Uganda has been called the “Pearl of Africa” because it truly is one of the continent’s most beautiful and precious jewels, with its spectacular scenery – dramatic, majestic mountains, lush tropical rain forests, magnificent waterfalls, glassy lakes more than 1000 feet deep – as well as an incredible diversity of wildlife, including more than 1500 species of mammal and 1,000 species of birds. It is also home to 13 types of primates, including our closest relative – the chimpanzee- and more than half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas.
For many people, the main reason for visiting Uganda is to come face-to-face with a gorilla in the wild, undeniably one of the most profound and thrilling wildlife experiences on the planet.
Other attractions include game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park, home to rare tree-climbing lions; chimp trekking in Kibale Forest; summiting the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, African tallest mountain range; fishing for massive Nile Perch at Murchison Falls; hiking to the “Top of the World” for breathtaking views of glassy crater lakes and the Mountains of the Moon; and, for adrenaline junkies, white-water rafting, kayaking, and bungee jumping in Jinja, at the source of the Nile River.
Uganda has, at least so far, escaped mass tourism, still retaining its “magnificence” and “brilliant profusion of life” noted by Winston Churchill and the early explorers. But it may soon no longer be a hidden gem, so don’t wait too long to explore it yourself.
Regions of Uganda
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is one of Uganda’s most popular parks for one simple but thrilling reason – gorillas. Bwindi is home to approximately half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas. Few wildlife experiences are more exciting than watching these magnificent, intelligent, primates up-close -just feet away from one of the habituated families – an enormous silverback male, young males and females and mothers with their adorable babies.
Although it’s not quite impenetrable, there are many steep hills and ridges and a tangled maze of lush plant-life. The trek through the jungle can be difficult, climbing for hours uphill, and “slippery when wet”, which is often, in a rainforest, but the experience is well worth the effort. Once you see your first glimpse of these gentle giants, all that is forgotten. The precious hour you get with them may be short, but the memory last forever.
The park itself is also strikingly beautiful. Although no other wildlife is needed to make the visit here worth the effort, there are about 350 bird species, more than 200 butterfly species, and 120 mammals, including other primates, although they just cannot compete with the magnificent gorillas! There are also fascinating cultural opportunities, visiting the local Batwa Pygmy villages.
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest and most well-known nature reserve, is named for its explosive, immense Falls, the centerpiece of the park, where the mighty Nile River plunges nearly 150 ft. down a narrow gorge, into the “Devil’s Cauldron”.
The spectacular Falls are the main reason that this is one of Uganda’s most popular parks, but it is also a great location for game viewing, with an incredible diversity and abundance of wildlife, including lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, Uganda kobs, hippo, huge crocodiles, and 450 species of birds.
A boating trip along the great Nile, to see the powerful Falls up-close, watching in awe as the powerful river cascades down with a thunderous roar, is a spectacle all visitors to Uganda should really try not to miss.
Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale Forest National Park is one of the most beautiful and most varied tropical forests in Uganda. It is most well-known for its abundance and diversity and of primates -13 species- especially the chimpanzees, the park’s main “attraction”. Visitors have one of the few opportunities in the world to observe our closest relatives in the wild, tracking the habituated groups in the jungle with researchers.
While searching for chimps, keep your eye out for one of the many other primates, of various shapes, sizes and colors, including Black-and-White Colobus, Olive Baboon, Grey-cheeked Mangabey, and Red-tailed Monkey, as well as 375 species of birds and 70 mammal species including elephants , leopards, African golden cats, servals, mongooses, otter, duikers, bushbucks, sitatungas, bushpigs, giant forest hogs, warthogs, and buffalo.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is described by many as the most beautiful park in Africa due to its incredible scenery, with spectacular views of the vast Great Rift Valley as well as the dramatic Rwenzori Mountains, the tallest mountain range in Africa. Inside the park there are volcanic craters, grassy plains, tropical forests, swamps, giant lakes that attract a “moving pink carpet” of flamingos, and a long channel that meanders through the park for more than 25 miles.
This is the most popular tourist destination in Uganda, and one of Africa’s best parks for safaris because of its incredible diversity of wildlife- almost 100 species of mammal, including elephant, lion, hippo, leopard, buffalo, and Uganda kob, and baboon, as well as enormous Nile crocodiles, and perhaps the world’s largest concentration of hippos. This is also a birder’s paradise, with an astonishing 600 species of birds.
Each location offers a unique landscape and activities, including game drives in Ishasha, home to the country’s rare tree-climbing lions, boating safaris on Kasinga Channel and chimpanzee trekking in stunning Kyambura Gorge, also called the “Valley of Apes”.
Mgahinga National Park
High in the clouds lies Uganda’s smallest park, spectacular Mgahinga National Park, well-known for Golden Monkey tracking, an exciting wildlife adventure to observe these beautiful primates as they roam the forest in large troops. The park is one also of the few places on earth to see endangered mountain gorillas, but sightings are not reliable here as they often cross the border into Rwanda.
The park is also a hiker’s paradise, with off-the- beaten path options requiring no experience, to the most difficult climbs to the top of magnificent extinct volcanoes, providing breathtaking views of 3 countries – Rwanda, Congo and Uganda. Other activities include cave exploration, birding, wildlife viewing, nature walks and encounters with the indigenous Batwa Pygmies, the forest’s “first people” still living according to their ancient culture.
Lake Victoria, shared by Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, is Africa’s largest lake and the second largest freshwater in the world. Bigger than the entire state of West Virginia, it seems more like a sea than a lake. It is a vital source of water, not just for East Africa, but for many African countries because it is the source of the mighty Nile, flowing over 4000 miles, through 11 countries.
For visitors it offers incredible scenery, surrounded by mountains, with streams tumbling into the lake. There are also many activities on the lake and its many islands, including the opportunity to swim and sunbath on sandy beaches in this landlocked country, fishing, boating safaris in search of crocodiles, hippos and other wildlife, bird watching, kayaking, “island hopping” visit local villages and an excursion to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, home to rescued chimps.
Only 20 minutes from Kampala, there really is no reason to miss this enormous, natural wonder.
Other Places to Visit
Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary- Sanctuary for rescued chimps on an island in Lake Victoria. Options for visitors include 1-3 day visits as well as longer volunteering.
Lake Mburo National Park- Closest wildlife park to Kampala for those with limited time to explore the country.
Jinga – City located on Lake Victoria. The source of the Nile and The “Adventure Capital of East Africa “ with numerous high-adrenalin activities.
Kazinga Channel: Located in Queen Victoria National Park, this long channel attracts a wide variety of birds and animals, including Nile crocodiles and one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos. Great for boating safaris.