Thursday, November 22, 2012

Murchison River Lodge

Main Lodge - Dining and Bar
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda's largest national park and a favorite destination for safaris.  Murchison River Lodge is a newly opened lodge on the south bank of the Nile River that offers mid range accommodation in thatched cottages and river view tents.  We decided to have a weekend away and spend it at Murchison River Lodge.

The lodge was very easy to find by following the directions provided and as we got near, junctions were well marked with MRL carved wooden signs.  The parking area is located about 100 metres from the main lodge.  The benefit of this is that early morning noise of cars starting, and car doors opening and closing as people leave for game drives is kept to a minimum for guests that are still sleeping.  We strolled from the parking lot along the path to the large thatched bar and dining area.  We were warmly welcomed in the main lodge bar/reception area and took a moment to admire the river view, large papyrus floating islands and hippos splashing in the water near the opposite bank.  What surprised me about the lodge location is the close proximity to the river.

On the veranda of the cottage
Our plan was to spend two nights at the lodge and since we couldn’t decide between the cottages and the tents, we opted for a night in each.  Our first night was spent in a thatched cottage.  With a rear entry the cottages are well laid out and spacious.  They are designed to fit a family of four with two single beds downstairs and a large bed on the mezzanine level all equipped with mosquito nets.  A wooden verandah is suspended off the front of the cottage and looks out over the natural landscape.  The environment gives a real feeling of being in the bush.  Natural vegetation and shrubs surround the cottage but in no way feel unkempt.  As the hot afternoon sun beats down we take time to relax in the hammock and on the sofa while birds chirp and lizards chase each other around.  The furnishings in the room have a lot of character as they have all been constructed using reclaimed timber giving a real rustic safari feel.  The bathroom at the rear of the cottage has a lot of character.  Double sinks set into a chunky slab of timber and a large shower with solar hot water.  We really enjoyed our night in the cottage and felt pampered.

Outside view of a cottage

Inside the cottage (downstairs)

Our second night was spent in a furnished safari tent.  Overlooking the river we had a great view which we could enjoy from our covered veranda.  Inside the tent was a luggage stand for our bags to rest and two single beds with a nightstand between them.  The mesh sides of the tent provided airflow and allowed us to clearly hear all the sounds of the hippos, frogs and other night time noises.  Just behind our tent was a bush shower and a chemical toilet.  The water for the bush shower is not heated but comes from a small black water tank that does heat from the sun so it’s in no way cold.  Time it right at the end of the day and you’ll appreciate the refreshing water.  During the night a large storm rolled in and continued until the morning.  It is a night I will never forget for as long as I live.  Thunder claps loudly from all directions, flashes of lights and the continuous mesmerizing sound of the rain falling on the tent cover.  I have never heard thunder so loud and yet even that didn’t make me budge from the warm cozy comfort of my bed.

The Main Lodge overlooking The Nile River
The main lodge, dining and bar area is a comfortable, peaceful place to hang out and relax.  With views over the river you can get comfortable on a sofa, lie in a hammock or sit around a picnic table and interact with other guests.  A short meander from the lodge is a lookout point over the river.  The perfect spot to take a seat on one of the benches, enjoy a sundowner and watch the setting sun with the river in the foreground.

The food was a stand out part of our stay.  Fresh ingredients combined with homestyle cooking made every meal enjoyable.  The food wasn’t greasy in the slightest.  Freshness all around.  We started the mornings with coffee brought to our veranda.  A press full of Ugandan coffee is a great way to start any day.  Breakfast is made to order with your choice of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans and mushrooms served with homemade toasted bread and juice.  The breakfast was great with the best scrambled eggs I’ve had in awhile.  Lunch is served buffet style and consists of cold salads, freshly sliced vegetables and homemade bread.  Refreshing lunch to break up a hot dusty day.  We also tried out a packed lunch to take and eat on our safari drive.  We were given a choice of several sandwiches again on homemade bread accompanied by fresh fruit and juice.  Dinner is a set menu consisting of three courses.  Dietary restrictions and vegetarians can be catered for, you just need to let them know.  Our first night the starter was vegetable sticks and guacamole, followed by steak, roast potatoes and vegetables and finished with a dessert of lemon cake which made me feel like a kid again since it tasted just like my Mom’s recipe.  On night two we started with tomato soup followed by roast chicken with rice and vegetables and a chocolate slice for dessert.  There is nothing I can fault with the food at Murchison River Lodge.

