Get up close and personal with mountain gorillas.
Along with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda is home to the last remaining population of mountain gorillas on Earth. Families are found in Mgahinga National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, in the country’s far southwest. Bwindi is home to 14 habituated groups of gorillas, with a total population of 400 according to the last regional census in 2012. Groups of eight people, led by armed rangers and qualified trackers, can spend an hour with these beguiling primates, usually after an arduous trek through thick rainforest. At $600 (£480), permits are expensive but far cheaper than the $1,500 required to see gorillas in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park
Connecting Lake Edward and Lake George in western Uganda, this 40km channel is home to the largest concentration of hippopotami in East Africa. At only 8m deep, the channel makes for the perfect resting place for these hulking mammals, which spend most of the day bathing in the shallows along its banks. It’s also possible to see large groups of elephants, as well as African fish eagles and pied kingfishers. Be sure to pack binoculars and charter a smaller boat in order to get first-hand information from the pilots who are also naturalists.
Spend time with the Batwa
And the Batwa, previously known as pygmies, are conservation evacuees. Traditional hunter-gatherers, they were taken out of Mgahinga and Bwindi when both became national parks in the 90’s. Since then, they have been marginalized, forced to eke out a living working on others’ land and losing their traditional skills. With the Batwa, Tribe elder Safari Monday holds special sessions for guests at the lodge, teaching them about traditional hunting and herbal medicine, with the chance to visit the village and learn more about their plight.
Catch a glimpse of tree-climbing lions
Track endangered golden monkeys
Found only in the Virunga Volcanoes forests that stretch across the borders of Rwanda, Uganda, and DR Congo, golden monkeys’ number just 4,000. Unlike mountain gorillas, however, they tend to stay put, meaning treks to find them within Mgahinga National Park’s swathes of bamboo are relatively straightforward, if somewhat strenuous on the thighs. Permits cost $90 (£68), with visitors allowed an hour with the habituated groups.
Learn all about coffee while being pampered at Kyambura
Renovated in 2018, Kyambura Gorge Lodge is one of Uganda’s hottest luxury hotels, with just eight standalone “bandas”, or houses, offering sweeping savannah views over Queen Elizabeth National Park and the newly protected gorge. While its spa and pool make for the ultimate rest stop after a day’s wildlife watching, the nearby Omwani Coffee Cooperative is a must-see. Run by 11 local women and their families, the cooperative teaches guests at Kyambura about the coffee-making process, and travelers can tour the 100-acre farm before sipping on samples that make Starbucks’ finest taste like cheap instant by comparison.
Spreading northeast from Lake Albert, Murchison Falls National Park is another gem for wildlife lovers. As well as the largest population of Nile crocodiles in Uganda, there are also elephants and Rothschild’s giraffes. It’s also possible to fish for Nile perch in the raging white waters of the world’s longest river as it crashes into a waterfall. With over 450 different birds, including the rare shoebill stork, it’s a paradise for birdwatchers too.