Summary: Uganda is a country filled with lush forests, amazingly friendly people, unforgettable wildlife, and interesting history. Our first full day in Uganda involved conquering the fear of small planes, a hike through local villages, and a peaceful canoe ride on Lake Mutanda.
Conquering the fear of small planes. At the time we booked our trip, the border between Rwanda and Uganda was closed and had been closed for three years without any word on reopening. This meant that the only way to get to Southern Uganda, apart from an 8-hour bumpy and precarious car-ride, was to take a 12-person plane from Entebbe airport to Kisoro airport. Today, the border has now reopened so presumably our original plans of flying into Kigali, Rwanda, and driving to Bwindi National Forest remains the better option. For us, the reopening was too late to change plans so we forged ahead as scheduled, which meant an early morning, 90-minute airplane ride to Kisoro.
I have never had the desire to ride in a small plane. It just seemed like the perfect collision of my two main phobias, claustrophobia and heights. Truthfully, I had been dreading this part of the trip for months. As it turns out, it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, I would even categorize it as “enjoyable.” Perhaps I would feel differently if we had encountered turbulence and storm of some sort, but this beautiful clear day made for an exhilarating and beautiful experience.
At Entebbe, we were greeted by airport staff that helpfully led us through to the ticket counter and then through two types of security lines before ushering us outside to a bus. From here, we were shuttled to a remote part of the airport where other small aircraft sat waiting for passengers. I did have some second thoughts as we climbed into the small passenger seats- see nervous photo below.
Much to my surprise, taking off was smooth as silk. In the air, we cruised at an altitude far lower than the usual commercial airliners I’ve traveled in. It gave us a birds-eye view of Uganda’s expansive Lake Victoria. Did you know that Lake Victoria is 223 miles long and 209 miles wide? Incredible!
Kisoro has a place they loosely call an “airport.” It consists of a dirt landing strip and a building with a restroom and ticket counter. This necessarily bumpy landing in the middle of nowhere was a preview of what was to come in Southern Uganda. For the rest of the day, we experienced primarily dirt roads and many places were only accessible by foot trails.
Our Nkuringo driver, Richard, and guide, Emma, picked up us at Kisoro airport and ushered us to our first full day in Uganda.
The first stop was at a local coffee roaster for a cup of coffee. To give you an idea on cost here, at this nice shop, three mochas and an Americano cost merely $6.
Next, we were dropped off at a spot near Lake Mutanda for a short hike. In roughly an hour or so, we hiked through a section of the area that housed local families and farmers. Here we learned about banana and bean harvesting, two of the most common crops in the area. Several times throughout the hike, we were joined by local children. These lovely children live modestly in dirt-floored homes with no obvious luxuries, yet they clearly were experts in finding joy in everything.
One highlight of the day was a group of boys that that started singing and following Brian. Their laughter and joy was contagious and we couldn’t help admire how happy they all seemed.
The trail led us to Lake Mutanda. This Lake does not house any crocodiles or large mammals. Rather, it is relatively “dead,” in that it only has small tilapia fish and a few other small fish. The reason, we were told, was that the Sulphur from the nearby volcanos runs into this Lake making it uninhabitable for most life. For canoeing though, it is especially safe given we weren’t concerned about any dangerous wildlife coming out of the water.
Our Lake Mutanda canoe trip took roughly 2.5 hours. This peaceful, quiet experience, was the first time in weeks where I could sit still and enjoy the calm. I couldn’t think of a better way to emotionally transition from my busy hectic life to vacation – a process that usually takes me days. In the canoes, we could sit back and watch the shoreline while our guide paddled us across the lake to our lodging at Chameleon Hill.
Upon arrival at the dock at Chameleon Hill, we had to climb a very steep narrow path to get to the lodge itself. The reward is lodging with incredible lake-side views. Chameleon Hill was booked by our Safari company but other lodgers were here apparently having booked directly. We highly recommend this spot. Our family of four was given our own Casita that had two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The highlight of this spacious, clean accommodation is the view of Lake Mutanda. Sitting on the front patio of our Casita, we listened to the birds and insects create a symphony of jungle noises, all of which added to this peaceful stay even if nature was a bit noisy.
The views in the evening were just as gorgeous.
About Nkuringo Safaris. Our stay in Uganda was booked, door to door, with Nkuringo Safaris. We chose a "walking safari," which focused on seeing Uganda on foot, though we were also given the traditional driver and safari Land Rover vehicle throughout our stay. We absolutely loved this company and HIGHLY recommend using it for your stay in Uganda. Everything was top notch, from booking through post-travel communications (even shipping our souvenirs for us!). Our driver, Emma, was the best and our guide, Richard, was great with us well. Our accommodations were incredible (especially in Bwindi), and at every step of the way, we felt safe. This is not an inexpensive experience but we really felt we got our money's worth. Nkuringo also has a responsible travel policy which is clearly followed, i.e. they're not just words on a website. We would not hesitate to recommend this company to anyone traveling to Uganda.