Okong Joshua 

Okong Joshua runs Shaka Tours & Travel in Entebbe, Uganda. Just outside Kampala on the edge of the magnificent Lake Victoria.

He has been running tours in Uganda for 3 years, and has just been nominated for Young Tourism Achiever of the Year in the Ekkula Tourism Awards 2017. You can vote for him HERE.

So I thought I’d find out about the Pearl of Africa from the local expert…

How did you get into running your own travel and tours company?

I have always loved travel, ever since I was a kid. At 12 years old I was part of the Wildlife Club. I would never sleep at night if we we had a trip the next day because of excitement. In high school I decided to start organising camping for my friends during the holidays, something I did right up to my time at university. Then in my second year at university I decided to take it to the next level and registered my own travel company.

What was the Wildlife Club?

The Wildlife Club was a club that helped to teach children about nature and conservation and wildlife. On top of that we used to visit the zoo to learn about these animals, and we could get in for free because we were members. As a kid in Uganda it was very fun. I loved animals so much that I almost lost an eye trying to milk a cow. I still have a scar next to my eye. It was always interesting. That is why this year I want to start teaching kids about conservation. I am also writing a comic book about it.

What sort of tours do you offer at Shaka?

We offer safaris, gorilla tracking, mountain hiking, chimpanzee tracking, birding trips, culture tours, culinary tours, national park explorations, city tours, and many others. We even organise hotel reservations and airport transfers.

What is your most popular tour?

Definitely gorilla tracking, but the culinary tours, cultural tours and national park explorations are also very popular.

What makes a visit to Uganda different from visiting other African nations? What makes Uganda special?

Uganda is entirely blessed by nature. It is in Jinja, Uganda where you find the source the longest river in the world, the River Nile. Uganda also holds the biggest part of the largest lake in Africa, Lake Victoria. Mount Stanley in the Rwenzori Mountains is the third tallest mountain in Africa standing at 5109 metres high and is snow capped throughout the year. Over 1076 bird species are found in Uganda, which is 50% of the species in Africa and 10% of the world’s, and of course Uganda is home to a large number of our famous gorillas.

The people of Uganda are also believed to be some of the most hospitable people in the world, which definitely makes Uganda special.

What has been your scariest moment on a tour?

My scariest moment was on a gorilla tracking tour. During the tour we are normally advised to walk in a line. So on this cool morning we hit the forest to track these lovely creatures and once we found them everyone was happily taking pictures. Before I knew it, I felt an unusual presence behind me and on turning around I saw a gorilla was standing just next to me. At that moment I felt like my heart had been pumped with magma from a volcanic mountain and my legs started trembling uncontrollably. Thank God the park rangers had briefed before the tracking that we shouldn’t panic on such encounters, and before I knew it the gorilla simply walked away peacefully.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened on a tour?

My first time bungee jumping in Jinja. Oh my God I can never forget this day. I set out one morning to go bungee jumping thinking it was just like eating a piece of cake. On reaching the jumping point however I immediately saw death standing next to me, but remember I had come with friends, so I didn’t want to show them that I was scared because they would make me the topic of the trip. Boldly I jumped into the fire chamber and God knows what happened next with this feeling I had in space, but my stomach couldn’t hold it any more to the point that I…er…just messed myself ha ha! From that day my friends nicknamed me ‘Bungee’.

What animals can you see on your tours?

We get to see a variety of animals here on different tours.  It is not just gorillas in Uganda. We see lions, but most interestingly the tree climbing lions in the Ishasha region of Queen Elizabeth National Park. There are also giraffes, buffaloes, hippos, impalas, warthogs, zebras, chimpanzees, monkeys, leopards, Nile crocodiles, elephants and many more.

Is there a poaching problem in Uganda? Have you ever encountered them on tours or otherwise?

Yes, there is a poaching problem in Uganda. Elephants are targeted mostly for their ivory which is exported to various countries. Monkeys are also poached for their meat which is eaten in some African countries. I have never had an encounter with poachers although I have ever found an elephant which had just been affected by the brutal activities of the poachers. It hadn’t been killed thank God, but it’s tusks had been cut out and it had been left unconscious.

Which is your favourite of Uganda’s animals?

I like the giraffe because of its humble nature if not disturbed, however its dark side is evident once you get on its wrong side!

Do you see the same gorillas or chimpanzees on your tours? Have you gotten to know any in particular?

I see gorillas and chimpanzees on different trips. In the national parks, we tend to see different gorillas because they are divided into different families, such as the Nshongi, Nkuringo, Mishaya, Oruzingo, and Mubare Gorilla families. However at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary which protects orphaned and rescued chimpanzees, I have gotten to know a few chimpanzees by name. There is Africa, Eazy, Surprise (the name was as a result of being delivered by the mother without even the caretakers noticing the pregnancy), and Eddy (he is a failed leader of the chimpanzees who still wants to show authority by throwing stones at anyone).

Which is the most dangerous animal you encounter on tours?

It was an elephant on a game drive in Murchison Falls National Park, it almost charged at our car on sensing an unusual sound. elephants have been affected a lot by poaching so they never trust any unfamiliar movement around them.

What is your favourite part of your cultural tours?

Food tasting. I just love eating, most especially our local cuisines. Time for food tasting gets my stomach rumbling!

What do the tourists like the most on the cultural tours?

Most of the tourist love the dancing and singing. It’s just fun seeing them try out our cultural dances with their not-seen-before dance steps.

What is your favourite nationality to have on your tours and why?

To be honest I like all the nationalities because there is something interesting about each of them. I am too much of a social guy, so I easily get along with all nationalities.

Is camping in Uganda ever dangerous?

I can’t say it’s dangerous but it is rather fun and thrilling. It’s always good to try out something new in the wild. Imagine spending the night next to wild animals! I once had a close encounter during camping a few years back, I had moved out of the tent to make a short phone call when I noticed a wild animal in the dark. I didn’t even get to clearly understand which animal it was because I took off as fast as my legs could take me.

What is the best bit about camping in Uganda?

It brings you closer to the wild. It is very interesting to sleep next to some of the most feared animals in the world such as lions.

What would people be surprised to hear about Uganda?

Many people think Uganda is this kind of backward country left behind by modernisation, with dusty roads all over and grass thatched houses. However Uganda is like any country in Europe with clean tarmacked roads and tall buildings.

Central and East African Nations have had their share of troubles over the years, is Uganda safe and at peace now?

Uganda is very safe now with very tight security to overcome any disorders. Security wise, Uganda is one of the most beefed up in Africa.

You do dancing on the cultural tours, which nationality are the best dancers? (Other than Ugandans obviously)

Jamaicans know how to bring on their dance steps to be honest. I had a Jamaican on one trip who blew me away!

Which are the worst dancers?

Haha, lions! Human beings can all at least shake!

What is the best time of year to visit Uganda and why?

Uganda is an year-round travel destination, however sometimes drier months such as May to August and November to December are better to visit.

If you could recommend tourists do only ONE thing on their visit to Uganda, what would it be and why?

It has to be the gorilla tracking. The feeling of being next to these brothers and sisters of mankind is like no other in this world.

What is your favourite thing about being a tour operator?

I get to meet people from all over the world and make new friends. This also helps me to become exposed to how people from various countries do their things which is always good for business. I also get to travel a lot and meet wild animals. Haha, I love these creatures!

What is your least favourite thing about Uganda?

The fact that I can never get enough of my Uganda and I could never trade it for any other country!

More about Okong Joshua and Shaka Tours

Shaka Tours Website
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By Sam