Lake Mburo National Park “I love the smell of giraffes in the morning!
And so on to the final stop of the trip – Lake Mburo National Park for safaris, giraffes and zebras and a stay at Leopard Rest camp, again out on the savannah, but this time in one of those swish safari ways you see on telly.
This time, as we pulled off the main highway we had quite a long drive over a rough, dusty dirt road, deep into the scrub, negotiating deep ruts and crawling the car around impressively horned ankole cattle wandering across the road and unbothered by the passing ‘predators’ in a car. I wondered how these things weren’t constantly picked off by lions given their attitudes and the fact they seemed to be only protected by a guy with a small stick. But ho-hum. We couldn’t seen any lions, so when the cattle chose to move, we trundled on, until there it was… Leopard Rest Camp.
If you are planning a road trip in Uganda, check out our post on our advice for doing a self-drive trip to Uganda.
Safari camp and monster trucks
Leopard Rest Camp is how you picture a safari lodge to be and it was much bigger and busier than the community-run Elephant Home. We chugged into the parking area to see lines of those enormous Land Cruisers of the tour companies, the ones that had made my little Rav4 feel inadequate since the start of the trip.
Incidentally, I say parking ‘area’ rather than ‘car park’, because, well, it was definitely more of an ‘area’ vibe. When you’re out on the Ugandan savannah the ‘parking area’ is wherever you stop your car. Nonetheless, being more of the urban motorist, I couldn’t help but manoeuvre my diddy 4WD neatly and perfectly squarely with the nearest giant Land Cruiser. Leaving just enough room for door opening, just like we were in a car park at Tesco.
Anyway, I digress. The park consists of a camping area and a cluster of ‘lazy’ tents. Kate had wondered how a tent could be lazy – but it was obvious when we arrived as the tents were permanently erected under wooden gazebo-style frames with beds inside. Clearly more for the ‘lazy camper’. On the edge of this lazy camping area was an open-air bar restaurant on stilts overlooking the rugged landscape. Yes, a bar! With a fridge! Even, dare I say it, gin and tonic. We checked into our tent and headed off to see what the lay of the land was.
Read about our safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
A country stroll in Lake Mburo National Park
Leopard Rest Camp is actually located on the edge of the national park. So, as with Elephant Home, the very national park-looking land we were standing on was actually just open countryside. Hence, the wandering cattle. As the afternoon was getting late was decided we’d be in the park early the next day, but asked if there was anything we could do before the sun dipped. Of course! How about a walk around the area?
‘A walk???’ I wondered. ‘What about lions and isn’t this place called Leopard Rest? Does the umbrella move work on a leopard??’ (See previous post..)
‘Who cares? I don’t have an umbrella.’
Anyway, as the camp is not in the park and the park is not fenced off, you’re free to have a nice sunset country walk, as you might in the Yorkshire Dales. Except here on the edge of Mburo you see impala, waterbuck and topi and there’s a distinct lack of sheep and dog walkers.
So we set off with our guide, a lad called Dennis, into the savannah (for $10 each, 5pm-7pm). Dennis found loads of stuff to look at including, my favourite, a go away bird. It literally sounds like it’s saying ‘go-away’ when it calls. Which is, I thought, rather rude, after we’d come all that way. But then I guess it could also have opted for a phrase with ‘off’ at the end too. Which would have been ruder.
There probably is a ‘_ off!’ bird somewhere in the world. I’ve just tried saying a certain ‘ off’ phrase in the style of a squawking bird and it definitely works. Try it. Though not in a road-rage situation, you’ll just seem quite odd. Anyway, if you know of one such bird, leave a comment below. Please don’t write ‘My ex-wife!!! LMAO! 😀’…..
The savannah was really beautiful as the shadows got longer as dusk approached and we were literally surrounded on all sides by zebras. It seems, as the next 2 days proved, Mburo is popular with stripy horses. As we wandered homewards, away from the zebras, Dennis advised us that if we encountered a leopard we should stand our ground.
Sound advice I thought. Yup, makes sense. Stare down the wild beast with the stony glare of the dominant savannah predator – Homo sapiens. No doubt the leopard would nod in respect of a fellow hunter, evolved on the African plains, and continue on its way.
Then he told us he didn’t know if it would work, as he’s never tried it, but there’s no point running is there? Brilliant. ‘Hopefully we won’t see a leopard then.’ If I’d thought about it before I suppose I could have tried my ‘_ off!!!’ bird impression. That would have spooked it.
‘So what do we do if we see a lion?’. Dennis laughed ‘You might as well run then!’.
And there I was, on the African savannah. No defensive umbrella to hand and my Swiss army knife in my rucksack in my ‘lazy’ tent. In a thought cloud above my head I could see my dad, boy scout and general master of tying knots and whittling anything from wood, frowning and shaking his head in disappointment at my unpreparedness.
