UGANDA SAFARIS incl GORILLA TREKKING - THE ULTIMATE GUIDE
Uganda is marketed as the ‘Pearl of Africa’; adopting a term coined by Sir Winston Churchill in his famous tribute to Uganda…
“For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life, bird, insect, reptile, beast - for vast scale - Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.”
The strikingly-beautiful country remains unspoilt and untamed, despite growing in population as a safari destination extraordinaire. It’s home to about half the world’s population of mountain gorillas which is one of the most threatened animals species in Africa. It’s estimated that there are fewer than 1 000 of these magnificent primates remaining in the world. View all our Uganda Safaris and Tours.
Most of the Uganda gorillas are found in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west region while a small number are found in the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. The latter is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a place of sanctuary for the mountain gorillas.
A typical Uganda travel package takes you from the hustle and bustle of Entebbe and Kampala to the shores of Lake Victoria, the forests of Kibale and the banks of the mighty Nile River. You’ll trek through impenetrable forests, stand at the foot of the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, stay in luxury hotels nestled on the slopes of ancient volcanoes, dip your toes in the source of the Nile River and straddle the equator.
Uganda has also earned international acclaim for being one of the best birding destinations in the world. It’s diverse biospheres are home to over a 1 000 recorded bird species, many of which are endemic to the region as well as listed as highly endangered and threatened.
If this doesn’t whet your appetite for a wonderful safari tour of Uganda, maybe the idea of enjoying delightful boating safaris and fishing expeditions on the Nile River in Uganda will; or maybe you’ll go for the hiking trails, white-water rafting, volcanic treks, mountain biking and rock climbing.
Uganda holidays are all about spectacular scenery, incredible wildlife sightings, warm and friendly people and a rich cultural experience. Whether you’re sitting silently in an impenetrable forest a few meters away from a magnificent mountain gorilla, white-water rafting down the Nile River or eating a “Rolex” in a busy street market in Kampala… Uganda will wave it’s magic wand and you’ll fall in love with its breathtaking beauty.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT UGANDA
Uganda is famous for its mountain gorillas and incredible national parks but one thing people always mention when reminiscing about a holiday in Uganda is the warmth and friendliness of its people. You’re guaranteed a warm welcome when your arrive at Entebbe International Airport and everywhere else you touch down on during your safari tour of Uganda.
There are few standout reasons to visit the country but this list is just scratching the surface of what to see and do on a safari tour to Uganda:
The Rwenzori Mountains in western Uganda on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) create a spectacular backdrop to the country’s natural wonders. The Rwenzori Mountains rival the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya in terms of height and altitude.
The fabled “Mountains of the Moon” is regarded as one of the finest mountain-climbing destinations in the world and attract hundreds of extreme outdoor enthusiasts to the region every year.
Lakes and rivers
Uganda is a landlocked country but it’s not short of large water sources. It falls within the Great Lakes region of Africa and is world-renowned for its collection of magnificent lake systems.
Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Uganda and dominates the southern ecosystem. It’s also one of the largest lakes in the world and contains a number of substantial islands. Other famous lakes in the region include Lake Albert, Lake Edward and the smaller Lake George as well as Lake Kyoga found in central Uganda.
It’s a bit odd to talk about a beach holiday in Uganda but that’s pretty much what you get when you visit one of the many strikingly-beautiful islands in Lake Victoria or Lake Bunyonyi. The world-renowned Ssese Islands archipelago in Lake Victoria offers visitors the perfect escape to an exotic tropical island in Africa.
Unfortunately, the combination of crocodiles, hippos and bilharzia means swimming is not recommend but the hotels in Lake Victoria have beautiful pools overlooking the shoreline and you can also spend lazy hours out on the water in a dugout canoe.
A Uganda safari is not your typical Big 5 safari in Africa but rather a primate safari tour. Uganda is one of three countries in the world where you can enjoy the ultimate life experience of sitting silently with the endangered mountain gorilla in its natural forest habitat. The other two countries are Rwanda and the DRC.
Gorilla trekking take you into the impenetrable Bwindi forests which is home to half of the last remaining gorillas in the world; which is estimated to be less than 1 000. It’s a privilege and a life-changing experience to sit quietly amongst these magnificent species and contemplate how perilous their existence is in the protected region.
If the cost of gorilla trekking in Uganda is a bit steep for your budget, it’s just as much fun to go chimpanzee trekking in the forests. The chimps are always on the go so you’re guaranteed an exhilarating day keeping up with them as they move through the dense vegetation.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is not for everyone. It’s expensive and requires a certain level of fitness to get through the impenetrable forests to where the gorillas are spending their day. It’s just as much fun to visit Uganda for chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest National Park.
If that’s also a bit taxing, you can book a day tour to Ngama Island to spend time with our closest living relatives. The trip to Ngama Island includes feeding the chimps and interacting with them as well as a lovely hike on the island. You basically act as a chimpanzee caregiver for a day.
The chimpanzee sanctuary at Ngama Island offers volunteering jobs for visitors ranging from one week to one month.
Uganda is home to over 1 050 recorded bird species which represents about 10% of the world’s bird population. They’re found in habitats ranging from dense forests and swamps to open savannah grasslands, agricultural lands and lakes.
There are less than five birding safari destinations in the world where you’ll find over 600 bird species in one park alone. Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda boasts more than 620 recorded bird species and has earned itself the reputation as being arguably the best birding destinations in Africa and one of the best in the world.
Uganda is a culturally diverse country with over 50 ethnic tribes; each with their own unique customs and age-old traditions. The country still features monarchical kingdoms which includes the famous Buganda Kingdom; regarded as one of the most powerful African kingdoms still in existence.
The Buganda Kingdom heritage includes the Kasubi Royal Tombs which are recognised by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites; and other strong kingdoms in Uganda which include Bunyoro, Tooro and Ankole.
A cultural tour of Uganda is a fascinating insight into these ancient kingdoms as well as modern cultural beliefs, traditions and cuisine. Some of the unique cultural festivals have gained international fame and have become sought-after destinations for Uganda tourism.
BRIEF HISTORY OF UGANDA
The Bantu people arrived in the region of what is now Uganda a few thousand years ago. They set up several kingdoms which included the Empire of Kitara, the Kingdom of Buganda and the Kingdom of Ankole. They were a hunter-gather tribe and lived in relative harmony until outsiders entered their mountainous territory.
Arab traders arrived in the 1830s, followed by the first missionaries and British explorers in the 1860s. The country fell under British Rule in 1888 when the British government gave the British East Africa Company control of Uganda. It became an official British protectorate (colony) in 1894 and remained a British colony until 1962 when Uganda became an independent nation.
The British introduced cotton and tea growing to the region and by 1914 Uganda was exporting large amounts of cotton and tea as well as coffee. After World War II, the governor Sir John Hall promoted mining in Uganda and in 1954, a hydroelectric plant was opened at Owen Falls on the Nile.
The missionaries introduced a formal schooling system into Uganda and literacy among local people became more common. From the end of the 19th century, many Asians had migrated to Uganda and formed a middle class of traders and shopkeepers.
Uganda became independent from Britain on 9 October 1962 and the first constitution was federalist. The first President of Uganda was Mutesa, King of Buganda and the first Prime Minister was Milton Obote. However, Obote had no intention of sharing power with the President and in 1966 he staged a coup. President Mutesa fled the country and Obote took over; becoming a ruthless dictator.
In January 1971, Obote was in Singapore attending a meeting when Idi Amin staged a coup. Amin took control of the country in 1971 and ran it as a despot dictator. About 300 000 people were killed by Amin’s government and the Asian population was forced to flee the country; leaving behind their properties and wealth which Amin shared among his cronies. Amin is regarded as one of the worst political tyrants of the 20th century.
With the loss of the skills of the Asian middle class, the murders of many hardworking Ugandan labourers and professionals aswell as widespread corruption and international sanctions, the Uganda economy went into a downward spiral. Infrastructure such as roads and water supply deteriorated and the people went through a period of extreme hardship.
To detract attention from the poor state of affairs in his country, Amin invaded Tanzania in October 1978. It was an act that would ultimately destroy him. The Tanzanian army retaliated and Amin’s forces fled. Amin was brought to justice for his terrible crimes but he fled abroad and went into exile. He died in 2003.
Sadly, Amin’s downfall did not bring peace and stability to Uganda. Obote was reinstated as Prime Minister in a rigged election whereupon he set up the National Resistance Army (NRA) which controlled large parts of western Uganda and eventually the capital of Uganda and parts of the north.
Obote oversaw an oppressive regime; imprisoning anyone who opposed him and muzzling the press. Western journalists were expelled from the country.
Obote’s armed forces were eventually persuaded to lay down their arms and a form of political stability was established during the 1990s. The economy grew with the return of many professionals and Asians who’d been forced to flee the country under Amin and Obote rule.
Today, Uganda remains a strong agricultural hub in Africa and a large exporter of coffee. Its economy has been growing steadily and there’s a general sense of peace and stability in the country. Uganda tourism is a strong driver of political stability.
IS UGANDA SAFE TO VISIT?
It’s quite remarkable how safe Uganda is to visit after decades of tyrannical rule by murdering dictators. In fact, Uganda is regarded in travel circles as one of the safest and most stable and secure countries in Africa.
Uganda is a safe country to visit for a safari tour if you take the usual safety precautions as you would in any country in Africa, particularly in the capital city of Kampala.
Persistent problems with petty theft, credit card fraud and overcharging is common but then again, you’ll find these issues are prevalent in any major tourist destination in Africa. There are layers of security at hotels in Uganda as well as restaurants, banks, shopping malls and popular Uganda tourist attractions.
The modern government of Uganda is fully aware of how important it is to keep international tourists safe so there’s a strong police presence in the country ranging from Tourism Police to the traffic police. If you read stuff online about how dangerous Uganda is; you’ll find it’s mostly fake news.
The police in Uganda are extremely tough on terrorism and are not bound by the laws and courts as in the West. From a terrorism perspective, you’re a lot safer in Uganda than you are in certain countries in Europe.
The safest place to be in Uganda is on safari. This is due to the measures the hotel industry and reputable tour operators go to ensure the well-being and safety of Uganda tourists. Security at both Kigali International and Entebbe International Airport is extremely tight. This is for your protection and as a result, there have been no incidences at international airports involving foreign tourists for many years.
