How-To: Organize Primate Trekking Without a Company

Our silverback
Our silverback

Our month-long trip was really created around two set dates that we had picked to go chimp and gorilla trekking. These two activities were magical and unforgettable days that I would recommend everyone traveling in the region plan on doing! We bush-whacked our way through athick jungle in an attempt to keep up playful chimps bounding around in the canopy only to come across one hiding in the bushes 3 meters away from us.  We stood within 10 meters of a silver back gorilla and watched one of his mates groom him as their three youngsters play in the trees almost directly above you. You can’t get that anywhere else.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Disclaimer
Most people who go chimp and gorilla trekking organize it through a company based in Uganda- you can do this on the relatively cheap. The reason for this is that you need to reserve permits for these activities well in advance of your arrival to Uganda. It is MUCH EASIER to reserve and pay for these permits in advance through the tour companies, they provide you with reliable transportation throughout the country, and figure out your accommodation for you.

If this is your first time traveling in East Africa we would HIGHLY RECOMMEND GOING WITH THIS OPTION! Navigating the bus system and the bureaucracy that is the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is frustrating and takes the patience of a saint or the arrogance of someone who has been living in the region for a while and doesn’t understand why they would pay a someone to do something that they’re pretty positive they can do in their own. In other words you have to to be an overconfident moron to try to do this on your own.

But if those overconfident moronic tendencies are strong in you (as they are in us) please continue reading!

Step 1: Reserve your trekking permits.

Juvenile gorilla
Juvenile gorilla

The UWA only allows a certain number of people to trek with their primates on any given day- this is to minimize the disturbance to these habituated primates. It is recommended that you make these reservations at least a month in advance. So we picked our days based on our roughest itinerary and emailed the UWA. 1 week later-no response. We tried again- no response. We called- which was expensive- no one picked up. We called once a day- sometimes someone would answer and put us on hold. By the time a human started talking to us we we usually had precious seconds before we ran out of phone credit and the call was cut off. So every phone call was a race to write down a helpful email address or name before the clock ran out! The process of confirming our permits  for the dates we wanted took about three weeks.

Chimp's snack time

Payment: Gorilla trekking permits cost $600 for foreigners as of January 2014. Chimp trekking permits in Kibale were $120 per person. We were told that we had to wire money to the UWA office. Had we been doing this from the U.S. we probably could have gone directly from our American banks, but we were in Tanzania. This meant we had to take out MASSIVE amounts of cash from the ATMs in a short amount of time- an activity that our banks certainly looked twice at. (We also lost a fair amount of money on ATM fees.) We then had to convert it to US dollars (at another loss because of the miserable exchange rate), and find a bank or company that would let us wire the money. Various Banks, Western Union, and MoneyGram branches gave us different requirements for going about this transaction and the

Post grooming session
Post grooming session

transaction fee’s were usually about $100. Some wanted us to convert the money to Ugandan shillings which we couldn’t do in Tanzania because $720 equals 1,800,000 Ugandan shillings- and no one in the world has that many Ugandan shillings lying around. Others wanted us to open our own bank account which we didn’t have time to do. Other’s said it was simply impossible to wire money to the UWA because it was an organization and Western Union and MoneyGram only wire money to individuals. In the end we agreed that we would just visit the UWA office in Kampala once we got to Uganda. (When we arrived there we were told that the only way to have wired money to the UWA would have been to wire it to a friend living in Uganda who would have physically brought it to the office- well yeah why hadn’t we thought of that??)

