‘The kingdom of Uganda is a fairytale’ – Winston Churchill
Nestled in the heart of East Africa, Uganda often draws visitors for one reason – its resident mountain gorillas. These gentle, intelligent creatures are extraordinary, and meeting a mountain gorilla is a moment you will remember for the rest of your life.
Yet, while primates might be your primary reason to visit Uganda, you’ll come back remembering so much more. The gorillas are just the beginning.
Winston Churchill famously said that “for magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for the profusion of brilliant life – plant, bird, primates, insect, reptile, and beast – for the vast scale, is truly the Pearl of Africa”.
He was spot on. Uganda feels like an untouched natural paradise. The landscapes are jaw-dropping, the local culture is fascinating, and the wildlife is incredible.
For a country similar in size to the UK, the diversity that Uganda offers will completely blow your mind. Where else can you travel between thundering waterfalls, savannah grasslands, volcanic crater lakes, tea plantations, river deltas, and dense tropical rainforests? Where else can you meet mountain gorillas, track chimpanzees, walk with endangered rhinos, and spot tree-climbing lions?
Here are 15 reasons to visit Uganda. Prepare to be inspired!
"There is more meaning and mutual understanding in exchanging a glance with a gorilla than with any other animal I know" - David Attenborough.
Getting close to the mountain gorillas is the experience of a lifetime. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to around 500 endangered mountain gorillas - half of the remaining population in the world. The trekking experience is thrilling and anyone with a reasonable level of fitness can handle the hike. The golden hour that you’ll spend with the gorillas is something that will stick with you forever.
Uganda really is a primate paradise. Not only can you see gorillas, but you can also drop in to see the resident chimpanzees. It’s another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will leave you lost for words. These extraordinary creatures share about 90% of DNA and it’s amazing to see them in their natural habitat.
Kibale National Park, a tropical rainforest roughly the size of New York City, is the most popular place to go chimpanzee trekking. It’s home to around 1,500 chimpanzees that live in large groups of between 30 and 60 members. If you’re lucky, they’ll clamber down from the canopy to the forest floor, and you’ll be able to watch them from just a few metres away. Magic!
The Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National in Uganda is one of only two places on the planet where you can see tree-climbing lions. The other is Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. On the open grass plans of Ishasha, you’re likely to come across lions lazing in huge fig trees during the heat of the day.
We still don’t fully understand why lions climb trees in these two specific areas. It’s possible that they head for the branches in search of a cool breeze, or to escape the tsetse flies that tend to swarm near ground level. Whatever their reasons, it’s something incredible to behold.
Founded in 2006, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary started with only six highly endangered white rhinos. Today, there are 32 rhinos thriving in the small reserve and you can set out to find them on foot with a local ranger. It’s another great Ugandan adventure.
Together with your guide, you’ll walk through the bush to find the rhinos and spend an hour watching them from just a few metres away. It’s a little nerve-wracking at first, but a real privilege too. The sanctuary is the perfect place to break up the drive from Entebbe to Murchison Falls National Park, so there’s every reason to visit.
Uganda isn’t only home to rainforests, river deltas, swamplands, and mist-topped mountains. It’s also home to the open grass plains and scrubby acacia bushland you associate with a classic Africa safari. There are 10 national parks to explore that cover a whopping 23% of the country, and these parks are bursting at the seams with wildlife.
On safari in Uganda, you can see four of the Big Five (Ziwa is the only place where you can see rhinos). We’re talking elephants, buffalo, leopards, and lions. In addition, you can see zebras, Rothschild giraffes, hippos, baboons, hyenas, antelopes, and crocodiles. It’s a wonderful wildlife bonanza!
If you’re a birder, there’s nowhere better than Uganda. The riverine forests, papyrus swamps, and wetlands are chock-full of beautiful and often rare, birds. The giant Shoebill and Shelley’s Crimsonwing are two species that regularly top bird bucket lists, as well as the African Green Broadbill, Great Blue Turaco and Bar-tailed Trogon.
Another unique aspect of wildlife spotting in Uganda is the mixture of game drives and boat safaris you can expect. Rivers, lakes, and wetlands cover about 18% of Uganda, and you can set sail in search of wildlife, getting a different perspective on the landscape. It’s a wonderful way to see the country.
