Having recently returned from the 14 day Masai Mara & Gorillas overland camping tour with Nomad Africa Adventure Tours I don’t quite know where to start. WOW, what a trip! Interacting with the local Masai, cycling through Hell’s Gate National Park (where you may recognise a few scenes from the romantic drama ‘Out of Africa’), visiting the local school & orphanage at Lake Bunyonyi (run by the ‘Loving Hearts Helping Hands’ charity), Gorilla trekking in Bwindi (bucket list check!!), the sunset cruise along the Kazinga Channel (an optional “must”), and white water rafting the mighty Nile River were all phenomenal experiences and highlights I will never forget.
Our journey began in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, where after several “bush-stops” and around seven hours of driving (the overland trucks are slower than the smaller safari vehicles) on some bumpy roads, we arrived at our first destination; the famous Masai Mara National Reserve where several prides of lion, giraffe, buffalo, wildebeest, a little family of elephants and cheetah were just some of our wildlife highlights. This is also where we were able to visit and interact with a local Masai Village where they showed us some of their dances, taught us how to start a fire rubbing two sticks together, and invited us into their homes. I really recommend this experience.
The next day, after our morning game drive, we left the Mara and continued onto Lake Naivasha where we set up camp on the banks of the lake, hoping the electrified fencing would keep the hippo community out. Our camp was located a few kilometres down the road from the Hell’s Gate National Park so we all opted for the optional bicycle excursion through the Park; home to over 100 bird species and a variety of game including klipspringer antelope, hartebeest, Thomson’s gazelle, zebra, buffalo (which we were quite happy not to see), and a healthy population of baboons and vultures! Lake Nakuru – one of the Rift Valley soda lakes – was our last stop in Kenya before we entered Uganda. We saw an amazing amount of game including both white and black rhino, Rothschild giraffe, lion, buffalo, flamingos (synonymous with Lake Nakuru), hippo, warthogs, baboons, and yellow-billed storks to name just a few.
The next four nights of our tour were spent on the banks of Lake Bunyonyi; at approximately 6500ft deep, it is the deepest in Uganda. It is also one of the few lakes in the region which is free of bilharzia and safe for swimming, so we all took full advantage of that opportunity in the midday heat. This was also our base from where we trekked up to the local school and spent a morning singing and dancing with the kids, hired a boat and local guide to take us around the many islands dotted around the Lake, as well as where we trekked to see the gentle giants of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site – is located in Southwestern Uganda, situated along the Democratic Republic of Congo border next to the Virunga National Park. The park is home to around 120 species of mammals, almost 400 species of birds, as well as endangered species.
On the day of our trek it was an early 5:30am departure from Lake Bunyonyi for our two hour drive to Bwindi where we were greeted by our friendly-faced guides and told which family we would be trekking; mine were the Oruzogo’s, a troop 22-strong (of which we were fortunate to see 15). Fully stocked with sufficient water (at least two litres is recommended), some trail snacks, and double checking (several times) that our camera flashes were off, we set off on what was to be an hour uphill trek, which found us more often than not on all fours climbing up the steep embankment. But the sweat and tumbles were well worth it when, just as we made it to the top, I was met by the Silverback (the alpha male) who barely seemed to notice our presence. Within a few minutes we were surrounded! Having had the gorilla trekking on my bucket list for quite some time I felt quite emotional and overwhelmed! What a day; definitely one of the main highlights of the trip!
After all the excitement of the gorilla trekking we set off to the Queen Elizabeth National Park; well known for its tree-climbing lions, which was a first for me! The Park extends from Lake George in the Northeast to Lake Edward in the Southwest, and includes the Kazinga Channel that connects the two lakes. Having been told of the buffalo, crocs, hippos, elephants and various birdlife often seen on the sunset Kazinga cruise, we didn’t need much convincing and boarded the boat for our two hour cruise. We were not disappointed; all the boxes were ticked!
The final stop on our itinerary was Jinja; the second largest town in Uganda, and home to the adrenaline-pumping grade 5 white water rafting on the mighty Nile river! This was an opportunity I just couldn’t miss out on, one which I can now say was one of the single most amazing things I’ve ever done! ‘Nile River Explorers’ offers fun for the whole family; whether you’re after the grade 5 rafting, kayaking, jet-boating, or even just a relaxing cruise down the river, I highly recommend them!
It must however be mentioned that this was a no-frills overland camping adventure. If you can’t live without your hairdryer, don’t like getting your nails dirty, easily lose your sense of humour, and camping isn’t your thing, then rather save a bit longer and opt for an accommodated tour.
Written by, Nicky Searle: www.uyaphi.com