In the cloud forests of southwestern Uganda—past the pulsing streets of the capital of Kampala and the imaginary line of the Equator, and over dirt alleyways which teem with vendors selling bananas and furniture and SIM cards, and across the plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park that rustle with the footsteps of elephants, and through the valleys of hills which are festooned in tea fields and waving children—there are a handful of endangered mountain gorillas taking a nap in the jungle.
For those who are researching travel in Uganda, you already know that trekking with mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Park is one of the highlights of visiting the country (and Uganda is very thankful for the gorillas, seeing as mountain gorilla tourism in Uganda accounts for a whopping 7% of the nation’s GDP). What you don’t hear much of, however, is about how the the drive from Kampala to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is interminably long for one day.
If attempting to reach Bwindi from Kampala be prepared for A LOT of driving, and even though Google says it’s a little under 7 hours, depending upon the state of the roads it can sometimes be upwards of 11 (for this reason some people opt to fly into Bwindi and trade dollars for time in their life).
From Kamapla, you can expect to realistically spend 8-10 hours reaching Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and on our trip in January 2014 with Insight Safaris (who I highly recommend), we began the journey in Entebbe which tacks on another hour. You can also expect to stop for lunch somewhere around Mbarara—one of the nation’s largest town’s with little in the way of tourist infrastructure—and you can also expect to stop at the equator to take the obligatory photo of changing hemispheres.
Aside from the length, one nice bonus of the drive is that you will have the chance to pass through sections of Queen Elizabeth National Park, a sprawling savanna where you can potentially spot elephants snacking on trees by the roadside. There are monkeys which frantically dart across the highway, antelope which flit through the knee-high scrub, and a concerning amount of overturned trucks whose drivers were going too fast.
Finally, however, after the hypnotic terraces of green tea leaves and ubiquitous reminders of progress-crushing poverty, the road finally climbs into the village of Buhoma which serves as a base for Uganda gorilla treks. The moral of the story? If you plan on trekking with gorillas in Uganda, either choose to fly on a bushplane from Kampala and trade your dollars for comfort, or be prepared for an interminable slog on roads which wind their way across the country.
Of course, choosing to fly means you miss the moments of serenity found along the roadside, such as the innocence on the face of a waving child or the silhouette of a woman gathering tea. So if you choose to drive from Kampala to Bwindi, remember to keep your camera handy, pack a healthy dose of patience, and maybe choose to bring a pillow to pad your aching butt.