Security at the hotels in Uganda and the luxury safari lodges make the safety of their guests a priority. Security is integrated into everyday life in Uganda and reputable operators offering Uganda tours will only select luxury lodges in Uganda that deliver on their promise of safety and security.
THE PEOPLE OF UGANDA
At last count (2018), the United Nations estimates the current population of Uganda is 44.8 million people. It’s an extremely diverse nation made up of five major ethnic groups and some 30 spoken languages and dialects. At the same time, Uganda is a nation of solidarity, equal opportunity and tolerance.
Cultural tours of Uganda are as popular and an interesting add-on to a Big 5 safari tour and gorilla trekking. With over 56 tribal communities featuring distinct customs and age-old traditions, it’s fascinating spending time in Uganda discovering its cultural diversity.
Monarchial kingdoms are still a prominent cultural feature in Uganda. For instance, the ancient Buganda Kingdom is one of the strongest kingdoms out of all those in existence in Africa. The Kasubi Royal Tombs are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a detour for a day visit.
As would be expected, the cultural diversity of Uganda has led to authentic cuisines which have become signature Ugandan dishes. This includes ‘luwombo’ which is a traditional Baganda dish; ‘eshabwe’ which is a Banyankole sauce prepared without fire; ‘atapa’ which is millet bread; and ‘marakwang’ which is a sour vegetable.
The people of Uganda are world-renowned for being remarkably hospitable; warm and welcoming of its foreign guests and tolerant of its own people’s cultural heritages. The distinguishing customs, beliefs and traditions of the people of Uganda are intertwined to create a rich cultural tapestry.
Uganda’s cultural evolution is rooted in the Bantu inhabitants which arrived in the region in the 10th century. Today, the Bantu constitute half of the Ugandan population and dominate the central and southern parts of the country.
The north and north-eastern regions were inhabited by the Nilo-hamites and Nilotes which can be traced back to Ethiopia. They were a semi-nomadic group and their migratory habits led them to split and settle in different parts of the country.
The Sudanic speakers from West-Nile form another group. The Lugbara, Madi, Bari, and Metu are counted as part of this group. They are sometimes referred to as the Madi-Moru group.
You’ll also find indigenous tribal groups in Uganda such as the Batwa Pygmies who are former forest dwellers, now living on the forest fringes in south-west Uganda.
FAST FACTS ABOUT UGANDA
Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa. It’s the second-largest landlocked country in the world; second-only to Ethiopia.
Uganda is bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania.
Uganda falls within the Great Lakes region of Africa; with one-quarter of its land surface made up of lakes and rivers. Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa and a large portion of it is located in Uganda. It’s fed by the Nile River.
The estimated population of Uganda is 44.8 million. What is striking is about half of its population is 14 years and younger.
The United Nations estimates there are 52 ethic tribal groups in Uganda.
The official languages of Uganda are English and Swahili, although the majority of people speak Luganda. English is spoken in Uganda with a very different dialect and is quite different to what you’ll hear in the rest of the world. It’s referred to as ‘Uglish’.
One third (33%) of Ugandans practice Roman Catholicism and the other third are Protestants.
Agriculture accounts for one-quarter of Uganda’s GDP with tea, tobacco and cotton being the three major cash crops. Uganda is the second-largest producer of bananas in the world, second only to India. The country produces an estimated 11 million tons of bananas annually.
Coffee is the main export product of Uganda, although it’s mainly exported to other countries in Africa rather than countries in Europe and the Americas.
The bird features on the country’s flag is the Grey Crowned Crane which is the national animal of Uganda.
Uganda is home to approximately 5 000 chimpanzees which is more than any other country in East Africa.
For every tree cut down in Uganda, three more are planted. Uganda is suffering from the effects of severe deforestation and the government has implemented projects to stop the problem. It’s extremely important that the forests of Uganda are protected as they are home to many rare and endangered species, including chimpanzees and gorillas as well as endemic birds, plants and flowers.
Uganda has 6.8% of the world’s butterfly species. Their natural habitats include the open savanna plains and the Rwenzori Mountains. Butterfly tours are one of the many fascinating things to do in Uganda.
The largest volcano base in the world in located in Uganda. The base of Mount Elgon is so large that it supports its own very large ecosystem and where you’ll find the Mount Elgon National Park. It’s a popular tourist destination in Uganda for hikes which take outdoor adventurers through lush forests that are home to over 300 bird species and an array of animals that include elephants, leopards, buffalo and bush pigs.
Known as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is a wonderland of majestic mountains, incredible lakes, outstanding national parks and striking mountain scenery. It’s renowned for its ecological diversity as well as its cultural diversity.
Whether you’re in Uganda to find gorillas, birds or butterflies or hiking and kayaking or on a tour of its cultural sites; the country is bound to cast its magical spell over you and make you fall in love with it over and over again.
It’s a year-round safari destination with a tropical climate and no distinct summer or winter season due to its location to the equator. However, it’s best to visit Uganda in the dry season; particularly if you are hiking through an impenetrable forest to find gorillas.
The people of Uganda are friendly and welcoming and known for their warm hospitality. With a population made up of 52 ethnic groups, everything from the cuisine to the traditional clothing, tribal customs and cultural beliefs of its people are fascinating.
Places to visit in Uganda range from outstanding national parks and forest reserves to the Great Lakes of the region and their famous islands as well as ancient cultural sites the likes of Kasubi Tombs. There is so much to see and do on a Uganda tour; it’s just a question of what you can squeeze into your Uganda holiday and whether you’ll need to return to visit again to see the rest of the country’s natural wonders.
BWINDI IMPENETRABLE NATIONAL PARK
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Uganda with the main attraction being gorilla trekking. For a pretty steep cost, visitors have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to spend precious time sitting just a few metres away from mountain gorillas.
There are over 300 mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest of which 9 groups (about 116 gorillas) are habituated for tourism and research. The dense forest is also home to an array of animals, over 350 recorded species of birds and unique tribes such as the Batwa and Bakiga pygmies who live on the fringes of the protected forest area.
Spanning some 321 square kilometres and lying at an altitude of between 1 200 and 2 600 meters above sea level, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. It was proclaimed a national park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994.
There are five major rivers which run through a series of steep ridges and valleys in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and flow on into Lake Edward. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most ecologically diverse rain forests which dates back some 25 000 years. The dense forest is rich in fauna and flora, including over 400 plant species.
Luxury hotels and safari lodges in Uganda that provide visitors easy access to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are found in the neighbouring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo. Something to do on a trip to Uganda is a village walking tour which introduces you to the Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy cultures through dance performances, workshops and village walks.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park?
There are two reasons to include the Bwindi Impenetrable Forests on a visit to Uganda; the first is for mountain gorilla trekking and the second is for a birding safari. The Bwindi mountain gorillas are a highlight of a Uganda tour and for birders; the Ruhija sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of the leading birding destinations in Africa.
If the cost of gorilla trekking is too steep for your Uganda holiday budget; you can enjoy a guided walk in the Bwindi rainforest. You should catch a glimpse of the northern double-collared sunbird or the highly threatened Shelly’s crimsonwing as well as the Chapin’s flycatcher, African green broadbill and Uganda’s national bird, the grey crowned crane.
The more adventurous traveller can join the Munyaga river trail which starts in the Buhoma sector at the north gate. The river trail is a wonderful way to get closer to the fauna and flora in the impenetrable forest and the chance to catch sight of the rare and endangered colobus monkeys and blue monkeys.
The Munyaga river trail leads to more than one waterfall and you’ll find along the route a fine selection of butterflies, orchids, tree ferns and epiphytic ferns.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is also where you’ll find the Ankole long-horned cow which has a massive unmistakable cream-white horn that curves elegantly from its base to above the head; forming a sharp pointed end. The Ankole long-horned cows have horns that grow up to 2.5 metres.
The Bwindi region is dominated by ancient volcanic craters that have formed into stunning lakes. One beautiful lake to visit on your Uganda holiday if you’re in the Bwindi area is Lake Bunyonyi. The lava-dammed lake is a beautiful stretch of water with 29 small Uganda islands scattered through the watery region.
One of the islands is ‘Akampene Island’ meaning the ‘Punishment Island’. In the 1940s, unmarried pregnant girls were unceremoniously banished to Akampene Island and left there to either die of starvation or drown trying to swim ashore. They were often saved by poor men who couldn’t afford the price of a virgin bride.
Lake Bunyonyi is one of the safest lakes in Africa so it’s a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Swimming, canoeing and boat rides are popular activities if you’re staying in safari lodge or hotel on Lake Bunyonyi.
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Queen Elizabeth National Park is an iconic conservation area in Uganda and one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. It stretches from the crater-dotted foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains in the north, along the shores of Lake Edward to the remote Ishasha River in the south.
Spanning almost 2 000 square kilometres, Queen Elizabeth National Park extends from Lake George in the north-east to Lake Edward in the south-west and includes the Kazinga Channel which connects the two lakes. It was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park and renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.
The national park boasts a diverse ecosystem ranging from sprawling savanna plains to humid forests, lush wetlands and crystal-clear lakes. It’s also famous for its ‘tree-climbing lions’.
Highlights of a safari tour of the Queen Elizabeth National Park include the Mweya Peninsula, Kazinga Channel and the Ishasha sector in the southern region.
The Mweya Peninsula is located on the northern bank of the Kazinga Channel where it converges with Lake Edward. The area also includes the Channel Track which stretches all the way down to Katunguru gate and across to Kabatoro gate. The dense vegetation is hard to navigate and it’s wise to explore this area with a professional guide.
Kazinga Channel is a 40 metre stretch of land that adjoins Lake George to Lake Edward. You’ll see large numbers of animals, birds and reptiles on the lake shores if you book a Nile cruise. Lake George drains to the southwest into Lake Edward through the Kazinga Channel.
Lake George is part of the Great Lakes system although it’s not one of the Great Lakes. Like other lakes and national parks in Uganda, it was named after a member of the British royal family when the country fell under British colonial rule.
The Queen’s Pavilion is a popular tourist stopover where you’ll find an information centre, restaurant-cum-café and internet connectivity. It’s located near the equator monument, close to the northern entrance to the Crater Drive.
