UGANDA: AFRICA’S EXTRAORDINARY, UNDERRATED SAFARI DESTINATION

Why Uganda?

This trip started with a ticket credit on Qatar Airways that was about to expire. I looked at the airline’s route map and Entebbe, Uganda jumped out at me. Uganda would be a new country for me (my 99th) and I’ve seen a lot of friends posting about gorilla trekking, which seemed like one of those extraordinary experiences to have someday. Why not now?

Mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

I posted on Facebook that I was thinking about heading to Uganda and three friends said they wanted to come along. Working with our schedules, and that of Uganda Safari Company, we selected a week in mid-July that worked for everyone. July’s the peak month for travel to Uganda, as it’s the dry season, so we were lucky to be able to get the lodges and permits we wanted.

Elephants in Queen Elizabeth National Park

How to Get to Uganda

I was traveling from LA, as was another friend. The others were coming from Seattle and Vancouver. I arrived at LAX several hours early because of all of the hassles with flying right now, parking at The Parking Spot Sepulveda (free with points!) and taking their shuttle to the Tom Bradley International Terminal. My Seattle friend flew down to LA to take the same Qatar Airways flight (LA-Doha-Entebbe). The others flew Turkish Air via Istanbul to Entebbe. We arrived in Uganda within a few hours of each other.

A note on Qatar Airways: it’s my favorite airline because of its QSuite business class. All of their flights go through Doha, Qatar, so it doesn’t make sense to take the airline to Europe from LA, but it’s great for anywhere in Africa, India or the Middle East, and sometimes Southeast Asia. Prices generally seem to be the best from LA. Seattle-Doha-Entebbe was almost twice as much as LA-Doha-Entebbe, which is why my friend purchased a cheap Alaska Air ticket and flew to LA first. 

Uganda Day One: Travel

Two of us arrived in Entebbe at 4am and the others at 7am. We were supposed to have a 10am or so flight to Kasese on a small plane, but that flight then moved to noon, and we finally departed at 2pm. So we were waiting at the small Entebbe airport for a long time. Not a fun way to start a trip, but there didn’t seem any way around it given the flight schedules and rather casual way that internal flights operate (more on that later on). Work with your Uganda safari company to have the least amount of time at the Entebbe airport that you can. If you do end up in a similar situation as us, there are nearby hotels where you can get a day room, and there’s a Priority Pass lounge at the airport. 

We finally flew to Kasese (1.5 hours, with one stop to drop off other passengers) and were met by Elton, our guide/driver for the next few days. He drove us maybe 45 minutes to Elephant Plains Lodge. We had dinner at the lodge and fell asleep early.

Flying from Entebbe to Kasese
Arriving at the Kasese Airstrip for our Uganda safari
My room at Elephant Plains Lodge

Uganda Day Two: Animals! 

Elton picked us up from the lodge at 7am, we crossed the equator (traveling south to north), and headed into Queen Elizabeth National Park. We immediately started seeing animals, including waterbucks, Ugandan kobs and warthogs, but we didn’t have much time to stop since we had a chimp safari to get to. A little after 8am we joined five others and our chimp guide Harriet and set out walking into the Kyambura Gorge in search of chimps. We found one group that quickly scattered, and then walked along a hippo-filled river, crossed the river on a log (a little nerve-wracking) and found a larger group of chimps that didn’t mind us hanging out with them for half an hour. We then crossed back over the river and returned to the small Kyambura Gorge visitor center, where we ate a packed lunch overlooking the gorge. 

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