The UWA office in Kampala- As soon as we walked into the office we realized we were the only solo travelers in the office filled with tour operators. This  was about the millionth indication that we had made a terrible mistake in assuming we could organize this safari by ourselves…

Contrary to what we were expecting, the UWA office was a fully operational office that was the home base of eight UWA officials working behind their desks that held up fully functional internet-using computers and telephones. And contrary to our assumptions that all the workers were both blind and deaf thus had missed our million phone calls and emails these workers were functioning with no visible disabilities. We met the woman we had failed at making email correspondence with multiple times- a young, energetic, attractive Ugandan woman who spoke PERFECT English- who helpfully informed us that the price for trekking had been raised by $100 just this past month (happy new year). If only we had been able to pay in the year 2013- if only we had had that Ugandan friend. We got extra money out of a nearby ATM and changed it to USD- because this Ugandan organization would not accept Ugandan shililngs. To be fair, $600 was 1,500,000 Ugandan shillings, and that is a cumbersome amount to have to handle. After convincing our cashier that no we had not brought our own tape to mend the tiny tear in our $50 and perhaps she could let us borrow some from the tape dispenser sitting on her desk we were FINALLY holding our trekking permits in our hand. It had only taken us 2 months and a couple hundred extra dollars to make it happen.

Getting There:

Kibale Forest (to see those rambunctious chimps)- this one was easy. Get yourself to Fort Portal using the easily accessible buses coming from Kampala and catch a bus heading past the Kibale Forest entrance gate. Getting home, your best bet is to hitch a ride with other trekkers or just wait by the side of the road for the next bus.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest: get yourself to the Bwindi Backpackers head office in Kabale, Uganda. You’ve got to make a reservation at this backpackers and they offer a shuttle that gets you into the park, to the backpackers, to your trekking point, and back down again- for a perfectly reasonable price. Take them up on this- there is NO better way to get into the park. Well, actually, I kind of hope there was a better way to get into the park. And below is why:

Sir Jack
Sir Jack

Our shuttle was set to leave at 4:30pm. We were waiting in the office by 3:30pm (which was very un-east-african of us. No one is early here!). Turns out our vehicle was going to be carrying one other traveler, a cook, and all of our food- so we had to wait a good hour to load everything and everyone. Among our precious cargo was a jackfruit that we had purchased because it was the size of a small child and only cost $2 and we had never tried one before. We wanted to give Sir Jack his own seat, the extra passengers made this impossible.

Promptly at 5:30pm we set off. One hour of working our way up the mountainous roads into the forest our land cruiser got overheated and had to stop. Looking utterly perplexed, our driver climbed out of the car and under the hood to see what the problem was. Mike climbed out a few minutes after and quickly noticed that their was a tank that was leaking water (Mike more specializes in canoe maintenance so bear in mind this isn’t really his field). Our driver sent a kid running down the hill into the nearby village to bring back some water which he poured into the tank. The leak was still there, but we had water again. We continued to climb.

These were the kinds of mountains, cliffs, and dropoff we are talking about, looking lovely at sunrise.
These were the kinds of mountains, cliffs, and dropoff we are talking about, looking lovely at sunrise.

About half an hour later the engine had surprisingly overheated again. The driver checked that tank and, wouldn’t you know it, the darn thing was empty again. At this point the sun was setting. He sent for another jerry can full of water and refilled the tank. This proved to be not enough of a solution because about 20 feet down the road the car just stopped. We were right next to a tiny village that was perched on the side of a cliff. On car was right on the wrong side of a blind switchback- any cars whipping down the hill wouldn’t see us until the had cut the turn too wide and had pushed us off the cliff. The sun had set.

Our driver popped the hood once again. This time he was joined by about fifteen men from this village, most of whom I will assume had never been under the hood, or behind the wheel of a car in their lives. But nonetheless they all dug right into that core of the vehicle. It was a mess of flashlight beams and hands flailing around. A hose that I’m sure at some point served some vital purpose in those inner workings was flung over the popped hood. At this point Mike got out of the car and asked the driver when another vehicle would be coming for us.

“Only when we have completely failed.”

Mike got back in the car that had been surrounded by the other residents of this village. Now that the sun had set they were tapping on our windows and requesting that we turn the interior lights on so that they could “keep watching us.”

