The Ultimate Uganda Safari

Mountain Gorillas, Chimps, Big Game Safari, and Murchison Falls

Trip Level

This trip is rated Level 3+, Moderate. During game drives in our 4WD vehicles, we guarantee window seating for all—there’s no taking turns on who gets the window seats. We use five- or seven-passenger Nissan safari vehicles (never minibuses!), and all vehicles have roof hatches for easy wildlife viewing and photography. A cooler of drinks and refreshments is carried aboard. And our 4WD vehicles can go virtually anywhere, an important feature when we’re tracking game. Please note there are some long driving days over rough roads and dusty dirt tracks.

The hikes to see the mountain gorillas can last anywhere from 1 to 6 hours over moderately steep,  thickly forested, and uneven terrain, and the climate will be hot and humid. Gorilla tracking will occasionally feel strenuous as we hike uphill to follow the clans, but we will take breaks along the way. The shape you’re in will be an important factor in your enjoyment of these hikes. Make an effort to get in good physical condition with hiking, biking, running, or other kinds of exercise beyond your normal routine. A brisk 30-45 minute walk every other day over moderately steep terrain can do wonders for your conditioning.

Any African safari is an adventure, and the traveler to Africa should bring along flexibility, a sense of humor, and an openness to the unexpected. Our accommodations will be in comfortable hotels, safari lodges, and tented camps with spacious tents equipped with en suite facilities.

GAME DRIVES & WILD ANIMALS
During drives and walks, we can at times get quite close to wild animals. Being very quiet improves everybody’s chances of observation. In the interest of safety, your Trip Leader explains limitations on movement while on game drives, in the safari vehicles, and around camp. Specific guidelines are in effect for the viewing of chimpanzees and gorillas—both for their protection and for your own.
Incidents with wild animals are extremely rare on safaris, but no trip can guarantee immunity from such incidents. Wilderness Travel is not to be held responsible for incidents involving the behavior of wildlife.

WILDLIFE VIEWING
In Uganda, the wildlife is truly wild. Unlike some of the Kenya and Tanzania game parks, the wildlife here has not been exposed to a great number of humans. Except when viewed from the launch trips on the rivers, Uganda’s wildlife has a healthy, natural shyness of our vehicles. Here we have an opportunity to observe natural behavior. Binoculars are strongly recommended for observing animals as well as birds. They will also be helpful for observing chimpanzees and monkeys who spend much of their time high up in trees. We recommend 10-power if you are interested in seeing and identifying smaller birds.

CHIMPANZEES
Within the reserve, chimpanzees are wild and free to roam wherever they choose. Their movements are influenced not by people but by ecological and social factors. We track chimpanzees by following their morning vocalizations—they tend to call most just after sunrise. Once we hear these calls, we walk as quickly and quietly as possible to find them, as they may only call a few times. Chimps do not associate in permanent groups and the number and identity of them encountered during a visit cannot be ascertained beforehand. As their movements are difficult to predict, finding them is dependent on their behavior and we cannot guarantee we will see them.

Essential Guidelines For Viewing Chimpanzees
Wild chimpanzees are very active and temperamental animals. Their response to visitors will be determined in part by the visitors’ behavior. It is important that the initial approach to the chimps is quiet and calm. If the chimps are feeding, it will be possible to observe them quietly. Once they settle down, the local guides will search for the best possible vantage points and visitors can move around and speak softly. If the animals are traveling, so will the visitors. If the chimps are resting on the ground, visitors must try to be especially calm and quiet. If a chimp starts a threatening display, stay close to the guides and do not run away. If visitors do not disturb or annoy the chimps, it is unlikely they will be aggressive. Binoculars are essential for viewing chimps high up in the trees. Find a comfortable spot, lean back, and enjoy watching them feed, groom, and interact. Chimpanzees are very susceptible to human diseases, especially respiratory ones. To reduce the risk to the animals, visitors are not allowed to eat or smoke while in the forest. It is not possible to approach within five meters (16 feet) of the chimps. This not only protects the animals, but also reduces the risk of aggression from them. It must be remembered that chimpanzees are intelligent and curious, but also very excitable. Visitors must not encourage contact at any time. Photographing chimpanzees can be difficult. They spend much of their time feeding in trees and are often backlit. Flash photography is not permitted as the flash seems to bother them.

