Why should I travel to Uganda with Steppes Travel?
We have been running successful holidays to Uganda for 25 years and
are considered the UK’s leading authorities on trips to Uganda. We are lucky to
travel to Uganda numerous times each year to ensure that our tried and tested
lodges and operations provide you with the best possible experience. Not only
do we meet hoteliers, charities, agents, partners, officials and
conservationists to gain further insights into the country, but are always
looking for new experiences and places for you to stay. Such is our reputation,
that over the years we have been asked to arrange trips for everyone from the
BBC Natural history unit, to Turner Broadcasting and CNN. Steppes was even
approached by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority themselves when they were looking
to open up a new gorilla group to tourism in 2004 (The Nkuringo Group) – they
wanted us to provide the tourists. We are of course very lucky to have worked
with these organisations over the years, but the highest accolade we can offer
is the fact that over 70% of our business is repeat and referral. We hope that
you will call us to at least discuss ideas if nothing else so we can answer
plenty of questions and help start with the planning of your own
When is the best time to go to Uganda?
The best time to
go is from June through to September and then December to February. This is
when the skies are blue and there is little or no rain. July and August is good but flights can be
very expensive due to holidays. The short rains run from October to November
and whilst it will be wetter, you can still trek and do many of the other activities,
it will just be muddier. The gorillas are not affected by the rain. Sometimes
there are discounts to be had on the permits in November. If you are keen on
photography, then just after the rains in December / Jan or May / June are
great times to go as everything is fresh and green, the skies are blue and the
air incredibly clear, so the views across the countryside are spectacular.
How fit do I have to be for Gorilla Trekking in
Good question and one we
are asked a lot. Anyone can do the trek as long as they prepare for it beforehand.
By its very nature, walking in a mountain rainforest, where paths are steep and
muddy at heights in excess of 2,500 metres, is a challenge, but doing some
light exercise prior to your holiday, (walks, jogging, swimming or any other
cardiovascular activity) will allow you to enjoy the trip that much more. The
guides are also very good at setting the pace of the trek so that it is
comfortable for everyone and the walk itself through the forest is part of the
experience and not a route-march. The guide will be stopping en-route to point
out things of interest, take on water and allow you to enjoy the view. Like
anything however, the more you prepare, the more you will enjoy it so don't
worry. You will also be given the choice
to hire porters before each trek who are there to help carry bags and steady
you as you go – they are brilliant. We are also here to help prepare you as
much as possible, so if you have any concerns or questions, please do call but
we have taken thousands of people of all ages and abilities and they have all
What Should I Take When I go gorilla trekking in Uganda
Contrary to many peoples
opinion, gorilla trekking in Uganda is not
humid and Bwindi Forest (where you trek) is a mountain rain forest so is
therefore cool and damp, getting VERY cold in the early mornings and late
evenings. As you begin your trek, you need to wrap up warm but as the trekking
progresses, you will start to get hot so it is best to have lots of light
layers that can be taken off and put back on as required. We also recommend
strong walking boots or shoes, sturdy trousers, sunglasses, sun lotion (it is
equatorial so whilst not hot, the sun can be intense), a sun hat, and waterproof
jacket. It is also worth considering taking gardening gloves with you, as you
will be pulling at and climbing over thick vegetation on the walks. Some
clients take energy bars/supplements with them, which can be eaten whilst
walking to help keep their energy levels up. You will also be given a packed
lunch (water, sandwiches, fruit) so you won't go hungry. Also, don't forget the
camera (and spare memory cards!)
How long are the gorilla treks in Uganda?
It is impossible to say
how long your trek will take as the length of the trek itself depends on the
location and the movement of the gorillas on the day on which you will be
trekking as they are always moving around. Trekking can take anything from
between 1 – 8 hours although you are usually back at the lodge around
lunchtime, leaving the lodge early in the morning around 06:00am to make your
way to the park HQ for your pre-trek briefing. If you then finish early, our
guides will discuss options with you as to what else you would like to do for
the rest of the day. This could be the chance to explore a local market, enjoy
a gentle walk through traditional villages, another forest walk if feeling
brave or the chance to visit some fascinating community projects nearby, such
as schools or local hospitals. You can of course just relax at the lodge if you
prefer. Our guides are very flexible and will be happy to discuss ideas.
What gorilla groups can I see in Uganda?
You can visit one of 3 habituated families in Buhoma, in the popular Northern
Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushagura. A
2-hour drive away from this in the more remote Ruhija area of Bwindi, one can
trek 3 other families, Oruzogo, Kyaguriro and Bitukura. In the wildest part of
Bwindi, in the Southern Sector one can trek the Nkuringo. There are eight
permits available daily for each group at a cost of U$600 per permit, per
How close to the gorillas do you get in Uganda?