A man dropped a bag of flour next to the car and scurried off again. The driver reported he was going in search of superglue. This would be the miracle recipe that would patch the leak and save our car.

About half an hour later our driver announced that he had called for another vehicle.

Rescue car
Rescue car

We heard this new car before we saw it- a bass-bumping monster careening around these moon-lit hills. This new driver jumped out and started transferring all of our belongings into the trunk of his white sedan that read “good luck” over the license plate. He proudly introduced himself as a DJ first, a driver second.

So we squeezed in, leaving our old driver and the cook to fend for themselves. We made our way up through the hills even slower than we had been going before- having to navigate the dirt road paved with boulders and pot holls proved more difficult in a sedan. It was pitch black outside- we knew we were driving next to some perilously steep drop offs but we couldn’t see them therefore they did not exist.

At 11:30pm we arrived at the Bwindi Backpackers- a full four and a half hours past our original ETA. There was no electricty, there were candles. There was no food, but there were big comfy beds. So we snuggled down into our bunk beds to try to squeeze every second of sleep in that we could before rising at 5:30 am the next morning to trek with the gorillas. So far, the Bwindi IMEPENTRABLE Foret was living up to it’s name.

The Trek:

[Things to bring/wear- long pants, long socks that you can tuck your long pants into, gloves (you can also rent these for a fee), long sleeves- this forest is a prickly thing. And probably a camera.]

Despite the combined forces of the universe conspiring against us we finally get to see the gorillas. Our trekking group included, among others, a Swiss oboe player/magician who could imitate any and all bird calls and to the terror of our guides set money on fire. It was a wonderful day- a beautiful walk up and down massive hills along a path that finally descended into a dense and lush jungle.  Then as if on cue the gorillas materialized by the side of the path. It is an impossible experience to describe. And that’s why the gorillas are the pictures, they are not the story. The story is one of sweet sweet victory- over the incomprehensible inner workings of the UWA, the multiple banks and ATMs that tried in vain to stop us from extracting large amounts of money, and the terrible road and poorly functioning cars. Over the safari ants, the prickly bushes, and the forest that billed itself as “impenetrable”. We penetrated!

Finally made it and decked out in appropriate trekking attire.
Finally made it and decked out in appropriate trekking attire.
Gorilla sass
Gorilla sass
Shockingly similar
Shockingly familiar eyes

Route through Uganda

Part 1 Uganda

1- Jinja

What to do- white water raft the Nile River- we went through the Adrift Adventure company– which has a great safety record. You will tip over, you will get soaked, you almost definitely WON’T see crocs or hippos.
Cost- $120 for a full-day of rafting (including all equipment, breakfast, lunch, and beer and kebabs when/if (just kidding) you make it to the end. This also includes one night at the Adrift Riverbase guesthouse.
Where to stay- the guest house at Adrift Riverbase- on the base of the Nile
How to get there- I flew in from Tanzania to the Entebbe airport, took a bus from Entebbe to Kampala (1 hour) then a 2 hour bus from Kampala to Jinja. You can also take a bus from the Kenyan border.

2- Kampala

Some kids swim with inner tubes, these boys just used car tires- Entebbe
Some kids swim with inner tubes, these boys just used car tires- Entebbe

What to Do- walk around and explore the city. This is one of the few cities I have been in in East Africa where I felt perfectly safe walking around even after dark (I was also with 2 friends though, I would not recommend doing this solo). There’s great food from all over the world here. A central market is a good if not slightly hectic way to buy local produce. And if you’re looking for live performances or a comedy show the National Theater is a good place to stop by. You can also take a day trip to Entebbe and eat a big fish lunch on the shore of Lake Victoria. It’s a one hour bus ride from Kampala and it much quieter and laid-back than the city.

