Tuesday, 30 July 2013

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Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Lost in nature’s richness at Kyambura

                                                  Kyambura Gorge

A bird that does not fly will never know where the millet is ready, goes a local saying. If you have not visited the Kyambura Gorge and Kazinga Channel in western Uganda, you do not know how much you are missing.  Lawrence braved the six-hour journey and long trek in the valley and gives you a feel of the memorable adventure.
Part of the gorge through which a river flows, It is one of the most beautiful scenes in Kyambura.
As an artist, I have always thought of a woman’s body as God’s most beautiful creation. But that was before last month when I joined seven tourists on a Uganda safari that turned out to be the most exhilarating adventure at Kyambura Gorge and the Kazinga Channel.
Both are situated in the western Rift Valley of Uganda, which stretches through Queen Elizabeth National Park. At these two spots, I got the real feel of perfection in beauty.
We took an exhausting six-hour drive from Kampala along the Bushenyi-Kasese highway under the scorching African sun. After that, nothing sounded so sweet and relieving like the sound of “we’re finally here!’ as said in the husky voice of Samuel, our driver, who also doubled as our guide. We were 38km away from the Congo border.
One after another, we stepped out of the tour taxi setting our feet on the rich soils of Kyambura that was densely covered by dark green grass. Naturally, it was not long before most of us punched the air in triumph as we were fuelled by the excitement of having arrived safe and sound.
Mysterious Kyambura Gorge
Suddenly, our attention was stolen by the roaring sound of a waterfall. However, it was confusing to discover that even with all-round turns of 180 degrees, our eyes could not see any falls. It then dawned on us that the roar was coming from a river down in Kyambura Gorge.
From what I saw, I can define a gorge as a sunken forest in a wide valley. In the particular case of Kyambura, the valley was 100 metres deep, the reason our eyes could not sight the waterfall we were hearing.
Being the coward I am, I kept my distance from the gorge’s elevated viewpoint which was situated on the edge of the land.
But I guess I have little regrets over this decision because those who dared to go there seemed to develop cold feet immediately. They deserted the place as soon as Bayer Anyesiga, the Kyambura guide who would take us for chimpanzee tracking, appeared.
Chimp tracking is one of those activities that Uganda is famous for and it was something I looked forward to doing.
However, the fact that Anyesiga armed himself with a panga before the tracking began almost made me reconsider trying it out. To me, this was a clear signal that ahead of us lay immense danger.
Luckily, 10 minutes into the tracking, I discovered that his only reason for carrying the panga was to trim off the branches of the wild thickets to open a path on our way into the dense forest.
That is when my speedily pounding heart normalised as I took a deep sigh. My gaze kept dropping on every tree branch we approached because my heart was quivering with immense anticipation.
To see the subtle primates, we calculatedly walked down the slippery slopes into the dense tropical rainforest that covers the gorge’s floor. Anyesiga advised us to resort to whispering if we found it impossible to keep mute because the primates often turn violent if their peace is disturbed with noise.
Save for the roar of Kyambura River and the tweeting of crickets, it was absolute silence down there, probably more silent than a grave.
When all my attention was inclined upwards, having heard the sound of a chimp, I felt a smooth creature as cold as a snake slither up my legs. In micro seconds, my knees began wobbling dangerously and I found myself yelling my grandmother’s name.
In a flash, I was already three feet up the huge mahogany tree before me, only to discover that it was a prank that Otim, another tourist, had pulled off.
He had come up with the brilliant idea of sliding a wet shoe lace around my legs and got the effect he was looking for.
