Mabira forest in Uganda
Buikwe District is home to the lush rain forest of Mabira, one of the largest remaining natural forests in Uganda encompassing an area of 306 square kilometers. FILE PHOTO

Mabira rain forest lies in Buikwe District, between Jinja and Lugazi, and is one of the largest surviving natural forests in Uganda.

In Buikwe District, between Jinja and Lugazi, lies the lush rain forest of Mabira. Mabira forest is one of the largest surviving natural forests in Uganda, encompassing around 306 sq-km of land. 

Mabira forest reserve is located 26 km from Jinja and 54 km from Kampala. It is home to over 311 tree species, several over 70 years old. 

Due to illegal logging and clearings by populations outside the forest, most of the forest’s outermost trees are under 25 years old. 

Before the late 1800s, Mabira is believed to have reached Central Africa without interruption. Mabira Forest is biologically varied and a haven for numerous creatures and birds, some of which are found nowhere else on earth.

There are 219 butterfly species, 316 bird species, and 97 moth species in the Mabira forest in Uganda. The Nahan’s Francolin and the Papyrus Gonolek are among the several bird species. 79 of Mabira’s bird species are exclusive to Central Africa. 

In addition, the forest is home to red-tailed monkeys, squirrels, baboons, blue duikers, bush babies, fruit bats, Bush pigs, the Tree Hyrax, Bushbuck, Grey Cheeked Mangabey, Bush Babies, and numerous types of snakes. 

As a rain forest, the Mabira forest serves as a major water catchment area for numerous streams and other water bodies, including the River Nile, the River Ssezibwa, Lake Victoria, and Lake Kyoga. 

Mabira forest (1)

In 1932, Mabira was established as a forest reserve in Uganda. Before its protection, the forest was utilized to produce rubber, and portions of the forest land were destroyed to plant coffee. 

Due to poaching, logging, and encroachment by neighbouring people. Forest resources continuously decreased over time, especially between 1971 and 1979. 

Over 50% of the forest cover was lost due to deforestation, encroachment, and the establishment of sugar and tea plantations. 

With the return of peace in 1985, farmers unlawfully occupying the forest were evicted and vigorous reforestation efforts were started. 

In addition to the Ugandan government, intergovernmental organizations and other agencies did everything they could to restore the forest and develop ecotourism for the benefit of the communities living on the forest’s periphery.

Activities in the Mabira forest

mabira forest activities

Mabira forest draws the majority of Uganda’s forest-seeking tourists. The activities to do in the forest include nature walks, biking, birding, wildlife observation, learning about other cultures, or just relaxing and camping or having a picnic. 

Mabira forest is also a great place to find out how to protect natural resources and endangered species. The extensive trails allow visitors to explore the forest reserve on foot, motorcycle, or bicycle.

Birding

Mabira Forest Reserve is home to more than 315 kinds of birds, making it an ideal location for bird watching. Mabira provides the opportunity to observe 46% of Uganda’s bird species. 

Some of the species you might see are the African Pied Hornbill, the Blue-throated Roller, the Afep Pigeon, the African Dwarf-kingfisher, the African Shrike-flycatcher, the Black-and-white-casqued Hornbill, the Black-shouldered Nightjar, the Dusky Long-tailed Cuckoo, the Forest Woodhoopoe, the Green-breasted Pitta and the Grey Parrot. 

Many birdwatchers in Mabira forest are familiar with The Grassland Trail. This trail runs through a region with several fruiting trees that attract a great number of forest birds. 

Since the route is well-marked, birdwatchers can travel on their own, but a guide will make the trip more memorable by identifying the species based on their sounds.

Mountain Biking

Rather than walking through the complicated routes, one can rent a mountain bike and complete all the trails in a single day.

Using a mountain bike will allow you to leave the forest and explore the nearby communities. You will encounter primates, birds, enormous trees, and people along the journey. 

The greatest bicycles may be rented in Jinja, however, Griffin Falls Camp also rents out bicycles. It costs about UGX 40,000 to rent a bicycle.

Nature Walks

Mabira’s nature walks allow guests to appreciate the forest’s serenity and enchanting noises. 

You can go into the forest on your own, but the greatest experience is with a guide who is knowledgeable about the forest, including its ancient trees, butterflies, water bodies, plants, creatures, and birds. 

There are 4 trails within the forest: the yellow trail (12km), the Red trail (33km), and the White trail (5km). All of the trails can be completed in one day by bike, but most people start with just one or two trails. 

During the Nature walk, you can see more than 312 different kinds of trees in Mabira. Some of the tree species are Warbughia, Ugandanesis, Mililia Exclesa, and Cordia Millenii.

Monkey tracking

Uganda Mangabey Monkeys

The Uganda Mangabey Monkey, also known as the Lophocebus Ugandae, is the main attraction for tracking primates in the Mabira forest. This primate is exclusive to the Mabira forest, certain regions of Tanzania, and a few other parts of Uganda. 

