UGANDA / RWANDA : 12 Days
AFRICA OF THE GREAT LAKES, from the Source of the Nile to the Gorillas of the Virunga.
The Africa of the Great Lakes is an almost unknown region. A mythical region that is eternally green. A crossroads for all nomadic peoples, it is also the source of two of Africa’s great rivers: the Nile and the Congo. From the breathtaking waterfalls where the Nile meets Lake Victoria, a veritable inland sea scattered with hundreds of lush green islands, to Lake Albert sustained by the eternal snows of the Rwenzori Mountains.
Lake Edward, entirely located in a large protected area, is an eco-system unique in its diversity of African fauna. Lake Kivu, which lies on the border with the Congo, is a rare African gem, created by volcanoes and surrounded by mountains and hills.
Uganda is situated right on the Equator. With its 37 million inhabitants it is a large country of savannah grasslands dotted with lakes and papyrus marshes, through which the perpetually majestic Nile meanders slowly, plunging over cliffs to form waterfalls and rapids which are among the most spectacular in the world. Uganda is also the land of the Rwenzori Mountains, the famous “Mountains of the Moon” with their snow-capped peaks; of the western branch of the Rift Valley with its sparkling lakes; of impenetrable forests of jungle vegetation; of hills that have been cultivated with care by meticulous local farmers, of vast stretches of grassland used by the proud nomadic herdsmen of the Banyankole tribe; of tea plantations whose endless green carpet stretches to the distant horizon.
The National Parks scattered throughout the country are home to an unparalleled abundance and variety of wildlife. Uganda is above all a tapestry of interwoven peoples and tribes, Acholi, Luo, Lango and Alur nomads, the Baganda, Bahutu and Gisu who are of Bantu origin, Swahili, Arabic and Asian businessmen. It was with good reason that it had so impressed Winston Churchill, who referred to Uganda as “the Pearl of Africa” in the heart of the British Empire.
Rwanda, on the other hand, is a small land-locked country which is trying to move away from the violent images and genocide of its recent past, to once again live in peace and allow us to visit its beautiful hillsides ringing with the sound of children’s laughter. Lake Kivu has a rare beauty all of its own. Its hundreds of small islands, its incredibly sculpted banks and clear waters form a unique picture which captivates travellers on their voyage of discovery. The Virunga Mountains, giant volcanoes with luxuriant green slopes, are home to the rare Mountain Gorilla, which we visit in their jungle environment. This is one of only two such sanctuaries remaining in the wild.
The source of the Nile
The Murchison Falls
The Great Lakes: Victoria, Albert, Edward, Kivu
Murchison National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Discover on foot the chimpanzees of Budongo Forest and Kyambura Gorge
Discover on foot the last mountain gorillas
This safari entails about 2,000 km of tracks and roads in comfortable vehicles.
There will be 11 nights spent in good hotels and nicely located tented camps, with cold lunches, warm and varied dinners.
The climate is Equatorial (25 – 30°C). Some nights can be fresh, mostly at high altitudes.
There is a risk of rain in the Virunga region.
There will be an experienced, English-Speaking guide during the whole safari.
Day 1 – ARRIVE AT ENTEBBE
The approach to Entebbe airport over the string of tiny islets scattered through the iridescent waters of Lake Victoria is breathtakingly spectacular. Accommodation in Entebbe.
Day 2 – SOURCE AND RAPIDS OF THE NILE
As soon as we leave the hotel, we are immediately plunged into the luxuriant, eternally green vegetation of equatorial Africa.
The road follows the banks of Lake Victoria until we reach Kampala, and then splits off, heading east into the mountainside tea plantations and sugar cane fields. Further on is the enormous lake, where a majestic river embarks upon its long journey to the sea: this is the source of the Nile, the goal of all such journeys of discovery. It is a deeply moving moment.
A little further north of Bujagali an enormous volume of water passes through a jagged gorge forming spectacular rapids and waterfalls.
Accommodation in Jinja
Day 3 – KAMPALA – MASINDI
We return to Kampala, “Hill of the Impalas” in Luganda. Kampala is the capital city of Uganda with over 1 million inhabitants, and has an architectural style that reflects the diverse ethnic origins of its population. There are Mosques with their minarets pointing to the sky and Sikh temples flaunting their decadent sculptures, while the Roman Catholic cathedral displays an airy façade and the Anglican Church brings back memories of Victorian propriety. On the road out of the city in a popular quarter on a hillside are the Tombs of Kasubi.
They are on the site of an ancient royal palace and are the burial tombs of 4 Bagandan kings who have stamped their authority on local history over the last hundred years. This large straw hut with its sacred wall is the most important monument in Uganda. Here we familiarize ourselves with the traditions and costumes of the great Ugandan tribe. As we drive on the fields of banana trees and yams slowly give way to other crops such as maize and cassava which do not need so much water.
Having now left the tarmac road, we pass the vast cattle farms where long-horned cattle drink from scarce water holes.
Accommodation in Masindi
Days 4/5 – MURCHISON NATIONAL PARK
The meanders of the great river Nile and its impressive waterfalls, the grasses of the plains and tree-covered hills, the indigenous rainforest and the Borassus palm trees, the lake shores and the marshlands of the delta, make this park one of wild natural beauty.
