Adventure & Culture (& so much fun!) in Uganda & Kenya

by | May 28, 2024 | travel

I recently had the incredible opportunity to explore the stunning landscapes and rich cultures of Uganda and Kenya. This journey took us (I took my husband Todd with me for our first time on the continent) through vibrant villages and cities, lush forests, and vast savannahs, offering experiences that were both thrilling and enlightening. Here’s a recap of our unforgettable trip – please consider working with me to craft your own adventure in East Africa and beyond!

Cape Buffalo in Maasai Mara, Kenya

Kampala: The Heartbeat of Uganda

Our journey began in Kampala, Uganda’s bustling capital. The city’s vibrant energy and friendly locals set the tone for our adventure. From the colorful markets to the historic sites, Kampala offered a glimpse into the dynamic culture of Uganda. We stayed in two different hotels here to get a feel of what would work best for my clients: No. 5 Boutique Hotel (in neighboring Entebbe) and Latitude 0°.
Uganda is called the “Pearl of Africa” due to its remarkable natural beauty, diverse ecosystems, and rich biodiversity. Winston Churchill popularized the phrase in his 1908 book, “My African Journey,” in which he praised Uganda for its paradise-like environment that stands out on the African continent.

Chimpanzee Trekking and Village Walks at Crater Safari Lodge

Following a good night’s sleep, our driver picked us up in the safari vehicle that we would spend a lot of time in over the next few days. We ventured to our first lodge, taking a short break in Fort Portal, where we visited Crazy Love Africa (CLA). CLA is a non-profit that is creating a community for women and their children who have been affected by HIV. They are training each other in various crafts so they can sell goods and support their families, and they receive mentoring and education on living a healthy life with HIV.

About six hours after leaving Kampala, we arrived at Crater Safari Lodge. Nestled near Kibale National Park, the lodge was our base for chimpanzee trekking. Tracking these intelligent primates through the dense forest was exhilarating, although it was raining heavily so the chimps stayed high up in the trees. We also embarked on the Bogodi Village Walk, where we engaged with the local community and learned about their way of life.

Queen Elizabeth National Park and the Equator

Our journey continued with a scenic drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park to get to southern Uganda. The park’s diverse ecosystems and abundant wildlife provided ample opportunities for casual game viewing from the highway. A highlight was stopping at the equator, where we witnessed a brief demonstration of how water spins differently in each hemisphere.

Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Late in the afternoon, we arrived at Gorilla Safari Lodge. Here, we prepared for one of the most iconic wildlife experiences: gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The trek through the thick jungle was challenging but incredibly rewarding. Encountering a family of mountain gorillas in their natural habitat was a moment of awe and humility. This is truly a special, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Gorilla trekking is literally not a walk in the park, but the difficulty in treks varies. The trackers and guides assign visitors to gorilla families based on their ability and interest in hiking and scrambling up and down a mountain to find a family. The first group on the morning we went out found their family in about ten minutes, and we found ours in 90 minutes. I created a list of what you need to have a safe and enjoyable trek and you can see it here on this Instagram story.

We were so close to this gorilla, and I think he posed for us at the end of our visit.

Entebbe and Lake Victoria

From southern Uganda, we decided to cut the 8-10 hour drive back to Entebbe down a bit by taking a flight. Unfortunately, the airstrip that was pretty close to the lodge was closed, so we had to drive five hours to get to another airstrip. This was the first of several small flights we took (10-14 passenger planes), and the aerial views are just stunning. We also had the chance to fly over the immense Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, marveling at its sheer size and beauty. In Entebbe, we visited Awegys Secondary School, a heartwarming experience that highlighted the importance of education in local communities. We also participated with Pack For A Purpose and brought the school some much-needed supplies with our extra luggage allotment.

Our visit to Awegys Secondary School was fun, enlightening, and inspiring. See the impromptu drum and dance clinic Todd and the students did on this story!
I was a little nervous about these small flights—we took three of them—but the pilots are very skilled and take the planes on these routes all day, every day. The flights added an additional safari to see the scope of the landscapes and animals. They are a great way to get around East Africa and allow you to see and experience more!