The visibility of the Uganda Mangabey Monkeys is entirely dependent on season and fruit availability. During times of fruit scarcity, they prefer to migrate frequently in quest of food. Three groups are now accustomed to and receptive to tourism. 

The tracking of the Ugandan Mangabey Monkey is led by a knowledgeable guide who participated in the habituation process. In addition to the Uganda Mangabey Monkeys, it is possible to observe the red-tailed and Vervet Monkeys. 

Zip-lining

The Mabira forest zipline is designed to go over the treetops, providing a clear view of the expansive forest canopies. The used equipment conforms to international specifications and was procured in the United States. 

A crew of Peace Corps Volunteers assisted in the construction of the facility and then instructed Ugandans in its maintenance. There are morning and afternoon sessions of ziplining. 

The morning session begins at 8 a.m. and concludes at noon, whilst the afternoon session runs from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Accessing the forest canopy allows you to observe a variety of forest animals, including birds, monkeys, and squirrels. Ziplining costs UGX 60,000 for Ugandans and $50 for non-Ugandans.

In addition to nature walks, biking, primate viewing, ziplining, and birding, visitors to Mabira forest can also choose to identify butterflies, visit the Environmental Research Centre, camp or have picnics. 

The picnic sites are well-organized and provide access to forest animals such as primates and birds. There is also a picnic walk that begins at the picnic area and traverses several forest streams and ancient trees for 15 to 20 minutes. 

Camping and picnicking are more enjoyable during the dry season which runs from December to February. 

The hotels arrange for locals to perform cultural dances and other sorts of entertainment. If you are interested, you may also purchase local artworks as mementoes.

How to get there

road mabira forest

The distance from Kampala city to Mabira forest is about 54km. You can use public means by getting a taxi from the old taxi park in Kampala. 

The taxi takes the Kampala-Jinja Road straight up to Mabira forest. It costs UGX 8,000. If there is no traffic jam, it takes roughly one and half hours to reach the forest. The trip could take up to two hours due to traffic. 

Those travelling from Jinja to Mabira forest can take a taxi that stops at the renowned Najjembe market. It is a 20-minute drive. This market is in the heart of the forest.

Accommodation in the Mabira forest

In Mabira Forest, most of the accommodation options are constructed so that tourists can enjoy the forest’s breathtaking view.

Mabira Rainforest Lodge

Mabira Rainforest Lodge

Located in the heart of the Mabira Rainforest, the Mabira Forest Lodge first opened its doors to guests in 2007. It is located close to the Ecotourism Centre and is perhaps the finest lodge in Mabira. 

It is operated by GeoLodges Uganda in partnership with Silverback Lodge in Bwindi Forest, Nile Safari Camp in Murchison Falls National Park, and Jacana Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park

The 15 luxury villas are spacious and were designed to take advantage of the breathtaking scenery. There are 5 double rooms and 7 twin rooms available. Each room has a veranda overlooking the gorgeous forest and is equipped with a kitchenette. 

The lodge is a popular choice for individuals who desire to spend the weekend in a tranquil and secluded location while still enjoying high levels of comfort. 

The lodge contains a large restaurant and two swimming pools, one for residents and the other for day-trippers. Professionally trained chefs prepare both regional and international dishes at the restaurant. 

Massages and saunas are available upon request for those who desire them. Residents of the Lodge can also go on nature walks and birdwatching excursions organised by the lodge.

Griffin Falls Camp

Griffin Falls Camp, also known as Mabira Forest Camp, is constructed along the trail leading to Griffins Falls. The camp is operated by the Mabira Forest Integrated Community Organization and is located about 10 kilometres from the Kampala-Jinja highway. 

Griffin Falls Camp is an ideal location for appreciating everything the wonderful wilderness has to offer. The camp offers quality camping spots with campfires and barbecues on the weekends. 

The Griffins Falls Camp staff is highly courteous and competent. By reserving with this establishment, a portion of your payment will be utilised to fund projects in the surrounding villages of Mabira forest. 

During your time at the camp, you can learn about their community-based initiatives, such as tree planting, sanitation, education, and HIV/AIDS training.

The Mabira Forest Ecotourism Centre

The centre features three thatched houses known as bandas that provide tourists with solitude and comfort at a cheap price. 

There is one Banda with enough for a six-person family and two with double beds. Each banda is equipped with a bathroom, a toilet, and a balcony. All bandas are constructed in forest tones and offer magnificent views of the forest. 

In addition to the Bandas, the ecotourism centre has built up a campsite with space for up to 12 tents. The campsite is located in a forest clearing and features bathing and toilet facilities. 

An additional camp shelter has been erected next to the campsite in case of severe rain. There are added perks for those who choose to stay at the Visitors Information Centre. 

Mabira forest-related handicrafts and merchandise, such as tourist maps, birding books, postcards, and T-shirts, are available for purchase.

The Ecotourism Site is located about 500 metres from the road-head along a tiny dirt road leading from the Najjembe trading centre.