Nkuringo is the magic of Uganda

As a tour operator in Uganda Nkuringo camp consistently rates as the highlight of accommodation. Why… it is one of the simplest camps we offer it is in the most remote of locations, the road to get there is challenging to say the least but still my favorite drive in Africa. The magic of Nkuringo camp is in the location and the people of the area. The camp is perched on top of a stunning hillside overlooking Bwindi forest, this little piece of paradise is part of the great community of Nkuringo. It is good for both luxury and budget camping Uganda safaris.

uganda-mountain-gorillaThis is not a luxury lodge but provides simple accommodation and facilities, great meals and hot showers with rustic charm. The youth group performs at the camp welcomes you in to the community. Sometimes as a traveler it is hard to get the real essence of life in a country and at Nkuringo this rare door opens. The staffs are a huge asset and will guide you through the area, walk you to a gorilla office, guide you on bush and community walks or multi day treks with enthusiasm or just sit at the campfire chatting all night. This place is the magic of Uganda!

If you are headed to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in South Western Uganda, for gorilla tracking or just to experience the beautiful mountains and scenery, Nkuringo Gorilla Campsite and Hammerkops Bunkhouse is the park’s best kept secret.

We stayed there in October 2013, on part of a tour round the South Western (we are ex-pats based in Kampala) and having been to gorilla tracking in Buhoma the year before (situated on the other side of Bwindi), I would recommend you head for Nkuringo instead. Buhoma is like a Turkish coastline hotel strip compared to the peace, quiet and uniqueness of Nkuringo beautiful location.

At Ntungamo (the name of the local trading center, though almost everyone calls it Nkuringo now, which is the name of the local UWA gorilla tracking group), you have a choice of two different types of accommodation. Unless you have $ 500 to spare per night per person (the rack rate for the new up market neighboring Clouds lodge) then I suggest you look at Nkuringo Gorilla Campsite.

They have some basic but clean, comfortable and cozy twine rooms in their bunkhouse, plenty of camping space for those with their own gear, and some lovely looking new self-contained cottages which were just being finished up when we were there. The bunkhouse is very good value for their price, the cottages will apparently be priced at a significantly higher rate per night but the furnishings, privacy, view (of a line of volcanoes on the misty horizon) and private bathroom and terrace make this also good value for a more mid-range choice.

The shared bathrooms are basic but clean and attractively but sustainably designed. An eco-toilet without the usual smell that accompanies them! Showers are of the hot water in a jerry can variety (but when you learn about the lack of rainfall here during the dry season you’ll understand the need to conserve water).

Food is on an all-inclusive day rate basis – which is very good value and while there is no choice on menu per se we enjoyed every single dish we had. The dinners were particularly nice, with warming spiced soups and robust hearty mains….

The atmosphere is more one of a family run place, with friendly and helpful but relaxed and laid back staff. The site also works closely with the local community in a very genuine way – you get the sense they do it because they want to work harmoniously with their neighbors and not because they want to impress their eco-sensitive guests as so many, more cynical establishments do nowadays. We enjoyed a highly entertaining cultural dancing display by the local Youth Initiative group while we were there and this can easily be arranged by the staff for your stay.

The big plus from staying at Nkuringo is the fact that along with the guests from Clouds, you are pretty much the only tourists in the immediate area. You get a more genuine experience of the local community, and you avoid the tourist trappings and crowded strip that Buhoma is becoming.

You also benefit from some fantastic views where you can get a sense of the area’s spectacular scenery. Nkuringo is at 2040m, considerably higher than Buhoma, and the views are definitely worth it. In one direction you can see a line of volcanoes on the Ugandan/Rwandan/Congolese borders, and if the skies are clear, you’ll see the glow of the more active of them at night (don’t worry – it is still a very long way away!). In another direction you can see the misty forested steep ridges of Bwindi stretching out into the distance. It’s breathtaking. But be prepared for the altitude – may be worth spending a few nights at Bunyonyi (1700m) or Kabale/Kisoro before heading up to the heights – especially if you want all the help you can get with the hiking!

Last but definitely not least, the walking safari. As I had previously tracked gorillas from the Buhoma site the other side of Bwindi, we opted to do one of this campsite’s walking safaris instead, though you can arrange gorilla permits for the Nkuringo group from tour companies or from the UWA central reservations office in Kampala if that’s what you fancy doing.

As hinted at above, you need to be of reasonable fitness to be able to do the walk. I had found tracking from Buhoma challenging but perfectly doable – but Nkuringo is up another level. Its steep volcanic hills can be very unforgiving. It’s fine for the first two thirds of the walk (downhill into the valley, then along the valley floor through the forest) but the last section is tough on those who are bordering unfit (I know because that was me!). We were also unfortunate with the weather (we were there slap bang in the middle of the wet season so we were asking for it really…) which probably made it considerably harder. But go in the drier months and it should be fine.

The walk has some beautiful scenery and glimpses of un habituated red tailed Columbus, and black and white Columbus, as well as plenty of sun-birds and butterflies to keep you entertained. If you’re a hiker you’ll love it. Nkuringo Gorilla Campsite is great – un-spoilt, un-pretentious, great value, and a spectacular location. Better book your Uganda gorilla safari today and experience the true African Wilderness at its best in Bwindi National Park!