Main lodge looking over The Nile River
On our second night a camp fire was lit and people from the surrounding villages gathered around it to tell stories through songs.  Throughout our meal we could hear humming, singing and traditional stringed instruments being played.  After dinner as we joined in taking seats on the stone bench surrounding the fire, and were welcomed with local songs and introduced to members of the community who invited us to dance with them.  They wore no costumes but came as they were to share their songs.  It’s moments like these that are Africa at its best and we savored every minute of it.

It is evident that a lot of thought and pride has gone into the design and layout of the lodge.  Since the owners have a young child themselves, they have thought of things to make families with children comfortable like a children's play area and swing under a tamarind tree, a children's menu and early dinner times.  Chris one of the owners, was around during our stay and his passion for the place really shows in the way that he interacts with his guests.

Although we didn't camp while there I believe that their campsite deserves mention.  Set away from the cottages, it is well thought out and with amenities like camp kitchens, running water, a spacious toilet and shower block and plenty of flat space to set up your tent, any camper should consider this option if planning a trip to Murchison.  The campsite has a real wilderness feel about it but with all the amenities.  They also offer lazy camping in one of their tents as well as camping in your own tent with an option for full board meals.

The drive to the park gate is a mere 5 minutes away and within 20 minutes you can be at the Paraa ferry.  There are two routes to the lodge, the much shorter route takes you through the park and the longer more scenic route skirts the park and avoids park entry costs.

What I enjoyed most about the lodge was it’s rustic wild feel without sparing any comforts, the attention to detail and non pretentious nature of the place.  There is something about the Murchison River Lodge that I can’t quite put my finger on but when you’re there you feel very relaxed and at home.  A place where time matters little and relaxing is foremost.  If you’re planning a safari to Murchison I would highly recommend this little gem.

Since visiting, we are happy to inform that Murchison River Lodge has started building a swimming pool.

Cottages surrounded by natural vegetation

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Big Birding Day - Results

White Backed Night Heron
This years Big Birding Day in Uganda was the biggest and most successful to date. Although several species seemed to elude us during the 24 hour period, Team Jinja had a great day counting 133 species which put us in 8th place (official results).

Congratulations to all who participated and especially to the winners!

Highlights of the Day

Seeing the White Back Night Heron, a tick for most of the team.

Seeing two Crowned Eagles flying overhead.

Finally finding an African Jacana, a common bird that had eluded us most of the day.