Yes, I felt like sinking my fist into his head. In fact, I folded my fists like I was going to knock him down, but my fists just froze in space before I painfully chickened out because the chap was almost three times my height and weight.
Minutes after I had composed myself, the guide pointed us to a family of five chimps nestled in a tree branch about 180m from our track.
“That is Brutus, the leader of the chimps with his family,” Anyesiga explained. “They are part of over 25 chimpanzees that live here.”
It should not matter, but there was something about the way Brutus tilted his eyes sideways and flashed a smile at us that I found fascinating.
“Brutus, together with his team, prefers living in the corridors of the gorge in fear of being confronted by other wildlife like leopards and lions, which live on the Savanna grassland surrounding the gorge,” Anyesiga continued.
It soon dawned on me that there is a lot more to see in the gorge than just chimpanzees. Such included gigantic tropical trees, beautiful flowers, unique chains of spider webs, a variety of birds, colourful butterflies and different species of monkeys.
Fortunately, everything about the tracking was happening so fast. While I expected to spend hours walking and straining to see the chimps in vain, here I was getting a better feel of the forest with every tick of the clock.
I was also swept off my feet by the rays of sunlight that filtered through the forest canopy. In effect, my camera clicked more than once as it took pictures to retain memories of the visit to the unforgettable gorge.
Content with what we had witnessed, we soon found our way out of the forest and headed for our next destination — Kazinga Channel, a 30-minute drive away.
Kazinga Channel
After a brief by our guide, whose name I might have forgotten as soon as it was mentioned, the tour boat was ignited to flag off our trip along Kazinga Channel to the mouth of Lake Edward.
On the map of Uganda, Kazinga Channel is that thin strip of water that connects Lake Edward and Lake George. As the boat made its way through the tranquil channel, I climbed up the upper deck, joining nine tourists there to get a clearer view of the wildlife on either side of the boat.
Birds and game
We espied a kingfisher that had successfully hunted out a medium sized tilapia fish, which it swiftly ferried onto the nearest branch of a whistling acacia tree by the water banks.
What a pity it was to witness the helpless fish poked lifeless like it was its predator’s last meal for months.
Thankfully, it was not long before my spirits were fired up again upon the sight of elephants mating in the open as some white egrets kept flying above them. If my guess is right, they must have enjoyed every bit of the uncensored act by the elephants.
It was also a blessing to discover that while some tourists spend hours and hours peering in vain for game, we were fortunate to experience lots of wildlife after another, especially along the banks as the boat sailed on; all courtesy of the good schedule of the boat ride, which takes place at 5:00pm when most animals are relaxing by the banks as they enjoy the warmth of the golden brown sun as it buries itself in the horizon.
Some of the game to be seen here include water bucks, elephants, antelopes, a school of 12 hippos, crocodiles, birds and monkeys.
Like most of the bird lovers aboard, I cheered aloud as I relished over 150 bird species of 319 in the park. However, this excitement was soon tamed when an ugly black and white vulture flew slightly above my head and dropped its watery droppings on my nose.
Fellow tourists could not resist laughing at me and staring like I was another wildlife creature aboard the boat. Most annoying, some did not hesitate to click their cameras at me.
At the end of such a fulfilling exploratory day, nothing felt as good as devouring lunch at Simba Safari camp. We watched the calm waters of Lake George and listened to waves gently brush the branches of the trees surrounding the place
The icing on the cake was the different species of birds that soon conquered these trees and put up energetic aerobic performances as they whistled different sweet melodies that pierced my heart with the sharp end of their vocals.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Uganda backslides in global tourism ranking

