As we followed the guard armed with a bow and arrow in the dark African night through a densely grown forest path, I did kind of wonder why exactly had we opted for camping, and what was I doing out there anyway, in Africa, in the dark of the night, in the forest! Suddenly the path opened up and for a moment I thought we were at our destination. Until the guard explained that this wider path we were crossing was the one hippos were using in the evenings and at nights to come up the river. Now I was freaking out.
The end of the story (note: we were NOT even on a safari yet)? I would love to say we slept peacefully all through the night in our tents, and yes, I think the guys did. Me? I kept waking up to the calls of the hippos from the waterfront (I was sure they were on their way towards us), foreign birds, and other sounds of the jungle that were totally new to me. But I would do it all again. This was part of what made our trip to Uganda, and our visit to the Murchison Falls National Park memorable, unique and special.
Organizing Your Own Safari in Uganda
So are you ready for your first self-organized African safari? I’m the first to admit that going on an organized vacation, weekend-brake and or an excursion like safari, is the easiest and most hassle free option for sure. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. But what if you already are at the destination, you’ve seen and experienced a lot and would like to see some more but your budget doesn’t quite stretch for it? Do It Yourself. And you don’t have to opt for camping like we did at the beautiful Nile Safari Lodge just outside the borders of the Murchison Falls National Park. However, our budget wasn’t cut for the rates at the time ($120 per person sharing a twin, with breakfast), hence we opted for the more budget option, camping, but chose a more luxurious and exclusive location rather than staying at the more budget spot Red Chilli Rest Camp in the national park.
What do you need for a safari? A driver with a van or a jeep organized through someone you trust (for example through your hotel). A plan of action on where to go and a place to stay, which can be organized even at the destination. And naturally you will need some cash which is best brought along both in dollars and local currency. Bringing a credit card won’t hurt you either, but at least we experienced situations where cards could not be used at all.
We decided to explore the Murchison Falls National Park which is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds without forgetting the awe-inspiring Murchison waterfall. We arrived at the Nile Safari Lodge the night before we wanted to go on a safari, and in the morning took the ferry to the game area. On arrival you can hire one of the National Park guides to accompany you on the game drive and I would highly recommend this for their knowledge of the area and animals. Besides the actual safari, we also did a boat cruise on the Nile and hiked up to the top of the Murchison Falls, from where our driver picked us up again. And in the evenings? We enjoyed the African sun and chilled out in the swimming pool at the lodge. See, you can do budget with a little feel of luxury too!
If you decide to organize your own safari, the kind of costs you need to prepare for include a driver with a vehicle, petrol costs, in our case repair costs for the van (yes, that’s Africa for you but luckily we were in Kampala when the van broke down), entry fees to the national park (passengers and the vehicle), ferry to the game area, national park guide and food & lodging. Also, if you want to do some extra activities like the river cruise prepare also for that and always have little extra. In our case the 3-day trip cost approximately $120 dollars per person for a group of five including everything, and transferring from Jinja. Mind you, we did camp, but we did all the activities we wanted and ate some beautiful local food at the lodge. And as said, relaxed in the swimming pool in between!
Did you read my post “Destination Unknown: Uganda, the Best Travel Destination of 2012” last week and were intrigued by the charging elephant? Well, there she is, in the picture above. Our paths almost intersected and the biggest one of the ladies decided to give us little extra excitement by charging towards us (well, couple of steps anyway) with ears wide open looking even bigger than she already was. And our guide? Gave a little laugh and observed with that relaxed African accent “ha ha, she’s only playing with you”. Got to love it. The easygoing African way. Although I’d rather not play with any elephants, ever!