Self drive trip through Uganda – part 3 – Kibale national park

We made a 16 day 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 checked out after a really good breakfast at Murchison River Lodge. We had a long drive ahead to Kibale National park. We left Murchison around 9 AM and arrived at Turaco Treetops just outside Kibale national park around 5:30 PM. We filled our tank on the first Total fuel station just outside Murchison Park, when you come onto the tarmac road. Later we were happy we did, because we did not see any Total or Shell fuel stations anymore. We could only pay cash here. The road is al tarmac, and in very good condition, it looks quite recent, on some parts they were still painting the lines in the middle of the road. At the entrance of Kibale National park we stopped at the UWA headquarters, to book two chimpanzee tracking permits. We chose the second day, since that was a Monday, over a Sunday. The local office at Kibale had not received any info from the Kampala office on whether the permits had sold out or not, so the woman from the office said she could sell us the permits since she had no knowledge of them being sold out. We could pay by credit card. 

We continued toward Bigodi ( a little town at the other side of the park) planning to book a swamp walk with Kafred for the next morning. Only we couldn’t figure out which was the official Kafred office to book the swamp walk with. Don’t go to the Beehive cafe, that is not where you get the official Kafred guides. Since we weren’t sure we decided to head to the Lodge and let the lodge book the walk with the right office for us. On our way to the lodge we were stopped by an employee of the lodge (Mike) who asked if he could get a lift with us. We kindly took him, and he assured us he would book us a walk with the real Kafred guides for a Bigodi swamp walk the next morning at 8 AM. 

Arriving at the lodge we were welcomed by Connie, and our luggage was taken to our room. We had dinner at the beautiful dining area, overlooking the swimming pool, the forest and the Rwenzori moutains in the back. 

The next morning after breakfast we headed out to Bigodi, Connie had sent us a photo of the signpost on the side of the road we had to look out for. If you come from Kibale park, it is the first office just after you pass the bridge. On the sign the logo and name Kafred it seen in the left upper corner of the sign. You have to drive down towards the offices. 

We were welcomed by our guide. You can only pay in Ugandan shilling. The walk costs 50000 UGX per person and the walk takes between 2 and 3 hours depending on your interest. You can also choose for just half a walk of 1,5 hours. You walk in fact around the swamp, in between the swamp border and the community farm land. So on one side you pass fields with corn, sweet potato, coffee, cabbage, peas …. We spotted red colobus and mangabey, turacos, hornbill, an emerald snake, … and the guide told us many stories about the people living around the swamp. Along the way several kids are selling self made clay statues and small wooden sculptures. Tip: do not spend all your money on the first one. You will feel guilty not being able to give something to all the others along the way.

Our walk took 3 hours, and we got back at the offices by 11 AM. The walk was nice, the guide really knowledgeable, but we were a little disappointed in the number of birds we saw during the walk. 

In the afternoon we wanted to walk around one of the crater lakes starting at CVK Lakeside Resort, a lodge on the border of one of the crater lakes on the Rweteera area. We promised to have a drink at the lodge on our return. He warned us it might be impossible to get around the whole lake. And in fact we already turned back after about 500 m, the track hadn’t been kept during Covid and it was very difficult to continue. But we saw a hammerhead, a Turaco and two hornbills. Afterwards we had a drink at the terrace of the lodge and had a chat with the manager. 

The next morning after breakfast we headed straight to the tourist office in Kibale park, and even though we were early, around 7:35, most of the other tourist were already there. You have to hand over your permit at the desk, and then you have to fill out your name and other info in the register. At 8 AM the briefing starts in a little classroom, and then they divide everyone into groups of 6 trackers and appoint a guide. We had two female guides, one guide and one guide in training with a gun. You can use the restroom before starting the walk. We walked about one hour when we started hearing the cries of the chimps. On the way the guide stops to point out plants, identify the birds and monkeys you hear. Then we spotted the first chimp and started following it until we reached several other chimps, all males since the females who have babies often stay in the trees, while the males protect them on the ground. Some other groups joined but since there were several chimps we could easily stay in small groups and rotate between the different chimps. Some were resting, others were grooming each other, there were some in the trees… The male chimps had names. We also followed some females with babies but they were a lot shyer and avoided the humans. We spent over one hour with the chimps, at a certain point they got very agitated and loud, there were some colobus monkeys not far off, and they are the favourite prey of the chimps. Before walking back the guides told us some more about the character of the chimps, their diet, mating rituals, how they raise their young ones, …. Before walking back the guide asked who wanted to be picked up by their driver and who wanted to walk back. In our group everyone wanted to walk back. Some people from other groups got picked up on one of the larger dirt roads that connect the research centers in the park. We walked another hour back to base camp where we arrived around noon, and got handed our certificate by our guide. It was a great experience, the guides are very good at their job, the weather was perfect, dry, sunny but not too hot, and we saw around 20 chimps in total. 

After lunch we had a short nap, and drove to Fort Portal to fill up our car on fuel, and visit the Koi Koi village cultural centre, where we took a peek in the shop and had a drink in the outside bar. We got a tour of the grounds and the rooms, the place looks really nice, so do the rooms, but it was still almost empty after Covid. 

We watched the sunset from the restaurant area of Turaco Treetops before dinner, and ordered a packed lunch for the next morning. 

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