Thursday, 26 April 2012

Entebbe to Murchison

We arrive late into Entebbe airport so we wanted somewhere close by to stay, that would also come and pick us up from the airport.  We are going to tired, and probably nervous about the whole arriving in Africa thing - although we've done it before it is still a bit of a culture shock when getting off the plane.

Luckily there are plenty places in Entebbe to stay, and one in particular ticked all our boxes - the Entebbe Zoo!
Well it's not a zoo anymore, but is actually the Ugandan Wildlife Education Centre, which has a good reputation for education and wildlife conservation.  They also house and rehabilitate injured or orphaned animals - so from our point of view this seemed like an ideal place to spend our first night.  $50 for a night in a banda and an airport pickup.  Breakfast extra, but can be taken in their restuarant.

We get our hire car delivered here to us the next morning and we drive north to Kampala - hopefully finding a supermarket on route as we don't really fancy the Kampala traffic.

After Kampala we head further north to the Ziwa rhino sanctuary.  Here we plan to camp for a couple of nights - 25,000 Ugandan shillings pppn, plus a park fee of 20,000 UGs.  So about £10 a night pp.  Here are the only wild rhino in Uganda, having recently been re-introduced. You can go on tracking trips (about £20 pp).

After Ziwa it should be a nice short drive to Murchison Falls National Park.  I think by this stage the tarmac will have run out and we'll be onto the murram :-)

Hopefully the grader will have been along just before we get there.

Murchison Falls is where the river Nile forces it's way through a narrow gorge, but there is much more to the park than just the river.  To the north is savannah like grassland, and to the south is more forest like.  Here we have booked into the Red Chili rest camp I'm a bit worried that this might be an overlander kind of place, but it is very close to the park gate so getting into the park in the early morning should be nice and easy.

The guidebooks and Ugandan Wildlife Authority website say that the park is good for spotting lions, so maybe that will make up for only spotting one in Nam/Bots a few years ago.  And that was a really poor spot as the lion in question was lying under a bush, 200m away, fast asleep.  Although we did get a very good view of his knackers....

Where to stay

We would love to do the whole "luxury" safari, but we're not overpaid and underworked bankers, so we are looking to mostly camp, or stay in fairly modest accommodation.  However as this is actually our honeymoon, we have added a few nicer hotels into the mix.

There is an enormous range in the price of where to stay at night - some places I have booked are $10-15 per night and others are $500 per night.  I still can't quite understand how the economics work, I would imagine that the person who will clean our room at the $500 pn hotel probably doesn't get paid that much in a year.  But should you not go to these places because of that, or should you go because the hotel is providing much needed employment?

It's a dilemma and one that we've tried to balance by staying in places that have a reputation of being good employers - at least that is the impression we have got from them, and from the guide books.

We decided to book and pay for as many of the places as possible - again to avoid having to carry too much cash with us, and to take away the "where are we going to stay tonight" worries.

The honeymoon suite?

There are some places where we are just going to turn up and try to find a campsite - I'm hoping this won't lead to this-


Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Planning the route

After getting the gorilla visit organised we needed to work out where to visit and where to stay for the remainder of the trip - so it was out with the maps and guidebooks to see what to do and where to go.

One thing we learned from Namibia and Botswana was to try not to drive too much, and to stay in nice places for a few nights rather than just one.

We reckon that we might travel 2500-3000 km rather than the 6000 that we did in Nam/Bot.

The way the main National Parks are arranged seemed to lend themselves to a nice round trip - North to Murchison Falls, South West to Kibale and QE Forest, further South to Volcans in Rwanda, even further South to Nyungwe, then North and West to Akagera over the border again into Uganda and Lake Mburo.

This route would seem to give us the chance to see all the different terrains, from savannah to forest to mountain, to volcanoes, to lakes, to marsh.  It should also give us a great chance to see some of the towns - Fort Portal, Musanze, Kigali, Mbarara  and the countryside and farmland in between.

The different NPs also have very different styles to them, with fantastically diverse wildlife to view.

Vehicle hire

We have decided to hire a 4x4 - simply it seemed more sensible to have a more robust vehicle for some of the dirt roads.  We had a 4x4 in Namibia/Botswana a few years ago, and although roads there were generally pretty good, we did hit some deep sand in some of the NPs so it was more a necessity than a luxury.

Unfortunately it is not so easy to get a good 4x4 for hire in Uganda (Namibia had lots to offer, with fridges and roof tents etc) -

Namibian 4x4

I did some internet searching - and found a few good reports on tripadvisor and such like for a company called Habari Car Rentals who offered a Mazda Levante for 3 weeks.  Once I contacted them I found them very helpful and as they use a British bank account we could even transfer money to them without incurring massive banking charges.  We have been corresponding with someone called Kizito who seems very keen to help - they have even searched the camping shops of Kampala to see if they could find a gas canister that would fit my little stove.  (they couldn't so I'll be taking my petrol stove instead).