The Queen’s Pavilion was constructed in 1954 for the purpose of providing shelter during the Queen’s visit to Uganda. It’s been refurbished over the years and more recently renovated in 2007 for a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh.
The Uganda Equator Monument is a well-known landmark in Uganda and marks the imaginary line that passes through the Queen Elizabeth National Park and divides the world into two halves; the southern and northern hemisphere. You’ll find markers of the equator in Kasese District south-west of the capital city of Kampala within the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Queen Elizabeth National Park?
Most travellers think of gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking when planning a holiday in Uganda and tend to forget how incredible the country is for a Big 5 safari tour. The game viewing in the Queen Elizabeth National Park is particularly good with large numbers of elephant (up to 3 000) and Cape buffalo (up to 10 000). You’ll also see plenty of hippos and small game such as warthogs, waterbuck, Uganda kob, top and even the rare Sitatunga antelope.
There are two ways to enjoy a Uganda safari tour in the Queen Elizabeth National Park; on a classic game drive with a professional ranger that takes you through the Kasenyi sector, the North Kazinga Plains and the Ishasha sector which is famous for its tree-climbing lions or you can book a once-in-a-lifetime safari tour in a hot air balloon.
Hot air balloon safari tours have become more popular over the years and offer wildlife visitors a bird’s eye view of the incredible scenery as well as diverse fauna and flora.
Other popular activities in the Queen Elizabeth National Park include chimpanzee tracking in the Kaymbura and Kalinju forests, a tour of the neighbouring coffee plantations, tour of the Katwe salt works, hiking and guided bush walks, bird watching and a leisurely boat cruise.
MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
Murchison Falls National Park is the largest and oldest conservation area in Uganda and possibly one of the most spectacular. It’s bisected by the Victoria Nile River which dramatically plunges 45 meters over the remnant rift valley wall to create the magnificent Murchison Falls.
The waterfall is the focal landmark of the national park and ends with a 80 kilometre stretch of rapids. It’s a great place to visit in Uganda if you’re an outdoor enthusiast and nature lover; offering visitors everything from boat cruises on the Nile River to guided nature walks, sport fishing and white-water rafting.
The Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) incorporates the Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu and Karuma Falls Wildlife Reserves. You’ll find an abundance of animals and bird species in the lush vegetation which flanks the main river running through the national park including the Big 5, an abundance of antelope such as hartebeest, oribi and Uganda kobs as well as large groups of chimpanzees found in the riverine forests and woodlands.
Also known as Kabarega Falls, the waterfall actually splits the Nile River at a point where it’s forced to push through a narrow gorge, cascades down the escarpment and becomes a mild river further down. About 300 cubic metres per second explodes through a narrow gorge which is less than 10 metres wide.
The water that flows over the Murchison Falls originates from the vast Lake Victoria; travelling to the deep Lake Kyoga and on to the northern tip of Lake Albert which falls within the western arm of the great East African Rift.
The Murchison Falls National Park is located in the northern region of the Albertine Rift Valley in an area where the vast Bunyoro escarpment adjoins the expansive Acholi plains. The national park is regarded as one of the best national parks in the country and is always included as part of a Uganda safari tour.
When Winston Churchill infamously referred to Uganda as being the Pearl of Africa, it’s believed he was referring to the natural wonders of what is now the Murchison Conservation Area.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Murchison Falls National Park?
On your way from Kampala to Murchison Falls National Park, stop off at Luweero which is a fruit market selling the best tropical fruit in the country. Try the freshly-squeezed organic pineapple juice.
Your first stop will be at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary which is the only place in Uganda where you can see rhino. The species has been decimated in the region and the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is making every effort to re-introduce rhinos back to the area. The sanctuary is 7 000 hectares in size and located just south of Murchison Falls National Park.
Then it’s time to explore Murchison Falls National Park on a safari boat. Enjoy a different type of safari tour of Uganda with wonderful sightings of animals and reptiles on the banks of the Nile River which flows on from Murchison Falls to South Sudan.
Game viewing in Murchison Falls National Park is magical but even more enjoyable as part of a safari boat cruise. You should see elephants, buffalo, lions and leopards as well as the Ugandan kob, oribi, Jackson hartebeest and the Rothschild giraffe as part of your Uganda safari tour in the Murchison area.
Kidepo Valley National Park and Murchison Falls National Park is the only place on a trip to Uganda where you’ll see the Rothschild giraffe.
Lastly, Budongo Forest which is located close to Murchison Falls is a good place to visit in Uganda for chimpanzee trekking. You can spend a few hours with man’s closest living relative and enjoy watching their feisty antics in the dense forest area.
KIBALE FOREST NATIONAL PARK
Kibale Forest National Park is described as one of the most magnificent and varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. It’s the ‘Primate Capital of Uganda’ and home to the largest population of the endangered chimpanzee in Uganda; about 1 450 of these quirky and adorable primates have made Kibale their home.
Other vulnerable primate species you’ll find in Kibale Forest National Park is the threatened red colobus and the rare l’Hoest as well as the black-and-white colobus, red-tailed and blue monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, olive baboon, bush baby and potto. A potto is a small, slow-moving nocturnal primate with a short tail that lives in the dense tropical forests of Africa.
Chimpanzee trekking is a popular activity at Kibale Forest National Park. It’s also well known as an outstanding birding destination in Uganda and for wonderful guided forest walks.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Kibale Forest National Park?
The most popular thing to do in Uganda if you’re staying in the Kibale Forest National Park is the Kanyanchu Primate Walk. You’ll encounter 13 primate species on the Kanyanchu guided walk as well as a selection of diurnal monkeys.
The Kanyanchu chimpanzees have been tracked since 1993 and are well habituated. You’re guaranteed to find them on a guided walk which starts at 8am and ends at 2pm.
The chimps have been habituated through the Chimpanzee Habituation Experience and you’ll have a wonderful opportunity to watch them leaving their overnight nests, feeding, copulating, hunting, breastfeeding, resting, patrolling and re-settling in their nests for the evening at around 7pm.
MGAHINGA GORILLA NATIONAL PARK
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest national park in Uganda, spanning some 34 square kilometres. It sits high in the clouds at an altitude of between 2 227 metres and 4 127 metres.
The small national park was declared a protected wilderness area in 1930 and gazetted as a national park in 1991. Its purpose is to provide a place of safety for one habituated trans-boundary mountain gorilla group. It’s also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park gets its name from the local word for piles of volcanic stones - “Gahinga” - which were cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes. The most striking feature of the national park is three conical hills which are extinct volcanoes.
These volcano landmarks are part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area or Virunga Range which lies along the borders of Uganda, the DRC and Rwanda. The volcano slopes are made up of a variety of ecosystems and are biologically diverse.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in a region which is home to the indigenous Batwa Pygmies. This is a hunter-gatherer tribe and one of the first to inhabitant the impenetrable forests of Uganda. Their ancient knowledge and survival secrets remain a mystery.
KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Kidepo Valley National Park is an isolated conservation area located in the remote Karamoja region. It’s renowned for its spectacular scenery with a magnificent mountain range creating a spectacular backdrop to the nature reserve.
The small national park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Sudan and Kenya; some 700 kilometres from the capital city of Kampala. It was gazetted a national park in 1962 and today is home to an abundance of animals as well as over 475 recorded bird species. Common wildlife sightings include lions, Jackson’s hartebeest, Cape buffalo, giraffes, oribis and reedbuck.
Kidepo Valley National Park isn’t one of the more popular safari destination in even though it ranks up there with the likes of the Masai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania in terms of biodiversity and outstanding wildlife sightings. Kidepo Valley National Park was nominated in the World Travel Awards 2017 in the category of Africa’s leading national parks.
The Kidepo River and Narus River are the two main rivers in the Kidepo Valley. They disappear in the dry season, leaving wetlands and isolated pools for the wildlife. The oasis-like water sources are ideal for game viewing and bird watching.
Mount Morungole is located in Kidepo Valley National Park and is a striking landmark; standing 2 750 metres high. It’s crossed by the Kidepo and Narus rivers which are the main water source for the region.
The neighbouring communities are similar to the Maasai of Kenya. The pastoral Karamojong people are a hunter-gather tribe and their traditional survival is threatened. A Uganda tour could include a community village to learn more about the Karamojong tribe and their ancient way of life.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Kidepo Valley National Park?
The Kanagorok Hot Springs are located about 11 kilometres beyond the Kidepo River, near the South Sudan border. The drive to the Kanagorok Hot Springs cuts through the two main biomes of the Kidepo Valley National Park and you can look forward to sightings of elephants, lions and cheetah as well as zebras, giraffe and kudu.
Kanagorok means ‘the place of black stones’.
Another reason to visit the dry, semi-arid region is for its incredible birds. The Kidepo Valley National Park has over 475 species of birds and comes second only to the Queen Elizabeth National Park which as about 625 recorded bird species.
Apart from rare sightings of the red-throated bee-eater and the Abyssinian ground hornbill, you’ll love the Kidepo Valley for its fine selection of birds of prey which includes the Verreaux eagle, Egyptian vulture and pygmy falcon.
RWENZORI MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK
Previously known as the Ruwenzori Range, the magnificent mountain range is located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The Rwenzori Mountains reach heights of up to 5 109 meters; the highest peaks are snow-capped and support a complex network of glaciers.
The Rwenzori Mountains were Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its incredible biodiversity which
The mountain range is steeped in mystery and known as the fabled ‘Mountains of the Moon. It’s Africa’s largest range of mountains and the source of the White Nile. Both the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and the Virunga National Park are located in the Rwenzori Mountains.
What makes the Rwenzori Mountains a major tourist attraction in Uganda is its incredible biodiversity which ranges from dense tropical rainforests to bamboo forests, montane cloud forests and alpine vegetation. At the base of the Rwenzori Mountains you’ll find banana and potato plantations which cling to the near-vertical mountain slopes.
The high annual rainfall means the Rwenzori region is a wonderland of lush vegetation and spectacular scenery. Massive tree-heathers, colourful moss, giant lobelias and ‘everlasting flowers’ drape the mountain sides to create a magnificent floral wonderland.