Pink Backed Pelican
Long tailed Cormorant
African Darter
Great Cormorant
Little Bittern
White Backed Night Heron
Striated Heron
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Great Egret
Purple Heron
Grey Heron
Black Headed Heron
Yellow Billed Stork
African Open Billed Stork
Marabou Stork
Sacred Ibis
Hadada Ibis
Black Kite
Palm Nut Vulture
African Fish Eagle
Hooded Vulture
Lizard Buzzard
African Harrier Hawk
Long Crested Eagle
African Crowned Eagle
Helmeted Guineafowl
Black Crake
African Jacana
Water Thick Knee
Rock Pratincole
Spurwing Lapwing
Common Sandpiper
Gull Billed Tern
White Winged Tern
Speckled Pigeon
Tambourine Dove
Blue Spotted Wood Dove
Ring Necked Dove
Red Eyed Dove
Laughing Dove
African Grey Parrot
Great Blue Turaco
Eastern Grey Plantain Eater
African Cuckoo
White Browed Coucal
African Palm Swift
Speckled Mousebird
Pied Kingfisher
Giant Kingfisher
Woodland Kingfisher
Malachite Kingfisher
African Pygmy Kingfisher
Little Bee Eater
White Throated Bee-eater
Crowned Hornbill
Black and White Casqued Hornbill
Yellow Throated Tinkerbird
Speckled Tinkerbird
Yellow Fronted Tinkerbird
Yellow Spotted Barbet
Hairy Breasted Barbet
Double Toothed Barbet
Yellow Billed Barbet
Angola Swallow
Barn Swallow
African Pied Wagtail
Yellow Wagtail
Common Bulbul
Yellow Whiskered Greenbul
Little Greenbul
Red Tailed Greenbul
Yellow Throated Greenbul
White Throated Greenbul
White Browed Robin Chat
Yellow Longbill
Winding Cisticola
Grey Capped Warbler
Tawny Flanked Prinia
Grey Backed Camaroptera
Buff Throated Apalis
Northern Black Flycatcher
Swamp Flycatcher
Brown Throated Wattle Eye
Chestnut Wattle Eye
Red Bellied Paradise Flycatcher
African Paradise Flycatcher
African Blue Flycatcher
White Shouldered Tit
Yellow White Eye
Olive Bellied Sunbird
Green Throated Sunbird
Green Sunbird
Little Green Sunbird
Scarlet Chested Sunbird
Red Chested Sunbird
Collared Sunbird
Grey Backed Fiscal
Black Headed Gonolek
Northern Puffback
Pied Crow
Western Black Headed Oriole
Ruppell's Long Tailed Starling
Splendid Starling
Grey Headed Sparrow
Black Headed Weaver
Black Necked Weaver
Grosbeak Weaver
Golden Backed Weaver
Slender Billed Weaver
Little Weaver
Yellow Backed Weaver
Orange Weaver
Weynes's Weaver
Yellow Mantled Weaver
Black Bishop
Fan Tailed Widowbird
White Breasted Negrofinch
Grey Headed Negrofinch
Red Cheeked Cordon Bleu
Red Billed Firefinch
African Firefinch
Black Crowned Waxbill
Bronze Mannikin
Black and White Mannikin
Pin Tailed Whydah
Village Indigobird
Brimstone Canary
Yellow Fronted Canary

Sunrise over Bujagali Lake
Striated Heron
On Bujagali Lake
Little Egret
Pied Kingfishers
Birding on Bujagli Lake
Africa Open Billed Stork

Some children we met that were fascinated by our spotting scope

Immature Fish Eagle

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

7 Natural Wonders of Uganda

The "Seven Natural Wonders Organization" is currently asking for the public to cast their votes for what they consider to be the 7 natural wonders of Uganda.  Let's face it, Uganda is a stunning country which boasts a lot of natural beauty but after some careful consideration, we came up with our list.  Here's what we consider to be Uganda's top 7 natural wonders.

#1 - Murchison Falls

The Nile River is a natural beauty on its own but there is no mistaking that to see the mighty river force its way through a 7 metre gap in the rocks and fall 43 metres is a sight to behold.  From the top of Murchison Falls the water violently thunders past crashing and surging, blowing a fine mist high into the sky filled with dancing rainbows.  The view from a boat below also gives a sensational view of the majestic falls, while surrounded by crocodiles, hippos and other game. Truly a stunner!

Murchison Falls

#2 - Rwenzori Mountains

The Rwenzori Mountains sometimes referred to as the Mountains of the Moon climb high from the Albertine Rift Valley floor and provide a stunning backdrop to the Queen Elizabeth National Park.  The highest peaks are permanently snow capped and although they are often surrounded by clouds, you do get the rare opportunity to see their massive existence in full.  The Rwenzoris are host to the widest variety of mountain flora in Africa and for this reason, is listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.  The Rwenzori mountains are popular with climbers who trek through rainforest and alpine meadows to the snowcapped Margherita summit at 5109 metres. Some of the many streams high up are also home to trout.

The Rwenzori Moutains

#3 - Tree Climbing Lions of Ishasha

In the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park along the Democratic Republic of Congo border, resident lions have taken to a curious habit, climbing into giant fig trees and Acacia trees to laze about.  It is not fully understood why they do this but it's clear they enjoy hanging around in the trees which makes for a rare treat for safari goers. 

A lioness in a tree in Ishasha, southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park

#4 - Gorillas

Uganda is one a few places in the world to trek the critically endangered mountain gorilla.  The opportunity to get up close and personal with these giants that live high in the impenetrable forest is a truly magical experience.  The trek up the steep mountain hillsides can be a real challenge for many however the reward of seeing them and spending an hour of your life with them is a reward that one remembers for a lifetime.

