Uganda

When We Were There: June 4-15, 2009

Places We Visited: Kampala, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Jinja

View all of our posts about Uganda here.

Exchange Rate: $1 = 2,000 Uganda Shilling
See a breakdown of our Uganda budget here.

WHAT WE DID

Kampala
We based ourselves in Kampala, starting and ending our time in Uganda here. We walked around the city, checked out the craft markets (not so great), and saw where Jeff’s sister was doing research for the summer. We also visited the Beads for Life project, a non-profit that teaches needy local women business skills and helps them start their own businesses.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
What else would you come to Bwindi for but to track the mountain gorillas? We were lucky enough to get to do this, spending an hour with one of the gorilla groups that calls this thick forest home. We were fortunate in that the group wasn’t too far in the forest, but the trip did involve a few hours of hard hiking. We also made a visit to the local hospital at the recommendation of a volunteer staying at our accommodations. It was an interesting hospital as they’re doing really amazing things and are an example for all of Africa.

Queen Elizabeth National Park
We did a guided tour of the less-visited southern section of the park, where we were able to spot the tree-climbing lions indigenous to this area. We then continued on to the more popular area of the park, where we did an early morning game drive as well as an afternoon river trip. We also went trekking in search of chimpanzees, which we found after a few hours of hiking.

Jinja
We braved the wild Class 5 rapids of the White Nile on a full-day whitewater rafting trip with Nile River Explorers. We also wandered down to the source of the Nile, which was a complete tourist trap.

WHERE WE STAYED

Kampala Backpackers (Kampala): I wasn’t much impressed with this popular backpackers, though the rooms varied and some were significantly better than others. Jeff’s parents had a pretty nice room. Our first room was shoddy, and I’m pretty sure we had nighttime rodent visitors. Our second room was a step up though nothing to get excited about. They offer food but service is really, really slow. We did organize our Bwindi/Queen Elizabeth trip through them, and it was very well-done, and I would recommend that service. 50,000 for a double with private bathroom.

Silverback Gorilla Camp (Bwindi): This safari style camp had really comfortable and nice tents each set in a private area which you could enjoy from your porch. Hot water was brought to your tent on request for the shower. The staff was very friendly, and the food was also good.

Mweya Safari Lodge (Queen Elizabeth National Park): This very basic lodge is like a budget hotel with sparse rooms and communal bathrooms. The rooms are clean and sufficient, though they can get quite warm with just a dinky fan to cool them. Sleeping with the windows open helps, but then there’s the issue of mosquitoes. A variety of other accommodation options are available at the lodge, some of which were definitely more luxurious.

Fang Fang Hotel (Kampala): This Chinese-run hotel in downtown Kampala was very comfortable with large rooms with private bathrooms, TV, wi-fi access, and the option of AC. It’s a business style hotel and prices are in the Western range, meaning we probably wouldn’t have stayed there if we weren’t with Jeff’s parents.

Gately on the Nile (Jinja): The grounds were very lovely at this upper end hotel, where we stayed with Jeff’s parents. Rooms varied quite a bit. Jeff’s parents had a stand-alone cabin unit, which was very lovely. Our standard room was nice but nothing special.

PLACES WE ATE

We traveled through Uganda with Jeff’s parents and sister, and for the portion of our trip that included Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth National Park we were on an arranged tour of sorts. It wasn’t a tour in the usual sense, as it was just the five of us, but our meals and accommodations were arranged by the organizer. We often ate at hotel restaurants both on the tour and while on our own with his family. The restaurant at the lodge at Queen Elizabeth National Park was excellent, serving multi-course meals that were delicious. The meals in Bwindi, while less fancy, were also good. The restaurant at the Gately on the Nile in Jinja was also very good, and the Fang Fang had a good Chinese restaurant. Try the Passion Fruit Fanta wherever you are. It’s awesome.

Italia (Kampala): As you might guess, Italia serves Italian food. Their pizzas and pastas were very good, and they have a lovely garden where you can sit and enjoy your meal. This restaurant was very convenient to the Beads of Life house.

Notes
*Normally you must book months in advance in order to have a chance at gorilla trekking as group size is limited to 8 people per gorilla family. Because tourism is so down this year with the economic crisis, we were able to get tickets a few days before. We were very, very lucky. If you’re set on doing it, don’t take your chances: book in advance. Also be prepared to pay, as it is quite expensive, but in my opinion totally worth it.

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