The Rwenzori Mountains are also world-famous for containing 6 of the 10 highest mountain peaks in Africa. Most of them are higher than the Alps in Europe and are on par with the likes of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya as extreme hiking destinations.
The three mountain peaks the Rwenzori region is famous for include Mount Stanley (5 109 metres), Mount Speke (4 890 metres) and Mount Baker (4 844 metres).
What to do on a Uganda tour to the Rwenzori Mountains?
The Rwenzori mountain range is Africa’s top hiking destination; rivalling Mount Kilimanjaro because it contains three of the five highest peaks on the continent. Only about a 1 000 hikers venture into the Rwenzori Mountains National Park to tackle the major peaks which is significantly less than Mount Kilimanjaro with about 100 people each day attempting to reach the summit.
The tallest peak in the Rwenzori Mountains is the infamous Margherita Peak. It’s not as high as Mount Kilimanjaro and not a popular as a hiking destination; but it’s still an extreme challenge. The beauty of the Rwenzori Mountains in Uganda is you can tackle multiple peaks in one hiking expedition.
Hikes in the Rwenzori Mountains range from 3 to 9 days and can last up to 2 weeks for the few who attempt to summit all the major peaks on one Uganda trip.
Lake Victoria is one of the African Great Lakes. It’s the largest by area in Africa, the world’s largest tropical lake and the world’s second-largest fresh water lake by surface area after Lake Superior in North America.
It’s also the world’s 9th largest continental lake in terms of volume, containing about 2.4 cubic kilometres of water. It’s not a deep lake as it lies in a shallow depression. Its maximum depth is between 80 and 84 metres and has an average depth of 40 metres.
Lake Victoria is spread across three countries; Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It was named in honour of Queen Victoria in 1858 by the British explorer, John Speke, who was the first Briton to document its existence. Speke and his expedition partner, Richard Francis Burton, “discovered” Lake Victoria while on a mission to locate the source of the Nile River.
The great African lake receives 80 percent of its water from direct rainfall and the rest from thousands of streams and rivers. The Kagera River is the largest river flowing into the lake with its mouth on the lake’s western shore. The Nile River is the only river to drain Lake Victoria; draining on the lakes northern shore near Jinja in Uganda.
Lake Victoria is estimated to be over 400 000 years old which in geological terms is quite young. Arab traders used Lake Victoria hundreds of years ago before its discovery was recorded by the Brits. It’s a shallow lake and highly sensitive to weather and climate change. Geologists say Lake Victoria has lost all of its water multiple times throughout history. The most recent was over 17 000 years ago.
Lake Victoria is spread across three African countries and of the three, Uganda is the most significant when it comes to laying claim to the source of the Nile River. It’s in Uganda that Lake Victoria flows into the Nile River which is the longest and one of the most important rivers in the world. It makes its way north from Lake Victoria, flowing thousands of kilometres north through eastern Africa into Egypt and eventually out into the Mediterranean Sea.
Lake Victoria in Uganda supports Africa’s largest inland fishery which was first established in the late 1990s. Fish species which are ‘farmed’ in the region include tilapia and haplochromine cichlids as well as catfish, elephantfish, ningu and marbled lungfish.
At its peak in the early 1990s, about 500 000 metric tons of Nile perch were caught annually in Lake Victoria but this number has declined significantly. Environmental issues such as overfishing, the introduction of invasive species, suffocating hyacinth and agricultural pollution have plagued Lake Victoria for decades, including the complete disappearance of many endemic cichlid species.
Ferries operating on Lake Victoria have been an important means of transport between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya since the 1900s. The main ports on the great lake are Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja. Africa’s worst maritime disaster happened in May 1996 when close to 1 000 people lost their lives when the ferry MV Bukoba sank in Lake Victoria.
The abundant waters of Lake Victoria are used to generate electricity for the East Africa region. Uganda operates multiple hydroelectric plants based at Lake Victoria including the Nalubaale Hydroelectric Power Station and Kiira Power Station.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Lake Victoria?
Apart from fishing trips and bird safaris in the Lake Victoria region, a holiday in Uganda Lake Victoria on the itinerary usually revolves around beautiful days at tranquil resorts enjoying a range of watersports and other fun outdoor activities.
The islands worth visiting in Lake Victoria are Rusinga Island, Mfangano Island, Rubondo Island, Ukerewe Island and the Ssese Islands. They’re geared for international tourists and offer a range of Uganda accommodation and a host of activities such as fishing for Nile perch and tilapia, birding safaris, cultural walks , watersports, trail walking and caving. There are no vehicles on the island and you go everywhere on colourful canoes.
A tour of the Ssese Islands is one of the favourite things to do in Uganda. The Ssese Archipelago is made up of 84 islands of which 43 are inhabited. You can take a boat ride from Kasenyi to any of the tourist islands in the Ssese Archipelago including the islands of Banda, Bugala and Bukasa.
Bugala Island is the second largest island in Lake Victoria after Ukerewe Island. It’s a 3-hour journey from the capital city of Kampala to Bugala Island where you’ll find a wide range of hotels and guest lodges and loads of things to do; ranging from relaxing on the “beach” to enjoying romantic boat cruises. Bugala Island is more popular with the local people than it is amongst foreign tourists.
It’s a bit strange going on a beach holiday to a landlocked country but that’s exactly what you’ll experience on a Uganda holiday if Lake Victoria is included in your itinerary. The island beaches are strikingly-beautiful and the island itself is home to a rich array of fauna and flora including endemic bird species.
Lake Bunyonyi is described as “devastatingly striking” and “should be on everyone’s list of places to see before they die”. It’s a popular place to visit in Uganda if you’re in the country for gorilla trekking as it’s located fairly close to the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The beautiful island is located in southwestern Uganda between the two districts of Kisoro and Babale, close to the Rwanda border post. It’s the second deepest lake on the continent and one of the African Great Lakes.
There are a number of impressive islands scattered within Lake Bunyonyi with the most famous being Akampene Island, otherwise known as Punishment Island; Bwama Island, otherwise known as Sharp’s Island and Njuyeera Island (njuyeera meaning ‘white cottage’).
Punishment Island in Lake Bunyonyi was where unmarried pregnant girls were sent at a time when sex before marriage was a punishable crime. These young girls had no way of surviving on the island and faced an agonizing death by starvation.
They could try to swim to the mainland but most of the young girls could not swim or they were picked up off the island by poor men who could not pay the price for a virgin bride. Thankfully the practice of banishing the pregnant girls on Punishment Island in Lake Bunyonyi was abolished in the first half of the 20th century.
Bwama Island was no less attractive as a island destination in it is early days. In 1931, an English missionary by the name of Leonard Sharp established a leprosy treatment centre on the then uninhabited Bwama Island. He saw to the building of a church, patient quarters, staff village and a medical centre. Sharp himself settled on the neighbouring Njuyeera Island.
The leprosy colony on Bwama Island was established for voluntary segregation and provided the unfortunate lepers with a happy community to live in and a place where they could seek treatment and live without being shunned by the local villages and where they could not infect others.
What to do on a Uganda tour to Lake Bunyonyi?
Lake Bunyonyi is one of the few places in Uganda that’s free of bilharzia and there are not hippos and crocodiles in the lake. Bilharzia is common parasite found in lakes and dams in southern Africa that can make you very sick and cause long-term damage to internal organs. This means Lake Bunyonyi is safer for swimming and water sports than the other great lakes in the country and a great holiday place for a holiday in Uganda for families with young children as well as outdoor enthusiasts.
The most common mode of transport taking people between the islands is the dugout canoe. A tour of the islands in one of these rustic lake boats is something fun to do on your Uganda holiday. The only thing to worry about is how deep the water is so always use a lifejacket when you’re out on Lake Bunyonyi in a boat or canoe.
Nobody really knows who Migingo Island belongs to and for a decade it’s been a source of tension between Uganda and Kenya. The rounded rocky outcrop rises out of Lake Victoria and is covered inch-by-inch with metallic shacks which makes it look like a giant iron-plated turtle.
The troubled island in Lake Victoria is not on the Uganda travel map and somewhere you’ll visit but it’s history is interesting. It’s well known purely because of the territorial tug-of-war that’s gone on for years. There is almost no infrastructure on the island apart a few bars, brothels and a tiny port.
The resident fishermen live cheek-to-jowl in a collection of corrugated-iron homes. The fishing community in Lake Victoria have seen their catches diminish to extremely low levels over the years so they flock to islands like Migingo found in deeper waters that are rich in Nile Perch.
Considering the island is no bigger than half the size of a football pitch, Migingo has certainly had it’s fair share of political drama. There are only about 130 people living on the island and most are either fishermen or fish traders. There’s no vegetation on the island and no wildlife of any sort.
In the early 2000s, Migingo Island was deserted and, at the time, located within Kenya on all the current maps. It has always been on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria, stemming back to the 1920s when the great lake was officially mapped out.
However, in the 21st century, a Ugandan official claimed the island belonged to Uganda and this started a long drawn-out mini-war over which country actually owns it. The Kenyan fisherman maintain that Nile Perch don’t breed in deep waters on the Uganda side, only breeding in the shallow waters on the Kenyan side so therefore the fish in the area belong to the Kenyans.
Another drama involved the Ugandan Marine Police who arrived on Migingo Island and raised the Ugandan flag. Regardless of who is the rightful owner of Migingo Island, the political fighting, overcrowding and dire living conditions on the small rocky outcrop highlight the plight of millions of local inhabitants living along the shores of Lake Victoria in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania who survive on what fish can be caught in the lake.
The once abundant fishing grounds have been severely depleted over the past two decades. WWF experts say up to 80% of indigenous fish species in Lake Victoria have been lost and 70% of forest cover in the surrounding area has also been lost. Thick green fields of water hyacinth exacerbate the problem for the local fishermen.
Kampala is the capital city of Uganda and affectionately known as the ‘City of Seven Hills’ because it’s spread out over seven prominent hills. By a small margin, Kampala is the largest city in Uganda; followed by Jinja in the east and Entebbe in the south. Kampala is located in south-central Uganda, close to the northern shores of Lake Victoria.
