My wife & I had a great three week tip to Uganda from October-November, much aided by your excellent Guide. In an effort to help you maintain its standards, here are our comments on our trip.
The most pressing message we have for travellers and tourists is that travellers’ cheques are of more hassle than use – we could only change them in central Kampala and had to pay a heavy premium (the exchange rate was 10% worse than for cash). Cash, a credit and ATM card should suffice. We also have a cautionary tale on car hire, related below after a review of the places visited and the accommodation we stayed in.
We started our trip staying at Andrew’s Lakeside Farm, secluded from the hustle and bustle of Kampala city. It was a perfect way to settle into our Ugandan holiday as the Farm is, like its owner, both delightful, considered and accommodating. Andrew – as the co-author of the current Guide and a fount of knowledge – met us in town, took us there in his boat, showed us around the Farm and the Lake and settled us in. The wattle and daub farmhouse with its high thatched roof would not look out of place in rustic England and its gardens are full of birds. Andrew and his family use the Farm as a weekend retreat so it is not often available but it is well worth asking if it is.
After Kampala we headed north and visited Lira, staying in the Gracious Palace – a new christian (and dry) hotel. It was clean and nice but didn’t live up to its website claim as ‘the best hotel Africa has ever had’. More practically it had not been designed effectively for the heavy rains and water came into our room. On the positive side – Lira was more of lively a backwater than the Guide had described it.
We then headed north, via Patiko Fort, to Arra Fishing Lodge. The road north of Gulu is dire in the rainy season. Fortunately our driver took us from Patiko on a new murram road to Pabo where we rejoined the main road, rather than heading north from Patiko to Atiak where it turned out the road had been made impassable as a bridge had been washed away. Nothing had happened at Patiko to provide information or guides but it was still well worth a trip.
We spent three days at Arra Fishing Lodge which, as the Guide says, is in a delightful spot with lots of bird life. The lodge had seen better days and is in need of investment – its boat was out of action, there was no electricity or hot water in the cottages and the pool was in need of some fresh paint. Recognising this, other guests had negotiated substantial discounts on the published tariff. The food was good and the manager, Dorcus, was very helpful and efficient. Luke, a local chief who does walking tours was also very good.
We then crossed the Nile and headed to Arua. Again the murram road was not great and the journey took six hours. In Arua we stayed at the White Castle Hotel which we can unhesitatingly recommend as it was very comfortable, had great food, an excellent pool and first class service. As the Guide says the town is attractive and has a good feel.
From there we went to Pakwach and entered Murchison National Park where we saw endless wildlife, nearly one hundred giraffe, many elephant and a small family of lion on the way to Paraa. We stayed at the new Chobe Safari Lodge which is on the eastern side of the park. We got there from Paraa driving on a poor murram road through the park. There is little wildlife on the east side of the park, though the Lodge is in a brilliant setting on the banks of the Nile and has resident hippos. The Lodge is exceptionally comfortable and well designed – though why anyone would want to say in one of its room rather than one of its fabulous tents is beyond me. There was only one other family at the Lodge when we were there and the attention from staff and management was accordingly superb. The food was very good as was the wine list.
We then left the park and went to Masindi where we stayed in the New Court View Hotel which was comfortable and unpretentious and 60,000/- for a banda for two. Its restaurant serves an excellent szechuan beef dish.
From there we headed south to the delightful town of Fort Portal. We stayed at the Ruwenzori View Guest House, which is comfortable, clean and excellent value for money. Its gardens are frequented by very many birds and it also provides amazingly good communal dinners with lively conversations. We haven’t stayed in a better guest house in the world. We did the Kabarole Tours bike tours to Amabeere Caves – the price now is 20,000/- a bike and the bikes were awful. There is also now a site charge of 20,000/- a person for a guided tour to visit the caves, waterfall and crater lake.
From there, we headed west to Bundibugyo with an excellent local driver, Michael 0772 647351 for 130,000/- inc. fuel. The Chinese are building a new road that will skirt the mountain and will halve the journey time to less than two hours. We stayed on the outskirts of the town in the foothills of the mountains at Tour Gardens Guesthouse, Bugombwa. This is a very simple, basic but, delightful place – which used to be the quarters for a catholic nun who ran the adjacent church. Hot water is provided in a bucket and shoes and clothes are cleaned for free. The food is cooked to order and the price excellent – dinner, bed & breakfast for 2 for 2 nights came to 66,000/-. Contacts are 0773489732 and 0783057864. While at Bundibugyo we walked the foothills for a day with AMA, a community NGO, and happily recommend them and their co-ordinator, Azoli Bahati on 0772621397.
We then went to Kyaninga Lodge on the outskirts of Fort Portal. The Lodge is breathtaking in its conception, setting, sustainability and execution. If you ever had a flight of fancy and didn’t follow it through, do visit and marvel at what someone who has has achieved. Apart from the luxury, great food and service, the Lodge has had a positive affect on the local area creating long term jobs.
From there we went to Entebbe and a Europcar taxi driver (William – 0779033318) took us back for $120 US inc. fuel. I returned home while Diana , my wife, spent a few days at a conference at the Imperial Botanic Gardens. She says the hotel, though passed its best, is now better than the current Guide describes – the food was excellent, the service efficient & helpful and the setting still wonderful.
As to car hire, we used Alpha Rentals in Kampala at $95 a day inc driver but not fuel for a 4WD for 7 days. As it turned out the 4WD we had been given didn’t have functioning 4WD and this became apparent to us at an unwelcome incident in Murchison. Douglas from Alpha Rentals was straight and chastened about it, deeply apologetic and after a short discussion offered to refund us two days hire which we accepted. I would check the 4WD works before you start any 4WD hiring in Uganda – esp if you are using it during the rainy season. The driver we had for this trip was Paul from Terrain Safaris – he is very knowledgeable about and keen on birds and is highly recommended for those going birding.
Finally in the books section, we’d include Jane Bussmann’s ‘Worst Date Ever’ – offering a fresh and vivid insight into modertn Uganda, the LRA and the worlds of aid and conflict.
I hope this is of some help. It is a great book and we are in your debt for that and in Andrew’s also for his hospitality and help.
Guy & Diana Dehn