Uganda is usually associated with gorilla trekking but there is obviously much more to the landlocked country than this.
As I spend time in the country for two long periods working for two of my clients, I had the chance to interact with Ugandans and live for a while in Kampala. I worked on the launch of a mobile operator for the bottom of the pyramid, so this gave me an additional perspective from a purely capitalistic one. We had to test the product in the slums and the launch did not happen in a fancy hotel but rather in an open air concert in one of the poorest areas in the city, that is where our customers were. The spirit of support and community the project had was contagious.
That was also the time when riots blocked the city and we were stuck for a week in the hotel after being advised not to go out for security reasons. And, I will share a secret, we were so absolutely bored of staying at the hotel that on Saturday night we decided to go out to the local bar to dance. That made up for the rest of the week’s prison status.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
If you are looking for wildlife, Queen Elizabeth National Park is the place. Located 376 kms southwest of Kampala, the capital and largest city. Due to the really bad road conditions in Uganda, this means a day’s worth of driving on potholed roads.
The park is known for its wildlife. Although many animals were killed in the Uganda-Tanzania War, most species have recovered to pre-war levels, including hippopotami, elephants, leopards, lions and chimpanzees. So its an excellent place to see all the Big Five.
Despite Queen Elizabeth National Park (or QENP), it is the most important tourist destination (after the gorillas) in Uganda. The country is not as well known for its safaris as the rest of East Africa and you will barely see any other tourists. This is what made our stay all the more enjoyable. When I was working in Africa I tried to avoid the Big 5 parks (Kruger, Serengeti, Masai Mara…) favouring other lesser known alternatives. I did this because I place extra value in being able to enjoy the quietness of the savannah without the constant noise of the car engines. I did finally succumb to the beauty of the Masai Mara and Amboseli.
There are a few lodges in the area. We stayed at the Ishasha Wilderness Camp, a luxury tented camp by the river. It was rustic and pretty and it had that feeling of remoteness you are looking for in such parts of Africa. Peace and only the sounds of the savannah. Beware though, the camp is not fenced, so animals roam free and you may have some interesting encounters.
You get given a torch at night and are escorted by a ranger to and from the tent and you have a whistler at all times in case of an emergency. While we were there, the tent next to ours was attacked by ants in the middle of the night and we heard them blowing the whistle to call for help. We also had a reality check one morning when while taking a shower we felt a big reptile (crocodile?) rubbing against the tent’s wall on the outside. I peeked through the window and saw a large tail. Looking at the guide’s local fauna books we figured it must have been a monitor lizard. After all, our tent was between him and the water!
The lodge will take you around on a 4×4 for safaris, but if you are driving yourself or with someone from Kampala/Entebbe then you are free to drive around the park on the well maintained roads
The best smile-inducing sight? The tree-climbing lions. But apart from the lions, the rest of the wildlife in the park is well worth a visit too and you are most likely going to enjoy it on your own. You will see hippos, deers, impalas, buffalos, elephants, civets and if you are really lucky, elusive leopards.
Tree climbing lions of Queen Elizabeth National Park
The reason why lions climb trees here is unknown, but it is believed to be associated with their escaping either the tsetse flies or the heat. The ones found in QENP are one of two groups of tree-climbing lions. The other one is next to Lake Manyara in Tanzania. And believe me, lions on trees is a pretty funny thing to watch. They are large animals trying to balance on the flimsy thin branches of the fig tree looking anything but comfortable. One leg falling on one side, the tail on the other, heads resting on their shoulders… take a laugh, it is as real as it is comical. The lions here also sport black manes, a unique feature.