Not available!

They have offered to buy a couple of camping chairs, which will certainly come in useful.  They are going to deliver the car to our hotel in Entebbe.

We even managed to haggle a better price from them - so hire of vehicle, maximum insurance, and cross border fees/carnets - US$1750.00 (1325Euro or £1085.00)

Monday, 23 April 2012

Proposed route map

Starting at Entebbe airport just south of Kampala and going in an anti-clockwise direction.


We booked our flights through KLM - not only were they the cheapest for flying from Edinburgh to Entebbe in Uganda, they also offered the best flight times.

I used a couple of comparison sites, and but only to see what flights were actually available.  I then used the individual carrier's sites to check and see what was best.  KLM and Airfrance are actually one and the same and their prices are very similar.

However by far and away the best thing about flying with KLM is that we don't have to travel through any of the London airports, which if you didn't know are akin to the seven circles of hell.

Heathrow -

Gatwick -

Lovely Amsterdam Schiphol :-)

Flights cost £1340.00 for two people economy class, but bought and paid for 9 months before travelling.  We fly on the 7th September, and the same flights now cost over £1400.00.  British Airways also offer flights with a price of £7500 - I wonder if anyone uses them other than businessmen on fat expense accounts.

We leave Edinburgh early in the morning and will be in Uganda late that same evening.  On the way home we'll leave late in the evening and be home by lunch time the next day - ideal really.

Where to start

We will be travelling in Uganda/Rwanda for approximately 3 weeks, so how did we chose what to do and where to go.

We made a list of the things that we definitely wanted to do and see - this list was initially very short..

1 - See the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

2 - er that's it.....

So the holiday hinged on getting booked onto a mountain gorilla trek, and then fitting everything round about this.  We purchased two guide books, getting the most up to date ones we could find firstly the lonelyplanet for East Africa despite saying the last time I was in Africa that I wouldn't use a lonely planet guide again!  And secondly the Footprint guide to Uganda .

For Rwandan mountain gorillas you need a permit and the lonely planet guide book recommended using a local agency rather than trying to book directly with the Rwandan Tourist Board, as they would probably be much easier to deal with.

The guide book recommended Amahoro tours and a quick e-mail to them was all it took to get the arrangements started.  Amahoro have a guest house in Musanze/Ruhengeri and we have booked to stay with them here, get transferred to the visitor centre for the trek, and for a community visit.  They have arranged the permits for the gorilla trek.

Apart from one small blip, when they contacted me to say that there was a problem with my chosen date (3 months after I booked it!) they seem to have been very professional.  We were lucky to book as early as we did as the permit fees have increased from $500 pp to $750, but as we had booked before the price rise we got ours for the $500.

As you can see this is not cheap, the total cost for 2 nights B&B at the guest house, trekking to see the gorillas, banana beer making and basket weaving visit was US$1580.00 (£981.00 or 1200.00Euro).

I transferred half of this amount using internet banking, with a request from Amahoro to bring the remaining 50% in cash.  However, I think I'll probably transfer the remainder before travelling as I don't want to be carrying too much cash around with us.  When I transferred the money I only paid my bank's fees, but this means that Amahoro's bank's fees get deducted from the amount that they receive, and not surprisingly they want us to pay all the fees.  So feel free to add another £50 onto the top of the bill if you want to use bank transfers!

So once the gorilla permits were in  place, everything else could get arranged...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Reasons for this blog

Ok - so we are going on holiday to Uganda and Rwanda later this year, but despite having the maps, guidebooks and the internet we have struggled to find the really useful information regarding travelling to these countries.

We are organising this holiday ourselves - we reckon that no travel agents means for a better value holiday, but it does mean that we have to do all the bookings and research ourselves.

In no particular order some of the problems are - finding the latest information regarding visas, getting useful e-mail addresses for tracking chimpanzees, knowing when I dial a number in either country knowing whether the noises I am getting in my ear are "engaged", or "ringing" or "unobtainable", where is the best place to get money changed and so on and so on.

However, that doesn't mean that some of it isn't incredibly easy to do - some of the more commercially aware private companies we have contacted have been fantastic.  I'll try to detail them all at some point in the future.

So I am going to try to write it all in this blog so that others following us may have a little more information to work with and maybe to make it all a little bit easier.  I'm not saying that it isn't fun trying to get an answer out of the Ugandan government's information office, but it might help if you have the right e-mail address or telephone number.