Uganda and Ethiopia ‘wonderful’

This is subscriber only post.
Get one year of online-only access — only $15!
Below is a sample of the article.
Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In July-August ’03, my friend Carol and I traveled in Uganda and Ethiopia with arrangements we had found on the Internet and booked by e-mail. Making the arrangements was a real pleasure, especially remembering the difficulties of arranging travel to Africa even a few years ago using slow mail and poor phone/fax connections.

This came about because we were going to be in Ethiopia on a medical tour for two weeks in August anyway, so we decided to do some additional traveling on our own. When we looked into air arrangements, we found that we could fly Ethiopian Airlines from Newark to Addis Ababa and go on to Uganda at almost no extra cost. It was then a rush to arrange a tour in Uganda.

My search on the Internet came up with two interesting companies. The first was Access Uganda Tours (e-mail mutebihassan@yahoo.com or visit www.accessugandatours.com). Not only was their website easy to use, but both Joseph Mutebi and Jaria provided quick responses to our questions and customized an itinerary to our preferences.

Another website which we used was www.gorillatours.com. While we didn’t choose this company for our main tour, we did learn that they owned Traveler’s Rest Hotel in Kisoro, Uganda, located in the southwest near the Rwanda border. This was the hotel where Dian Fossey and George Schaller stayed from time to time while they were studying the mountain gorillas in Congo and Rwanda. I had read the book “Up Among the Mountain Gorillas” by Walter Baumgartel, the owner of this hotel in the 1950s and ’60s, who started the first tourist visits to gorillas. As per our request, Access Uganda included Kisoro and the Traveler’s Rest Hotel in our itinerary. We made payments by bank transfer.

When our Uganda plans were set, we still had an extra week in Ethiopia. We booked a quick tour of the Historic Route using Village Ethiopia (e-mail village.ethiopia@telecom.net.et or visit www.village-ethiopia.com). Tony Hickey, the general manager, made our arrangements, which included visits to Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela connected by short plane flights.

We flew into Uganda at Entebbe airport and were met by Joseph Mutebi, who was to be our driver and guide for 19 days. We traveled by Land Cruiser, one of the large vehicles with a fold-back top. This was great for game viewing, and I often sat up on top when in the national parks.

Our tour began in Kampala with a visit to the royal tombs of the Buganda people. Then, near Entebbe, we visited the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria as well as the Entebbe Wildlife Education Center, which included a good zoo of local animals.

A gorilla at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Photos: Neilson

Driving north, we had two days at Murchison Falls. We had heard of trouble here before we left, but we found that the problems were to the north of the park and would not affect our itinerary. We had game drives in the area between the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile, as well as a visit to the top of the falls and a boat ride to the base of the falls.

While there was not the large numbers of animals that might be found in Tanzania, we saw a large variety of animals in all of Uganda’s parks and learned that the herds are coming back in numbers. Giraffe were common in Murchison Falls, as were Uganda kob (a type of antelope) and many other species.

Heading south, we saw chimps in the southern end of Murchison Falls Park at Budingo Forest Reserve and then again at Kibale Forest. A drive across the mountain to Semuliki National Park on the Congo border was most interesting. We saw the hot springs, visited a Pygmy village and learned about the community involvement in which 20% of park profits is given back to the people in the area.

We were lucky at Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw a lion in a tree as well as herds of elephants. Most of our accommodations were modest, but here we stayed at the luxurious Mweya Safari Lodge.

In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we tracked the gorillas — a long walk but well worth the effort. On our second day at Bwindi we visited the villages which are involved in the park. There we saw an herbal medicine man and watched brick making and banana-beer making. We also met another group of pygmies. These fellows were Batwa and larger than the Efe Pygmies of Semuliki. They danced and sold handicrafts.

We proceeded to Kisoro, south of the equator. It was dry season, and while we had had occasional rain before, we now had dust. We found Traveler’s Rest Hotel to be a friendly place. It was being managed by a Dutch couple who were very helpful. We met guests who had booked their safari with Gorilla Tours (owners of the hotel) and were also having a great time.

I learned that from Traveler’s Rest Hotel, people can either visit the gorillas in Magahinga National Park, Uganda (which borders Djombe Park in Congo), or cross the border and visit the gorillas in Rwanda. We met people who were doing both. I tried to buy a permit to Magahinga for my free day in Kisoro but had no luck; the six spaces were already taken. Instead, we drove around a beautiful lake and visited some of the local people.

Our last days in Uganda were at Mbare National Park, where zebras and impalas are common. After a quick stop at the equator and the Royal Drum Makers’, we returned to Entebbe for our flight to Ethiopia.

Our Ethiopia plans went well except for the weather. It was rainy season and we experienced several delays and cancellations with our short plane flights on the Historic Route; the Twin Otters need good visibility for landing at these small airports. Ethiopian Airlines twice put us up in hotels when planes didn’t fly.

We managed to see all of the sights in our plan after hiring a car with other stranded travelers and driving from Bahir Dar to Lalibela. We paid for the car with our refunded air tickets. We ended up being only a half day late in returning to Addis Ababa.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. Our cost for the Ugandan portion, including the Traveler’s Rest Hotel, was $2,800 each for what was really a private 19-day safari. (The gorilla permit was an additional $275 each.) The 8-day Ethiopian portion cost $1,070 including five flights to see the four cities of the Historic Route. These were also arrangements for just the two of us. All was planned via the Internet very easily, and I can recommend all of these companies.

I think that both Uganda and Ethiopia are wonderful tourist destinations that suffer from bad press — Uganda from terrorism and Ethiopia from famine. The picture presented of each country is neither realistic nor fair.

I’d be happy to answer questions, e-mail me c/o ITN.

