I don’t have a bucket list when it comes to traveling. I don’t even know why I don’t; maybe I am scared that I can’t tick everything off in one lifetime.
Mind you, I have had the privilege to do many bucket list worthy things so far: see orangutans in the wild, have a huskie puppy named after me, and scuba dive in the Maldives.
As you can tell the common denominator here is wildlife and so I was the happiest little Travelette when an invitation from Tourismus Uganda and Turkish Airlines arrived in my inbox: I was finally going to see gorillas! If I ever had a bucket list gorillas would have been on the very top.

Uganda is a country in East-Central Africa with a troubled history. First, like so many others as a UK protectorate and after its independence in 1962 shaken by civil wars and an evil dictator. Even today not all is perfect here and the country struggles with issues like poverty, corruption, and a horrid anti-homosexuality bill. On a brighter note, Uganda has free state health care, a dramatically decreased HIV rate, and growing literacy. And of course tourism’s main draw: ten national parks where you can see incredible wildlife and about half of the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world.

Practical Tips for Traveling to Uganda

Visa: Visitors will need to obtain a visa online here which is quick and easy.
Vaccines: Yellow Fever vaccine is mandatory in Uganda and you will need to show proof in order to get your visa online and upon arrival at the airport.
It is highly recommendable to take malaria medication such as Malarone during your stay and use mosquito spray with lots of deet. Definitely make sure to see a health professional before you go!
Getting there: Many international airlines fly to Entebbe from Europe or the US, however, they all come with a layover somewhere. I flew with Turkish Airlines and had a perfect 2-hour break to freshen up in Istanbul. The flight also stops in Kingali however you are not allowed to leave the plane unless Rwanda is your final destination. If you are a country counter this is an excellent chance to add another one to your list without doing much.
The flight times are quite brutal to be honest as we arrived at 4am and departed at 3am. Definitely make sure to book a hotel in Entebbe to get some quality shuteye. I stayed at the K Hotels and the Best Western there and really liked them both.
Money: Uganda uses Uganda Shillings but US Dollars are widely accepted. There are few ATMs however most lodges will accept credit cards and you can exchange money at the airport. You should have some smaller notes for shops, street food, and tips at hand. If you pay in US Dollars make sure your notes are in pristine condition and no older than from 2013.
Getting around: While some people do use public transport or simply hire a car to get around it is not an experience I can tell you about. We had a private car with our amazing guide Beki from Great Lakes Safaris (also an option if you are not part of a group!) who took us around. This is a great option as streets get bumpy in Uganda and you have someone with insider knowledge by your side at all times. Mind you, you will have some really long days driving. As an alternative, some distances can be covered by plane.

Where to stay: Uganda offers a variety of lodges and hotels for all tastes and budgets, ranging from self-catering campsites to ultra luxury eco-lodges. Most lodges include meals such as 3-course dinners, eggs for breakfast and a packed lunch to eat during hikes or while driving to your next destination.

What to see in Uganda

One week was not nearly enough to see all the beauty Uganda has to offer but it gave me a great little teaser including some furry highlights…

Chimpanzee Trekking at Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest is a paradise for bird lovers and home to 13 primate species including the pretty red-tailed monkey and most importantly chimpanzees. A total of 13 families live here with over 1200 members. For now, two groups are habituated for researchers, two are currently ‘in training’ and one can be visited by tourists.
The group that you can visit has 120 members which roam through the forest. Chimps are incredibly vocal using over 50 different sounds to communicate and are very strong. A grown male is as strong as four humans and their only enemy at Kibale are pythons or eagles which may snatch baby chimps from their mothers.
While some are incredibly cute and human-like there is a strict hierarchy in place with one dominant male leading the gang. If challenged by another it will become a fight to the death – chimpanzees don’t even mind biting an opponent’s balls off.

Trekking in Kibale is easy to moderate – make sure to wear good shoes and long pants to prevent fire ants. Don’t forget to take a camera with a good zoom lens as chimpanzees tend to be high up in the trees especially during breakfast time.

We stayed in the aptly named Primates Lodges which was a stunner – if they ask you if you want a hot water bottle in your bed, just say yes!

Safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park

The Queen Elizabeth National Park is probably Uganda’s most famous national park and covers almost 2000 km2 and was named after the queen in 1954. Here you will find leopards, lions, elephants, antelopes, warthogs aka Pumbas and so much more.
The Ishasha section of the park is well-known for its tree lions. Those are not a special breed but simply regular lions who climb into trees when the sun is high to take a nap. In order to see them, you need come early enough as they come down in the evening or when it rains.

While I wasn’t lucky enough to see a tree lion we did meet a lion family with a fresh buffalo kill: dad was chilling, the mother still eating, and their cubs playing with the buffalo’s tail – nature at its best!