Mountain Gorilla

#5 - Birds

Uganda is one of the most popular birding destinations in Africa.  The country boasts 1061 species of birds a number of which are endemic.  Given the concentration of so many bird species in the relatively small country of Uganda means that serious birders can travel to many birding locations throughout the country with relative ease in the attempt to check off as many species as possible and enjoy the scenic countryside along the way. 

Birds of Uganda

#6 - Explosion Craters

There are a large number of extinct volcanoes known as explosion craters that dot the landscape of Western Uganda.  The craters are concentrated in three areas, the Katwe Explosion Craters within the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Bunyaraguru Crater Field near the Kichwamba escarpment and the Ndali-Kasenda Crater Field located near Kibale National Park. Many of the craters are home to freshwater lakes and in the Katwe area a couple craters have saline lakes.  The explosion craters are very scenic and offer great views from the rim.  The areas around the craters are generally lush and full of thriving vegetation.  A wonder that has evolved from such violent beginnings.

Kyemengo Crater

#7 - Lake Bunyonyi

In the south west of Uganda lies one of the deepest lakes in Africa.  Lake Bunyonyi is Uganda's deepest lake at 2950+ feet (900+ metres) deep.  The landscape around the lake is indicative of its depth with steep slopes covered with lush green vegetation protruding from the water's edge.  Bunyonyi means "place of many little birds" and as the name suggests, there is plenty of bird life around the lake.  The lake also plays host to freshwater crayfish, one of the few places in Uganda they can be found.  With many resorts on the lake shores and on the many islands in the lake, there are plenty of spots to enjoy this beautiful lake from.

Lake Bunyonyi

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Big Birding Day Uganda

The 2012 Big Birding Day to take place in Uganda is nearly here with this years event set for October 20th. Birders from all around the country are getting ready to record as many species as they can within the 24 hour period.  The main purpose of Big Birding Day is to raise awareness of bird species within Uganda and to promote the country as one of the best birding destinations in the world.

This is the first year that we are involved in the event.  We will be doing our species count from the Jinja area and will be joined by several other birders to compete as "TEAM JINJA" in Big Birding Day 2012.  The event should be a lot of fun and we're excited to see just how many species we will be able to record.  We will post a full report after the event.  Stay tuned and happy birding!

To register your own team contact Nature Uganda

For news and updates on Big Birding Day, follow the hash tag #BBD on Twitter

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Camping in Uganda

Camping: the act of leaving civilization to spend time living in the outdoors and sleeping in a tent.  Some people camp as an affordable accommodation option and others have a sheer passion for it.  I fall into the latter category and have found that Uganda has a lot to offer and best of all, the opportunities to camp extend year round because of the climate.  If you’re new to Uganda or new to camping you may not be sure where to get started.  Hopefully this will give you a few ideas on where to go so that you can start enjoying Uganda's great outdoors.

Cooking over a campfire
Where to Camp
Unknown to many, there are numerous campgrounds all over the country catering to all levels of adventure.  Some are private campsites and others operated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) within the wildlife reserves and national parks.  The campsites vary in facilities and amenities so it’s best inquire about what you can expect before you go so that you can pack accordingly.  Over the years I have developed a few favorite spots to camp.  By no means have I visited every campsite in Uganda so if I haven’t mentioned here, please don’t discount it.  My intention in mentioning the following places is to give other interested campers some ideas on places to go.

The Haven
Located close to Jinja, the Haven is an easy getaway from Kampala.  It offers stunning views of the Nile and a great facility.  The benefits of camping here is the proximity to Kampala and the amenities making for an easy weekend getaway.  The large grassy campsite sprawls around an outdoor camp kitchen with running water.  Nearby is a large toilet and shower block with solar hot water.  Meals and cold drinks are available inside the lodge and a campfire is lit in the evenings to sit around for the full camping experience.  For those that want to camp but don’t have a tent ask them about their “lazy camping”, they’ll provide you a tent with a bed inside and all your meals.