Officially 7 metres. It
is very important that you adhere to the guidelines laid down by your guide
during the pre-trek briefing as they are in place for a reason. Whilst it can
be difficult to keep to this distance ( the gorillas have never been told of this
particular rule) please be aware of your guides comments and do what they say.
The gorillas are usually spread out in the forest, sometimes out in the open,
other times hiding in the shadows, so you may only catch glimpses of them and
other times you may be very lucky and see them all out in the open. Should the gorillas move towards you, please
follow your guides instruction as the 7 metre rule is designed for the benefit
of both humans and gorillas and to reduce the spread of infection (gorillas are
susceptible to colds). Some of the
younger gorillas may well come and investigate.
What is travel like in Uganda?
Very exciting, very
adventurous and always interesting. You can get around by driving (Steppes
always use high quality 4WD) or you can enjoy the luxury of safe and
established internal flights for convenience. Either way, there is always
something new to see. Roads vary enormously in Uganda, from good tarred roads
around the major towns and cities, (the traffic can still be bad) to rough dirt
tracks through the parks and when exploring the more remote areas so if you
have a very bad back, or suffer from car sickness, you may want to consider
flying. If driving through the country, you need to be prepared for one
or two unavoidably long drives (around 4-6 hours), but we always use
comfortable, 4 wheel drives and the driver will be happy to stop as you go
along. Travelling overland however, does give you a wonderful sense of place as
you pass through traditional villages and can stop anywhere to take great
pictures. For those who want to spend less time travelling, there are
very good and very safe, internal flights between all of the major parks, using
small 12 seater planes or private aviation companies or helicopters. This makes
for some spectacular aerial photographs and allows you to spend more time doing
activities. We tend to advise a mixture of driving and flying to get the
most from your time away. All
of the parks are well connected by road or by internal flights, but the more
remote a region, the higher the cost.
Is it safe?
Of course. If it wasn’t we simply would not go there. We
have been taking travellers here for nearly 25 years and the safety of our
clients is paramount, so to ensure this, not only do we travel there regularly
ourselves, but are also in close contact with the numerous lodge owners,
partners, charities and officials with whom we work. The Ugandan people are
some of the most welcoming people in East Africa and whilst our clients go
there to experience the wildlife, for many it is the warmth and generosity of
the Ugandan people that makes the greatest impression. We also use the most
experienced and professional agents in Uganda, whilst also providing a manned
UK emergency contact telephone number that you can call any time of the day or
night, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. For many of our clients it is harder convincing their friends and family that it is safe to go, so we will be happy to speak to them to help put their mind at rest.
What is the accommodation like in Uganda?
Very good quality, ranging from small, well-run lodges
with an emphasis on character and comfort through to exclusive, award winning
luxury lodges in spectacular locations with all the mod cons you would expect.
All are en-suite and most have wi-fi. In the cities, you can expect
international standard hotels, with a range of facilities and restaurants. They
all have their own characters and each offer something slightly different,
depending on what kind of place you prefer to stay in. We would recommend one
property over another, based on what you consider to be the most important
aspect of where you stay – location, level of luxury, views etc. They serve a
wide range of food, pretty much all special dietary requirements can be catered
for and in many of the upmarket lodges alcohol is included in the price.
Can I charge i-pads, phones, laptops etc at the lodge?
Yes, all of the lodges have facilities to charge batteries, either in
your room or in the main dining / bar area. We recommend you bring an adaptor.
What else is there to do apart from gorilla trekking in Uganda?
There are so many other activities you can do in Uganda
besides gorilla trekking that you can easily fill 2 weeks. Many of the parks
are home to lots of traditional big game and savannah wildlife where you can
enjoy game drives or guided walks. These include Queen Elizabeth National Park
(famous for the tree climbing lions), Murchison Falls (excellent not just for
the falls, but one of the best places in the country to see the shoebill stork
and lots of other big game), Semliki (excellent for big game, boat safaris and
black and white colobus) and Kidepo Valley National Park. Kidepo is one of the
wildest parks in Africa, best reached by a short domestic flight and in
addition to the dramatic setting and wealth of wildlife, it is the only park in
Uganda where you can find aardwolf, caracal and cheetah. Uganda is also one of the most accessible places in
Africa for Chimpanzee safaris, which you can do in three different regions
(Kyambura Gorge - ok, Kibale Forest – good, Budongo Forest – very good) which
is similar to gorilla viewing in terms of early starts and forest trekking. As
25% of Uganda is also covered in water, there are some great boat safaris to
do, in particular the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park, some of
Africa’s best fishing (big tiger fish and Nile perch) in Murchison, shoebill safaris
on the lakes around Semliki, but Jinja also offers some dramatic white water
rafting. There is some excellent climbing to be done in the Rwenzori Mountains
or some easy day hikes in the foothills. The birding in Uganda is also
considered some of the best in the world, with over 1000 species in a country
smaller than Great Britain due to the huge variety of habitat which is easy to
reach and the birds being easy to see. This diversity also makes for some
incredible photography – Uganda being one of Africa’s most photogenic
Do mobile phones work in Uganda?