Approximately 2.5 million people live in Kampala and even though it’s less populated than the likes of Nairobi and Lagos, the city is renowned for its hectic traffic congestion and air pollution. Its infrastructure is lacking and the city is burdened by lack of funds. At the same time, Kampala is one of the cheapest cities in Africa to visit, it’s relatively safe staying in Kampala and is culturally diverse.
The city of Kampala has its origins as the capital of the Buganda Kingdom, and remains so today. It was named City of Seven Hills because it had spread over seven hills but in fact, urban sprawl now covers at least 20 hills in the area.
Each hill houses an important government or religious building. Kasubi Hill is where you’ll find the Kasubi Tombs which is a sacred burial ground of Buganda Kings. The Uganda Museum is found at the top of Kololo Hill and showcases a collection of ancient traditional musical instruments.
Apart from a fascinating cultural tour of Kampala, visitors on a Uganda tour enjoy the city’s famous night life. Kabalagala is a strip of bars, clubs and restaurants in Kampala which are a hive of activity from sunset to sunrise on weekends. The streets of Kabalagala are lined with people selling stuff including grilled chicken and Uganda’s famous “Rolex” dish.
If you’re in Kampala when the national soccer team is playing, grab a vuvuzela and head to the Namboole Stadium to support the Uganda Cranes. The people of Uganda, particularly Kampalans, are mad about soccer and the city gets extremely vibey and noisy on a big-game day. Rugby and cricket fans can catch as game at Lugogo Oval in Kampala.
What to do on a Uganda tour of Kampala?
Apart from sitting in a traffic jam for hours if you don’t plan your day properly, Kampala is all about eating out a great restaurants, soaking up the vibrant city atmosphere and exploring cultural sites.
There are a handful of cultural festivals held each year which showcase the soul of the people of Uganda and their upbeat approach to life. If you’re not in town when one of the cultural festivals are on, book a table at the Ndere Centre where the Ndere Troupe put on a dinner-show cultural performance which is electrifying and fascinating.
You’re spoilt for choice for restaurants in Kampala with everything from East and West Africa fare to European, Japanese and Asian fare. The street markets are a great place to try out traditional Ugandan dishes such as the famous “Rolex”.
THINGS TO DO IN UGANDA
You may find yourself at the source of the Nile River which is the longest river in Africa, on a boat cruise on Lake Victoria which is the largest body of water in the world or in the impenetrable Bwindi forest which is world famous for being home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
Wherever you go and whatever you do in Uganda, you’ll be blown away by the beauty of its natural wonders and the warmth of its people.
GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA
Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is hot, sweaty, muddy and exhausting but it’s totally worth it. Some say gorilla trekking is tantamount to a religious experience; where you spend a silent hour with one of the world’s most majestic primates.
Uganda tourism more or less revolves around gorilla trekking and to a lesser extent chimpanzee trekking in a selection of gorgeous national parks and impenetrable forests. There are estimated to be fewer than 1 000 wild mountain gorillas in the world of which half are found in the Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and the rest found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the DRC.
In 1981, environmentalists estimated that there were only 254 mountain gorillas left in the world but thanks to international intervention and gorilla trekking tourism in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC; the population of wild mountain gorillas is slowly increasing.
These critically-endangered primates can’t breed in captivity and the only way to ensure their survival is keeping them safe and protected in their natural habitat.
There are two gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas so it’s obviously the more popular choice when booking a Uganda tour to see gorillas.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is referred to by locals as ‘The Place of Darkness’ because of its dense tree tops. It’s an ancient montane and lowland forest which spans some 206 square kilometres and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding biodiversity and the large number of endangered species living in the forest.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park spans some 20 square kilometers and is made up largely of the Virunga habitat which stretches across into Rwanda and the DRC. The national park includes three of the 8 major Virunga peaks; Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura and Mount Sabyinyo.
Booking a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit in silence for at least an hour with these gentle giants. Other activities in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest includes a scenic walk to a wonderful waterfall, visiting the local Batwa pygmy population and enjoy a guided nature walk in the forest learning more about its outstanding fauna and flora.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is also home to the endangered l’Hoest monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and blue monkeys.
When you’re planning a safari tour to Africa, you’re most likely to think Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, Okavango Delta in Botswana or Kruger National Park in South Africa. Uganda is not the first country to spring to mind for a safari tour but that’s changing.
Uganda boasts a fine selection of national parks that are simply superb for a safari tour. From Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park to Murchison Falls National Park, Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park; visitors on a Uganda holiday are spoilt for choice for wilderness areas to visit.
Uganda has 10 national parks; Murchison Falls National Park is the largest and Queen Elizabeth National Park is the second largest. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to half the population of mountain gorillas in the world and Kibale Forest National Park is popular for chimpanzee trekking.
Obviously, gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking are the two major attractions followed closely by birding safaris in Uganda; but you’ll be surprised at what else you can see and do in Uganda if you’re an avid wildlife enthusiast.
The national parks of Uganda are renowned for their incredible biodiversity and are rich in flora and fauna. They’re home to the Big 5 which includes forest elephants, forest buffalo, rhino, lion and leopards as well as an abundance of antelope, prolific birdlife and a number of endangered species.
An antelope to look out for is the Uganda kob (Kobus kob) which looks like an oversize impala ram. It’s often seen in the Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth national parks on the open savanna grasslands and wetlands. You’ll recognise the Uganda kob from the country’s coat of arms.
Two other species which are unique sightings on a Uganda safari tour are the sitatunga (also known as marshbuck) which is a swamp-dwelling antelope found in East Africa; and the topi antelope which looks a lot like a hartebeest but is actually a sub-species of the tsessebe.
For a Big 5 safari tour in Uganda, you’ll find the famous tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha area in the Queen Elizabeth Park as well as the remote Kidepo National Park; the smaller and more reddish forest buffalos in most national parks in Uganda as well as the savanna elephants and forest elephants which are a smaller and hairier version of what you find in southern Africa; and elusive leopards.
Uganda was home to thousands of both black and white rhino but civil war in the region as well as rampant poaching has decimated the rhino population in Uganda. A group of 22 rhino are kept in safekeeping at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and are part of a rehabilitation programme aimed at re-introducing rhino to the region.
FISHING SAFARI IN UGANDA
You’ll be forgiven for coming to Uganda just for a sport fishing holiday and ignoring the gorillas, chimps and birds. Fishing in Uganda is excellent; mainly because a quarter of the country’s land surface is covered in water.
Uganda boasts a number of impressive lakes including the world-famous Lake Victoria which is the largest lake in Africa and the second-largest fresh water lake in the world. Lake Victoria and other legendary Uganda lakes such as Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Mburo have a fine selection of islands where you can base yourself for an outstanding fishing trip in Uganda.
In the mid-1950s, the fishing industry in Uganda was transformed through the introduction of Japanese nylon gillnets and the introduction of a new fish species called the Nile Perch. Fish production was 6 times higher than it was previously over a period of 30 years but unchecked fishing practices has seen a vast reduction in fish numbers to the point where local subsistence fishermen are battling to catch enough fish to feed their families.
For this reason, reputable tour operators offering fishing safari packages in Uganda practice “catch and release” sport fishing.
The best fishing spots in Uganda include Lake Victoria and the legendary Ssese Islands; the Nile River near the city of Jinja and in Murchison Falls National Park; and Lake Mburo National Park. The magical lure of a fishing trip to Uganda is catching an enormous freshwater Nile Perch.
You can go on a fishing trip to Uganda throughout the year but the rainy months of April and May should be avoided as well as the full moon week.
CHIMPANZEE TREKKING IN KIBALE FOREST
Most people head to Nyngwe National Forest in Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking but the best place to see our closest primate relatives is in the Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda. Compare to gorilla trekking in Uganda, chimp trekking in the Kibale Forest is more affordable and just as fascinating.
You head off into the dense forest early in the morning and hope to find the habituated chimps fairly quickly before it gets to hot and humid. You can approach quietly without them fleeing, unlike the Rwanda chimps that flee if a branch snaps.
Chimp trekking groups taken to Kibale Forest National Park are small; no more than 4-8 people so it’s a private and intimate excursion and one that you’ll remember for a long time. You can quietly observe the chimps of Uganda playing, feeding, sleeping and travelling through the forest.
CULTURAL TOUR OF KAMPALA
Kampala is a massive city that sprawls out over more than 20 hills. It has an estimated population of 2.5 million and is ranked as the 13th fastest growing city on the planet. It’s also rich in cultural heritage.
A cultural tour of Kampala takes you to an interesting selection of museums and monuments and the city hosts annual festivals that showcase the country’s cultural diversity. A cultural tour is a great opportunity to learn more about the country’s fascinating history, traditions and cultural beliefs of its people.
For example, in June each year, thousands of people descend on the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine located a short 15-kilometre drive or walk to the east of Kampala. They go to honor and pray to God through the intercession of 22 Martyrs.
Popular cultural tourist attractions in Kampala are Rubaga Cathedral and the Kasubi Tombs.
The Kasubi Tombs are ancient royal tombs located about 5 kilometres from Kampala on Kasubi hill. They’re the burial grounds for 4 Kings of the Buganda Kingdom which is referred to as Kabaka, and are still an important cultural site for the Buganda Kingdom. They’re also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For many years, ancient Ganda rituals were performed at the Kasubi Tombs which also hold historical treasures of Kabaka. The Kasubi Tombs are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Uganda and definitely worth a visit while on holiday in Uganda.
Namugongo Martyrs Shrine
The Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is one of the most distinguished shrines in Uganda and is an important site for Christians in Africa. It’s where 32 Catholic and Anglican martyrs were burnt alive on the orders of Kabaka Mwana in 1886. Actually, it’s believed the number of martyrs burnt alive was closer to 45.
The people of Anglican and Catholic faith were martyred because they refused to denounce Christianity. Their martyrdom spread like wildfire throughout Uganda which angered King Mwanga II who ordered the execution of the 32 men on Thursday 3 June 1886. Many more believers died at the hands of Kabaka Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887.
Every year on 3 June, thousands of Christians from eastern and central Africa flock to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine to pay their respects and reinforce their faith by paying pilgrimage to the martyrs. The long wait in the days leading up to the pilgrimage journey to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is filled with religious events which includes prayers, baptism, plays and festivals.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral Rubaga is the parent cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala which is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Uganda. Known simply as Rubaga Cathedral, it’s the home church of the Archbishop of Kampala.