Mist on The Nile in the early morning
View from The Haven
Ishasha River Campsite
Located in the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP, the UWA’s Ishasha River Camp is a really beautiful place to camp.  Large trees provide plenty of shade on the banks of the Ishasha River.  The only thing separating you from the Democratic Republic of Congo is a narrow muddy river full of hippos.  When you sit in your camp, hippos snort and perform just metres away, you can’t get much closer to wildlife than that.  The amenities are fairly basic, a pit latrine and a shower fed with buckets of water from the river.  Firewood is provided by the rangers who are never far away and can help you with any needs you may have.  Near the Ishasha headquarters (a few minute drive from the campsite) is a canteen selling drinks and very basic meals.  Game drive highlights nearby include the parks famous tree climbing lions and the Lake Edward Flats where you’ll find lots of birds including the shoebill as well as buffalo and elephants.  If you are fascinated by insects, the Ishasha River camp is the place to be.  Interesting and unique creatures will keep you entertained for hours.

Ishasha River Campsite
Mweya Peninsula Campsite
Located in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP, the UWA has a campsite on the tip of the Mweya Peninsula.  It is a large, open (meaning little shade) campsite that is very active with wildlife.  For those that want to sit in once place and enjoy the camping experience, you won’t be disappointed with the wildlife that passes through this site.  Flushing toilets, cold water showers, running water and firewood are all provided which make this campsite very easy and comfortable to spend several days at.  A few minutes drive away is a canteen which serves the Mweya hostel and has plenty of choice for meals and cold drinks.  Activities nearby include game drives, boat trips on the Kazinga Channel and the scenic Explosion Crater drive.

Camping in Mweya with the Kazinga Channel in the background
Murchison River Lodge
Although I have never camped here, I have seen the site and I think this campsite deserves mention simply because of the facilities.  The campsite is a large flat area with plenty of shade, a couple of camp kitchens, running water and a very spacious shower and toilet block.  Since the campsite is part of a lodge, meals and drinks, are available close by.  MRL is located just outside of the park with the gate a 5 minute drive away.  The site is very private and really gives a great wilderness feel without having to sacrifice amenities.  MRL also offers “lazy camping” so for those that want to camp but don’t have the equipment or don’t feel like packing it all in the car, they’ve got you covered. 

Murchison River Lodge campsite
Delta (MFNP)
The Uganda Wildlife Authority offers bush camping inside Murchison Falls NP on the Nile Delta.  The location is stunning but this is as the name suggests, “bush camping”.  There are no designated spots and no facilities.  You need to bring everything with you including all the water you need and a shovel for a bush toilet so that you can “drop and cover”.  The price is rather high for camping but the experience is worth it and includes a UWA ranger that accompanies you for safety from wild animals.  The sun sets over the delta are incredible and are followed by a star filled sky and plenty of animal noises.  Camping at the delta is really getting close to nature as you are right in the middle of a game park.  Anything can happen which makes it such an exciting and worthwhile experience.  The biggest advantage to camping here is that you are on the delta for those early morning game drives.  For the real adventurers, this camping experience is one to consider.

Sunset on the Delta in Murchison Falls National Park

What to Bring

Beside your camping essentials like your tent, cooking equipment etc. There are some things that you shouldn’t leave home without.  Most importantly you need to bring your sense of adventure!  You are living in nature so things like storms happen, solar hot water isn’t 100% reliable but if you’re flexible you’ll make the best of it.  Secondly bring what you think will make you comfortable during your trip.  If you're not comfortable, you will not be a happy camper.  A few essentials that I would recommend bringing are toilet paper, plenty of drinking and potable water, mosquito repellent and binoculars.

Don’t forget common sense.  Camping in a national park can be a very exciting experience, but don’t think for a second that designated camping sites are safe to go wandering around freely.  Wild animals can’t read the sign that demarcates the campsite and are likely to wander through both day and night which is what makes these spots so special.  Make sure you look around constantly and be aware of what's around you.  At night make sure you have a sufficient flashlight and extra batteries so that you can check what’s around you before moving very far from the vehicle which I really wouldn’t recommend doing unless you’re on your way to the toilet.  Having a campfire at night helps let the animals know that you are there and will likely curb their curiosity and keep away from you. 