The view of Kampala at night from the New Annex Hotel
The view of Kampala at night from the New Annex Hotel

Where to Stay- The New City Annex Hotel (Plot 7, De winton Street, Kampala, Uganda, +256 41 4254132). This hotel offers great priced rooms, is right across from the National Theater and really close to a lot of great bars and restaurants (we’re talking walking distance). The rooms are basic but they do have fans and mosquito nets. There’s also a roof you can crawl onto to watch the sun rise over the city.

How to get there- literally EVERY bus in Uganda leads to Kampala, if you can’t find one you are not trying AT ALL.

3 & 4-Side trip- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and Murchison Falls

What to Do:

One of the many rhino's protected at the Rhino sanctuary
One of the many rhino’s protected at the Rhino sanctuary

Spend a couple of hours at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary where you can walk (with an armed guide) through the bush to see actual rhinos, and you can get pretty close too! Their star rhino when we visited was imported from Disneyworld in Orlando. Cost- $40 for rhino trekking.

As close as you can get to the falls without going in!
As close as you can get to the falls without going in!

Spend the night in Murchison Falls National Park and take a boat out in the morning to get up next to falls. Boats leave from the dock at 6:30am. There is a boat provided by the Park, you buy your tickets at the ticket office half a mile down the road from the campsite. At Murchison Falls all of the water flowing through the Nile gets forced through a 7 meter wide gap in the rocks- making it one of the most powerful waterfalls on this great river. You can feel it once you’re out there. Once your boat gets you as close to the falls as it can, ask to be let out at the trail head  and hike up the falls (also with a guide) so you can see this bone-crushing monster up close!

Where to Stay:

Welcome to Red Chilli Rest Camp!
Welcome to Red Chilli Rest Camp!

You really have one option if you want to camp close to the falls- Red Chilli Hideaway Murchinson FallsThere are campsites and bandas (cabins)  available here. If you bring your own camping equipment you pay a small fee per person, you can also rent camping equipment or a banda for a little more. YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY MAKE A RESERVATION and make sure you have made your reservation at the right Red Chilli (they also have a location in Kampala and it can be confusing). You pay a fee for bringing in your own food and drink- they offer a limited menu of relatively overpriced food and have a bar thats more expensive than most places in Uganda, but like I said, this place is really your only budget option.

Crocs on the Nile- some of the wildlife you see on this boat ride
Crocs on the Nile- some of the wildlife you see on this boat ride

How to get there:
This we struggled with- there arent public transportation options out here so you HAVE to hire a car and a driver. You dont need a land cruiser (although the road into Murchsion Falls National Park isnt great)- a regular sedan worked fine for us. We called a couple of companies listed in the guidebook (including Red Chilli) and got price quotes. A lot of these companies had set itineraries for 2 night trips with set prices which we weren’t interested in.

This was our diagram of how we would pay for gas to try to explain to our driver that he was making us pay double. No one really got it...
This was our diagram of how we would pay for gas to try to explain to our driver that he was making us pay double. No one really got it…

A 2 day/1 night trip was all we needed to see the rhinos and the Falls. After getting price quotes from a few companies we ended up going with a guy we met through some friends who had a car and was “starting” a safari company. The important thing to do here is agree on a price up front- figure out how much you will pay for gas, for the driver, and for the vehicle. We agreed that we would pay for all of the gas as we went and this ended up being complicated. He wanted to collect a set amount at the beginning of the trip which he then left at his office. When we needed to refuel halfway through the trip he asked us to pay more which would have meant we paid double for gas than we should have. Be really clear with how you’ll pay for gas. Our suggestion- pay for gas as you go (but make that abundantly clear also). Agree that the driver will fill up the car before he picks you up, you will pay for gas throughout the trip, and before he drops you off you will pay to fill the tank. DON’T pay for gas in advance.

5- Fort Portal

These guys were maybe 4 meters away from us.
These guys were maybe 4 meters away from us.

What to do here– visit 6- Kibale National Forest- and go chimp trekking!
(see “How-T0- Primate Trekking for tips on how to organize this trek by yourself because it’s just not as easy as we would like it to be).

