Why Uganda Still Has A Place In Our Hearts
Over the last couple of years Rwanda has been at the receiving end of some deservedly excellent press. Leading the way, was Wilderness’s Bisate Lodge, on the “hot list” of every glossy travel publication and reviewed by the world’s most renowned journalists. Magashi Camp, also by Wilderness, is soon to open in the north-eastern corner of Akagera National Park, overlooking Lake Rwanyakazinga. One & Only followed suit with Nyungwe House – a tree plantation setting suited to rainforest walks and chimpanzee trekking in the south-western part of the country. One&Only Gorilla’s Nest will follow shortly in the foothills of the Virunga mountain range. And, for those seeking the absolute crème de la crème of luxury safari experiences, August 2019 will see the openings of Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge and Kataza House.
Yet, for those on a more restricted budget, there is much to be said for gorilla trekking on the Ugandan side. Firstly, at $1,500US each, gorilla permits are more than twice the price on the Rwandan side. Whilst for those travelling at the very top end this might be a drop in the ocean, it remains a serious cost commitment when factoring in accommodation at the upscale camps and lodges.
Yet costs aside, Uganda really is exquisite. What it lacks in terms of world class hotel offerings it makes up for with some of the most captivating scenery imaginable throughout the entire country. If, like us, you enjoy endless swathes of tropical greenery, jungle rainforests alive with birdsong and monkeys, low hanging cloud with huge, dramatic, stormy skies, this may well be your heaven on earth. Flying over Murchison Falls and down to the airstrips of Semliki and Kisoro are some of the most scenically unparalleled flights imaginable.
There’s something about Semliki Safari Lodge which is immediately captivating. Perhaps it’s the sense of yesteryear, before the polished luxury experience we now know so well. It’s certainly the utterly heart-stopping views of the wildlife reserve’s forested wilderness; the natural charm of the staff who manage to combine warmth of character with genuine enthusiasm; semi-permanent tents which are rustic, simple, but perfectly comfortable. It’s not pretending to be anything other than a very special, beautiful bush camp experience, and we loved it for exactly that. Driving through torrential rain with our wonderful guide, John, venturing out by boat to see the endangered shoebill on Lake Albert, sludging around in the puddles tracking chimps in Kibale National Park…Semliki exists in the spirit of adventure and this is what sets it apart.
Another property under the Wildplaces Africa umbrella, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is ideally located for gorilla trekking in the infamous Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. As the highest lodge in Uganda, at nearly 7,000 feet, Clouds showcases utterly exquisite panoramic views across to the Virunga volcanoes and the sense of being in an intimate mountain retreat in one of the most beautiful settings on earth. The individual stone cottages are private, well-spaced and comfortable – each with its own butler and housekeeper (and an excellent laundry service… essential after days spent trekking in the elements). But the truth is, there is nothing which prepares for the experience of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and encountering the endangered Mountain Gorilla for the first time. The trek is arduous (bring the right walking boots!), slippery and at times downright nerve-wracking, but the setting is magnificent. What a joy to descend through resplendent green hills, dewy plantations and dense, sun-flecked forest for such a privileged encounter. The early start, sore feet, rain-drenched outerwear and steep upward climb on the return, somehow made it all the more worthwhile and a welcome change from sitting in a game drive vehicle.
It might not offer the same level of luxury as Rwanda has accomplished over the last few years but let that not detract from the fact that Uganda is profoundly beautiful. Its people have suffered their fair share under the rule of dictatorships and civil unrest. Yet they are some of the kindest, warmest people we’ve encountered in East Africa. It holds a very special place in our hearts and we wholeheartedly recommend a visit to anyone with an adventurous soul and an open mind.