“I love nature, so I find every forest in its own way. Some are higher in their biodiversity value and beauty. If I were to choose, I like Budongo Central Forest Reserve because of its cultural attachment with the Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom and it is a forest that’s highly researched on so its visibility is good,” says Sylvia Tumusiime, the Ecotourism officer at National Forestry Authority (NFA).
NFA, formed in 2004, sustainably managed forests in Uganda, including promoting of ecotourism through activities like nature walks, birding, chimpanzee tracking, mountain climbing and more
The Royal Mile is one of popular ecotourism activities in Budongo Forest and Tumusiime is particularly drawn to the story of the Royal Mile for its historical heritage and the story of the area king, John Chwa II Kabaleega, the 23rd king of Bunyoro-Kitara, who ruled 1870 to 1899.
Omukama Kabalega used to walk the mile long stretch to relax his mind and sometimes went on hunting sprees. The mile lies at the edge of the Albertine Rift and is attached to Murchison Falls National Park in the south.
With the cultural attachment, the people in the area- mostly Banyoro- naturally conserve the area for posterity which promotes its sustainability. The Royal Mile is an enviably beautiful place where you are sure to enjoy peace and tranquillity for a unique bonding with nature in its pristine beauty and condition as the birds chirp and sing.
If you’re looking for a place to listen to your thoughts, there is the place that is characterised with numerous East African mahogany trees where chimpanzees, monkeys and baboons have historically called home.
According to the Great Adventures Uganda, the Royal Mile is popular for two endemic bird species, namely the Puvel’s illadopsis and the yellow-footed flycatcher as well as the Hairy-breasted Barbet, Blue-breasted Kingfisher, Nathan’s Francolin, Cassin’s Spinetail, Fire-crested Alethe and more.
Tgrafton from the United Kingdom writes on TripAdvisor, “Royal Mile offers a lovely gentle forest walk combined with wonderful birding and great for anyone who has an interest in nature or just to enjoy the forest. For birders a lot happens in the very high canopy so bring a scope and do some neck stretching exercises before you arrive! We were very fortunate to have a ranger guide Raymond with us who has fantastic knowledge of the wildlife in the area and combined with a stop at a nearby grassland site we were able to see over 70 bird species in just a few hours.”
Budongo Central Forest Reserve is made up of four 6 forest blocks: -Siba, Waibira, Busaju, Kaniyo-Pabidi, Biiso, Nyakafunjo. Budongo Central Forest Reserve remains a popular attraction with foreign tourists owing to its high biodiversity value while Mabira Central Forest Reserve is popular among domestic tourists for its proximity from Kampala, of about 56 kilometers, and 26 kilometers from Jinja town, on the eastern tourism circuit.
As a way of promoting ecotourism, National Forestry Authority has given concessions in Mabira to Rainforest Lodge and Mafiko Investment Group which manages zip lining adventure activities then Budongo Eco Lodge managed by Great Lakes Safaris/Uganda Lodges.
There are a few others who are in the construction phase as well as those which are under Environmental Impact Assessment. The authority has also advertised a concession to attract developers to put up a stopover and accommodation in Mabira Forest and according to Tumusiime if the facilities are put up, it is expected to draw in more tourists thanks to its strategic location of Mabira Forest which is home to over 300 tree species, an estimates 315 species of birds, 218 butterfly species, 97 moth species and 23 small mammal species.
World Bank and NFA are undertaking a project called Investment in Forests in Protected Areas for Climate Smart Development which is mainly going to cover the Albertine area of Kalinzu, Echuya, Bugoma and Budongo with several products to be developed, including a canopy walk in Budongo Central Forest Reserve.
Considering the feedback National Forestry Authority gets from tourism operators and tourists, Kalinzu Central Forest Reserve is a favourite chimpanzee tracking area because fewer numbers are allowed in; 12 visitors per shift- 12 in the morning and 12 in the evening in order not to stress the ape tourism treasures.
“The National Forestry Authority uses ecotourism as a strategy for conservation because we have few staff but manage a huge estate of 506 central forest reserves. We believe that every forest is a tourism attraction. We have eight active tourist attractions, namely Kalinzu, Echuya, Mabira, Mpanga and Budongo systems which includes Bugoma, Kaniyo Pabidi, Enjiro and the Royal Mile,”the ecotourism officer at NFA further explains.
The premium product in the ecotourism sites of Kalinzu and Budongo central forests reserves, is chimpanzee tracking. Bugoma is not yet open as chimpanzees are being habituated.
Tumusiime expects the site will be open for tourism in a period of three years. For now, tourists are welcome to do guided nature walks and bird watching in all forest reserves. For tourists who enjoy biking tours, Mpanga Central Forest Reserve is a good option. A tourist might want to take the Batwa Tour in Echuya and mountain climbing in the Karamoja forested areas.
Daniel Irunga, a senior marketing manager at Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) observes that Uganda’s best example of ecotourism is co-existence of both tourism and environmental efforts in the Bwindi–Mgahinga conservation area.
“The Batwa experience and UWA’s contribution in environmental conservation is a world wonder. Short films on the coexistence of humans and wildlife have been produced by Panasonic to confirm this harmony,” he explains.
By definition, Uganda’s 506 central forest reserves provide ecotourism in an undisturbed haven of greenery, strong buttresses of trees that tower in different forms, including canopies and leafy grounds as well as a variety of plants.
In the forests, a tourist can experience ecotourism, first hand as ecology blossoms in an environment where it should continue to be sustainably preserved and conserved for present and future generations so that tourism benefits from it with visitation for those who seek to connect with nature.
The Uganda Tourism Centre tips that to foster and promote ecotourism, carry back all non-degradable litter such as empty bottles, tins, plastic bags etc.
These must not litter the environment or be buried. They must be disposed of in authorized dustbins. Additionally, cut noise pollution in nature camps, sanctuaries, and wildlife parks, and in case temporary toilets are set-up near campsites, after defecation, cover with mud or sand. Make sure that the spot is at least 30 meters away from the water source.