In Murchison Falls National Park, you can glide along the Victoria Nile, getting unbelievably close to hippos and watching baboons monkey about on the river banks. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, you can sail through the Kazinga Channel, which joins Lake Albert and Lake George, watching elephants drink at the water’s edge, spotting rare birds, and looking for crocodiles lurking in the shallows.
Murchison Falls is, by definition, the most powerful waterfall in the world. Here, you can see the highest volume of water squeeze through the smallest gap, creating so much pressure that the ground rumbles.
Every second, the equivalent of 200 bathtubs of water is forced through a gorge less than seven paces wide. You can take a boat trip to the bottom of the Falls and hike to the top, known as ‘Devil’s Cauldron’. Either way, it’s a humbling sight.
Not only can you explore Uganda by land and by water – you can also take to the skies! While it’s possible to reach virtually everywhere by road, the journeys can be long and bumpy, especially in the rainy season. If you’re short on time and eager to pack as much into your trip as possible, it’s worth adding a couple of bush flights to your itinerary.
There are tiny airstrips scattered across Uganda where you can hop on a 15-seater Cessna flight and jet off to your next destination. These flights drastically reduce journey times, allowing to squeeze the most out of your holiday. It’s an exciting way to get around and the bird’s eye views are out of this world.
Located near Kibale National Park, the Great Crater Lakes region of Uganda is an area of jaw-dropping natural beauty. Here, dotted amongst the tropical forests and hills, you can see fifty clear blue crater lakes. On a clear day, you can also see the tallest African Mountain range, the Rwenzori Mountains of the Moon, in the distance.
This is an incredible place to get out your walking boots and hit the trails. The hikes meander you between crater lakes, villages, tea plantations and waterfalls, providing buckets of variety. If you get overheated, you can stop to swim in a dormant volcano lake, surrounded by exotic plants, trees, monkeys and birds.
Uganda isn’t only about the wildlife – its people are wonderful and welcoming too. The country is incredibly diverse, with 56 tribes, 9 indigenous communities, and over 70 languages. Many regions in Uganda have ancient kingdoms including Buganda, Busoga, Bunyoro and Toro, and each kingdom has its own dance. It’s an enchanting and fascinating culture, so take some time to learn about the people.
Near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest you can visit the indigenous Echuya Batwa pygmies, ancient forest-dwellers who live in simple stick huts on the fringes of modern Ugandan society. Originally a remote community of hunter-gatherers, their natural way of life is now endangered by industry and agriculture. They are warm people who will share their traditions with you.
The equator runs straight through Uganda from east to west, so you can easily stop and take a snap. If you’re travelling by road, you’ll cross the line on your way to visit any of the national parks in southwestern Uganda, such as Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, and Bwindi.
Along the equator, the days and nights are exactly equal in length. If you stand astride the line, you’ll have a foot in two hemispheres! You’ll also be 3% lighter at the equator line, as the Earth is not a perfect sphere, and the water drains straight down. It’s science-y fun!
Tourism in Uganda directly contributes to the local communities, so your visit really makes a difference. The communities surrounding game reserves and national parks benefit directly from tourism activities. For example, when you stay near Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, you can visit local NGO projects, community hospitals and villages that are all supported partially by tourism.
The money paid for gorilla and chimpanzee trekking permits also benefits the people and primates of Uganda. In general, 15% of the money collected from gorilla permits goes to the government, 10% to the local communities and 75% to gorilla conservation. In contrast to many other African countries, the majority of safari companies in Uganda are locally owned, so your money supports the local economy.
If you’re eager to get a taste of the local culture in Uganda, don’t miss your chance to munch on a Rolex. Short for ‘rolled eggs’, this popular street-food snack consists of an omelette filled with vegetables rolled up in a chapati. The original version used up the cheapest vegetables, like onions, cabbage, and tomatoes, but today you can find all kinds of tasty variations with fresh coriander, chopped green chillis and ginger. It’s delicious!
Set on the north shore of Lake Victoria and known as the ‘adventure capital of East Africa’, Jinja is a natural playground for adrenaline junkies. Here, you can get up to all sorts of heart-pumping activities, from whitewater rafting, kayaking and tubing on the River Nile to quad-biking, horseback riding and bungee jumping.
However, there’s more to Jinja than boosting your blood pressure. There are plenty of gentler activities to keep you occupied during your stay. You can relax on the beaches of Lake Victoria, take a trip with the local fisherman, visit nearby Itanda Falls, book a sunset cruise on the lake and visit the source of the River Nile. Whether you’re craving action or relaxation, Jinja will provide.