We wanted to go see the mountain gorillas and since we had a friend in the Peace Corps in Uganda, we decided to go there so we could visit our friend as well as our big, hairy cousins.
I had traveled to Indonesia before with a well known US based travel company but decided I'd like to leave more of my money in the local economy so I wanted to find a Uganda based tour company. I asked my friend in the Peace Corps if he had any recommendations and he sent me a list of names he had assembled from meeting tourists along the way when he traveled Uganda in his time off.
I started emailing several companies and got a prompt reply from Jane at NatureTrack. She gave me a list of email references and I contacted them. I got very good reviews and one guy even sent photos of his family's vacation. This made me feel more secure as you never really know what you're getting on the internet, right?
I told Jane what we were looking for and she suggested an itinerary for us and gave us a quote. When I compared my 15-day trip quote with NatureTrack to the advertised price with the US based tour operator I used several years ago I realised I was saving about $4000.00 for the 2 of us.
We booked our 15- day Ultimate Safari with them and I was pleased with how responsive Jane was as we made some changes to the proposed itinerary to accommodate the visit with our friend.
As it turned out, our Peace Corps friend is living in a charming little village in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains where he works with a coffee cooperative. We even hatched an idea for future NatureTrack clients who are interested in Ugandan culture to visit this village and have some coffee tasting and a great meal of traditional African fare.
I won't rehash all the usual lodging places mentioned elsewhere in this forum but would like to point out some that we really enjoyed or that are otherwise noteworthy...The Boma guest house was a godsend to two travel-weary tourists in bad need of a bed the night we arrived as it was close to the airport and very comfortable and pleasant. We booked an additional night here to decompress before starting our safari and that was a very good idea!
We met up with the owners of NatureTrack, Margaret and Jane, for dinner the second night . ( Whoo-hoo! A woman owned business! You go, ladies! Must be why they have such good attention to detail!)
Our guide, Fred, was also there and we learned about his extensive animal background. ( He worked in the bush as a young man with people doing research on the Uganda Kob and works for a veterinarian when he isn't on safari).
So with our knowledgeable, friendly guide we set out on Safari. Turns out, Fred also is an EXCELLENT driver (the BAD news here folks, is that the roads out in the bush aren't so good and you really need someone who knows how NOT to slide the 4- wheel drive vehicle off the mountain!)
At Murchison Falls NP we took a boat ride down river and were lucky enough to spot not one but TWO shoebilled storks!!! Our game drives around the park were just wonderful, even if we had a few unwanted visitors (in the form of Tse-tse flies...don't forget your bug repellant!) No lions spotted, sadly, probably because we were just out of the rainy season and the grass was very tall.
On to the Kibale Forest NP to see the chimps where we stayed at a charming place, The Chimpanzee Forest Guest House. Absolutely LOVELY grounds, great, friendly service, homey feeling and seriously good food. Highly recommend it!
At Queen Elizabeth NP, we had a most mystical encounter with a group of elephants...our guide really knew how to approach the herds gently for maximun viewing opportunity and we got some amazing photos with the best light of the evening descending on us.
Onward to Bwindi Impenetrable NP to do 2 days of gorilla tracking. We stayed at perhaps the least luxrious lodge of the trip (known as "Trekker's Tavern") but the bonus was it was much closer to the starting point of the trekking of the Bitukura group so we did not have to get up the next day at 5:30am and drive over 2 hours to get to the gorillas like all the other folks in our group did! NOTE* It's a little chilly up in those mountains so make sure you've got a coat!
The second night there we moved to the Engagi Lodge, my favorite lodge of the whole trip because of the stunning view of the rainforest. The gorillas are known to come down near the lodge sometimes, though sadly not the 2 nights we were there. This lodge is near the starting point for the second group we tracked, the Rushegura group.
Both gorilla viewings were amazing, awesome, once- in -a -lifetime kind of experiences, worth every penny in my view. Do hire a porter to help with your backpack and push/pull you up the slick hillsides...it rained heavily on us on the way back and I was glad I had a hand to hold along with my walking stick to keep me from sliding down the hill on my backside!
We went to Lake Mburo NP next and stayed at Mantana Tented Camp (owned by the same folks who own the Engagi lodge) and it was really quite nice. Jane had them present me with a birthday cake, a thoughtful surprise as this trip was in observance of my 50th birthday!
A trip to Jinja was last and we wound down the safari on the bank of the Nile at the Nile Porch (Formerly the Black Lantern).
Great setting, nice accommodation but service in the restaurant was a litle slow.
I would not hesitate to recommend NatureTrack Expeditions to anyone considering a Ugandan Safari...I think they also go into Rwanda if you desire. We opted for deluxe accommodations but Fred told us they can design more budget friendly trips, including camping safaris. The whole trip went off without a hitch and we really appreciated the friendly, competent, efficient manner in which everything was handled.
A final note: while at Bwindi, we ran into a fellow American who had helped build the Engagi lodge where we stayed. We chatted him up and he asked us how our trip was going and what we thought of our tour company. When we told him how happy we were, he said " you should let people know about your experience because there are alot of new companies springing up that don't really know what they are doing...I see them here all the time now".
So here is a vote for NatureTrack Expeditions, excellent service and value for money, too! They are on my "Highly Recommend" List !