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The Independent, Joe Minihane, June 2019
Easily overlooked for the quiet charm of neighbouring Rwanda or the pull of big game in nearby Kenya, Uganda is arguably the most underrated destination in east Africa.
Home to superb street food and fascinating ancient tribes, not to mention an array of wildlife that puts more popular African countries in the shade, it’s the ideal place to explore for those who want an adventure away from the crowds.
The Batwa, once known as pygmies, are conservation refugees. Traditional hunter-gatherers, they were thrown out of Mgahinga and Bwindi when both became national parks in 1991. Since then, they have been marginalised, forced to eke out a living working on others’ land and losing their traditional skills. Through its Partnership Trust, tour operator Volcanoes Safaris purchased and gifted 10 acres of land near its Mount Gahinga lodge on the edge of the national park for local Batwa people in 2018, helping them build 18 homes and a community centre, with access to medical care. Tribe elder Safari Monday holds special sessions for guests at the lodge, teaching them about traditional hunting and herbal medicine, with the chance to visit the village and learn more about their plight.
Renovated in 2018, Kyambura Gorge Lodge is one of Uganda’s hottest luxury hotels, with just eight standalone “bandas”, or houses, offering sweeping savannah views over Queen Elizabeth National Park and the newly protected gorge. While its spa and pool make for the ultimate rest stop after a day’s wildlife watching, the nearby Omwani Coffee Cooperative is a must-see. Run by 11 local women and their families, the cooperative teaches guests at Kyambura about the coffee making process, and travellers can tour the 100-acre farm before sipping on samples that make Starbucks’ finest taste like cheap instant by comparison.
Tracking chimpanzees in their natural habitat, as they swing from the branches in the canopy high above the forest floor is nothing short of exhilarating. The chimps effortlessly cross and scamper through the trees above the gorge, and visitors on the other hand must cross the river using natural bridges in order to keep up with the chimps. So although the walk usually lasts only 2–3 hours, descending the steep gorge and crossing the log bridges over the river requires some agility and fitness.
Chimpanzee tracking is also available in nearby Kalinzu, a forest reserve 30 minutes drive from Kyambura Gorge Lodge where there is a community of about 40 habituated chimpanzees.