If you’re looking for big African adventures on a not so big budget, look no further than Uganda. The rolling green hills of the Pearl of Africa are filled with incredible wildlife adventures that won’t break the bank.
Uganda’s nickname—The Pearl of Africa—is apropos: The natural wonders there —from the silverback gorillas to golden monkeys to lush untouched forests—feel like a treasure you’ve just uncovered. However, a trip to this peaceful, incredibly friendly East African country (a recent BBC survey named Uganda “the most welcoming country in the world”) isn’t as expensive as fine jewels. Instead, it’s surprisingly affordable, offering bucket list wildlife adventures on a budget.
Gorillas in the Mist
The mist that spills along the verdant hills and volcanoes of Uganda cloaks the home of one of Africa’s most endangered animals: the silverback gorilla.
With less than 900 of these wild mountain gorillas left in the world, a trek to see these humanlike primates in the wilderness is at the top of many bucket lists. The rare gorilla only live along the border of Rwanda, Uganda, and the politically tumultuous DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) in the Virunga Mountains—a range of now extinct volcanoes—and in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, where thick foliage of trees and bamboos covers the 12,000 foot peak that is home to gorilla habitats.
Rwanda has recently become the center of big-ticket safaris, with lodges charging up to $1,500 per person per night (!!) and permits to track the gorillas sold by the government for $1,500 per person per day (so yes, that’s $3,000 per person per day). For most travelers, that could end a trip to Africa before its even started. Even if you can find cheap lodging, you’ll still have to pay $1,500 for a permit.
There’s good news though: Just across the border in Uganda, there are two categories of more affordable permits: The most expensive, $600, is available in the dry tourist season of June to September. The rest of the year, “rainy season,” gorilla permits are just $450 a day—a third of the price of Rwanda just across the border.
Regardless of what you’ve paid for a permit, you’ll hike under the guidance of a local ranger accompanied by armed trackers. Trekking hikes may end up taking several hours, but no matter how long you’ve searched to find the silverbacks, you’ll only be permitted to stay with the primate groups for one hour. No one is permitted to visit gorillas without a ranger or permit.
Another bargain in Uganda wildlife viewing is golden chimpanzee trekking. Also an endangered primate (there are only 2,400 in the world), these monkeys live at high elevations in the Virunga Mountains and cannot survive in captivity. A permit to visit the bamboo loving, golden mane monkeys is only $50 in Uganda, half of the Rwanda permit price, and include a ranger led tour up to their location. Expect the hike to take about 4 hours round trip.
It’s a Wild, Wild Life
There’s more wildlife to see in Uganda as well. Queen Elizabeth Park is where adventure travelers will find large numbers of hippos, elephants, buffalos, and lions. There are affordable game drives, walking safaris into the sunken forest of the Kyambura Gorge, and wildlife cruises along the Kazinga Channel, which flows between Lake Edward and Lake George and is home to one of the largest concentrations of hippos in Africa.
More good news: In the rainy season in Uganda (which we tried and found only half rainy: The mornings were dry enough to hike without rain gear), even the best lodges, for example chic Bwindi Lodge near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Gahinga Lodge near the Golden Monkeys of Magahinga Volcano, charge around $200 per day for individual thatched roof cottages, and the price includes three meals a day, snacks, and drinks.
Have your own budget safari favorites? Tell us your personal picks in the comments below!
Related Links (from Eagle Creek blog):
How to Prepare for an African Safari
Packing for Classic Safaris
How to Plan a Budget Friendly Safari
Related Eagle Creek Products: