Catja’s family met up in Africa for a Christmas road trip into some of the most remote and unspoilt areas of Uganda
- bush camping
- rhino tracking
- white-water rafting
- eco safari lodges
Who went: Catja and Philip with their children Louise 16, Victor 13 and Sophie 11
When: Christmas 2012
Where did you go and how did you get there? Catja: “My brother-in -law works for an NGO and lives in Kampala so his local knowledge was a great help when it came to organising the tour. We flew BA direct from Heathrow to Entebbe.
Uganda isn’t a big tourist destination – but we checked the Foreign Office guidelines before we went and followed their advice which included avoiding certain parts of the country.
Map & Family update Nov 2015 :FO guidelines are subject to change – at present they do not advise travel to Kidepo by road.
What were the highlights of the trip? Camping out in the Kitgum national park with a ranger and a big campfire!
What was your itinerary? From Kampala we drove for ten hours north through Gulu and Kitgum to Kidepo Valley national park. We overnighted at a lodge in Gulu on the way there. From Kidepo we backtracked to the Murchison Falls national park and then back to Kampala in time for Christmas day. We also visited Jinja and Lake Victoria which are east of Kampala.
Road trip and bush camping
Our two families travelled together in a minibus which we’d hired with a driver and a guide.
It was a lot of driving – we could have flown but we’d planned the drive as part of the trip and the children had their cousins to keep them company. There’s a lot to see and the guide who travelled with us explained things on the way: villages…
plant and insect life…..
….monkeys, chickens on bicycles, goats on bicycles….. The children had a good time, the girls sang and read and from time to time they resorted to a laptop.
After the stop over in Gulu we drove on for another three or four hours to Kidepo then set off with tents, food and a ranger to camp for the night in the park. It was very basic – we put up our own tents and cooked the meals.
The children helped the ranger build a huge campfire and we all sat round it in the evening while he told stories about the animals – and what happened to tourists who didn’t do as they were told! He had a rifle with him at all times as there are lions around and we had strict instructions not to come out of the tents during the night.
Sophie had the adventure of her life – she and her older cousin shared a tent and spent the whole night listening to the animals instead of sleeping!
Luxury and wilderness in Kidepo
After our night in the bush we stayed for two more nights in Kidepo at the Apoka Safari Lodge. It is remote and very peaceful with quintessential African views of the rolling savannah with mountains in the distance.
The lodge is beautiful – very simple but luxurious at the same time. It’s built in the local style and the rooms are large and airy with walls of canvas and net so that you feel very close to the landscape and animals all around you.
Each room has an outdoor bath cut out of stone – although you can’t use it after dusk or before dawn in case the monkeys come to join you! The swimming pool is also cut from the natural rock and looks out over the savannah – zebras and hartebeest came right up to pool. The animals are literally on the doorstep …
zebras wander up to the Lodge and we heard a lion roaring in the night. That was actually quite scary and we were glad we hadn’t heard it when we were camping!
When we went out on safari with a ranger we saw several of the lions as well as elephant…
buffalo and zebras.
One day we went all the way to the Sudan border. It was a long drive but we saw how the landscape changed and the animals with it.
Here we saw ostrichs and secretary birds and passed the dangling nests of weaver birds.
The guide enjoyed telling us the story of the female weaver birds ‘very strong women!’ (meaningful look as us women in the 4 x 4) who inspect the nests that have been built by their mates and throw out the ones that don’t meet with their approval (sympathetic look at Philip and Victor!)
One evening when the children were out on a safari drive I arranged to visit a local village with one of the staff from the lodge. Some of the staff come from the local Karamajong community and it also provides food for the kitchens. The head of the village, wearing traditional clothes and carrying a mobile phone, gave me a tour with great courtesy.
Rhino-watching and the source of the Nile
From Kidepo we drove south again to the Murchison Falls national park. Passing through Kitgum, which is an the area where many child soldiers had been recruited, it was sobering to see the scars of the very recent civil war, the sad remains of abandoned villages as well as new settlements for the thousands of displaced people.
We stayed at Chobe Lodge on the banks of the Nile rapids. The big elevated swimming pool and the restaurant look out over the Nile so that you can watch the hippos whilst you’re swimming or eating lunch.
The hippos are a key feature of Chobe – you can hear them splashing about and grunting the whole time.
There are lots of beautiful birds too.
We could have easily spent longer in this park, there’s lots to do, but we had really come there for the rhinos.
Ziwa rhino sanctuary has the only wild rhinos in Uganda. Some have been imported from Kenya – and even the US – and they are guarded against poachers. A guide takes you out on foot to see them. We could get quite close partly because we were told they have poor eyesight.
On the way we stopped to investigate an abandoned nest…
Philip also climbed up a tree to take photos but at that moment the rhinos came towards us so the rest of us had to walk away – rather like Blind Man’s Bluff. Philip was up the tree for quite a while looking down on this particular rhino….
….whose name is Obama on account of his American/Kenyan parentage. It was the time of day when rhinos have a nap so we were quite worried that Obama would decide to go to sleep under the tree. If that had happened Philip would’ve been up there for hours. Luckily Obama moved on.
The food at all the camps was international and quite basic. Victor, who likes cooking, went into the kitchen at Apoka Lodge and ended up helping to grill the pork for supper.
In and around Kampala
We spent Christmas in Kampala with the family. The children went to a museum and enjoyed walking around the displays of huts from different parts of the country. As our family live there they knew of a dance show that was very local and not too touristy so we all went along and the children danced all evening.
To buy our Christmas gifts we went to a licensed handicrafts shop and workshops. The children each bought a present for one of the others: earrings made from bottle tops, beaded belts and Masai drawstring trousers. There was a lot of friendly bartering.
From Kampala we took a two hour drive to Jinja which is a centre for rafting and where people from Kampala go in the summer. We stayed at Wildwaters Lodge which is perched on an island in the Nile, surrounded by thundering rapids and rainforest.
It’s part of a new reserve to support the rainforest, wildlife and local communities. The lodge has been built in a traditional style with local materials
and the rooms are beautiful.
We had dinner on the deck with the river Nile racing below us – in fact you hear the roar of the river the whole time. Unfortunately it was raining and quite cold when we were there but I would have liked to stay another day and take a trip to one of the local villages.
While we were there we all went wild water rafting on the Nile and yes, we all capsized! The children can all sail and they are strong swimmers so they were ok about capsizing. There are no hippos around there and the water is too rapid for crocodiles but there is some risk of bilhazia in that district so you do have to be watchful for symptoms afterwards.
Did you take the right clothes? Although we were near the equator it wasn’t as warm as we’d thought. We took a lot of loose safari clothes which were perfect – you have to keep arms and legs covered though the children did wear shorts too. Slippers for the evening were useful as well and we took lots of mosquito repellent.
Would you have done anything differently? We probably spent too long in Kampala – but that was partly because we were there for Christmas with the family. I wish we’d had an extra day in Jinja to do another of their local trips. Uganda is famous for the gorillas in the south but children under 15 aren’t allowed on the treks so we may go back to do that another time when the children are older.”
All photos by Philip, Victor and Catja and all rights reserved, no photos may be reproduced without prior written consent.
Uganda: family safari
Catya’s family trip was booked from Uganda. Some UK tour operators can arrange visits to the lodges where they stayed.
Travel Safety Update – November 2015
It is very important to check up to date information on travel safety before planning a trip to Uganda. Catja used:
At present there is advice against all travel to districts in the north east of the country and it is advised that trips to Kidepo National Park should be made by air not road. There is a general threat from terrorism at this time. Destinations may change status and it is important to keep up to date on possible security risks.