I sat on the rubber seat of the local green-colored bus in Kampala, feeling restless. The bus was scheduled to leave at 9am, but it was already twenty past ten. I grumbled to myself as I thought, for the thousandth time during my trip, "this is Africa".
Forty minutes later, the engine started.
I was finally on my way to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, where I would spend the day accompanying rangers on foot to observe the only White Rhinoceros that exist in Uganda.
Local Ugandan buses are the one place on earth where you will never go hungry. There is no need to pack a lunch even for longer distances because the driver will make sure to make a few stops along the way. During those "layovers", crowds of people will surround the bus to offer their products: be it homemade chapati, fruits of all kinds, and even live chickens. I don't how, but I always end up in the kind of buses in which I am the only foreigner around.
Two and a half hours later, the bus made a stop. I heard the driver shouting "mzungu!", the local term used in much of East Africa to refer to a white person. This was my stop.
I jumped out the bus and then: nothingness.
Before my eyes was an empty road, and extending from it to the left, a narrow dirt street. Not much else other than a few guys on a motorbike who seemed to ignore my presence.
"Ughhh... rhinos?", I nervously asked a group of young guys who were sitting at the front of a closed shop.
An elder man on a motorcycle approached me and exclaimed "six thousand". I knew for a fact that the sanctuary was about seven kilometers away from the Nakitoma, the name of the "village" I found myself in. At six thousand, the price for a 7-kilometer ride was the equivalent to $1.60, so I didn't even attempt to bargain like I was used to doing in Kampala.
"We are definitely not in Kampala anymore", I said to myself as the motorcycle zig-zagged its way through the dirt to avoid falling in the numerous pits that plagued the road. As we made our way through the bush, sights of incredible birds and herds of bulls surrounded us. The feeling of "I am in Africa. I really am!" filled my body and in this moment, all I could feel was contentedness.
Rhinos vanished from Uganda as a result of the war. The sanctuary's mission since 2005 is to repopulate the national parks with these mighty animals. Many of the rhinos who live in the sanctuary were donated by zoos from abroad and some were bred inside the sanctuary. Today, there are 19 rhinos in the sanctuary. I was stunned at how big the place was. The rhinos are free to roam about in 7000ha of land.
At 4pm, the last trek of the day began. The Rhinos take a break from their daily activities (eating and mating) when the sun is at its fullest potential because they can't stand the heat, so there are morning treks and late afternoon treks available only.
At the time, there was also a German couple doing the trek, so we were put in a group. Our guide, Opio, was super knowledgeable and was able to answer all of our questions. He knew the names of the rhinos, their stories, and behaviors like the back of his hand. It is not a surprise, really - when he is not guiding, his job is to follow the Rhinos 12 hours a day to watch out for poachers and to document their behavior.
We walked for a good one hour and we were able to spot eight of the 19 rhinos who reside at the sanctuary, including babies! Honestly, while rhinos are magnificent, 90% of their activities are eating. Still, it was amazing to see the only Rhinos living in Uganda having a meal!
And there is so much more to the sanctuary than rhinos, as it is the home to many other species including baboons, bushbucks, warthogs, and many, many more. Hippos live there as well. We weren't able to spot any, but we did see the footmarks of one!
Aside from that, the species we saw the most were bushbucks. They were often in close proximity to the rhinos and they co-existed without issue.
Because we did the 4pm trek, we were able to finish it off watching the sun disappear into the wilderness. There is something so magical about African sunsets and this one definitely one of my top ones ever!
This trek was a highlight of my East African trip - I would do it again in a heartbeat! Moreover, compared to the cost of other wildlife activities in East Africa, I thought the price of the trek was very reasonable. Considering that the money goes to repopulating Rhinos in Uganda, it makes it an eco-friendly activity, too! It was a great way to see rhinos on a budget since I tend to stray away from doing too many wildlife activities in Africa due to their high cost.
HOW TO GET TO ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT FROM KAMPALA
The way to get to Ziwa Rhino on a budget is to head LINK bus station in Kampala. Purchase the ticket directly at the station for the bus that goes to Masindi and ask the driver to drop you off at Nakitoma.
Bus from Kampala to Nakitoma: 13,000 UGX ($3.50 USD)
Mototaxi from the drop-off station to the sanctuary: 6,000 UGX ($1.60)
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO DO THE TREK AT ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY?
Trekking with rhinos in Uganda is cheap compared to most other activities. The cost for the day came down to $45 USD including the entry permit to the sanctuary and a guide.
Moreover, because the sanctuary is so massive and rhinos move about freely, it could happen that they are so far away to reach via trekking. In this case, you can hire a car and driver to take you nearer to where they are for $25 USD per car (not per person). There was a German couple doing the trek as well while I was there, so we split the cost by three.
They accept card payments, so it is not necessary to bring the cash.
CAN I TREAT THE TREK AS A DAY TRIP?
Sure. The average trek lasts anywhere between 1.30 - 2.30 hours. However, it is possible to stay there for a night. There are also many other activities offered such as canoe rides to watch Shoebills, night walks, and whatnot, so there is plenty to do to keep you busy!
IS THERE ACCOMMODATION CLOSE TO ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY AND HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
There is a guesthouse inside Ziwa Rhino sanctuary for all kinds of budgets. There are supet nice bungalow style-rooms for $40 pp. If you are more on a budget, you can sleep in their budget accommodation (shared showers and basic bed, but still quite okay) for $15pp. Additionally, you can choose to camp for $10pp (own tent) or $15pp (rented tent from the sanctuary).
There is also a small and quite basic restaurant inside the sanctuary.
HOW HARD IS THE TREK?
Not hard at all. I am not exactly proud of my current physical condition and I was able to do it without problems. The terrain is mostly flat, so it is easy-peasy. I did it while wearing flip flops (I don't recommend doing that, but I forgot my socks so I couldn't use the rain boots that they offer you while there. Duh.)
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