was easygoing and enjoyable to talk to while on the long drives, his knowledge of birds and habitats was excellent although I spotted some birds that gave his brain some good exercise.
His contacts and networks are extensive so he always gets the good information on where to get the best views/shots/spots, but also, he listens to the needs/wishes of the traveler and accommodates. I am not a big “shopper” or touristy kind of person and he recognized this and skipped over so we can get to the things I love. He is clearly a man who loves his country, and all the wildlife it holds, and looks positively to the future.
Now on to the good stuff:
Leaving my hotel early in the morning we high tailed it through Kampala and the country side to the boat launch. Picked up our local guide and boat driver and were off cruising the canals off this expansive freshwater swamp. Right away we were spotting birds left and right, the guide standing prominently on the bow scanning and pointing out birds while calling out their names. I was getting a complete work out bring my binoculars to my eyes and then switching to my camera. Throughout the local guide was in contact with the other guides who were all searching for the swamp’s specialty, the Shoe bill Stork.
Only about nine of these live around in the swamp and the local guides keep tabs on them for the government. After two attempts down paths that these birds frequent, a guide spotted one off a far branch and we made our way to it. Along a stretch of floating vegetation stood a tall blue-gray bird with scraggly feathers and a beak that looks like a Danish clog, slowly watching the waters for its favorite food the lungfish. After this pinnacle we motored back to the launch and headed back into town, it had already been a half of a day.
Murchison Falls National Park
Departing early in the morning we crossed through the notorious Kampala traffic, had a 30-minute delay due to car trouble but was finally on our way north. The first stop was at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where we picked up a guide and traveled into the large reserve which is completely fenced in. This is for the protection of the Rhinos to prevent poaching but also prevents predators from getting in making it relatively safe to get out of the car and hike around.
A simple walk into the bush had us meet up with the two guards who are constantly following Rhinos escorting them and preventing hunting. The led us to a series of bushes about ten yards in front of us, the ranger pointed, I looked I didn’t see anything in the shadow of the bushes.
I looked again peering into the darkness under the trees. The darkness moved and became less dark almost like an earthy dark grey, the large hulk of a full-sized Rhino filled the space below the vegetation, hiding from the midday sun. Below its snout a tiny lump stirred.
A baby Rhino, cute as a button, stood up and ventured out to munch on some grasses. Even though it was cloudy we stood in the shade of some trees and watched the pair venture out to graze on the grasses. After a while the guide asked if I wanted to see more…um…yea. We walked back to the car and drove to a more open grassland and parked we got out and walked across the plain for quite some time.
The sun was high and large puffy clouds drifted across the sky, large birds of prey soared in the thermals above us, and small birds called from tree tops across that vast expanse.
We were heading to an earthen mound with boulders sticking out and around it. At its base were two female Rhinos with baby calves following them around as they grazed. Calm and familiar to humans they passed close by allowing for some great photo shots and memorable moments.
We headed back to the car IDing birds along the way and then headed back north to Masindi and eventually the Red Chili Rest Camp where we stayed for the night. We ate a simple delicious dinner while sipping on cold beer and watched the sun set over an expansive view of the Nile River.
The next morning, we departed heading to the top of the falls where the Nile River scrambles down the African Escarpment through a 7-meter gap in the rocks with roaring thunderous power.
The site was hypnotizing, and the only reference to reality was a small sign stating “Dangerous, do not go beyond this point” beyond the sign the rocks gently sloped to the edge where the rushing torrent of water washed and surged by.
We continued to the Bugungu Chimpanzee refuge where the forest is so thick it is best described as a jungle. The guide led me down paths that quickly ran into small “game” trails that wound themselves through the undergrowth. Every now and then he would call on the radio to other groups to see where the chimps were.
We eventually caught up with a group on the side of a gently sloping hill with some downed trees that provided broad windows into the upper canopy. There nestled into the branching forks of the tree’s trunk were large furry patches of black.
The guide informed us that was their signal that they wanted to move to a new area. I watched as they formed up into a group did some social grooming and headed off. In total we saw the following primates: Baboons, Chimpanzees, Velvet Monkey, Black and White Colobus Monkey, Patas Monkey.
Meeting up with my driver we headed out and took the long way around as the ferry was out and we had over a 100km to go to get to our lodgings Ft. Murchison Lodges for the evening. This accommodation is set back from the banks of the river and provides a peaceful panorama view of Africa.
This was the morning where the roof top of the vehicle was extended allowing for a shady 360-degree view around the car and the surrounding landscape. We entered the park and all you see for miles in every direction was wildlife, the park was teaming with it. The scene set before you are long expanse of rolling plains dotted occasionally by acacia trees, towards the bottom of the slopes are creek beds that support a thicker density of trees.
Animals that we saw were: Water bok, Kob, Oribi, Jackson Heart beast, Giraffe, Buffalo, Elephant, Warthog, Dwarf Mongoose, Monitor Lizard, Hippopotamus, Side Stripped Jackel, Nile Crocodile, Lions. Around noon we pulled up to the ferry landing to climb aboard a skiff to take the three-hour boat tour along the Nile River up to the bottom of the falls.
Along the way the guide explains the river, the ecosystem and all the wildlife along it. Motoring along the edge of the river gave us great views of the Nile Crocodile, Hippos, Jackson Heart-Beast, Elephants, so many elephants, storks, egrets, herons and African Fish Eagles.
The river turns to foam as you approach closer to the falls, and the sound of rushing water is coupled with a distant thunderous cacophony. The guide pilots the boat to a rock sitting in the middle of the river bumps up to a tire placed there and you can climb out for a better view, but don’t fall in the river runs swiftly by this point and as the guide says you would be food for the crocs. Only sport fishing boats venture past this point in search of massive Nile Perch.
We motored back down the river watching the shadows grow long and set foot back on solid ground. My guide had talked with the others waiting around the parking areas and they were sharing information; Lions had been spotted! We raced against the setting sun along the dirt tracks, we had been told earlier in the day they were spotted in an area that we had staked out to no avail. Now we had been given new information beyond the mornings area they were spotted resting in some thickets.
I snapped photos of the setting sun and watched as groups entered the park for a nocturnal wildlife viewing. To top it off we watched as Crowned Cranes the national bird of Uganda soared above us on their way to their evening roost.
The next day we wound our way back down to Kampala stopping when we spotted a bird given history lessons of the areas we drove through. At the end I was dropped off at the hotel for the evening and I departed early the following morning. All and all it was one of the most exhilarating experiences I was lucky to have.
Good service provided by 4×4 Car Hire Uganda setting up a tour that was slightly customized to my preferences. Great guide in Kaggwa who knew birds, wildlife, and local networking connections.
Mabamba Swamp, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Bugungu Forest Chimpanzees, Top of the Falls, Bottom of the falls via Nile River boat tour, Murchison Falls NP Safari that saw lions, Jackles, Giraffes, Hippopotamus, Elephants, Jackson Heart beast, a range of antelopes, Shoe bill Stork, Vultures, eagles, and numerous other birds, and amazing natural wonders and vistas.