Masaai Mara: The Crown Jewel of Kenya

Crossing into Kenya, we first flew from Entebbe, Uganda, to Nairobi, Kenya, where we were picked up by a driver at the international airport and taken to Wilson Airport for our domestic flight. We then got on a quick flight to arrive at the Masaai Mara, home to the iconic Big Five (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo, and rhinos). Staying at the Ngenche Mara Tented Camp, we enjoyed several game drives that brought us up close to the animals. Our highly trained guide, Gladys, who was born and raised in the Mara, taught us so much about the landscape, animals, and the Maasai people. She also reads the animals really well and knows the signs to look for, such as an animal may be stressed and not in the mood to be “viewed” by visitors. The bush breakfasts and sundowners added a touch of luxury to our wild adventures. I was a little nervous about staying in a tented, unfenced camp, but the Maasai guides walked the camp at night and escorted us, and we never felt uncomfortable or concerned about being “in the wild.” And the tent was very comfortable and secure.

The giraffes moved gracefully across the Mara.
We had two breakfasts and a sundowner in the bush—such spectacular ways to experience the majesty of the Maasai Mara.
Our tented camp had this large bedroom plus a connected bathroom with a toilet, bathtub, and full counter with sink. There was an outdoor shower just outside the bathroom. For more pictures, see this story.

Cultural Immersion in Nairobi

After a few exhilarating and relaxing days on safari, we flew back to Nairobi, where we experienced the warmth of a homestay coordinated by SKYIN. Staying in a local host’s home isn’t for everyone, but we really enjoyed it and appreciated seeing how local Nairobians live. The hosts are highly vetted and part of a network of hosts to share best practices. And our host was a fabulous cook! (“Eat more! Eat more!”) We visited a second Maasai Village, gaining insights into the traditions and daily lives of the Maasai people. Our Nairobi city tour included the Giraffe Center, where we fed endangered Rothschild giraffes, and the Karen Blixen Museum, celebrating the legacy of the famed author of “Out of Africa.”

We visited St Martins School in Kibagare, a large slum in Nairobi. Todd sponsors a child there, and it was special to meet the staff and see the school. The school wasn’t in session due to the devastating floods Nairobi had lately, but we met some kids on our walk through the slum.
One of the highlights of the trip was spending the day with about 60 Maasai villagers. See my Instagram story for more fun pictures!

Relaxing at the Indian Ocean in Mombasa

Lovely pools and sea at the Kenyan coast.

Finally, we flew to Mombasa for some relaxation on the beach. Snorkeling in the clear Indian Ocean waters and visiting the Mijikenda village in Rabai provided a perfect blend of adventure and cultural exploration. In Mombasa, we stayed at PrideInn Flamingo Beach, and there are plenty of resorts that fit anyone’s tastes and preferences.

Kenya, the “Pride of Africa,” offers a complete African experience with its diverse landscapes, abundant wildlife, and vibrant cultures. From witnessing the Great Migration and spotting the Big Five to the stunning beaches of the Indian Ocean coast, Kenya provides a rich tapestry of natural beauty. Visitors can immerse themselves in local traditions through visits to indigenous villages, explore bustling cities, and enjoy luxury lodges and camps that blend comfort with authentic safari adventures. With its unique blend of adventure, relaxation, and cultural immersion, Kenya truly encapsulates the spirit of Africa.

Why Visit East Africa?

This was truly a trip of a lifetime. My husband and I are celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this June, and taking an epic trip felt like a great way to mark the milestone. The trip stretched and challenged us, increased our curiosity and empathy for how other people live, and ultimately drew us closer to each other as we experienced this corner of the world for the first time together. We were touched by the warm hospitality and generosity of the local communities, and we loved the meaningful cultural exchanges we participated in. This was more than a vacation; it was a transformative journey, and we will always be grateful we went.

The Value of a Travel Agent

Planning a trip like this requires meticulous attention to detail, from selecting the right lodges and experiences to coordinating flights, drivers, and guides. As a travel agent, I understand the importance of curating a seamless and unforgettable journey wherever your travel dreams take you.

Embark on your own adventure with confidence, knowing that every detail is taken care of. Let’s create memories that will last a lifetime! Contact me today, and we’ll get started.