Thankfully, we did make it back safely. Dennis assured there was only one lonely lion in the whole park, who’d been relocated because of problems at another. Which seemed a bit sad. Imagine the lonesome lion wandering around and constantly being told to ‘go away!’ by a bird in a nearby tree. Dennis also told us that Mburo has no elephants. Well, if there had been elephants anyway, I probably would have missed them…
Check out our post on gorilla trekking in Mgahinga National Park
No Swiss army knife needed, we have an AK-47
So the next day, bright and early, after a three course meal and a few chilled drinks that evening, we set off to the park. This time around, we hired a guide at the park gates ($40 to enter the park, 50 000 Ugandan Shillings for the car to enter and $20 for the guide to accompany). This guy was called James and he was packing heat. He climbed into the passenger seat and nonchalantly rested his AK-47 assault rifle with the barrel pointing out of the window. And so, feeling a little ‘Boyz in da Hood’ / ‘Grand Theft Auto’, we cruised into our final national park of the trip.
Do you know what an ungulate is? Well, just off the top of my head, ungulates are any members of a diverse group of primarily large mammals with hooves. These include odd-toed ungulates such as horses and rhinoceroses, and even-toed ungulates such as cattle, pigs, giraffes, camels, deer, and hippopotamuses, as well as sub-ungulates such as elephants. Most terrestrial ungulates use the tips of their toes, usually hoofed, to sustain their whole body weight while moving. Something like that… (thanks Wikipedia).
Now, regular visitors to our blog might know that Kate is a former mammologist. She did a PhD on goat sex behaviour (yes, it really happened, look her up on the Liverpool PhD thesis catalogue…) and therefore is an ungulate fan. Well, Lake Mburo is very ‘ungulatey’ (I’m really churning out the new words). So we saw impala, topi, eland, bushbuck, hippos, waterbuck and hundreds of zebras. Oh, and did we mention giraffes??
Smelly giraffes in Lake Mburo
So the guide asked what we wanted to see and we mentioned we hadn’t seen any giraffes yet. ‘We’ll see what we can do…’ he replied.
…then suddenly after about 30 minutes – ‘wait! Smell that?’
‘Giraffes! Can you smell them?’
We both inhaled deeply.
‘Erm…a little.’ I lied.
‘Think they might be behind that hill’
So we sat there for a few more seconds testing the air for giraffe odour.
I’ve never been in this situation before. Sitting in a car with a man with a gun trying to smell a giraffe. I made the most of it and thought I’d commit it to a possible ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ list of events. My other favourite one is the day I balanced on a frozen cow uterus in a -20C freezer room so I could reach a tray of vials containing frozen purified insect virus from a high shelf. But that’s for another blog….
Anyway….So we headed for the hill, Kate and I desperately trying the get a hint of some giraffe smell, but wondering if we’d know it if we smelt it or if there’d just be this collective realisation ‘oh yeah! That’s definitely giraffey!’
We wondered if James was taking the water…and then…suddenly….giraffes. Lots of them. Lots and lots of them. Striding past us on ridiculous legs, peering down at us with alien-like heads, adults and inquisitive babies. It reminded me of that scene from Jurassic Park when Dr Grant the palaeontologist (the Sam Neil character) comes face to face with his first brontosaurus.
You know though. Like, with giraffes.
I still couldn’t smell them.
Again, as with the elephants, it struck me that such incredibly conspicuous and huge animals can stay hidden even in open country like savannah. We watched them for a good while and tried to follow them at a polite distance for a bit, but eventually, they grew tired of us and just managed to melt away into the brush. They probably didn’t like our smell.
There’s a ‘Lynx Africa’ joke in here somewhere for British readers, but I’ve restrained myself.
So on to the water hole. Lake Mburo has some man-made waterholes for the animals to refresh themselves. It makes sense. It can be a dry place. So we parked up by one and there they all were. All the top ungulates. Kate was in her element, she snapped away from the back. The zebras literally swarmed around us. See the pics!
Then there was the lonely hippo. We were driving away from the waterhole and we found a random pool of mud. From the mud emerged a particularly grumpy looking hippo and glared at us, covered in mud. I wondered if he’d one day make friends with the lonesome lion and perhaps they’d embark on a series of heart-wrenching but nonetheless amusing and moralistic adventures together. Perhaps with music.
And lo….. a Disney film and Westend musical shall follow. Do I have to do all the ideas?? Hands off, Lloyd-Webber!
Why not read our post on chimpanzee trekking in Kibale National Park?