Mwanga II of Buganda donated land on Mengo Hill in 1889 to the French Catholic missionaries (White Fathers) who later built the modern Catholic church. Catholicism in Uganda was only just emerging as a prominent faith in the country and the new Rubaga Cathedral cemented its existence in the city.
The construction of the Rubaga Cathedral started in 1914 and it was consecrated in December 1925. The remains of the late Archbishop Joseph Kiwanka (1899-1966) are housed inside the cathedral. He was the first African Catholic Bishop and the first African Archbishop of Kampala Diocese.
Also known as Fort Patiko, Baker’s Fort is a military structure that was constructed by an early European explorer, Sir Samuel Baker. The military fort was built at a time when European settlers were trying to put a stop to the brutal slave trade in East Africa.
It’s located 2 kilometres from Ocecu Hill which is famously known as Got Ajulu. ‘Got’ means hill or mountain and ‘julu’ is an Acholi word that means ‘to raise’. The prominent hill was named Got Ajulu after the chief urged its residents to rise up and stand together, saying; “Let’s nurture our people so that our clan is not wiped away”.
Ocecu Hill was commandeered by the Egyptian Arabs as a convenient trading hub. They built huts which were used to store ivory, food and ammunition and also used the centre as a place to trade slaves. Fort Patiko holds important cultural significance because it was a place of great suffering and hardship for slaves and today stands as a symbol of freedom and equality.
Kabaka’s Mengo Palace
Kabaka’s Mengo Olubiri is the official residence of the King of Buganda; Olubiri meaning Palace. It was customary at that time for a new king to choose a hill where he would build his palace and then the palace would become the new capital of the Kingdom.
Mengo Palace was constructed for Ssekabaka Mwanga II in 1885. He took over the throne in 1884 at the young age of 18 and Mango Palace was his first royal home. Mwanga used the grinding stones that the Nvubu clan used to grind herbal medicine and thus the name Mengo (‘emmengo’ meaning grinding stones) was adopted for both the hill and the palace.
The King of Buganda abandoned Mengo Palace after it caught fire and all the important documents for the Kingdom were destroyed. This spooked Mwanga and he took hostage with the Roman Catholic Missionaries at Nalukolong.
Mengo Palace was converted to army barracks during the reign of Idi Amin in the 1970s. An adjacent site became a notorious underground prison and torture-execution chamber. The prisoners had no way of escaping because the dark concrete tunnel and damp cells were separated by an electrified passage of water.
The Bahá’í Temple in Kampala is the only temple left in Africa that’s linked to the Bahá’í faith that took root in Uganda in the early 1950s. It was completed in 1961 and today attracts hundreds of visitors from around the world.
A tour of Bahá’í Temple is a fascinating introduction to the religious customs of its followers. You can even join local community members
Katareke Prison Ditch
Katereke Prison was built in the late 1880s by the King of Buganda at a time when the kingdom was experiencing great political strife. Kabaka Mwanga had been removed from the throne and succeeded by Kabaka Kiwewa. His reign was short-lived and Kabaka Kalema was enthroned.
However, Kabaka Kalema was insecure and greatly threatened by his siblings who in turn became his political rivals. He ordered the construction of the prison and threw all his brothers and sisters into jail. He still felt threatened by his siblings and eventually had all 30 executed.
The Katereke Prison Ditch spans some 70 metres in diameter and has since been turned into stunning earth works. It’s a popular tourist attraction and for local people, it’s a reminder of Uganda’s brutal past during the Buganda era. It’s a 30-minute drive from Kampala situated in a place called Nsangi.
Located in the capital city of Kampala, the Uganda Museum showcases ethnological, natural-historical and traditional life collections of Uganda’s cultural heritage. It was founded in 1908 by the British governor who called for “all articles of interest on Uganda” to be procured.
The Uganda Museum is the oldest museum in East Africa. Included in the collection are musical instruments, hunting equipment, weaponry, archaeology and entomology artifacts.
Ndere Centre is a popular tourist destination in Uganda because it’s a central cultural hub; showcasing the country’s rich cultural heritage. Built on a large property, the cultural centre is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden which is shaded by mature fruit trees and other indigenous trees.
The architecture is a focal point of a tour of the Ndere Centre; where rare creativity blends seamlessly with African forms, materials, colours and construction of unprecedented heights. It exudes tranquility and creativity.
Ndere Centre has a resident troupe of performers who captivate the audiences with incredible cultural songs, dances and musical instruments. They strive to represent the 52 nationalities of Uganda in their performances; weaving cultural nuances into their storytelling.
There’s a performance every Wednesday and Friday at 7pm at Ndere Centre as well as a Sunday performance at 6pm. It’s worth a visit because it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the country’s unique cultures, traditions and beliefs.
Uganda has one of the smallest churches in the world, named Bethel Church. It’s located on the top of Biku Hill in Nebbi Town; standing just 8 feet tall and 2.3 metres wide. It was built on the orders of Pastor Song and Henry Luke, a retired Archbishop.
Bethel Church is part of 12 prayer points constructed by religious leaders to give worshippers a closer connection to God.
BIRDING SAFARI IN UGANDA
Uganda is regarded in ornithology circles as one of the finest birding destinations in Africa. The country is home to over 1 050 recorded bird species found in habitats ranging from dense forests to swamps, lakes, open savanna grasslands and agricultural lands.
There are less than 5 birding destinations in the world where one can find over 600 bird species in one park alone. Queen Elizabeth National Park has more than 620 recorded bird species. About 335 bird species have been recorded in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
International bird authority, Nigel Wheatley, has said, “In terms of its size, Uganda is the richest country for birds in Africa. And this immense volume and diversity occurs miraculously in a space which keen birders can cover in a relatively short visit”.
If you visit Uganda for a birding safari, here is a list of the best birding destinations:
- Mabamba Bay Wetland at Lake Victoria
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Murchison Falls National Park
- Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
- Semuliki National Park
- Kibale National Park
- Rwenzori Mountains National Park
- Lake Mburo National Park
- Budongo Forest
The top 10 birds to spot in Uganda are the:
African Green Broadbill
Known for its eye-catching vivid colours, the African green broadbill is only found in two places in the world; the Itombwe Mountains in the DRC and Uganda’s Bwindi Forest. The species is declining due to loss of its habitat from forest clearing and degradation.
The Bar-tailed trogan is an elegant bird that lives in high-altitude forests. It has a wide range throughout central and southern Africa although it’s rarely seen.
The Black-breasted barbet is the largest in the barbet species and highly sought after by avid bird watches. It’s rarely seen in the dense forests of Uganda.
This brightly-coloured bird is one of the more common birds seen in Uganda and it’s numbers have stabilised in the lush national parks of Uganda. It’s mainly found in subtropical montane forests and moist shrublands in central Africa.
Great blue and white-crested turaco
The great blue turaco and the White-crested turaco are some of the largest, most exquisite birds found in Uganda. These birds face extinction because they’re actively hunted as their meat and their feathers are highly sought-after commodities.
It’s relatively common in Uganda but extremely difficult to find because of how well camouflaged it is in its dense tropical forest habitat.
Shelly’s crimsonwing is one of the rarest birds in the world and is only found living within a thin mountainous and volcanic strip known as the Albertine Rift which lies on the borders of Uganda Rwanda and the DRC. Photos of Shelley’s crimsonwing are almost non-extinct.
The Shoebill is an extremely rare bird species which is endemic to Africa. Also known as the Whalehead, the stork-like bird gets its name for its large shoe-shaped bill. The Shoebill moves extremely slowly and will often stand still for long periods like a statue. It’s extremely sensitive to human disturbance and may abandon its nest if flushed out by people walking in its habitat.
The Short-tailed warbler is an inconspicuous bird species which lives hidden in the dense forest undergrowth. It’s extremely difficult to spot which is why it’s on every avid birders bucket list.
This delightful bird is known for the central flight feathers on the males that appear during the breeding season. The feathers stretch up vertically, about 38 centimeters in length. If you manage to spot a Standard-winged nightjar when it’s courting his lady friend, you’re an extremely lucky birder.
VISIT THE SOURCE OF THE NILE
The source of the Nile was a source of fascination for many European explorers, including David Livingstone who famously recorded his discovery of the mighty Victoria Falls on an expedition to find the source of the Nile River.
The Nile River originates from several sources and David Livingstone came close to discovering its main source. It was John Hanning Speke who finally discovered its true source in 1858, although that too is under debate.
Speke was the son of a British army officer who was commissioned into the army of the East India Company in 1844 at the age of seventeen.
The true source of the Nile River is Lake Victoria but it has a myriad of connections all the way from Ruvyironza River which is found north of Lake Tanganyika. A small spot along the shoreline of Jinja marks the place where John Speke “discovered” the Nile’s headwater’s at Lake Victoria.
His expedition partner, Burton, publicly disputed Speke’s claim that that was the Source of the Nile; and remained emphatic that Tanganyika was the true source.
Speke’s source at Ripon Falls is marked by a modest sign that reads “The Source of R. Nile - Jinja - World’s Longest River. Ripon Falls is a series of cataracts that are partially submerged due to dams constructed up river. A small cafe and shops as well as dock for boat cruises are located adjacent to this monument.
RIVER NILE BOAT CRUISE
The city of Jinja is the “official/unofficial” source of the River Nile and has earned itself the reputation as the “Adrenalin Capital of Uganda”. The mighty Nile provides tourists with a world of fun and adventure in much the same way the Zambezi River does at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
Things to do in Jinja range from playing golf to bungee jumping, white-water rafting, river boarding and mountain biking. Most of this takes place at Bujagali Falls which, like Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, is renowned for what it offers outdoor adventure enthusiasts.
However, the best thing to do on your holiday in Uganda is a boat cruise on the Nile River. A boat ride out to Samuka Island is a highlight purely for its outstanding fauna and flora. A boat cruise on the Nile River takes you to the foot of the famous Murchison Falls in the national park. From here you can enjoy a guided nature walk or book for chimpanzee trekking.
TREE-CLIMBING LIONS OF UGANDA
If you’re chased by lions in the Queen Elizabeth National Park, don’t try to escape by climbing a tree because this is where you’ll find Uganda’s famous tree-climbing lions.