A zebra at Lake Mburo National Park, Much as Uganda is endowed with unique tourism attractions, the industry is not bringing in as much revenue as it should.

The 2012 World Economic Forum survey ranks Uganda 116th out of 140 countries compared to 115th in 2011.
Despite receiving a number of international accolades in the past, Uganda slid a step back in the global travel and tourism ranking last year.
In assessing the attractiveness and competitiveness in the field of travel and tourism, the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2013 report released recently, ranked the country 116th out of 140 countries.
This compares with the 115 position the country attained in 2011. Although the industry’s ranking slipped, Uganda fetched $805 million (Shs2 trillion) last year, according to data from the tourism ministry, up from $662 million in 2010.
Uganda, according to the report, is a victim of negative perception on the part of potential tourists, who have concerns for their safety and security, which are critical factors that influence tourists’ choices of destinations.
On the issue of safety and security, Uganda attained a rating of 124, out of the assessed 140 countries.
Negative tourist perspectives tend to scare away tourists from choosing a country in question as a tourism destination.
The country also ranks poorly in health and sanitation where it is in the 125 position, prioritisation of the sector (109).
In the area of business environment and infrastructure, Uganda ranks 121, just like Tanzania, and below Kenya’s 105 and Rwanda’s 117 positions.
Under the human, cultural and natural resources parameter, Uganda ranks 77, just below Kenya’s and Tanzania’s 59 and 60th positions, respectively, but ahead of Rwanda’s 104 rank.
Global accolades
The poor ratings run counter to the various global recognitions that Uganda has received in the past one or so years, including being named the best tourism destination in 2012, voting Bwindi Impenetrable National park as Africa’s number one birding site, ranking Murchison FallsNational Park as the ninth place among the top 10 birding sites on the continent and Mt. Rwenzori among the top 15 hiking spots in the world.
The Uganda Tourism Board executive director Mr. Cuthbert Baguma, however, didn’t agree with the rankings, saying the report does not clearly indicate the parameters used to rank Uganda.
“Uganda has improved in many spheres, that’s why it has continued to receive global recognitions. Infrastructure and security have all improved so I don’t know what they are talking about,” Mr. Baguma told the Daily Monitor yesterday.
He added that Uganda received 1.2 million tourist arrivals last year.
Mr. Amos Wekesa, a player in the industry, however, attributed the negative security ranking to failure on the part of the relevant authorities to market the country’s tourism potential in order to improve its security perceptions in key source markets.
“If money is not injected to market the country, Uganda will always be poorly ranked,” Mr. Wekesa said.
Uganda, however, scores highly in the area of natural resources, ranking 25th, ahead of Kenya’s and Rwanda’s 14th and 61 positions but below Tanzania’s 4th ranking.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Birding New concept for Uganda Tourism

Birding, the latest growing trend in the tourism industry, birding safaris is one of those activates that sound alien until you experience it yourself. The writer is now converted and vows to plant fruit trees in his compound to attract them.
It was one of those Saturday’s, when I failed to sleep in-late and decided to leave bed early. I was tired of doing the usual, I mean going to the lake side beaches. This time round I went birding. A term used to refer to going bird watching.
A friend of mine in the UK linked me to a bunch of his English friends who are coming to Uganda to go birding. He asked me to be their local guide, but, I had no idea what the heck birding is. To acquaint myself with the necessary knowledge, I ventured into the activity, just so when they arrive, I am at least knowledgeable about what I’m doing. Finding a birdingspot in Uganda is not difficult, it being a birding Eden with over a thousand bird species.
After a quick shower, then a light breakfast, I jumped into a Lugazi bound taxi, but disembarked at Mbarara and took a rough road to Kasenge Forest Resort beach about three kilometers from the main Kampala – Jinja highway. Tucked away in a valley is the forest resort. I was welcomed by the scent of freshness, not the usual stuffy air in Kampala.
Being that I had gotten there very early at 6 am, I was received by melodies from a variety of singers. Not our usual artists though, but birds. I fished out my binoculars from the bag and started on my new experience of birding. First in my focus was a giant King fisher, as Herbert Byaruhanga, my guide for the day, pointed out.
Despite the cold, the dew and a bit of mist, my group had paid the Shs10, 000 entry free into the forest and entered to embark on the task ahead. I was also able to see the crested crane which is our national emblem, the beautiful blue egrets, fish eagle, shoe bill stork, the lovely white egret and blue Turaco.
And that was just the beginning. At Kasenge Forest Resort Beach, which has a pond, there are over 135 bird species. They reminded me of Winston Churchill’s description of Uganda as the pearl of Africa. A land where birds are as colorful as the butterflies and the butterflies are as big as the birds.
Though I was hesitant and skeptical about going to view birds, I enjoyed the whole experience. The only problem we encountered were the red ants (ensanafu) which gave some ladies a hard time when they climbed and “tortured” them.
Where I grew up from in Soroti, birds were not a thing to find pleasure in, as we grew up shooting them for sport with catapults, and hunting them as a source of proteins.
A new convert
We left the forest in the evening, but not before the insects, birds and frogs in the “lake” all sought for our attention with their new releases and I think remix of their own version of music. As we left, I realized I was a new convert and follower of birding and promised to plant fruit trees in my compound in order to attract the birds and also protect them.
I am now a full birder (a person who goes birding). As I jumped into the car to leave, Byaruhanga gave me an insight into the birds’ love life.
Unlike humans, it is female birds which run after the males and the males only wake up to groom themselves for the females to make a pick. I wish I were a bird.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Sights and Sounds of Uganda

