How to get there
We booked all our accommodations, main trips and car rental with Active African Vacations. So when we arrived at the airport, Godfrey was waiting for us and guided us to our rental car at the parking lot. After a decent briefing about the car and our itinerary, we headed out.
As we (actually my husband) didn’t find much online about where to get food, except for Victoria Mall (Imperial Mall) at about 10 minutes from the airport, this was our first stop. A decent super market to get drinks and some food for the next days. We also withdrew our cash there (maximum of 400.000 shilling per withdrawal, including costs), we bought a prepaid mobile data pack (15.000 shilling for 2GB for 1 month) and had lunch at KFC (I know… but we couldn’t resist).
A little further down the road we stopped at a Total station. They’ve advised us to use Total or Shell at all times. Although there’s lots of other fuel stations (typically about 25% cheaper), the quality is a question mark.
Then you follow the road to Kampala and then Kampala-Mpigi Expressway and finally the road Mbarara – Masaka. We always pre-set our GPS and download the maps and in this case this was particularly handy, as the road signs in Uganda are not the clearest (if there are any signs at all). It’s not obvious whereto the road is actually going. So I would advise to do the same. We didn’t have any difficulties and the GPS was precies for most of the time, also in estimating the arrival time.
After a little less than 2 hours you get at the Equator sign, which is ideal to get your legs stretched, take a picture and look around the curiosities they sell around there.
The car drive from Victoria Mall to our lodge at Lake Mburo took us about 5 hours in total. It was a colorful drive to say the least. Small boda boda (motorcycle taxi’s) with up to 4 passengers or carrying a couch, solar panels or a ton of bananas on the back. Mini buses packed with people and showing religious slogans like “God’s mercy”, “Jesus is Lord”, “Blood of Jesus” and “God is First”. Nobody cares about speed limits, it seems – a honk will do. People walking alongside the road for miles, children mostly barefoot. Or others selling huge fish hanging from a cord, in the burning sun. Cows and goats tied on a leash in what seems to be no one’s land and children waving at us and shouting “How are you” or “Have a safe journey”.
Where to stay
We stayed at Leopard Rest Camp, just outside of the National Park (Nshara gate). Full review to come soon.
Making our way to the Lodge, we were soon welcomed by zebra, impala, warthogs, vervet monkeys and local cows (herds of ‘m!).
Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is the second smallest National Park in the country, but ideal to get acclimatized and immediately find absolute rest.
On the morning after we arrived, the first thing we did was going for a bike ride, scheduled at 7.30 am from Leopard Rest Camp. Dennis was our guide – you always need to take a guide, which costs 25 USD for 2 hours. If you stay outside of the National Park, that’s it; if you wanna go inside the Park (which they recommend), there’s additional charges for i) the entrance fee and ii) the “activity fee”, which means taking an armed ranger with you. The entrance fee can be used for 24 hours, so if you plan on returning to the National Park afterwards (for a game drive), then this is no extra cost. The fee for the ranger is 25 USD.
The paper work for getting in is quite heavy, so that takes a while. Fun fact: although the bike ride is recommended in every book or online review we saw and is a standard activity organized from the Lodge as well, we were surprised to be needing to sign a waiver which stated that it’s actually something they advise against and you’re responsible if anything would happen. Anyway, we signed it and got started around 8am.
We saw surprisingly many animals on our way: herds of zebra, warthogs, giraffe, buffalo, waterbuck, topi, eland, hippo, vervet (blue balls) monkey and even mongoose. We learned some new fun facts as well – for example, topi have a real short memory; when they run fast to get away from a predator, they may – all of a sudden – forget what they’re running from.
The uphills aren’t the easiest – that took some effort. And afterwards Dennis told us that actually a lot of people have to get off to make it to the top of the hill. We got back at the Nshara gate entrance around 10.30 am and then got back to the Lodge (5 minutes). Fun experience – enjoyed every minute of it.
After our fun bike trip we took a 15 min “rest” on our private balcony. Right before leaving again, we heard a noise and saw a baboon climbing on one of the other cabanas ahead of us. Taking his time to soak up the views, I guess…
Right after that, we got into our car and headed up to the park entrance again. We paid an extra 30.000 shilling for our car and started the Zebra track, then Warukiru track, followed by the Lakeside track. We stopped at Rwonyo Rest Camp (restaurant by the lake), to get a few cold drinks and eat our lunch (that we had bought the day before at the Mall) in some chairs facing the water. A vervet monkey was sitting at the picnic table a few meters on our right – what it looked like – minding his own business. After a minute or two he came a little closer. My husband had put our camera behind us (on another picnic table), filming us as we ate our lunch in absolute peace… But then the monkey climbed up the table, looking very interested in the camera. He was sitting right next to it, checking it out. We didn’t trust it, so sushed it away and took the camera back. A little later he came back, up to our chairs this time and started acting a whole lot bolder. We grabbed our stuff together, making sure he couldn’t take it. I turned my head away from him for a split second – making sure that we got everything – and before I knew it, I felt him pulling the bag with sandwiches out of my hand, in a swift and firm pull and ran away, up into the tree. I startled – it all went so fast. In the meantime other monkeys had joined him (we hadn’t even seen them) and they were all trying to get at least a piece of our sandwiches. I tried to get closer to save whatever I could, but I was way too late. Also, they were pretty aggressive, running up to me and showing their teeth for me to back off. Unbelievable. So from now on, we don’t trust any monkey anymore – how adorable they may look…
After this “relaxing” lunch, we continued the Lakeside Track and Kinganbira Loop. Although this last one isn’t a real loop – the road stops all of a sudden (they’re building what looks like a new hotel complex there). So we turned back and got to the Kazuma track to check the Kazuma hill lookout. By that time however the weather had started turning and you could feel the sky getting heaver – it was going to rain (heavily). As the road up to the lookout is pretty steep and got some nasty potholes (it’s a dirt road all over the park), we wanted to get back down before the rain actually started, so we made it a quicky. It’s not a spectacular sight, but I guess when the sun shines – or even better, at sunset – it could be pretty nice.
We made it back down safely and continued to the Ruroko track. Actually, right after the lookout, we’re not sure which road we took as it was pretty confusing at times, as there’s not always a sign indicating the track on each intersection. As the roads got slippery and the potholes filled with rain, it was quite an adventure. We slipped a few times and got into some deeper holes in the road, but were able to manage (at least my husband was). We wanted to get to Mihongo Lodge, but a fallen tree blocked the road, so we turned back and finally took the Zebra and Impala track up and down back to the gate.
Our wildlife sightings – on top of what we saw earlier that day during the bike trip: bushbuck, bateleur, Ruppell’s starling, African grey hornbill, little egret, African wattled lapling and Senegal coucal.