It’s highly uncommon to find lions climbing up and seeking refuge in trees. In fact, there are very few places in the world where you’ll find tree-climbing lions and one of them is in the Ishasha region of the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Other places include Lake Manyara National Park in southern Tanzania, the Savuti region in Botswana and the Vurhami pride in southern Kruger National Park in South Africa, near Crocodile Bridge.
It’s believed that the tree-climbing lions in Uganda either do it to escape the heat on the ground or to move higher up to avoid biting tsetse flies. It’s a bit of mystery but a rewarding sight when you find them on a safari tour of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Another unique feature is the male Uganda lions in this region have a black mane which is a rare feature.
The lions favour the large sycamore fig and acacia trees which are scattered across the vast savanna plains. They give these crafty lions an elevated view of the grasslands and the Uganda Kobs that graze in the open bushveld which is normally their main meal of the day.
To find the tree-climbing lions of Uganda, you need to visit the Ishasha sector found in the southern sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. It’s the most popular area in the national park and you’ll find a find selection of safari lodges catering for a wide variety of Uganda tourists.
Apart from the lions in the area, the Ishasha sector is also renowned for its outstanding biodiversity with ranges from open savanna grasslands to dense riverine forests. The Ishasha sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park is also an excellent destination for birding. It’s home to wonderful bird species such as the palm bat culture, grey kestrel, shoebill stork, African green pigeon, martial eagle and African crowned eagle.
From Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can make your way to the great crater lakes such as Lake Nyamunyangwe which are home to thousands of flamingoes. Lake Katwe is another magical lake region; where salt has been mined for over 500 years.
SEMPAYA HOT SPRINGS
The Sempaya Hot Springs is a fun tourist destination located in Semiliki National Park. Hundreds of tourists flock to the hot springs every year which has a geyser that shoots boiling water up from a sinkhole. The water’s hot enough to boil an egg in 10 minutes.
The Sempaya Hot Springs area is popular for guided nature walks and hikes in the surrounding forests. You’ll find a host of primates along the way including grey-cheeked mangebeys, red-tailed monkeys, De Brazza’s monkeys as well as forest elephants, chimpanzees and pygmy antelopes.
STRADDLE THE EQUATOR
You can go on a holiday to Uganda and stand on the imaginary line that divides the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere. The imaginary line is known as the equator which marks the equidistant from the North and South Pole.
The Equator Monument is located in Kayabwe in the Mpigi District, about 72 kilometres from Kampala. You’ll find the markers for the equator in Kasese District within the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Uganda weather at the Equator Monument is hot year-round and it’s difficult to discern the difference between winter and summer. Remember to wear sunscreen.
BIGODI SWAMP WALK
The visit to the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is a wonderful addition to a gorilla trekking or chimpanzee trekking holiday in Uganda. It’s located a short 6-kilometre drive from the Kibale National Park so it’s a perfect add-on after a safari tour.
The Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary was established to protect the 4-square-kilometre Magombe Swamp which is home to about 200 recorded bird species. The main birding attractions include the papyrus gonolek, white-winged warbler and great blue turaco.
You’ll also see a wonderful collection of butterflies as well as eight different primate species which includes the grey-cheeked mangabey. The guided walk takes 3 hours and the price includes binocular and gumboot hire.
WHITE-WATER RAFTING ON THE NILE
Most people think of Egypt when you mention the Nile River but let’s not forget that it’s the world’s second longest river and its source originates in Uganda, close to the town of Jinja.
Much like Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, the city of Jinja is the ‘Adventure Capital of East Africa’ and the country’s tourism hub. Everything from white-water rafting on the Nile River to kayaking and canoeing, bungee-jumping, cycling and horse-riding is offered by the many outdoor adventure tour operators in Uganda.
Tackling the rapids on the mighty Nile River is not for the faint-hearted but definitely something for the bucket list if ‘adrenalin’ is your second name. Kayak the Nile is the best adventure company in Jinja to book a professional white-water rafting excursion or a more sedate kayak tour on the Nile River.
WALK WITH RHINOS AT ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY
Rhinos are highly endangered and face extinction if rampant poaching can’t be brought under control so it’s significant that Uganda has created a rhino sanctuary that offers 22 southern white rhino a place of safety. The Ziwa Rhino & Wildlife Ranch is located in the Nakasongola district which you pass through on your way from Jinja to the Murchison Falls National Park.
The rhino sanctuary is a project run by the Rhino Fund Uganda and Uganda Wildlife Authority. The aim is to re-introduce white rhino back into Uganda as well as educate people on the plight of rhinos and generate much-needed funds for research through rhino trekking.
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get out of the vehicle at Ziwa Rhino & Wildlife Ranch to walk with rhinos can’t be missed because who knows what will become of the most endangered member of the Big 5 in Africa. You’re accompanied by an armed ranger and it’s perfectly safe as long as you follow his instructions.
Other popular activities at Ziwa Rhino & Wildlife Ranch include a Shoebill trek, canoe ride, night walk and guided nature walk.
EAT A ROLEX IN UGANDA
Not many people own a Rolex in Uganda but they all can definitely eat one. A ‘Rolex’ in Uganda is a chapati rolled around a 2-egg omelette with onion, tomatoes and cabbage. A chapati is a type of African flatbread much like Indian naan bread.
The ‘Rolex’ is a favourite street dish that’s sold at food stalls that operate 24/7 in the busy markets in Kampala. The ‘Titanic Rolex’ comes with extras such as sausages, vegetables and fried beans and if you’re ravenous you can ask for the ‘Kikommando Rolex’ which is a supersize version of the ‘Rolex’.
HOTELS IN UGANDA
There’s a hotel on every corner on the streets of Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe. International tourists with US Dollars and Euros to burn are spoilt for choice. For a holiday in Uganda, TripAdvisor is your best source of information for quality places to stay.
The best Uganda accommodation is concentrated around the top wildlife destinations which include Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls National Park and Kibale National Park.
TRACKERS SAFARI LODGE
Trackers Safari Lodge is a luxury safari lodge located in the magnificent Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with a panoramic view of the magnificent forest surrounds. The safari lodge claims to have the most qualified gorilla trekking team in Uganda and specialises in offering unsurpassed gorilla trekking experiences.
Other activities offered by Trackers Safari Lodge include hikes and guided nature walks, birding safaris and the Batwa Pigmy Village Walk.
Kyaninga Lodge is located in a stunning valley near Kibale National Park which is an excellent destination for chimpanzee trekking. The luxury safari lodge lies nestled on the edge of Lake Kyaninga which is an extinct volcanic crater lake at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains.
You experience the beauty and romance of this unexplored region while staying in the height of luxury and elegance.
LAKE VICTORIA SERENA GOLF RESORT & SPA
Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa is a gorgeous resort located on the shores of Lake Victoria. Set on a gentle slope above its own marina in a beautiful terraced rose-filled garden with cascading fountains, Lake Victoria Serena Golf Resort & Spa is renowned for its immaculate PGA-affiliated championship golf course.
CHOBE SAFARI LODGE
Chobe Safari Lodge is a stunning safari lodge located in the Murchison Falls National Park. It offers guests luxurious accommodation in the perfect setting with a panoramic view of the Nile River. A spectacular feature of Chobe Safari Lodge is its 3-tier swimming pool with the same spectacular view over the Nile River and surrounding bushveld.
MWEYA SAFARI LODGE
Mweya Safari Lodge is a gorgeous eco-lodge located in the heart of the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Its set in a magnificent garden with the magical Rwenzori Mountains providing the perfect backdrop. Mweya Safari Lodge offers a range of activities including daily game drives in the national park, boat cruises on the Kazinga Channel and chimpanzee trekking in the Kyambura Gorge.
APOKA SAFARI LODGE
Apoka Safari Lodge sits atop a rocky hill looking over the Narus River Valley which lies within the Kidepo National Park. It’s located in the extreme northeastern region of Uganda, only 5 kilometres from the Kenyan border post. The Napore Mountains lie to the west, Sudan to the north and the Morungole Mountains to the south.
Guests staying at Apoka Safari Lodge are ideally positioned to explore the magical Kidepo National Park which is also the best destination in Uganda for chimpanzee trekking.
SHERATON KAMPALA HOTEL
If you’re looking for quality accommodation in Kampala, the Sheraton Kampala Hotel offers visitors stylish accommodation in a tranquil garden setting. Guests have access to a state-of-the-art fitness centre which includes a gym, outdoor swimming pool and spa treatment rooms.
Stay in for the night and enjoy decadent cocktails at the Equator Bar & Lounge or enjoy the Kampala nightlife. You’re ideally located to the string of upmarket restaurants and bars in Kampala.
UGANDA TRAVEL TIPS
The people of Uganda speak Uglish (you-glish) which is ordinary English with some very strange expressions. For example, if you’re directed downhill, they say ‘slope down’; if someone hasn’t seen you for a long time they say ‘you are lost’; and ‘please extend’ means make room for them so they can sit down.
If a local person says he’s going to “make a short call”, it means he’s going off to have a pee. And so the funny sayings go on.
Free Wi-Fi is provided in select parts of Kampala, provided by Uganda’s National IT Authority. The best thing to do in Uganda is buy a SIM card when you arrive in Kampala; data is relatively inexpensive and coverage in the main cities is good.
Kampala is renowned for its chronic traffic congestion so factor this into your plans when travelling to the airport or other popular tourist destinations in Kampala. Locals in Uganda prefer to use motorbike taxis called a boda-boda.
If you catch a lift in a boda-boda, be prepared for a hair-raising ride weaving in and out of the traffic. Boda-bodas are not always roadworthy and the taxi operators are often bad drivers so be very careful using these motorbikes to get around the big cities of Uganda.
Uganda is not LGBT friendly. The Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014 which proposed the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality has been scrapped but same-sex relationships in Uganda are still illegal. There is a small, underground LGBT movement in Kampala but any public displays of same-sex affection are risky.
When greeting a local Ugandan, it is customary to ask, “How are you?” It’s impolite to just say “hi”.
Traffic congestion in the main cities of Uganda is hectic so the primary form of transport for locals is bicycles.
A staple food in Uganda is ‘matooke’ which is made using unripened bananas that have been mashed. Meat stews are also a staple dish and may include the liver, stomach, tongue and intestines.