Lastly, be a respectful camper.  There is nothing worse than arriving at a campsite to find garbage or a mess left behind by previous campers.  Make use of garbage bins that are provided and if you can’t find one, pack out your garbage.  Take only pictures and leave only footprints is the best motto to live by.  When camping near other people, be respectful of their space and control your noise levels.  It will be much appreciated and respected by others as no one enjoys rude people.

So start dusting off your tent, get your equipment and supplies together, pack the car and get out and have some fun!

A chameleon.  Is he thinking about doing the dishes?

Warthogs wandering around in the Mweya Peninsula campsite

Friday, August 24, 2012

21 Day Safari - Uganda

Another beautiful African sunset

For nearly 10 years we have been enjoying bumping around Ugandan roads, exploring the country and often going where few people go. Our recent 21 day safari was the longest to date and gave us a chance to revisit some favorite spots and poke around some new ones. Over the years we have seen so many changes and improvements and seem to do less "bumping" on the roads these days due to highway improvements (unless speed humps count). Uganda is evolving as a tourist destination and it's wonderful to witness. During our trip we experienced outstanding professionalism from the Uganda Wildlife Authority staff and guides wherever we went and the smiles on their faces when they heard that we were spending so much time in Ugandan parks was a joy to see. Their amazement also extended to our roof top tent, many of whom had never seen such a thing. It has taken us many years to build up our arsenal of camping equipment to be able to take such long trips and stay in remote campsites with only basic facilities and we have concluded that it has been well worth it. One of the most rewarding factors of sitting in one place for several days is the chance to see and experience things that you don't get on a rushed journey. The full safari experience really can come to you, often when you least expect it.

The best example of that on this trip was the presence of two lionesses in our campsite one night. We were relaxing around the fire when we heard an unusual noise not far away, we shone our flashlights around and spotted two lionesses. This came on the heels of driving around earlier that day for over four hours looking specifically for these sensational cats. We retreated to the vehicle where we sat and watched and photographed them until they got tired of our bright lights and moved on. An exhilarating experience for sure and one that you're only likely to get when you are the only people in a campsite as we were that night.

Two lionesses in our camp

Even though every day is special and unique in its own way, there are definitely moments that stand out. Our favorite camp spot was the Ishasha River campsite. This beautiful shady spot right on the banks of the Ishasha River gave us the opportunity to spend several days living with a pod of hippos and learning about their lifestyle and habits. Every night after sunset we would listen as the entire pod traversed upriver against the current with relative ease to their favorite grazing spot, grunting and splashing all the way. Early in the morning before dawn's first light we would hear them again as they ran and floated back down river to their favorite pool to spend the day. 

Ishasha River Camp

Hippos in the Ishasha River

Ishasha River campsite was also a haven for insects which seemed to keep us in constant amazement as well as home to a pair of Cassin's Grey Flycatchers, relatively rare birds that we watched for hours catching butterflies and building their nest only to witness it get flooded by the rising river after a storm. Those little birds didn't let the flooded nest ruffle their feathers, instead they cleaned out the soggy grass and sticks and began construction again. Nature can be cruel but it's an easier pill to swallow than seeing the effect that man can have on animals. It was heartbreaking to see an injured hyena lying on the side of the road that had been hit by a vehicle struggling for its life and should be a lesson to all not to speed inside the park. On another occasion we met a lone hippo that had separated itself from its pod to nurture a large wound that had been inflicted by a poachers spear. We went back to check on the hippo a few days later and were happy to see that he was still in solitude and the wound seemed to be improving.

An insect that looks like a leaf in our camp

Cassin's Grey Flycatcher

Uncharted territory for us was the Semliki National NP which held us firmly in its grip for several days. Although the campsite was very basic it had everything we needed to enjoy life in the jungle. Various species of monkeys entertained us by swinging through the trees in the campsite while birds called out from all directions. The guided walks through the forest with our guide Tadeo were both beautiful and fascinating as we admired our surroundings and learned the intricacies of the forest ecosystem. 

