Expert Reviews – Budongo
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
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The forgotten chimpanzee reserve
This is Uganda’s most important refuge for chimpanzees, supporting a population currently estimated at around 800, including communities that have been habituated for research purposes since the 1970s. It is also one of the most extensive and ecologically diverse forests in East Africa, with 465 plant species recorded, of which the most impressive are the giant mahoganies that stand up to 60m tall, and whose buttressed bases are often used as drums by roaming chimp. Unfortunately, however Budongo is not nearly so well developed for tourism as its closest counterpart Kibale. The tourist site at Busingiro no longer offers chimp tracking to tourists, while its counterpart at Kaniyo Pabidi now functions as an annex of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area and seems to be far less reliable for chimp sightings than Kibale National Park. That said Busingiro in particular is quite simply a great spot for birdwatching, and I’d recommend that any serious twitcher find time to explore the so-called Royal Mile near Nyabyere Forestry College – in terms of rarities and visibility, arguably the single best birdwatching site in Uganda.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
Chimpanzees en route to Murchison Falls
Budongo Forest can easily be visited en route to Murchison Falls National Park. In fact, the road to Murchison runs through the forest. The main activity here is chimp tracking. We were lucky enough to see a chimp cross the road before we even reached the lodge from where chimp tracking is organized, but when we did the official chimp tracking activity, we didn’t find them. Unfortunately, this is not that unusual, and you can’t rely on sightings here as much as in Kibale Forest. Even when you don’t see the chimps, the forest is beautiful and worth a stop-over in any case. This is also a birding hotspot and walking on the main road, which is actually the best way to see birds in the canopy, is permitted at all times (as opposed to chimp tracking which is a set activity). The accommodation is in rustic chalets.