Visit THE BATWA PEOPLE

The Batwa or Twa are the indigenous African pygmies living in the Great lakes region of East Africa and originally lived in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga rainforests before they were turned into national parks, they refer to themselves as the keepers of the forests. Just like other pygmies, their average height is 1.5 meters.

They are believed to have lived in forest for more than 60,000 years and that is one of the reasons as to why they are so attached to the forests and have a deep understanding of how to use the plants and animals in their daily lives.

The Batwa pygmies having a saying that says “A Mtwa loves the forest as he loves his body” that shows how much they love and aim to protect the forest. Though they were accused of poaching and posed a threat to the mountain gorillas, it was never in their intentions to hurt the gorillas rather than sharing the forest with them.

When they were fully evicted from the forests by the Ugandan government in 1992, they couldn’t fully adapt to way of living outside the forest. They started living in the settlement camps around the forest in Kabale, Kisoro and Kanungu districts. Their skills and tools were of no use in this new environment and therefore resorted to hideous activities such as stealing, smoking and over drinking.

They faced a lot of poverty since the forest always provided everything for them and now they had to work in order to get what to eat and medication, they didn’t know how to practice farming like the neighboring Bantu communities. While in the forest they always gathered fruits and plants, hunted smaller animals for meat which wasn’t the case in the new settlement area.

Despite the challenges faced trying to adapt to the new way of living, the Batwa have strongly lived together in harmony, they share everything with their families and help each other in caring for the children, farming and cooking. They have also kept their traditions and celebrate festivals together. They have also been able to preserve their traditions like the caves within the forest that act as their places of worship.

The Batwa are creative people and it’s been displayed in the different handmade art crafts such as pottery, basket weaving and through the music and dance performances.

Different organizations have been able to support the pygmies by making it easy for the Batwa to live and thrive outside the forests, the Kellerman family started projects to improve on the sanitation and hygiene of the communities, and they also built clinics and schools for improved living conditions. Another organization is the United Organization for Batwa Development founded in 2002 and it is dedicated to improve on the income generation of Batwa households, benefit sharing from the profits got through tourism and also educating the people, this has increased on the literacy levels.

Explore Uganda Safaris

THE BATWA CULTURAL TOUR

This is an experience designed for tourists interested in getting to know more about the Batwa people and culture. When carrying out this activity, you are able to learn about the history of the Batwa people, how they lived in the forests and how they are currently copping up with life outside the forest.

There are two Batwa cultural tours, the Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National Park and Batwa Cultural experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The difference between the two is that the Batwa trail in Mgahinga happens with in the forest and it’s a longer experience that involves showing how the fruits were gathered and how they lived in the forests while the shorter Batwa cultural experience in Bwindi happens in the communities that stay outside the forest.

During the Batwa trail, you are in the company of a Batwa guide who first kneels and asks his ancestors to keep you safe before you enter the forest and begin your 5 hour trail. The guide will explain to you all the plants they use as medicine to treat ailments like colds and fever, he also shows how they built their huts, harvest honey, started fires and prepared food. You will also get to listen to some stories along the way and finally visit the Garamba caves which are dark and quiet, these caves are of great importance to the Batwa culture. It was the king’s palace and also acted as a granary.

The cultural tours end with a special music and dance performance by the Batwa people, you can also participate in their dances which are energetic and rejuvenating. You can later on proceed to tipping the guides, buying their crafts like the bamboo cups, donating to their different projects and also return the favor by telling others about them. The more people visiting the more social and economic impact gained by the Batwa community.

The Batwa cultural tours are an adventurous way of getting to know more about African cultures. It is usually enjoyed after the gorilla trekking expeditions in Bwindi and Mgahinga National parks.

SAFARI ACTIVITIES IN UGANDA

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda

After reading about the mountain gorillas, meet them physically and watch the silverback protect its family, mothers nurse and youngsters play. Half of the total population of the mountain Gorillas call Bwindi impenetrable national park and Mgahinga Gorilla national park home.

Mountain Gorillas are only found in the pearl of Africa, around the vast Virunga chain of mountains which spans through Uganda, Rwanda and the DR Congo. All trekkers must be 15 years and above, with a valid Gorilla trekking permit which can only be used once-the date of the activity.

Gorilla trekking permits are purchased from Uganda wildlife Authority, or through a licensed tour agency and costs 700Usd for foreign non-residents, 250,000ugx for East African residents and 600$ for foreign residents. 

Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda

Chimpanzees trekking is done in Kyambura gorge, Kibale national park, Kalinzu forest and Budongo forest. This is one of the must-do safari activities in Uganda, and thus one of the best for holiday goers. Get to experience the silence of the jungle, know what the forest has, and encounter other forest inhabitants.

The Gorilla trekking experience is done in the morning and afternoon hours, taking about 1-4 hours on foot. It is open for only persons aged 16 years and above in groups of not more than 8 persons. One can combine chimpanzee trekking with other activities like game viewing, boat cruise, hiking, birding and more. At Kibale forest National Park, you will visit Isunga community for the top of world hike and coffee experience.

Game drives and camping safaris

Akagera national park is the only place where game drives are done in Rwanda. The park is located in the eastern part of Rwanda, with a wide range of flora and fauna, cool weather, and classic lodging options.

Game viewing in Akagera National Park is rated as one of the best in the continent, and offers high chances of encountering among others; the African elephants, cape Buffaloes, lions, leopards, Rhinoceros, forest genet, zebras, wild dogs and more. There are birds, plants and more to explore during your stay in the park. Game drive is best in the morning and late evening hours.