Where to stay: Continental Guest house- really simple rooms with almost nothing extra (like towels, or soap, or toilet paper). But they were cheap! There were actually plenty of cheap-ish guest houses around here.
How to get here– there are a couple of big bus stands in Kampala- ask your hotel which one will get you to Fort Portal. Once you get to the bus stand you will be literally dragged through this chaotic mess of a transport hub and thrown onto a bus- just say “Fort Portal” a lot and these bus conductors will get you where you need to go- just gotta keep the faith. You can buy literally anything on this bus- including but not limited to snacks, pots and pans, medicine, water- just wait for the right vendor to hop on. The bus ride takes about 7-8 hours.

These guys were flying around the canopy- mocking our attempts to keep up by raining fruit scraps upon us!
These guys were flying around the canopy- mocking our attempts to keep up by raining fruit scraps upon us!

From Fort Portal you can catch a public bus to drop you off at the entrance to Kibale Forest where you will start your chimp trekking. Getting home is a bit harder because most buses pack themselves completely before starting their journey so it is hard to find a bus mid-way through its trip that has room to take you on. We got lucky and were able to hitch a ride with a family that we did our trekking with.

7- Kabale, Uganda

The view of the mystical lake from above- wish we could have explored more!
The view of the mystical lake from above- wish we could have explored more!

What to do here- this is your jumping off point for trekking with the gorillas in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest! It’s also right next to Lake Bunyoni which is a really beautiful lake filled with lots of tiny islands- it’s almost mystical in it’s appearance. If we had had more time we would have spent a morning canoeing around the lake. As it was we rented a taxi to drive us to a lodge perched above the lake and got some drinks while admiring it from above.

Where to stayEdirisa Museum and Hostel.  This hostel had great prices, was right in the center of town, had comfy dorms and a cute bar upstairs. It probably would have been the place to meet other travelers had there been any in the town. The owners were also MASSIVELY accommodating. If you want to do a canoe tour around Lake Bunyoni this is where you would organize it from.

Rolling Tea Fields of Western Uganda

How to get there– *our favorite ride of the trip*. There is NO direct bus from Fort Portal to Kabale. You have to connect somewhere along the way- Kassese or Bushenyi. Both these towns are relatively large typical Ugandan towns full of shops, food, and most importantly buses. We were able to find a bus from Fort Portal to Buskhenyi at 6am without too much trouble. Once we got to Bushenyi we had a little bit of trouble finding a bus to Kabale but we asked a couple of places and eventually found a shop selling tickets for a bus coming through at 1pm. This was our favorite ride because it took us straight through Queen Elizabeth National Park- we saw elephants, various antelope, and cape buffalo from the window of our slightly overcrowded bus without paying any park fees! Definitely the way to do it!

8- Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Uganda

One of the 3 baby gorillas in the family we trekked with
One of the 3 baby gorillas in the family we trekked with

What to do here– Gorilla trekking!!!! (see our “how-to” guide to make this happen). It was also fun to explore the surrounding hills. One evening we took a drive to the “top of the world”a hill where you can watch the sunset over the Democratic Republic of Congo and a Ugandan pick-up soccer game simultaneously. If you had been there with us you would have also been able to watch my friend lead an impromptu acrobatics class with the kids who were too distracted by her skills to concentrate on soccer.

Adiel's impromptu acrobatics lesson in the mountains.
Adiel’s impromptu acrobatics lesson in the mountains.

Where to stay-Bwindi Backpackers Lodge. This place has the cheapest dorm rooms you can find in the region- and they’re really comfortable too- cute bunk beds with big fluffy blankets (which you need because it’s cold in these mountains). There’s electricity, most of the time, and I’ve heard there’s hot water now. The food is good, you do need to pre-order which we hated because we hate making any kinds of commitments but there arent any other options unless you want to drive to a nearby village which was kind of a hassle. They will also send you with a packed lunch for your gorilla trek which was necesssary.