Get away  this Easter
The Murchison falls is a breathtaking wonder that you and your family can visit this Easter season
The Easter season is upon us and this means family time. The four-day holiday will see families celebrate either at home or outside the home. If you subscribe to the latter and want to treat your family to entertainment and a bit of adventure, right here in your backyard, there is a lot to offer.
Easter traditions vary. But in Uganda, the season revolves around religious rites, crowned by a family meal or outing. For the family that considers a day out as the proper way to celebrate, Uganda has a variety of interesting destinations that you can explore during the four-day holiday.

Children hold a snake during their visit at the Uganda Wildlife Centre. A visit to places as these can be educative
During Easter, Entebbe residents, visitors and travelers, can enjoy a variety of entertainment and adventure at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC).
“Visitors can learn how to feed chimpanzees, giraffes and a baby elephant. They can also enjoy a snake show and performances by various artistes,” says UWEC public relations officer Belinda Atim. The entry fee is sh10, 000 for adults, sh5, 000 for children and sh30, 000 for foreigners.
There will be an animal show involving a behind-the-scenes action, which includes feeding and caring for the animals under guidance of their keepers. Also in store for the eyes to feast on are vervet monkeys and a troop of DeBraza monkeys in the UWEC hillside mini-jungle. As if that is not enough entertainment, there are more than 120 bird species singing in the woods. Expect to see the elegant African Fish eagle, the great blue Turaco, hammer kops, giant kingfisher and numerous little sunbirds.
“This is a window into the plants, birds and reptiles in the country,” says Jakes Goldberg, a widely travelled tourist in transit to South Africa. “This is destined to become the most important showcase for wildlife on the African continent,” he adds.
To make your trip memorable, the centre has curio shops stocked with African shirts, wooden spoons, batik pieces, earrings, leather sandals and toys to take away as souvenirs.
Dating as far back as the 1950s, UWEC still accommodates confiscated and injured wildlife. This is in addition to orphaned animals, reptiles or birds rescued from poachers and extinction endangered rhinos.
“UWEC is not a zoo in the conventional sense and neither is it a safari park,” says Rita Najemba, a businesswoman. “It is a centre where wildlife education is combined with leisure,” she says.
If you are interested in Botany, you will also find live collections of traditional medicinal plants, herbal love potions and beauty boosters.
Elsewhere in Entebbe, one can have fun at The Botanical Gardens, Aero Beach, Banga Beach or Protea Hotel.
For club-hoppers, the action is at Trap, Nicky’s and Four Turkeys, where the expatriate community likes to converge and make merry. There is a lot of food too.
Protea manager Cymon Charley says: “We boast of a panoramic garden and Lake Victoria shore views. The food here is a mixture of continental and local cuisines at affordable rates.”
While there, expect birds to land and clean the table of the crumbs.
This Easter, guests who want to visit Kigungu, the landing site where the first missionaries to Uganda landed, will be transported there for between sh2, 000 and sh5, 000 by bicycle boda boda.