So there we are, innocently trundling along the dirt track of the national park road and James, the guide is trying to spot stuff in the trees…..then I see this weird branch in the road. Like, lying right across the middle of the road…what the hell is….. BRAKE!!!!!! It’s a bloody big snake.
A python was crossing the road (no, not a zebra crossing. I’ve already done that joke) and I literally almost just ran over it. As we stopped, it retracted into the bush and our guide instantly rolled his window up. He was NOT happy about encountering a snake. We drove up to the bush it had slid back into but couldn’t spot it and he told us to drive on.
Now, you see, I didn’t grow up in a country with dangerous snakes…well, or any dangerous animals really – though I hear badgers can be nasty.
I’ve never ever seen a snake in Britain. I mean, we have adders right? But how many people have seen an adder? But then when you grew up in a rural area in a country with snakes as long as stretch limos that can occasionally creep into your house….I can see why they unnerve you.
While living in Thailand I once passed a snake on a road and thought ‘Oh there’s a snake! Cool’ – it appeared to be dead to me. But I was then berated by a bloke further down the road for not instantly killing it in case it bit someone. Now, I am in no way advocating killing snakes in any form, but I’m just illustrating how ‘snake fear’ is a part of everyday life and hazards for many people around the world.
Like our wildlife trips? We did a lot of wildlife watching when we lived in Thailand too. For ideas, try our post on where to see animals in Thailand
Top of the world
Then James took us up a very steep track. The car slid and scrambled hazardously over the rough ground to the point I thought we were going to get stuck. But luckily, my driving skills, honed in a Vauxhall Nova in Hartlepool and a Rentokil van in Leeds, saved the day and we made it to the top of the hill. From this vantage, we could see the spectacular park laid out like a map.
And James told us his story of growing up in a village where people killed chimpanzees because they were a ‘pest’… and how now people were seeing them differently and he’d become a park ranger and his village now has a lodge for ecotours.
Sometimes for the better.
Following Lake Mburo, we headed back to Entebbe for our flight home. Read more of what to do in Entebbe based on our two visits.
Nuts and Bolts for Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park Accommodation
Leopard Rest Camp
Leopard Rest Camp is on the edge of Lake Mburo National Park, near the Nashara Gate. It has a range of accommodation with areas to pitch your own tent for $10 per person, ‘lazy camping’ (basically tents they have already put up for you with a wooden bed inside) for $25 per person, safari tents with their own bathrooms for $45 per person and luxury safari tents with wide views over the national park for $55 per person.
There’s a big restaurant area looking over the national park on all sides, serving three course meals and a wide range of drinks, including gin and tonics and cocktails! You can pay for the meals as you go, or book bed and breakfast, half or full board with your booking.
We had a lazy tent, which was very comfortable, with clean shared bathrooms, and ate all of our meals in the restaurant.
Activities in Lake Mburo
Entering Lake Mburo National Park
Entry into the national park costs $40 per person per day. You need to keep your receipt so if you come out of the park for lunch, you can reenter on the same ticket. If you are driving your own vehicle, you also need to pay 50,000 Ugandan shillings per day to take that inside.
At the National Park gates, you can also hire a national park guide to travel in your car with you and show you around. We always hire national park or local guides when we do national parks independently, because they know more about the local nature, where to find wildlife etc. We know a lot about zoology, but guides know more specifics about that region. As we said in our post on Kibale National Park, we are far from being twitchers, but we like to see birds, and the local guides knew how to identify them and make their calls. We paid $20 to hire the guide for about 4 hours, which was more than worth the money.
If you do not have your own vehicle, Leopard Rest Camp and other camps around the park can rent you a car with a driver.
Read our guest post on how to become a safari guide in South Africa
Night Drives in Lake Mburo National Park
It is possible to do a night drive in the National Park to see the nocturnal wildlife. However, when we were there, the Leopard Rest Camp Landrover had broken down, so we couldn’t do this. You can do it in your own car, of course, but check the insurance covers you for night driving.
Lake Mburo Boat Cruise
There are boat cruises on the Lake which get you up close and personal with wildlife such as hippos and crocodiles, like we did on the Kazinga Chanel in Queen Elizabeth National Park. These cost about $30 each and we intended to do one, but then we got a puncture (you can read more about this experience in our post on driving in Uganda).
Activities outside Lake Mburo National Park
The national park doesn’t have any kind of fence around it, and wildlife doesn’t respect boundaries, so it’s possible to do activities without paying the national park fee. Leopard Rest Camp has walking safaris, which we did, where for $10 you walk around the edge of the park, and can see lots of animals including hundreds of zebras.
You can also do a safari on bicycle outside the park for $25 and a Sundowners Walk, where you go to a viewpoint to watch the sunset with a drink.
Read all of our posts on our trip around Uganda
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