The porch of Bwindi backpackers that looks over the incredible mountains!
The porch of Bwindi backpackers that looks over the incredible mountains!

How to get there– if you go with Bwindi Backpackers they have a shuttle that will bring you from Kabale to the Backpackers directly. This shuttle will then drive you to your trekking start point and then return you to Kabale when you are finished (for a fee). The shuttle is a landcruiser which is useful because the road is not paved. Our shuttle broke down about 1 hour into the drive in the middle of a tiny village in the mountains as the sun was setting. After 2 hours of trying to fix it he called for a backup vehicle which was a bumpin taxi driver who advertised himself as a “DJ first, driver second”. The ride was a lot rougher in his car but he got us to the lodge. This whole trip was supposed to take 3 hours, it ended up taking about 6. After we were finished our driver actually drove us back down to Kisoro and then directly to the Uganda- Rwanda border (we paid him a little more for this but it was worth it because he was really great!)

Travel in Uganda- What You Need to Know:

Getting in- you will need to buy a visa that you can get on arrival at the land borders or at the airport. $50 for an American passport. 

Getting out- You can fly out of Entebbe, or cross over any of the land borders. We went south into Rwanda and the whole process took us less than an hour- it’s simple and straightforward as long as you have exact cash for your visa for your connecting country.

Money– Uganda uses the Ugandan shilling- the exchange rate is usually around 2,500USH to $1. The low-end hotels never cost more than $15 (except for Bwindi which was obviously more expensive because of the lack of competition). Buses were also amazingly cheap- the most we paid for any of our bus rides was the equivalent of $7.

Language- English is really widely used in Uganda, usefully enough. We also attempted to use Swahili (coming from Tanzania and Kenya) which ended up being less helpful than English. So stick with what you know (as long as it’s English).

Accommodation– hotels “guest houses” are easy enough to find just about everywhere, and they’re pretty cheap across the board- you shouldn’t ever have to pay more than $15 for places in cities. More specialized places like the guesthouses closer to the gorilla trekking were more expensive. Most places should give you mosquito nets, fans, clean sheets, towels, etc. These places should all have a secure lock box for you to keep your valuables in. Keep an eye on Tripadvisor or the Lonely Planet websites to find CURRENT information on accommodation because the guide books are usually not up to date (when it comes to travel in East Africa, because everything is developing and changing so quickly anything published more than a year after the fact is NOT up to date- including some of the information on this blog).

Communication– wifi is not a guarantee at most hotels or guesthouses, but a lot of cafes and bigger hotels have it available. Additionally there are internet cafe’s everywhere you go! You can get SIM cards for your cell phone easily- its about $1 and you’ll need a photocopy of your passport and a passport photo to register the SIM card.

This is one of the few major bus parks in Kampala, Uganda- in all it's chaotic glory
This is one of the few major bus parks in Kampala, Uganda- in all it’s chaotic glory

Public transport– if you need to get somewhere there will be a bus to get you there. Ugandan bus parks all look about the same- chaotically overpacked! If you are walking around with a large backpack on you everyone will assume they know where you are going- KAMPALA. Know your destination and just keep saying it over and over again and some conductor will grab you and whisk you off to his bus. Once you get on the bus and into your overpacked seat just say your destination a couple more times to the people sitting around you so that everyone on the bus knows where you are getting off- that way you have a better chance of getting dropped off at the right location. These buses are always packed- a normal long white minivan can squeeze at least 20 people in it.

This is about as many people as they could cram into this mini van
This is about as many people as they could cram into this mini van

If at all possible keep your luggage with you- we usually just squeezed it on our laps or bought an extra seat and piled our bags on together. Sometimes you will have to tie your bags onto the roof or put them under the bus- at that point you just have to make sure you’ve got all your valuables on you and sit back and let it happen.