You can take your family to watch African traditional dances such as the Kiganda dance pictured
In Kampala this Easter, Ndere Centre is going to be a melting pot for cultures across the world, kicking off with fireside performances on Easter Friday. The executive director, Stephen Rwangyezi, says the Easter theme this time is “Equality for Humanity.”
Ugandans will pay an entry fee of sh25, 000, foreigner’s sh50, 000 and children sh10, 000. Besides being treated to music, dance and drama, there will be a buffet with a price tag of sh30, 000. The entertainment package comprises traditional performances from the great lakes region.
“In Africa, people love to be entertained as they drink and eat. Those interested will take to the dance floor or play an instrument of their choice,”

 The beach is one great place you can take your family this Easter
I f you are moving East, a must visit place is the Rainforest Lodge in the heart of Mabira Forest, a few minutes off the Jinja/Kampala highway.
Besides the creative eco-friendly architecture, there are lots of other attractions there.
“This time round, Rain Forest Lodge is offering children’s activities. They include: the Easter egg hunt, children’s movies (in the evening), egg painting, play time board games like Twister and Giant Jenga),” says the marketing manager, Rachel Landman.

Adults will be treated to special Good Friday and Easter Sunday menus and movies after the kids have gone to bed. A forest walk is also on the cards for nature lovers.
Jinja has quickly become the adventure destination of Uganda. The to-do list comprises bungee jumping, white-water rafting, quad bike rides, water sports, bird watching and walking trails.
One of the popular getaways is Nile Resort, where the food is sumptuous. A plate is about sh40, 000 per person. Accommodation ranges between sh250, 000 and sh350, 000, depending on the room.
This Easter, children under five years of age and sharing the bedroom with their parents will not pay a fee. Those between five and 12 years will be charged sh25, 000 per night.
Southwards, we have the ever-surprising islands of LakeVictoria with white sand beaches, water sports and modern amenities set up for couples, groups and family parties. The islands in Kalangala are the most active and they are accessed by ferry from specific landing sites like Nakiwogo in Entebbe and Luzira Port in Kampala.
Going west across the famous equator line crossing at Kayabwe and into the vast savannah, many tourists and families can head to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Expect magnificent views of the Rift Valley floor, the big five (lions, elephants, leopards, buffalo and hippopotamuses), birds, reptiles and rare tree climbing lions.
According to Uganda Wildlife Authority spokesperson, Lillian Nsubuga, the most acceptable reason as to why lions climb trees is to enjoy the cool breeze and maybe run away from tsetse flies.
In the whole of Africa, they are only found in Uganda’s Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth and in Tanzania. Bird watching safaris are another fun adventure. Uganda has over 1,050 bird species. Queen Elizabeth National Park has about 612 species of birds, according to Hassan Mutebi, a bird guide. He cites examples like the pink-backed pelicans, papyrus canary, shoebill stork, martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail and flamingos.
For accommodation while at the national park, one can take their pick from Mweya Safari Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge, and Simba Safari Lodge or opt for Ishasha Wilderness Camp or Kitandara Hippo Hill Camp. There is a lot to photograph and write home about.
Going northwest, the Nile again offers its bounty, with beauty to be found at Murchison Falls National Park. “Right on the peak of the Murchison Falls, the Nile water gushes through a small slit within the rocks,” says Dr. Andrew Seguya, Uganda Wildlife Authority Executive Director.
“It is seven metres wide and splashes 43 metres down with such a thunderous roar. There is a beautiful permanent rainbow. This view is breathtaking as the river meanders to Lake Albert. “By the way, your visit to Murchison Park will be added to other guests of international repute like former UK Premier Winston Churchill who also had the chance to enjoy a boat cruise, hike, cycle and dine there. On his heels came the Queen Mother in 1959 and wordsmith Ernest Hemingway in 1954,” says Seguya.
Recently, the park’s latest attraction, Sir Samuel Baker’s Trail was launched to retrace the footsteps of the 18th Century explorer. Do not leave your camera, hat, climbing boots, torch and appetite behind.