Uganda is not a wealthy country. In fact, it’s extremely impoverished with approximately half of Ugandans living on less than US$1 a day.
Local women in Uganda dress modestly and always keep their legs covered. The local men always wear long pants, even in the extremely hot months. Only boys wear shorts. It’s acceptable for foreign men to wear shorts but it’s recommended that females on holiday in Uganda dress modestly out of respect for the local culture.
Never point your index finger at a local Ugandan. It’s an insult to point at someone and upsets people.
If you’re staying with a local person in Uganda and they offer you a dish of pan-fried grasshoppers, consider it an honour because it’s the ultimate delicacy in Uganda. Pan-friend grasshoppers are served in bars with drinks or you can buy them from vendors at the local street markets.
Don't drive at night in Uganda as the road conditions are a lot different from Western countries. Potholes and road edges are hard to spot, livestock wanders onto roads and other vehicles may drive haphazardly and even without lights.
Don't take photos of government or military buildings and constructions.
SAFETY TIPS FOR GORILLA TREKKING
Gorilla trekking in Uganda is a safe once-in-a-lifetime experience as long as you treat the mountain gorillas with respect, follow your guides instructions and use common sense in the dense forest. Only book a gorilla trekking safari through a reputable company that uses professional guides to ensure your safety.
Mountain gorillas are gentle giants and generally show very little aggression towards each other. On the other hand, chimpanzees that have not been habituated to humans are a lot more aggressive but this is usually more an act than ever an actual attack.
Always keep the recommended distance between yourself and the mountain gorillas. This is about 5 metres. Back away quietly as possible if a gorilla approaches and closes that distance. The same applies if a gorilla or chimp shows signs of aggression.
If a gorilla charges, follow your guides instructions. This might include crouching down slowly, not looking the gorilla directly in the eyes and wait to allow the gorilla to pass.
Remember, mountain gorillas are highly susceptible to human diseases. Never go gorilla trekking if you are ill and cancel your trip if you have a cold or flu or any other bacterial or viral infection.
If you need to go to the toilet in the forest, dig a hole in the ground and cover it up afterwards. Mountain gorillas can also pick up diseases from human faeces.
Don’t use a flash when photographing the mountain gorillas in Uganda.
Don’t talk or laugh loudly; keep as quiet as possible.
Don’t make any quick movements; watch your footing when close to the gorillas so you don’t trip and startle them.
Stay close to your guide and keep close to the group; don’t wander off in the forest on your own.
Never block the path of a mountain gorilla or chimpanzee; step aside quietly to let them pass.
Never take food or drink on a gorilla trekking safari; leave your daypack behind with the trackers.
Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves for the forest walk to avoid getting pricked by stinging nettles or bitten by insects. Use insect repellent to protect against mosquitoes; it should contain at least 20-30% DEET to be effective.
Wear a hat, use sunscreen and drink plenty of water on the forest walk.
Bring good waterproof clothing and a waterproof bag for your camera and other belongings.
UGANDA TRAVEL INFORMATION
Uganda enjoys a warm tropical climate with an average daily temperature of between 25-29°C (77- 84°F). There isn’t an extreme difference between summer and winter in Uganda because it’s located on the equator.
It’s cooler in the mountainous areas of Uganda and some high peaks such as Mount Elgon are often covered in snow.
The hottest months in Uganda are December to February; the rainy season is March to May as well as October to November.
Uganda has two rainy seasons:
- short rainy season is October to November
- long rainy season is mid-March to end-May
BEST TIME TO VISIT UGANDA
Uganda is year-round destination in terms of weather but if you’re interested in gorilla trekking, it’s best to plan your trip to Uganda during the two dry seasons:
- January and February
- June to September
The best time of year for gorilla trekking in Uganda is June to September because conditions in the forest are dry and pleasant. The next best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda is January and February.
The end-of-year December period is an extremely busy tourist month in Uganda and best avoided if possible. You need to book accommodation and tours well in advance because they’re usually fully booked at this time and you can expect prices to be higher in the peak Uganda tourist season.
Low tourist season in Uganda is during the rainy season; you have the jungle to yourself but it’s a risk visiting Uganda for gorilla trekking at this time. Gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking is conducted throughout the year; it’s just the conditions that are less bearable in the humid, rainy season.
A safari tour to Uganda is perfect in the dry season because the bushveld is less thick and the game usually congregates at permanent water sources. The best time for game viewing in Uganda is February and March or September and October.
For birding safaris, the best time to visit Uganda is between November and April when the migrant birds have arrived to escape the cold European winters.
HEALTH WARNINGS FOR UGANDA
Uganda is a high-risk malaria country except for high-altitude mountain regions such as Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains. All national parks in Uganda are considered high-risk malaria areas.
The highest risk of contracting malaria in Uganda is during the rainy season from March to May and October to December.
It’s highly recommended you take anti-malaria tablets and other precautions to prevent contracting the life-threatening disease on your holiday in Uganda. Consult your GP or a travel clinic for advice on anti-malaria tablets.
Watch the online press for details on any reported outbreaks of Ebola in Uganda.
Congo has experienced 10 outbreaks of Ebola since it was discovered in the country’s forested northern region in 1976. The disease causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea and kills about half of the people it infects.
The health care system in Uganda is relatively well organised and health officials have always worked speedily to eradicate any risk or contain cases of Ebola in Uganda.
Vaccines needed for Uganda
Before leaving for a holiday in Uganda, make sure you and your family are up-to-date with the routine vaccines. This includes measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and polio vaccine.
All travellers to the Republic of Uganda must have a valid Yellow Fever Immunization card. A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for all travellers aged 1 year and older. This is a strict vaccine requirement because the principal mosquito Vector Aedes Aegypti is present in Uganda.
Other vaccines recommended or required for Uganda include:
- hepatitis A
- yellow fever
Consult your GP or a travel clinic for more information on what vaccines you need for Uganda.
VISA REQUIREMENTS FOR UGANDA
Visitors to Uganda must obtain a visa for Uganda unless they come from one of the visa exempt countries. All visitors must hold a passport that’s valid for 6 months.
Uganda has adopted an electronic visa system and it’s no longer possible to get a Uganda visa on arrival at one of the main international airports. Visa applications are now obtained via an online processing system.
For example, iVisa offers Uganda travellers the convenience of fast processing time at an affordable rate. It takes about 15 minutes to complete the application online and it takes 24 hours to be processed. All you need to supply is a valid passport, a vaccination certificate for Yellow fever and one passport-sized photo.
East African Tourist Visa
The East Africa Tourist Visa allows travel between Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda with the same multiple entry visa. This visa is the result of a joint initiative made by the Heads of States of the respective partner countries to boost regional travel and create opportunities for tourists to explore the diversity of East Africa.
Travelers from any country can obtain a multiple entry visa that will allow entry to the Republic of Kenya, the Republic of Rwanda, and the Republic of Uganda for tourism over period of 90 days.
WHAT TO EXPECT OF A UGANDA SAFARI TOUR
The length of a typical Uganda safari tour varies depending on whether you’re visiting purely to track gorillas or you want to spend more time in Uganda’s wonderful national parks. Uganda safari tours range from 4-day safari packages to 7-day safari packages.
For gorilla trekking, you fly into Entebbe International Airport which is located about 45 kilometres from the capital city of Kampala. You’ll overnight at a luxury lodge on the shores of Lake Victoria and fly out the next day to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
If you have the time and budget, the experts recommend tracking the gorillas twice as you’re only allowed to sit with the giant primates for an hour. It’s an overwhelming experience and a lot to take in so a second opportunity to “meet” the gentle giants is an incredible privilege.
After the gorilla experience, you fly back to Entebbe International Airport where you’ll either catch a connecting flight back home or carry on with the rest of your holiday in Uganda.
The popular safari circuit in Uganda includes Kibale National Park which is great for chimpanzee trekking, Queen Elizabeth National Park which is brilliant birding destination and Murchison Falls which is popular for boat cruises and outdoor activities.
SAFETY IN UGANDA
Tourists travel to safari destinations in Uganda which are low-risk areas largely because the safety and security of tourists in Uganda is a massive priority for the government and hospitality industry. While on holiday in Uganda, including visiting the main cities such as Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe; always stay in areas that are trouble and crime free.
Petty theft and street muggings are common in the urban areas but you shouldn’t have a problem if you follow the usual precautions to keep yourself and your valuables safe. Most tourists stay in quality accommodation in upmarket areas in Kampala, Jinja and Entebbe and crime is negligible if you practice common sense; don’t walk in the streets on your own at night, don’t flash cash on shopping sprees and don’t travel with expensive jewelry or watches.
When travelling to Uganda, it’s recommended you take out travel insurance. It should cover lost or stolen baggage, flight cancellations and medical cover for general medical treatment and possible medical evacuation if something should happen at a remote safari destinations in Uganda.
GETTING TO UGANDA
The main entry point for tourists arrive in Uganda is Entebbe International Airport (EBB) which is located about 45 kilometres from the capital city, Kampala. Most tour operators offer a service where they ‘meet & greet’ you at the airport and take you from and to the airport as part of a Uganda safari tour package.
Fly Uganda and Aerolink run scheduled domestic flights to most national parks in Uganda. You also have the option of booking a private charter flight with a reputable tour operator in Uganda. This is a very pricey option but often the most convenient.
LANGUAGE SPOKEN IN LESOTHO
Uganda is a multilingual country in East Africa. There are 40 native languages spoken in Uganda which can be grouped into three main language families: Bantu, Central Sudanic, and Nilotic.
English was adopted under British rule and remains deeply entrenched in the education system, government and media. Swahili is the official language adopted by the nation.
The English dialect spoken in Uganda is sometimes called Uglish or Ugandan English. It has a rich local flavour characterised by different regions. It’s a form of Urban Slang spoken by locals in the cities and main tourist areas.
INTERESTED IN A TOUR OF UGANDA
Moafrika Tours specialises in tours to the major destinations and tourist attractions in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique in southern Africa as well as tourist in Uganda and Rwanda. Find out more about the fascinating places you’ll visit on a tour of Uganda with Moafrika Tours and what to expect from a Uganda tour package.