Uganda was described by Winston Churchill as the “Pearl of Africa” for its exceptionally beautiful landscape and diverse plant and animal life. The climate supports the ecosystem perfectly as a result of her location near the equator. Uganda’s culture is diverse with over 30 tribes who are all friendly and welcoming to visitors. Uganda’s tourism industry has been through tough times since her independence. The rebellion in Northern Uganda led by Joseph Kony led to a decline in the number of tourists visiting certain parts of the country. Peace has been restored in the country and the tourism industry is thriving with more and more visitors opting for a safari in Uganda. Though landlocked, Uganda is blessed with several national parks, mountains, lakes, rivers which contain various species of birds, animals and plants. Uganda has the largest number of the endangered Mountain Gorillas in the world making her among the best travel destinations. The population of Chimpanzees in Uganda is the largest in East Africa and visitors can easily view the big five (leopards, hippopotamus, lions, buffaloes, elephants) – Uganda is the best place to spot tree climbing lions.
The main activities while in Uganda are:
- Gorilla tracking tours in Bwindi Impenetrable forest Park and Mgahinga Gorilla Park.
- chimpanzee tracking in Budongo, Kibale and Mgahinga.
- Cultural and religious tours at the Ndere centre, Uganda museum, Kasubi tombs and the Uganda Martyrs shrine Namugongo .
- Nature walks and landscape viewing.
- Spotting the big five – Elephants, rhinoceros, Leopard, Lion and buffalo.
- Fishing in the great Lake Victoria, Lake Albert, Lake Edward, Lake Mburo, Lake Kyoga, Lake Kwania, Lake Bunyoyi, Lake Bisina and the River Nile. The main species of fish caught are Nile perch, Tilapia, mud and lung fish.
- Birdwatching (over 1035 species).
- Swimming and rafting in the various crater lakes, rivers and beaches.
- Climbing Mountain Elgon and Hiking the Rwenzori mountains.
- Bungee jumping over the Nile.
These activities can be done in the following national parks, reserves and spots:-
Major National Parks in Uganda
Murchison Falls National Park
Located in Northwestern Uganda (Masindi District), Murchison falls national park is the largest conservation area in Uganda. Located in an area covering over 3,800 km², the park is named after one of its top attractions – The Murchison falls. The Murchison falls is formed at a point where the river Nile passes through a narrow gorge before going down about 42 meters in a mighty roar. Because of past insecurity in the country and unrestricted poaching, the park is not as it used to be. The park has however recovered because of more recent conservation efforts.
The waterfall may be a top attraction but the park is teeming with wildlife. The park has the largest population of the now endangered Rothschild Giraffes in East Africa – numbering over 1000. Visitors on tour of the Murchison Falls National Park should expect a memorable cruise up and down the river Nile to see elephants, lions, giraffes, Nile crocodiles, hippos, buffaloes, antelopes and birds feeding along the river banks. The Budongo forest in the park is famous for chimpanzee trekking. The park is also famous for white water rafting at the Karuma falls – A collection of rapids just before the Murchison falls.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth national park covers 2,056 sq. km and is located near Uganda’s border with the DR Congo. It is the most visited park in Uganda and famous for the tree climbing lions in Ishasha and the Uganda Kob. Visitors love the park for the beautiful green scenery and collection of plant, animal and bird species. The park has over 500 bird species among which include the King fisher, flamingos, eagles and storks. The endangered Shoebill Stork is also found in the park. The park contains different species of trees, craters, savannah grasslands, swamps, lakes and other volcanic features.
A safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park provides the best chance to spot the big five. The park has buffalos, hippos, baboons, elephants and various species of antelope. One can spot Nile crocodiles in Lake Edward and Lake George, birdwatching and game viewing at the Kazinga Channel or track chimpanzee at the Maramagambo forest. If you are planning on visiting, the best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park is during the dry.
Kidepo Valley National Park
The spectacular Kidepo valley national park is located in the remote north eastern corner of Uganda and covers about 1,440 km2. The park receives fewer visitors because of its remote location but is second to none for variety and sheer abundance of flora and fauna. This hidden gem is in many ways a great reflection of how Africa used to be before greater human interference. It has been described by CNN Travel as among the top three parks in Africa. The park is a collection of stunning mountains and un-spoilt savannah. One can view wild dogs, lions, cheetah, leopard, giraffe, oryx, buffalo and hippopotamus. The park is also home to bush babies, elephants, ostriches, baboons and about 220 bird species. One can also spot the Kananorok hot springs at the northern part of the park. The animals share space with nomadic pastoralists like the Karamajong and the Ik people living high up the Morungole Mountain. Visitors should expect a special treat during their safari to Kidepo National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest Park is found in the south western corner of Uganda and neighbors the Dr Congo’s Virunga National Park. Because of its landscape and biological diversity, Bwindi is considered a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO and has often been referred to as the Switzerland of Africa. The breathtaking green and beautiful forests of Bwindi contain half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. The rest can only be found in Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of Congo. Mountain gorilla tracking is considered among the top three activities worth considering while visiting Africa. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi to see the endangered mountain gorillas is a once in a lifetime experience and cannot be compared to anything else. Apart from Gorilla tours , Bwindi is home to Colobus monkeys and is a birders paradise. Some of the bird species include bee-eaters, chap-ins flycatchers, black billed turaco and African green broadbills. The best time for birding is during the wet season, when all resident and migratory birds gather to feast on the abundant forest fruits and insects.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga is located in the southwestern part of Uganda and famous for gorilla trekking. Gorilla trekking in Mgahinga involves visiting the one habituated mountain gorilla family found in the park. In Uganda, Golden monkeys can only be found in Mgahinga. One would need to cross over to Rwanda to view more golden monkey groups. The park is not all about monkeys and gorillas. Jackals, woodland elephants, buffalo, leopard and a few antelope species roam the park. Visitors to Mgahinga can also hike one of the three Volcanoes (Mount Sabinyo, Mt. Muhavura and Mount Gahinga) found in the park or go for the Batwa trail and cave exploration.