Butterfly in Semliki National Park

The trip ended on a high by seeing the elusive Sitatunga in the Katonga Swamp. The sitatunga is an aquatic antelope that lives in papyrus swamps and is incredibly secretive making it hard to see. We had a brief moment to admire this creature before it disappeared deep into the reeds. Mystical.

Looking for Sitatunga in Katonga

Our trip made us fall deeper in love with the Queen Elizabeth NP and its surrounding areas like Pelican Point and the Exlplosion Crater Drive and eager to revisit Semliki National Park to explore the forest more extensively. With every trip that we take we learn of more places of interest from safari guides and UWA staff that we meet along the way so instead of getting shorter, our list seems to get longer. Uganda has so much to offer and with each journey take we understand more why Sir Winston Churchill called Uganda the Pearl of Africa.

Uganda - The Pearl of Africa

Monday, July 16, 2012

Where Two Worlds Collide

Grasslands meeting the savannah at Pelican Point

Pelican Point lies a few kilometres east of the town of Katwe near Queen Elizabeth National Park. The track from the main road to the point is barely visible as it meanders through savannah grasslands dotted with candelabra trees and leads to an escarpment overlooking the dense lush green Kitabule palm forest and Lake Edward.  From this vantage point you can see the collision of two worlds, the savannah grasslands and the rainforest.  You can hear the chorus of birds from down below while thousands of butterflies flutter above the tall golden yellow grass all around you.  It is a sight to behold and best of all is the solitude of the place.  A perfect spot to take out a picnic lunch and enjoy the view and serenity of the great African wilderness.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Jinja Nile Resort

Jinja is well known as being the adventure capital of Uganda and is located relatively close to Kampala making it an ideal destination for weekend getaways.  Regardless of your purpose, if you are looking for a resort hotel centrally located with plenty of character then the Jinja Nile Resort is a good choice.

When we arrived at Jinja Nile Resort, we entered the secured parking area and drove up to the covered entrance and were greeted by a young man who took our bags from the car and entered the large lobby under a high cathedral ceiling.  The reception desk is situated in the middle of the lobby and is flanked by two large wooden staircases that wind their way up to a mezzanine level.  Vintage portraits of four explorers are painted high on the wall and natural light floods through a large stained glass window.  The entrance is impressive and grand.

The resort is on 30 acres of well groomed gardens facing the Nile River.  In late 2011 the river was flooded in preparation for the launch of the newly constructed Bujagali Dam so the water level has risen slightly and several of the rapids have been engulfed by water.  The view is still as spectacular as ever and looking down river you can see the new dam in the distance.   140 colonial style cottages are neatly aligned throughout the gardens.  Some offer Nile facing views while others are set back amongst the tropical gardens.  All rooms have a private balcony, a small sitting room with a bar fridge, coffee and tea facilities, a TV with a few channels, a writing desk and a double as well as a single bed with a large mosquito net.  In the rooms you’ll also find a wall fan and a closet with a digital safe. The ensuite bathroom is spacious and features a large shower.   The rooms are generous with space, clean and although the decor is slightly dated they have been well maintained and function well.

The pool with two large mosaic crocodiles on the bottom is the heart of the resort and we are drawn to the numerous chaise lounges around its deck.  Most of the chaise lounges are in the sun for those who want to soak up some rays and get your Vitamin D and a few are under pergolas covered with colourful bougainvillea providing a respite from the heat.  The crystal clear pool is inviting.  There is a smaller children’s pool attached to the main pool for the younger guests to splash around in.  A pool boy is on hand to provide towels and move chaise lounges around if needed.  A mix of pop and contemporary Ugandan music plays in the background at times a little on the loud side and several waiters are available to serve cold drinks and take your order from the poolside menu.  Before deciding on lunch we decided to take a refreshing dip in the pool and visit the swim up bar for a cold drink.  The bar is fully stocked with water, fresh juice, sodas, beer and spirits.  Cocktails are available but do take a little more time to prepare, so if you order one be prepared to wait.  

