During our Uganda safari, we decided to do something new for us, and that was to take a private tour.
We had traveled Africa in the past both solo and on low-budget group tours, but we never were able to take a high-end safari company with a private and customized itinerary.
In Uganda we finally made this a reality, and did so with a company called Churchill Safaris- a popular organization that offers fully customized tours in central and southern Africa.
In this one, we wanted to share a bit more as to what the experience was like!
Custom Uganda Safari with Churchill Safaris
During our Uganda safari, we decided to go for a custom itinerary in order to see as much as the country as possible during our limited trip availability.
We reached out to many companies for quotes and ended up selecting Churchill Safaris for two reasons.
First, they were the most responsive to our emails. Second, their price had few optional extras and ended up being among the most competitive. (Other companies we got quotes from were cheaper at first glance, but had more optional extras that ended up making them more of a premium when put side-by-side with the same items.)
Suffice it to say, these two details together spoke volumes, and we happily booked rather quickly.
During our trip we ended up on the following itinerary:
- Day 1: Arrive in Uganda and Overnight in Entebbe
- Day 2: Drive to Murchison Falls with Stop at Ziwa Rhino Reserve
- Day 3: Game Drive in Murchison Falls, Nile River Cruise, Overnight in Murchison
- Day 4: Drive to Kibale
- Day 5: Chimp trekking in Kibale, Drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Day 6: Game Drive in Queen Elizabeth, Lake Cruise, Overnight in Queen Elizabeth
- Day 7: Drive to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- Day 8: Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Overnight in Bwindi
- Day 9: Drive to Entebbe and Fly Home
While we enjoyed this itinerary immensely, we ended up finding that it was a lot of driving, and most days ended up being about 30-50% longer than we anticipated.
What we ultimately found out that was Uganda is under quite of bit of construction due to heavy investments from China. Virtually every main road in the country is under construction to a degree, meaning that there are detours, torn up roads, and potholes in the finished roads due to the heavy machinery driving on it a fair bit.
As such, the six-hour days became nine, the nine-hour days became twelve, and overall we spent a lot of time on the road. We knew this was going to happen ahead of time, but it was significantly worse than we anticipated due to the construction slowdowns (which are likely to continue on until 2025 or later).
Overall, were we to do it again we would probably add on more nights in Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth to break things up (and to get more game drives), and perhaps consider driving from Bwindi to Rwanda to fly out as the drive is much shorter (although keep in mind you'd have to pay for a transit visa and deal with Rwanda's no plastic bag policy at the border, too).
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It is worth noting that in this particular instance the drawbacks of our itinerary are not any observation on Churchill as a company, as the itinerary was by our own design, but just to note that most all drive estimates will likely be off while the country is undergoing construction on its roadways.
Great Accommodations, and Wonderful Side Perks
One of the biggest highlights about our tour with Churchill Safaris is that they had selected some rather fabulous hotels for us in our mid-range hotel package (you can go cheaper or more expensive if you wish).
The three notable highlights to us were naturally the lodges in the national parks of Murchison Falls (Pakuba Safari Lodge– including air conditioning), Kibale (Kibale Guest Cottages), and Queen Elizabeth National Park especially (Kasenyi Safari Camp).
All three of these lodges were quite comfortable and located right in the heart of the national parks, such that we were on game drives within moments and at the meeting point for chimpanzee trekking in Kibale in about five minutes. (Our lodge in Bwindi was quite similar as well.)
Kasenyi gets a special note from us because it felt like a much higher-end establishment than the others we had visited on the entire trip.
It was “tent” lodging but it would be more accurate to describe them as bungalows (with a tent material layer) that were about the size of a regular house, had a walk-in shower, a private deck overlooking the lake (and if you were lucky, animal viewing opportunities), free laundry (air dry though, so don't do it when its cold or rain is in the forecast), as well as four-course plated dinners each evening served by candlelight.
The lodge was so remote that we had to get escorted to our tent by armed guards when dark (you're in the park, after all), and after breakfast one morning we saw an elephant right next to our room on the same path we had just walked an hour prior!
Suffice it to say, that one was an experience all on its own that we'll never forget.
One of the other things that we loved about our trip with Churchill is that our guide was seemingly friends with everyone- including random boda boda drivers (motorbike taxis) in random towns we stopped for gas.
This was especially noticeable on our trekking days when he specifically asked us what kind of hiking experience we wanted. We said we didn't mind trekking a while to see the gorillas, but didn't want the extremely short (10 minutes each way) or crazy long journeys (four hours each way).
While we were getting our briefing, our guide was talking to his ranger friends, and lo and behold we got a rather easy family assignment that was absolutely perfect- a little more than an hour each way.
We know that this varies from company to company, and guide to guide, but its the little details like that which we remember the most.
Churchill Was Great When Things Didn't Go Right
There is a saying we've heard time and time again that simply goes: “this is Africa.”
As a huge continent with several countries, many of which are still developing in terms of tourism and transit, there are a number of things that can go, well, wrong. Whenever these happen, the phrase “this is Africa” is sure to follow, and more or less a lesson in going with the flow.
It is in these instances where your tour company (more specifically, the guide) can do a great job in handling it (like Churchill did for us) or drop the ball (like G Adventures did in our previous safari).
During our trip with Churchill Safaris, we had three that we would like to share.
- Our car broke down during a game drive in Murchison Falls National Park, to which we found out that there was an issue with the clutch and our car was not shifting. Despite being stranded on a game drive for about 20 minutes, our guide was in constant communication with rangers and mechanics and found out a workaround to get us on our way (and later fixed the car that very evening while we were at our lodge).
- After going gorilla trekking, we returned to the car to find it was also broken down and the four-wheel drive was out completely, making it impossible to drive up the bouncy and muddy roads back to the lodge. While we walked an extra 90 minutes back to our lodge, our driver spent most of the time on the phone with a mechanic and fixing the car himself (successfully I might add). And, as an apology, he purchased massages for all of us at the lodge.
- Finally, on our way out of Bwindi we had to stop the car because the bolts on the tires were loose. Our guide fixed them right up and we were on our way in no time.
Now, you may be thinking, that is a lot of issues with the car to which we would agree. Our car had just done back-to-back safaris and probably should have been serviced before we went out.
But sadly, this is out of anyone's control as it does happen from time to time again.
What we really like to highlight here is our guide's intense passion for safety and making sure our car was fixed up as soon as possible. (Not to mention that Churchill had extra safari vehicles ready to go to be sent up overnight had the car not been fixed right away.)
We felt he really went above and beyond in order to ensure that the car was fixed and not to detract from our experience at all, and when it did (resulting in the long walk after already trekking in the jungle all morning), he insisted on paying for massages for us as a result.
We reluctantly agreed even though we were going to buy them ourselves anyway (and gave him a larger tip as a result later on), but I think that it is that kind of customer service that we really came to appreciate from Churchill.
Overall, we have nothing but positive things to say about our experience with Churchill Safaris. From the price to the lodge selections, to our fabulous driver, everything was really well done- except for the car issues and the semi-packed itinerary of our own creation, of course.
But as they say, this is Africa!
Want to take a private safari in Africa? We highly recommend checking out Churchill Safaris. We paid for our own tour and were not requested nor compensated to write this post (in fact, no one in the company knew we were bloggers at all). If you are looking for budget options / group tours, perhaps consider a trip with G Adventures or Intrepid Travel!
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- Viator for a stellar day tour.
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