Boat cruises

Boat cruise experiences in Murchison falls national park, Lake Victoria, Lake Mburo, Bunyonyi and Kazinga channel are quite unmatched. The best way to explore water, and uncover the aquatic world. Get closer to Nile crocodiles, hippos, kingfisher, water duck, shoebill stock and more, the papyrus swamps, and cool water breeze. This experience takes about 1-3 hours, in either morning or afternoon hours.

Bird watching tours.

Uganda is a host to 10% of total bird species in the world. Birds are found across the country, in the swamps, lake shores, mountains, river shores, and forests. For bird enthusiasts, you get to learn of these birds by name, and character.

Take time to capture numerous photos of the many species notably; Turacos, eagles, Kori bustards, shoe bill stock, cranes, francolins, Albertine owlets, kivu ground thrush, Rwenzori Turacos, regal sunbirds, mountain masked Apalis, Red-billed quale, western nicator eagles, African Jacana, eastern black korhaans, lover birds, guinea fowls and more.

Hiking and Mountaineering activities.

Nature walk and hiking are some of the best safari activities done in your holiday. It is an activity where everything is within your presence, notably; the birds, plants, water and more. It is a much practical way of uncovering Mother Nature and doing physical exercise.

Spend a few nights above the ground, by hiking to the summit of Mount. Rwenzori; one of the tallest mountains in the continent of Africa. Other destinations include; Mountain Elgon which offers a scenic view of the magnificent caldera, coffee plantations and more.

Other activities in Uganda include; City tours, cultural tours, night life, and religious tour.

F.A.Q.

There is no standard price for Uganda, Rwanda or Congo gorilla permit –each country has its rates. In Uganda, the charges vary depending on the visitor category. The foreign non-residents are charged USD 700 to have their gorilla permits booked, USD 600 for foreign residents and Ugandans (East Africa citizens) pay shs. 250,000 per person. To have a gorilla permit secured/booked, you need USD 1500 for Rwanda and this is most ideal for luxury/high-end travelers interested in visiting the endangered mountain gorillas.

When booking a gorilla permit, it is also a good thing to have a destination of your desire in mind. The key places to consider a must-visit on gorilla tour include Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park –these are gorilla trekking destinations for tourists on a tour in Uganda. In Rwanda, Volcanoes National Park is where you can locate habituated mountain gorilla families and crossing the D.R. Congo, you can explore Virunga National Park.

It is a good thing to also understand when best to book your gorilla permits to avoid having issues on actual date of gorilla trekking. Considering our experience, we always recommend our clients to have their permits booked early enough at least 2-4 months. This can save you from last minute stress, especially if you plan to travel during the dry season also considered to be the peak season. The peak months of the year fall around June, July, August to September, and December, January to February.

Gorilla permits are among the relevant documents visitors must have to be allowed to track gorillas in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Not any gorilla permit should be presented on actual gorilla trekking adventure but a valid one. Booking gorilla permits is part of making the entire gorilla trip complete and should be done early enough before the actual visit to see mountain gorillas or eastern lowland gorillas.

To have your gorilla permit booked, there is a process one should undergo through and is generally tedious. Considering your tight schedule back home, you may wonder how easier you can have your permit booked in advance to avoid last minute stress.

The easiest way to secure your gorilla permit in Uganda or Rwanda is by dealing with a recognized tour operator/company on the ground. This is where our reservation team comes in. As part of your gorilla safari requirement, our team being on ground will ensure that your permit is booked early enough and everything else that is needed for gorilla trekking is put together.

The beauty about dealing with local safari company such as ours is that we have knowledge on the different gorilla groups and surrounding communities plus various accommodation facilities for your night stay. This is in addition to making the entire gorilla permit booking process easier on behalf of our clients.

There is also an option of booking the permit directly through the reservation team of respective park authorities. But the challenge is that you must undergo through the long process to have your permit booked and this may not favor you depending on your schedule. Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) is an organ in charge not only for conservation of wildlife in the Pearl of Africa but also sets prices for tourism activities in the parks including gorilla permits. In Rwanda, you can contact Rwanda Tourism Board/Rwanda Development Board to have your permit booked.

The East African tourist visa is a joint visa that permits one to travel to specific countries within East Africa, namely Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda only. A joint tourist visa can be used several times for various purposes as long as it’s not overdue. 

Tourists should therefore find it important to always remember that the tourist visa lasts for only 90 days.  Processing the tourist visa takes a maximum period of two working days. It is also important to note that the tourist visa prohibits employment.

The process of applying for a tourist visa has been made easier since it can be done with the help of a tour operator or by the individual themselves online through the Ministry of Internal Affairs immigration portal. Visitors are required to log in to the portal, go ahead and accept the terms and conditions for the tourist visa, select the Visa / permit type, the subcategory and category, complete the application form and upload the required documents. 

A reference number will be generated and sent to you through your email, submit it and proceed to payment. It’s important to note that the payment can be made using Visa cards.  An approval letter will be sent to your email after the above process.

Report at the immigration office or border post for the biometric capture with all the necessary documents, receipt of payment, approval letter and your passport. Visitors should regard it as important to enter through the home country issuing the visa.

The East African tourist visa costs a fee of $100 only, meaning that it can be obtained by all travelers ranging from the budget to luxurious ones.

  • Persons aged 15 years and above are allowed to trek gorillas.
  • Avoid sneezing in the presence of gorillas.
  • Always stay away from gorillas by observing distance
  • Do not try to feed gorillas
  • Do not chew in the presence of gorillas
  • Do not take photos with flash light on.