Self drive trip through Uganda – part 1 – Entebbe and Ziwa Rhino sanctuary

We made a trip to Uganda in June 2022, a trip we had planned for the fall of 2021, but some virus decided otherwise. We chose to self drive and stay multiple days in each national park. I organised and planned the whole trip myself, read up a lot in guide books and travel blogs, asked advice from other travellers on Tripadvisor forums, booked a flight and all the lodgings, rented a car, renewed some vaccinations, got malaria prophylaxis and put a medical first aid kit together. I finally stressed out a bit cause this was our first trip to Eastern Africa, and apart from North Africa to Africa as a whole. But we really loved the country, its people, its beautiful nature, its wildlife, the lodgings and the food! So for everyone planning a trip to Uganda I share my travel diary in several parts.

We took the flight from Brussels to Entebbe with Brussels airlines, and although they sell it as a direct flight, the flight to Entebbe flies via Kigali in Rwanda, where they make a stop of 1 hour and fifteen minutes, to let passengers off, refuel, clean the plane, do a headcount, and  let passengers for Brussels on the plane. Before take off they spray the plane with insecticides. Passengers for Entebbe stay on the plane. And although we do not disembark the plane we had to get a negative rapid antigen COVID test less than 72 hours before our flight and fill out the passenger locator form for the stopover in Rwanda. We were only informed about this 72 hours before our flight by Brussels airlines via a mail. The flight to Entebbe takes 35 minutes from Kigali. In Entebbe we got off and they let passengers for Brussels on board. Apart from that the flight was uneventful, you get a warm meal at noon, and a warm snack one hour before you land in Kigali. 

Our first night we stayed at The Guinea Fowl, a guesthouse in Entebbe, about 15 min. drive from the airport. A booked stay includes breakfast and a transfer from the airport to the guesthouse. The guesthouse stands in a lush green garden with mango and avocado trees, Esther is the very friendly host of the place. The breakfast consist of coffee, tea, fruit juice, granola with fresh fruit and milk or yoghurt and a warm dish of choice (full English, eggs, pancakes,…) The rooms are warmly decorated using the beautiful colorful Ugandan textiles. 

The Toyota RAV4 car we rented with Roadtrip Uganda was brought to our guesthouse on our first morning by Solomon, who patiently explained the ins and outs of the car, and also handed us the gorilla permits Roadtrip Uganda had arranged for us. He even changed the spare tire since the one on the rental car had very little profile left on it. 

After a very tasty breakfast we left in the direction of Kampala, and took the toll road around the city centre, the cost is 5000 UGX. When you reach the exit for Kampala centre, take it and take a left on the roundabout in the direction of Mombo. From there it is just straight ahead for 3,5 hours till you reach the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on your left. 

We had booked a night at the sanctuary ranch, because we wanted to take a late afternoon walk to the rhino’s, they are more active in the morning and early evening. 

We first checked in into the Obama room, named after a bull that was born here in 2009 and got the name Obama, around the time president Obama was sworn in as a president. The room has a beautiful porch where flowers welcomed us. We took a late lunch, which was really tasty, with lots of veggies, had a short rest, and started our walk to track the white Rhino’s. They aren’t white at all but they have a wide mouth, which at one point got misspelled as white, and the name stuck. It was just the two of us with our guide Joseph. After a short drive with our car, we walked a few hundred metres and met the first two Rhino’s, a mother named Laloya meaning victory and het daughter Roda who was just 1,5 years old. Each family has a personal ranger looking after them 24/7, mostly to protect them from poachers. 

We walked further and met a group of 8 rhino’s, cows and calves, who were very active at this time of day, very playful, the male calves having play fights. We sometimes were only a few metres  away from the rhino’s, and if they started moving in our direction we tried to get behind a bush or tree, since their eyesight isn’t that great. There are at present 33 rhinos in the park of 70 ha. The guide Joseph was very knowledgeable, he also knew lots of birds, we spotted warthogs, vervet monkeys, waterbuck, gray duiker and the Ugandan kob, the National animal of Uganda.

The next morning we got up at 5:30 AM for a shoebill canoe trip. When we got out of our cabin, it was raining, and though I had the urge to run through the rain, my husband slowed me down because several rhinos were asleep in the courtyard in front of the cabins. Some of them come and sleep in the vicinity of the Ranch at night. We had received plastic boots and floating jackets the previous day. The guide Joseph joined us in our car and we drove about 30 min. to the swamp. There we started a nature walk looking for birds. After about an hour we found a shoebill. It looked a lot more handsome with its blue-grey feathers than on most pictures we had seen. We managed to get pretty close to observe it. We walked back to the car and with the help of Joseph identified many others birds along the way. We then drove a bit further with the car, and boarded a little canoe for a short boat ride. They are now building a bridge and a road just next to the swamp, which disturbs many of the birds, reason we go on a walk looking for the shoebill instead of with the canoe, so no more sunset during the canoe rides… But the walk was really great, even though it rained half way through the walk. Our guide Joseph proved to be a very good bird guide. At the restaurant of the ranch we took a late breakfast which was included in the room rate. We had already chosen our orders for breakfast the previous evening.  

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