GORILLAS
The gorillas we visit have been habituated by park rangers over many years to tolerate the presence of small groups of visitors. The habituation process involves locating the family each day by following their trail of the previous day and then staying with them for as long as the “habituator” is tolerated. In the early stages of the habituation process, the gorillas are very nervous, and the dominant male attempts to intimidate the habituator by chest beating and repeated bluff charges, while the members of his family move away and remain hidden. As the gorillas become more used to these daily visits, the behavior of the adult male becomes less volatile and the daily observation period is gradually extended. Slowly the gorillas come to understand that the observer, whom they recognize, poses no threat to them and so curiosity overcomes fear and they begin to show themselves more readily. At this point, visitors can be taken to the gorillas for the daily visit, starting with one and slowly building up to a maximum of eight people per family of gorillas per day.

Essential Guidelines for Viewing Gorillas
The minimum age for all gorilla tracking participants is 15 years. In order to protect gorillas from communicable diseases, to which they are very susceptible, gorillas cannot be touched by humans. Any traveler with an obvious cold or other communicable illness will not be allowed to participate in the treks. Groups may remain with the gorilla family for a maximum of one hour. It is very important to follow the instructions of your guide at all times. He or she works with the gorillas every day and understands them very well. Always remain in a compact group close behind the guide. The guide will locate the dominant male of the group and will attempt to position you in such a way that the gorilla can see you at all times. It is very important that the dominant male knows exactly where you are and for this reason you must always remain together in one group. If the dominant male approaches very closely or even charges, it is very important that you do not move backwards: remain exactly where you are. The guide may suggest you adopt a submissive posture by sitting down slowly. If a young gorilla approaches, under no circumstances should you make any move to touch it. The guide may try to discourage it from touching you, as this can create a dangerous situation with the dominant male. Avoid sudden movements or loud noises because they can be particularly disturbing to the gorillas. Do not move any vegetation to get a better photo opportunity. Shaking the vegetation is a gorilla threat display! Or, the gorilla may interpret it as an attempt to take away his food—not a good idea when in the company of a 400-pound gorilla. Flash photography is not permitted.

Often the gorillas are found in very dense vegetation where visibility is poor. The guide will very carefully try to maneuver the group of visitors into a better position, but this is slow work, so please be patient. Never forget that these gorillas, while tolerating your presence, are still totally wild animals.

Weather

The climate in Uganda is considered “modified tropical”—similar to the equatorial climate of other East African countries like Kenya and Tanzania, but slightly modified by its altitude, which ranges from 3,500 to 4,500 feet. Daytime temperatures are usually in the 70s and 80s, and humidity is fairly high. You can expect to experience some rain during the course of the trip. Like Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda has two annual rainy seasons, one between March and May and one between October and November.

June, July and August
During these months, the country is refreshingly green and the weather is coolest, especially in the higher altitudes, with a high of 70º to 80ºF and a low of 40º. Riding in the safari vehicle can be chilly some mornings, but the temperature usually warms up by 10:00 am.

September, October and November
These are delightful times to visit Uganda and can be compared to springtime in the US. The jacaranda and other trees are bursting into blossom and the days are warmer. The high temperatures are 75º to 85ºF, with a low of 65º. Scattered rains occur in November and early December. These “short rains” just freshen the country and lay the dust, although they can sometimes be heavy.

December to March
These are Uganda’s “summer” months. The temperature range is from 80º to 90ºF during the day (coastal areas are hotter and can range from 80º to 100º). The evenings range from 50º to 60º.

April and May
The rainy season (the “long rains”) occur during these months.

Choosing the Right Trip

We work hard to help you choose the right trip for you, paying attention to your individual interests, abilities, and needs. If you have questions about the level of comfort or any of the activities described in this itinerary, please contact us.

References

We are proud to have an exceptionally high rate of repeat travelers. For more information, we would be happy to put you in touch with a client who has traveled with us.