When traveling shorter distances motorbikes are the way to go- cheap, fast, easy to maneuver through traffic, and thrilled in their relative lack of safety!

Travel lingo- every country has their own term for vehicles- here’s a key to what in the world Uganda is doing:

  • “Taxi”= minibus (yes this unnecessarily confusing)
  • “Private hire”= car or what American’s would call a taxi
  • “Boda boda”= motorbike
Grilled meat purchased out our bus window
Grilled meat purchased out our bus window

Food and drink- in Kampala you can find food from all over the world- it’s more expensive than outside of the city but it is worth it- pizza, indian food, you name it and they’ve got a place that does it right. Uganda specialties include “g-nuts” which we went on obsessive searches for. G-nut stands for ground nut- peanut- and its a great ground up mash that Ugandans serve with meat, vegetables, whatever you want! Other than that, plain grilled meat, rice and beans, plantain style bananas, chapatis, and samosas are your best best. Also the fresh fruit here is amazing. If you are on Lake Victoria you HAVE to get some fresh tilapia- head and all!

Fresh tilapia from Lake Victoria at Entebbe
Fresh tilapia from Lake Victoria at Entebbe

You’ll notice that there aren’t any “where to eat” tips in the following sections- that is because these are largely useless in this part of the world. A restaurant that we ate at and LOVED in January 2014 could be long gone, relocated, renamed, or vaporized by now. Furthermore a lot of the places we ate at either had generic names or no names at all- how in the world would you find those? Suffice it to say that you will find food there, and that it will be good.

The scene from every bus  stop we stopped at- we were not going hungry.
The scene from every bus stop we stopped at- we were not going hungry.

Our favorite thing in Uganda was the street food! Every time your bus stops women will swarm the bus with baskets of fresh food! Beef kebabs, flat bread chapati, big fluffy naan style chapati, chicken skewers, bananas, mangoes, water, soda, crackers- you can eat well on these buses for less than $1. None of us got sick once on this trip- while that might have been a fluke I’m not complaining!

 

Ugandan whiskey- absolutely terrible but better when mixed with Stoney Tangawizi- an East African ginger soda that is my favorite soda in this world!
Ugandan whiskey- absolutely terrible but better when mixed with Stoney Tangawizi- an East African ginger soda that is my favorite soda in this world!
Ugandan gin- cheap and so good!
Ugandan gin- cheap and so good!

We only drank bottled water- you can buy 1.5liter bottles for $1 everywhere.  When we weren’t drinking water we were filling up on Nile Special or Bell beer, or Waragi- the national gin that tastes great with tonic water or bitter lemon.

Public Transportation Tour of East Africa

In January 2014 we embarked on a self-planned journey around Lake Victoria that took us through Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. Through this East Africa Journey series we hope to share our travel strategies and tips from this trip into relatively uncharted territory for backpackers. “Karibu sana”- Swahili- “you are very much welcome” (Fun fact- swahili is not helpful for you in any of these countries)

A Public Transportation Tour of East Africa Do you want to see gorillas and chimpanzees, visit a rhino sanctuary, hike up the strongest waterfall in East Africa, white water raft on the Nile river, and visit a country that most people have never heard of, let alone visited? Would you like to almost  solely use public transportation (translation- do you enjoy squeezing yourself into a tiny bus next to strangers for hours on end)? Are you into organizing everything yourself? Do you have a high level of patience?  Then this trip just might be for you.

Length of Trip– 23 days

Number of countries– 3- Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi

Total Cost– approximately $1500 each (including $600 for gorilla trekking, $120 for chimp trekking, $120 for white water rafting on the Nile, $50 for a Ugandan visa, $30 for a Rwandan visa, $50 for a Burundian visa, and $200 on flights to and from Tanzania)

Hours on buses– 29 hours total

Side trips (that required a hired car)- 2

By bikes, boots, or buses- how did we get here?