In the far southwest of the country, along the well-trod tourist path, lies Kisoro a quiet and unassuming town of about 13,000 people. The town is an ideal destination for a weeklong getaway for those looking for a holiday retreat without leaving Uganda.
The drive from Kampala takes about seven hours – assuming you aren’t stopping for pictures at the equator or lunch in Mbarara. The former can be skipped unless you’re hankering for a loo break, a decent cup of coffee and a browse around Aidchild’s gallery. The latter is a must as it’s almost exactly half way in your drive and you’ll need to stretch your legs. Decent eateries are limited however so you might want to consider packing a picnic and bringing it with you.
The roads are good to Kabale but road construction the rest of the way to Kisoro makes progress slow. This portion of the road can become muddy and slippery in the rainy season so prepare for slow going while avoiding tractors and trucks hauling road construction materials. On the other hand, the views of the Virunga mountains cannot be beat!
Accommodation should be chosen based on your planned itinerary. If you’re looking for a base for a number of activities then Traveller’s Rest is always a favourite with their beautiful garden looking out on the mountain tops, a decent bar and a roaring fireplace.
While most tourists only come for a day or two to visit the mountain gorillas anyone who can stay longer will not be disappointed. Use Kisoro as a base the following day-trip options:
Gorilla Trekking: Bwindi ‘Impenetrable’ National Park is about 1.5 hours drive from Kisoro so gorilla trekking usually means an early start. Permits are necessary and cost $500. If you haven’t decided whether to visit the gorillas by the time you leave Kampala there’s no need to worry. You can visit the UWA office in Kisoro and find out if there are any vacancies on the scheduled twice-a-day treks. If it’s the high season or you want to be assured a spot make sure to book it through a reputable travel agency before leaving Kampala.
Hiking in Mgahinga: Some people do gorilla trekking in Mgahinga but this family of gorillas tends to split its time between Rwanda and Uganda – something more difficult for visitors to do – so save Mgahinga for some amazing hiking. The park headquarters is only a half an hour’s drive from Kisoro, recently renovated and worth a stop and introduction by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. (Make sure to note the beautiful rain chains collecting rainwater). Visitors can choose from a number of hikes varying between a few hours and several days given that all eight of the Virunga volcanoes can be hiked.
Spend a day in Kisoro: If you want a place to catch your breath and just take in the calm and relax you can’t beat Kisoro. Not a lot happens here but that might be exactly what you’re looking for. Take a walk around the town, stop in some small shops, or just sit in Traveller’s Rest’s garden. Who says a holiday has to be non-stop?
Lake Bunyonyi: Just 1.5 hours from Kisoro is Lake Bunyonyi which could be the second deepest lake in Africa. (You can also find it on the 5,000 UGX shilling note). Bunyoni is noted for its bird watching and canoe trekking. For more on the lake and surrounds check out In Your Pocket’s Bunyonyi guide here.
A few last tips: Remember to prepare for cold – temperatures do drop at night and most hotels aren’t heated. Mornings can also be chilly and foggy. Also, prepare for mud in the rainy season. There is an airport which mostly accommodates charters and is rarely used to access from Kampala.