Kibale Forest National Park
The park is found near the Rwenzori Mountains and shares a border with Queen Elizabeth national park. The forest is famous for chimpanzee tracking – The best place to track Chimpanzee in East Africa. Chimpanzees can be found in other parts of Uganda and Africa but the sheer numbers (1500) in Kibale forest guarantees you a close interaction with them. Other than chimps, the park contains 13 other monkey species like the red colobus, L’Hoest’s and grey-cheeked mangabeys. Giant forest hogs, antelopes and over 100 butterfly species are found in the park. The park has sections covered by swamps and grasslands and is a good location for birding – Over 290 species.
Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo is Uganda’s smallest but most accessible park from Kampala. Lake Mburo is the main water body among 12 others found in the park. In Uganda, Zebras are only found at Lake Mburo National Park. The park is a birders paradise with over 300 species that congregate at the lake and its swampy shores. The massive woodland benefits from the absence of elephants in the park. The parks savannah grass teems with antelopes, buffaloes, leopards, jackals and hyenas. The dry season provides the best time to spot animals as they gather to drink water at the lake Mburo.
Mount Elgon National Park
The park is found in Mbale district in the Eastern part of the country and lies on the border between Uganda and Kenya. Mount Elgon itself is an extinct volcano with a caldera spanning about 42km2. The Wagagai summit is a favorite among hikers as are hot-springs and other features that make the park so captivating. The mountain slopes are littered with natural forests, bushes, waterfalls, caves, gorges and canyons. The park is also filled with different bird species and primates like colobuses, blue monkeys and vevert monkeys among others.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
This is a Rhino reserve along the way to the Murchison falls national Park. The objective of the sanctuary is to protect the country’s rhinos and eventually restock the larger parks. Rhinos have succumbed to poaching for their valuable horns in many of Uganda’s parks. The sanctuary helps protect rhinos from poachers and human interference hence giving them a safe place to reproduce. The park has over 60 rangers and guards and visitors can see the Rhinos up-close and interact with conservationists to gain knowledge about the project and Rhinos. Most tour companies include a stop-over at the Ziwa Rhino sanctuary when organizing safaris to Murchison Falls national park.
Apart from Rhinos, rangers can help one spot monkeys, antelopes, crocodiles and hippos. The sanctuary is a great place for relaxing, nature walks and canoeing while spotting about 240 species of birds.
Other Tourism destinations in Uganda
With its 29 islands, Lake Bunyonyi is widely regarded as the most beautiful lake in Uganda. The lake is located near the border with Rwanda and close to the towns of Kabale and Kisoro. Although the lake one of the deepest in Africa, it is the sheer scenic beauty that sets it apart from others and makes it attractive to both visitors and locals. It offers great romantic spots to relax and watch the day pass by. One can also go watch the traditional dances of the Batwa Pygmies or hop from one island to another spotting the different island villages, schools and settlements by boat. The lake is close to Bwindi Impenetrable forest and visitors enjoy stopping by on their way to track mountain gorillas.
The source of the Nile
A trip to Uganda should be completed by a two day visit to the source of the Nile in Jinja. River Nile is one of the three longest lakes in the world and passes through several countries as after leaving Uganda among which includes Sudan, Ethiopia and Egypt. Jinja is a small, quiet, relatively well planned former industrial town with beautiful scenery. You can visit the Bujagali falls or go boat riding along the river Nile as you spot several large crocodiles. The river Nile also provides spots for camping, fishing, rafting, kayaking and the now popular bungee jumping.
The scenic Ssese Islands are an archipelago of 84 islands found in Lake Victoria. Locals love to take their vacation in the islands quiet sandy beaches. The journey to the islands from Entebbe takes 3 hours by ferry or 45 from Bukakata. The route through Entebbe by ferry will take you through the beautiful Lake Victoria and fishing villages. The largest island is Bugala in Kalangala town. Other islands include Bulago and Bukasa which all have excellent white sand beaches. Fishing and tourism are the main economic activities in the islands. Visitors on Ssese Islands tour will have opportunities to spot several bird species, monkeys, crocodile, hippos and a few antelope species.
Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
The centre is located in Entebbe and set up by the Uganda government for education and conservation purposes. The centre was recently revamped and has grown considerably in recent years. The population and variety of animals, birds and reptiles has increased. Visitors to Uganda for short workshops and conferences can find the centre a perfect place to get a taste of what Uganda has to offer in terms of both flora and fauna.
The Rwenzori Mountains
Uganda is blessed with several mountains but the Rwenzori mountains stands out. Located at the border between Uganda and DR Congo, tourists love hiking to the top of the snow-capped Margherita peak. The mountain slopes are covered with dense forests that are inhabited by primates, forest hogs and several bird and butterfly species.
The Sipi falls are some of the most stunning waterfalls in Uganda. Located at the foot of Mount Elgon, they are one of the most visited waterfalls in Uganda. There are three levels with the top level attracting more travelers.