Cruise on the Kazinga Channel

The Kazinga Channel connects Lake George and Lake Edward in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. A cruise takes about two hours and you will have ample opportunity to admire crocodiles, buffalos, and hippos on shore. Bird lovers can enjoy pelicans, weaver birds, and many other species – make sure to take binoculars.

Eat a Rolex

Uganda has many great dishes to try and especially fans of Indian food will be delighted because thanks to many immigrants Indian dishes are a big part of the local cuisine.

However, my favorite on the go dish was a rolled egg also known as Rolex: a perfectly fried chapati with a vegetable omelet inside and rolled up. Great for breakfast or as a post-safari snack!

Gorilla Trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Besides all its other attractions gorilla trekking is without a doubt one of Uganda’s highlights. Half of the worlds remaining mountain gorillas live here and 13 families are habituated in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Habituation happens over a span of ten years and is necessary to get the gorillas somewhat used to people. That said – this is not a zoo and they are still wild animals. Gorilla encounters are limited to 8 people per group for an hour each day. Permits are pricey and directly benefit gorilla conservation and the local communities.

Depending on your assigned gorilla family you will have to trek through the jungle for an hour or five and let’s just say that Bwindi is not called impenetrable for nothing. Our gorilla group, the Rushinga, was set to be the one living closest to the wildlife center however moved once we started which turned half an hour into 2,5 hours of hiking. But even the trek itself was worth it (minus one black mamba which I care to not see ever again!) and so was meeting ‘our’ gorillas as we had been assigned the family with three babies.
Nothing could have ever prepared me for seeing gorillas live and so close. They are majestic, eerily human-like, very funny (gorillas fart a lot and like to pick their nose and eat the buggers too!) and our hour with them passed way too fast.

Make sure to take waterproof clothes as it is easy to get caught in a rainstorm and covers for your camera. Do borrow a walking stick from Silverback Lodge and take gardening gloves so you can hold on to trees and vines – the ground can be quite slippery and steep.

Local porters will not only carry your backpack but help you through the jungle. Paying them also provides extra income to the local families so it is a win-win for everyone.

Permits need to be booked about 4 months in advance and cost between $450 and $600 depending on the season (less during the rainy season but you should be very sure-footed as the forest gets really slippery and muddy during that time). You can get more information about the trek and the permits here.

Meeting the Batwa Pygmy community & Village walk

After spending a lot of time with our furry cousins we decided that it was time to meet the people of Uganda. I was a bit hesitant before booking a village walk which would include meeting a Batwa Pygmy community and to be honest, I am still not sure how I feel about it now.
The Batwa people used to live in the forest and hunt but got banned from the forest when it became Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Formerly living in harmony with the rainforest, Batwa today are marginalized by society and often live in very poor conditions. Meeting them on such an organized walk your money will support them and you can learn something about their culture and traditions. Still, it felt quite staged – decide for yourself if that is something you enjoy or think can learn from.

Other stops during the walk include learning how to make coffee (Uganda has amazing coffee!) and the process from turning bananas into banana beer into banana gin.

Make sure to visit Ride 4 A Woman, an amazing organization that started as a bike rental company run by women and has by now expanded into a local enterprise. Women learn how to sew and sell their products here, they have a guesthouse and a shelter for abused women, and generally empower women how to be more self-reliant and independent in today’s Uganda.

Mihingo Lodge at Lake Mburo National Park

After so much excitement and adventure, you will need a well-deserved break and there is no better place to chill in style than at the Mihingo Lodge. Located smack bang in the middle of Lake Mburo National Park this eco-luxury lodge is the perfect refuge to hang out for a night or two.

Lake Mburo National Park is the smallest of Uganda’s parks but filled to the brim with zebras, giraffes, ankole cows, an estimated 50 leopards, and one lion. Mihingo not only offers regular game drives but also walking or horseback safari. Mind you, just driving to the lodge will be like a mini game drive and this place is stunning if you just want to chill and enjoy the views.

All rooms – huge comfy tents – offer unspoiled views over the landscape even from the toilet and come with a patio where you can enjoy your morning coffee. Meals are farm to table and thankfully there is only one area for wifi; the rest of your day is better spent in the beautiful pool or feeding Jeff, their resident bush baby.

Take silly Equator photos

Last but not least – you cannot come to Uganda without taking a silly Equator picture or two and a Boomerang for Instagram. link


Disclaimer: This trip was sponsored by Tourismus Uganda and Turkish Airlines – thank you for making this dream trip come true!

This post was written by Annika Ziehen who was a Travelette until 2019. Originally from Germany, Annika has lived in New York and Cape Town and now travels the world full time. She considers herself a very hungry mermaid and writes about her adventures, scuba diving and food on her blog The Midnight Blue Elephant. You can also find her on Instagram here!