Self drive trip through Uganda – part 4 – Bwindi 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 had an early breakfast before checking out at Turaco Treetops and drove off around 7:30 AM. We had booked three nights at Broadbill forest camp in the Ruhija sector of Bwindi national park. We drove through Kibale national park and took a left turn just before the crater lakes. It is a shortcut that avoids driving all the way via Fort Portal. The road is very scenic passing through local villages where they grow tea, bake bricks, grow coffee and have banana plantations. At a certain point we were afraid the road might not be negotiable anymore, but we eventually managed to reach the surfaced road to Kasese. You then have the Rwenzori mountains on your right. From Kasese you drive through Queen Elizabeth national park almost all the way to Hikiki. Once beyond Kasese the road is dirt road all the way till Bwindi with the exception of Hikiki town. You sometimes spot birds, monkeys, buffalo and duiker. In Hikiki you find a Total petrol station and banks and an ATM. Only when we drove up to the Total station, they had not enough petrol left and could only fill up for 100000 UGX. The road then continues through beautiful forest areas. Along the road children ask for money, this was the first time this happened since we were in Uganda. 

We finally reached the Ruhija UWA headquarters and about 20 min. later Broadbill forest camp where we were welcomed with a glass of refreshing forest tomato juice. It took us 9 hours to drive from Kibale to Ruhija in Bwindi, quite a long drive. The tatched safari tents have great views over Bwindi from the balcony. We had chosen this lodge because it is owned by a renowned bird expert in Uganda, Emmy Gongo. We had dinner and met our birding guide Gordon Tukwasibwe, planning our birding walk for the second day of our stay. When we came to our tent the lights were on, the mosquito net pulled down and in our bed we were welcomed with a warm water bottle, heaven!! The nights get quite cold here and the beds have warm blankets.

We got op at 6 AM, had breakfast and left for the gorilla tracking in Ruhija sector. Before the briefing at 8 AM, a local group of women entertained us with a dancing and singing performance, it was very energetic and uplifting, dressed in the national colors, yellow, red and black. After the dancing we got a briefing about the tracking, and a brief history about the park. Who wished could get a porter to carry their backpack, and you could also get a bamboo walking stick (do take the stick!). The porters not only carry your backpack, they also help you if needed on difficult parts of the road. We were tracking the Mukiza family, a gorilla group of 16 individuals named after the silverback, with several adults, and mothers with four baby gorilla’s. We were seven in out group who then set out for tracking. The groups walks on the tempo of the slowest in the group. Trackers are sent out before us to locate the group. After about 45 minutes we found our group of gorillas, they were in thick undergrowth, so it wasn’t very easy to watch them through the leaves and high grass, but the trackers would clear it a bit to get a better view. We first saw the silverback of the group. We then saw some young adults, and later also the smallest ones of the group with their mothers nearby. They were mostly resting, eating, grooming and the smallest ones were playing and even climbing a tree. For a full hour we stayed near the group observing them, if they moved we followed. 

After a little over an hour we started on our return, but just a bit further the whole group crossed the road we were on, and so we actually saw all 16 members of the group close up without plants hindering the sight. After another 45 minutes mostly climbing we reached the UWA offices again where we received our certificate. It was a very successful tracking experience. We enjoyed our packed lunch on one of the benches outside the UWA offices. In the afternoon we drove to Bakiga village, a kind of little tourist hub, which disappointed me enormously so we returned to Broadbill Forest camp and enjoyed some hours on the balcony of our room which boasts a spectacular view of Bwindi forest. 

We had booked a birding/nature walk outside the Bwindi forest with a birding guide from Broadbill Forest camp for the second morning. We did not go for the full day birding tour inside the nature park to the Bwindi swamp, since we would have to pay the entrance fee twice (80 USD), and pay for the activity in the forest twice (60 USD), and would have to pay the birding guide on top of that (50 USD), together this would cost us 190 USD, which we found a bit over the top. A full day was also too long for us and we weren’t the avid birders who had a list of birds we wanted to cross off. 

The next morning we left around 8 AM with our guide Gordon and parked our car at the UWA Ruhija headquarters. From there we walked a bit in the direction of Bakiga village and turned right at the first road. There we started our bird watching tour of about 4,5 hours. Birding means little walking and a lot of looking up in trees. But we managed to see over 40 different species of birds, some endemic to that specific area of Uganda. Gordon is very knowledgeable, recognises each bird by its call, and then starts calling the birds by wisthling and using a recorder to play the calls of the birds. After 4 hours I kind of strained my neck a bit, but is was also very rewarding. We had a very tasty vegetarian spaghetti Napolitana as lunch, incredible how they manage to cook such different kinds of food in such a remote area.  

We spent the afternoon chilling in our room, on the balcony of our room and roaming in the garden of the lodge. That evening we asked to skip the soup because the meals were just too big for us. 

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