DORIS NEILSON
Avoca, MI

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

In July-August ’03, my friend Carol and I traveled in Uganda and Ethiopia with arrangements we had found on the Internet and booked by e-mail. Making the arrangements was a real pleasure, especially remembering the difficulties of arranging travel to Africa even a few years ago using slow mail and poor phone/fax connections.

This came about because we were going to be in Ethiopia on a medical tour for two weeks in August anyway, so we decided to do some additional traveling on our own. When we looked into air arrangements, we found that we could fly Ethiopian Airlines from Newark to Addis Ababa and go on to Uganda at almost no extra cost. It was then a rush to arrange a tour in Uganda.

My search on the Internet came up with two interesting companies. The first was Access Uganda Tours (e-mail mutebihassan@yahoo.com or visit www.accessugandatours.com). Not only was their website easy to use, but both Joseph Mutebi and Jaria provided quick responses to our questions and customized an itinerary to our preferences.

Another website which we used was www.gorillatours.com. While we didn’t choose this company for our main tour, we did learn that they owned Traveler’s Rest Hotel in Kisoro, Uganda, located in the southwest near the Rwanda border. This was the hotel where Dian Fossey and George Schaller stayed from time to time while they were studying the mountain gorillas in Congo and Rwanda. I had read the book “Up Among the Mountain Gorillas” by Walter Baumgartel, the owner of this hotel in the 1950s and ’60s, who started the first tourist visits to gorillas. As per our request, Access Uganda included Kisoro and the Traveler’s Rest Hotel in our itinerary. We made payments by bank transfer.

When our Uganda plans were set, we still had an extra week in Ethiopia. We booked a quick tour of the Historic Route using Village Ethiopia (e-mail village.ethiopia@telecom.net.et or visit www.village-ethiopia.com). Tony Hickey, the general manager, made our arrangements, which included visits to Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela connected by short plane flights.

We flew into Uganda at Entebbe airport and were met by Joseph Mutebi, who was to be our driver and guide for 19 days. We traveled by Land Cruiser, one of the large vehicles with a fold-back top. This was great for game viewing, and I often sat up on top when in the national parks.

Our tour began in Kampala with a visit to the royal tombs of the Buganda people. Then, near Entebbe, we visited the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary on Lake Victoria as well as the Entebbe Wildlife Education Center, which included a good zoo of local animals.

A gorilla at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda. Photos: Neilson

Driving north, we had two days at Murchison Falls. We had heard of trouble here before we left, but we found that the problems were to the north of the park and would not affect our itinerary. We had game drives in the area between the Victoria Nile and the Albert Nile, as well as a visit to the top of the falls and a boat ride to the base of the falls.

While there was not the large numbers of animals that might be found in Tanzania, we saw a large variety of animals in all of Uganda’s parks and learned that the herds are coming back in numbers. Giraffe were common in Murchison Falls, as were Uganda kob (a type of antelope) and many other species.

Heading south, we saw chimps in the southern end of Murchison Falls Park at Budingo Forest Reserve and then again at Kibale Forest. A drive across the mountain to Semuliki National Park on the Congo border was most interesting. We saw the hot springs, visited a Pygmy village and learned about the community involvement in which 20% of park profits is given back to the people in the area.

We were lucky at Queen Elizabeth National Park, where we saw a lion in a tree as well as herds of elephants. Most of our accommodations were modest, but here we stayed at the luxurious Mweya Safari Lodge.

In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest we tracked the gorillas — a long walk but well worth the effort. On our second day at Bwindi we visited the villages which are involved in the park. There we saw an herbal medicine man and watched brick making and banana-beer making. We also met another group of pygmies. These fellows were Batwa and larger than the Efe Pygmies of Semuliki. They danced and sold handicrafts.

We proceeded to Kisoro, south of the equator. It was dry season, and while we had had occasional rain before, we now had dust. We found Traveler’s Rest Hotel to be a friendly place. It was being managed by a Dutch couple who were very helpful. We met guests who had booked their safari with Gorilla Tours (owners of the hotel) and were also having a great time.

I learned that from Traveler’s Rest Hotel, people can either visit the gorillas in Magahinga National Park, Uganda (which borders Djombe Park in Congo), or cross the border and visit the gorillas in Rwanda. We met people who were doing both. I tried to buy a permit to Magahinga for my free day in Kisoro but had no luck; the six spaces were already taken. Instead, we drove around a beautiful lake and visited some of the local people.

Our last days in Uganda were at Mbare National Park, where zebras and impalas are common. After a quick stop at the equator and the Royal Drum Makers’, we returned to Entebbe for our flight to Ethiopia.

Our Ethiopia plans went well except for the weather. It was rainy season and we experienced several delays and cancellations with our short plane flights on the Historic Route; the Twin Otters need good visibility for landing at these small airports. Ethiopian Airlines twice put us up in hotels when planes didn’t fly.

We managed to see all of the sights in our plan after hiring a car with other stranded travelers and driving from Bahir Dar to Lalibela. We paid for the car with our refunded air tickets. We ended up being only a half day late in returning to Addis Ababa.

All in all, we had a wonderful time. Our cost for the Ugandan portion, including the Traveler’s Rest Hotel, was $2,800 each for what was really a private 19-day safari. (The gorilla permit was an additional $275 each.) The 8-day Ethiopian portion cost $1,070 including five flights to see the four cities of the Historic Route. These were also arrangements for just the two of us. All was planned via the Internet very easily, and I can recommend all of these companies.

I think that both Uganda and Ethiopia are wonderful tourist destinations that suffer from bad press — Uganda from terrorism and Ethiopia from famine. The picture presented of each country is neither realistic nor fair.

I’d be happy to answer questions, e-mail me c/o ITN.

DORIS NEILSON
Avoca, MI