Yes, although they can be a little patchy in some of the
more rural areas, but texts can usually get through. The best way to find the
best spot for reception in a village or small town is to look for a group of
people huddled together on a small hill, waiving their phones in the air! You can
also ask our guide about buying a cheap sim card and local phone if you prefer.
Can I use my credit card in Uganda?
Yes, but only really in the larger towns and cities. In the smaller
lodges, it is a little trickier, but as all of your meals (and most of your
drinks) are included on the trip, you won’t need to worry.
How much cash should I take?
This depends on how long you are away, where you are staying and what
kind of trip you are going. We send out a very detailed information pack
on money and tipping, specific for each person’s trip. That said, nearly
everything is included, from transfers, to park fees, to meals, to drinks, so
you will only be paying for tips and souvenirs, plus your visa on arrival (if applicable).
How do I get to Uganda?
There are direct flights
to Entebbe (the capital) with BA, to date the only airline offering direct
flights from the UK (but these are not every day) or Kenya Airways (via
Nairobi) which are. There are numerous others, including KLM (via Amsterdam),
Turkish Airlines (via Istanbul) or Qatar (via Doha) to name but a few. The
arrival and departure times need to be considered when planning a trip as you
sometimes need to overnight in Entebbe at the start or end of your holiday, so
the cheapest option is not always the most convenient. We are of course, happy
to recommend places to stay.
What advice would you give on photography in Uganda?
Uganda offers some wonderful photographic opportunities given the
incredible diversity of scenery, people and wildlife found here. Starting with
the primates, gorillas and chimpanzees are notoriously difficult to photograph
as they are dark subject matters usually in shadow, so you will need to use a
high ISO if not taking a tripod or monopod, something which is recommended for
serious photographers. A good zoom lens is essential with a minimum of 300ml
required but more if looking to get some excellent close ups. It is also
important to remember that there is a lot of moisture in the forests, so you
will need to keep your cameras dry as the lenses can fog up very quickly and
therefore best to keep a dry cloth handy (easier said than done on the hikes!).
It is also worth putting some silica gel packs in your camera bag to absorb moisture.
The camera should also be protected against the dustier parks such as Queen
Elizabeth National Park and Kidepo. Given the scenery in Uganda is so
spectacular, from snow-capped mountains, active volcanoes, rolling savannah and
dramatic mountain rainforests, it is worth considering taking a wide angled
lens. The people in Uganda are also incredibly photogenic and markets and fantastic
places to get some great shots. It is always nice to strike up a conversation
with someone before even asking if you can take their picture. Not only is this
polite, but will put them at east and make for much more natural shots. Please
do not be offended if they decline and respect their privacy. Children are
usually delighted to have their photograph take, but again, always ask first. Avoid
any financial transactions for this, rather buy something from their stall or
promise to send them a copy of the picture through our agents. Finally, it is
best not to take pictures of any military or government personnel of buildings.
If you are very keen on photography,
then some lodges are better than others at catering for your needs and Jan,
Feb, June and November are very good months for photography. This is Just after
the rains so the air is less hazy, with clear views across the lush, fertile
countryside and much of the vegetation looking green. This is all great however, but it is equally important to take a few minutes, particularly when with the gorillas, to put the camera down and enjoy the moment. The one hour you spend with the gorillas will go so quickly, take time out to actually take it all in - of course this will be also be at the precise moment, when the silver back yawns or a tiny infant appears only feet from you, so it is easier said than done!
What visas do I need for Uganda?
Most nationalities (including those travelling on British or American passports) can currently obtain visas on arrival in Entebbe at a cost of U$50. This can change at short notice however, so we recommend you contact your nearest Uganda embassy for the most up-to-date information. Those NOT travelling on British or American passports should also contact their Ugandan Embassy for advice.