After enjoying a cold drink at the swim up bar we were ready for lunch so we started to explore our options.  The poolside menu has a range of salads, snacks, burgers, pizzas, and chicken, beef and fish dishes.  We decide to share chicken fingers as a starter, followed by main courses of chicken tikka served with naan bread and chicken in a basket with chips.  We were happy with our choices and thought that it arrived within reasonable time.   There was also an option for buffet lunch served poolside which offered a large variety of dishes.   We spent the day relaxing under the hot equatorial sun and dipped in and out of the pool periodically.  During the day the resort sells day memberships which we found created a nice atmosphere of many people around the pool.

As the sun was going down we went up to the mezzanine level for a view over the resort with the Nile in the background and the Nalubaale Dam in the distance.   After enjoying the view, we visited the main bar, a great location for sundowners.  There is seating inside at the bar or in large comfortable chairs in the adjacent lounge and TV area which was showing a football match.  We sat outside on the veranda overlooking the pool and munched on banana chips.  As we enjoyed the last moments of daylight we could see that the evening buffet was being set up outside next to the pool.  The dinner buffet had no shortage of options including soups, salads, and main course dishes of Asian, Continental and Ugandan cuisine.  An outside tandoori oven was being used to roast meat, chicken and for making naan bread which I particularly enjoyed.  The food was what you would expect from a buffet, not haute cuisine but tasty and plenty of variety to satisfy anyone.

After dinner we wandered down the path back to our cottage.  The location of the Jinja Nile Resort is peaceful and we fell asleep to a chorus of crickets and frogs.  We had a good night's sleep on what we considered to be a comfortable mattress.  In the morning we woke to a blanket of mist over the river and sunlight infiltrating the darkness.  We made ourselves a cup of coffee in our room and enjoyed it on the veranda while waking up to a beautiful view and the songs of birds.

After our coffee, we strolled over to the main restaurant where buffet breakfast was being served.  The spread included fresh juices, coffee, tea, pastries, cereal, waffles, eggs, sausages, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, pancakes and plenty more.  I sampled a few items from the buffet and placed my order with the omelette maker.  There was plenty of seating inside as well as outside; we chose the open air terrace affording us the opportunity to enjoy the view and the fresh morning air.

Jinja Nile Resort has a number of facilities within the premises including a health club with various cardio machines as well as weights.  Although we didn’t use the gym during our visit is was clean and relatively spacious with large windows facing the river.  Inside the changing rooms were showers, a steam bath, sauna and a private room reserved for massage.  Set amidst the gardens is a tennis court and an indoor squash court.  The resort facilitates various activities and given the location the Jinja Nile Resort is a great conference venue.   There are several conference halls and meeting rooms depending on individual needs.

I found the resort staff to be very friendly and efficient.  On one occasion our waiter was unsure of some of the details of our order and returned to clarify before placing the order in the kitchen.  I thought this was admirable as sometimes wait staff will not take time to seek clarification resulting in mix ups and disappointments.  The resort accommodation rates are bed and breakfast so if buffets are not your thing, you can always venture out to sample the fare offered at nearby restaurants.  On the other hand Jinja Nile Resort offers everything in one location so if you don’t want to leave the resort, everything is available at your fingertips.  The Jinja Nile Resort is not one of the latest lodges on the block but it is as its name suggests a resort.  We didn’t leave the comfort of the resort during our two day stay and found all the makings of a relaxing weekend.  We spent most of our time by the pool and taking walks through the property enjoying the scenery and gardens.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The excitement of safari is that you never know what you will encounter.  Every time you go on a safari drive it is different and unique. The big cats, lions and leopards top most people's lists of what they want to see on safari.  In my opinion, one of the most exhilarating animals to encounter on a safari are extremely large and have an uncanny way of hiding amongst the bush.  The giants I am talking about are elephants. Elephants are impressive creatures and are generally are not timid like many animals can be.  The moment I spot an elephant, my heart starts pounding.  As I admire their beauty I am on high alert, as I may be amongst 30 or more of these intelligent beasts.  I would be a fool to feel completely secure inside our vehicle and it is incredible how an animal that big, can hide so well.  When elephants get aggravated, they flap their ears in warning and sometimes trumpet and stomp their huge feet but when they are happy and content, a low gurgling noise is emitted from somewhere deep inside.  To encounter the largest land mammal on the planet is ELEPHANTASTIC and an experience to cherish.