Murchison Falls It is a place whose fauna makes it increasingly more important to conservationists. At Kanyo Pabidi, as we enter the Budongo forest we get our first glimpse of the chimpanzees. The Kabalega Waterfalls are undeniably one of the most remarkable sights in the park. They were named after a Munyoro chief who put up fierce resistance to the European explorers and the Sudanese slave traders looking for the source of the White Nile. Here the river makes a path across a narrow gorge and unleashes hundreds of gallons of water over the edge of a 43m high precipice. Further on the Nile will quietly rejoin the vast waters of Lake Albert.
What a striking contrast. We take to the water in a boat to get a closer look at the waterfalls and to enjoy a unique opportunity to observe the thousands of vibrantly coloured birds, herds of buffalo at the water’s edge and crocodiles sunbathing on the riverbanks. The Ugandan Cob is the most commonly seen antelope; the Hartebeest and Oribi are also common. Among the thousands of birds, we must mention the Abyssinian Hornbill and the rare Shoebill Stork.
We also cross the Nile by boat to the lakeside area, watering hole for elephant and Rothschild Giraffe.
Accommodation in the Park
Day 6 – DELTA OF THE NILE – LAKE ALBERT
At the park exit, accessible only by a small narrow strip of land in the middle of the papyrus reeds on the huge delta, is the village home of the Waseko fishermen. Here the people live in tune with the rhythm of their spoils in the waterways with their changing currents at the mercy of the floodwaters and the wind. Water is omnipresent. On the market place there is an incredible display of merchandise for sale, often to Congolese smugglers.
Freshly caught fish is smoked on large open metal racks. Moving into the eastern part of the Rift Valley we come to Lake Albert and its coastal fringes where flocks of small zebu are tended by the proud Alur herdsmen, while their women tend the fields of cassava and cotton or rebuild the thatch on their spacious huts.
At Butiaba, previously an extremely active lakeside port, a narrow tongue of land flanked by Borassus palm trees pushes into the lake to the warm water.
What an idyllic spot! Further on the road negotiates the cliffs of the escarpment and crosses the fertile agricultural area growing sweet potatoes and tobacco.
Accommodation in Hoima
Day 7 – WESTERN UGANDA
Today we make the acquaintance of deepest Uganda, whose countryside and villages are accessed on a laterite slope. From Hoima to Fort Portal, the landscape is mainly high plateaus and valleys, at the bottom of some, rivers have evaporated into wet marshlands.
Several villages of economic importance cling to the slopes and act as trading places for villagers who often have to carry their harvest on their backs.
It is an area supporting mainly agriculture and cattle grazing. Further south the tea plantations display their resplendent green carpet as far as the eye can see. Once we branch off at Kyenjojo, the landscape becomes more tortuous as we reach the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, whose snow-capped peaks we can see in the distance. At Kasese we cross the equator and enter the large open plains of the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Accommodation in the park
Days 8/9 – QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
This magnificent park in the middle of the Rift Valley encompasses Lake Edward and Lake George, which are joined by the natural waterway of the Kazinga Canal, which we explore by boat. Extinct volcanoes, crater lakes, marshes and savannah grassland support the different eco-systems within the park.
More than 500 different species of birds have been counted, a great number of them in the shallows or following buffalo and elephant. On the hills invaded by euphorbia, large herds of Ugandan Cob, Topi and Forest Hog are commonly seen. The huge fig trees of the Kyambura Gorge provide a safe refuge for families of Chimpanzee.
Accommodation in the park
Day 10 – HILLS AND VOLCANOES
Here the grass-covered hills are pastures for the remarkable flocks belonging to the Banyankole tribe. The enclosed valleys are filled with a mixture of banana and coffee plantations.
Once past Kabale the busy commercial centre, the countryside offers us an unbelievable palette of green, from the blue-green of the eucalyptus trees which divide this tapestry into a multitude of tiny pieces, and the deep green of the cypress trees that line the slopes, to the light green of the paddy fields at the bottom of the sheltered valleys. As we come round the bend in the dirt road we are afforded the most magnificent view of the whole volcano chain of the Virunga Mountains. At Kisoro, the lava road splits and we head towards the Rwandan border.
Accommodation near to the Volcanoes National Park
Day 11 – MOUNTAIN GORILLAS – LAKE KIVU
As the first light of dawn breaks through the curtain of mist clinging to the summits of Karisimbi, Bisoke, Sabyinyo, Gahinga and Muhabura, we make our way into the Volcanoes National Park.
Tracking the gorillas through the unique vegetation can take several hours of challenging walking in wet and muddy conditions. Seeing a gorilla makes the trek worth the hardship. In the late afternoon drive to Rubavu, a small town located on the northern shore of Lake Kivu.
Accommodation on the lakeshore
Day 12 – DEPARTURE
Enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the lakeshore or a refreshing early morning swim. After a wholesome breakfast, leave the gleaming waters of Lake Kivu and journey back to Kigali, through the beautiful countryside of the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’.
Transfer to the airport.