After years of uncertainty, Uganda is welcoming tourism to its shores with a vigour that is truly astonishing. It may be small, but don't mistake size for variety because this little comes packed with lakes, landscapes and wildlife like you wouldn't believe.
  • Uganda
    Peter Wollinga / 123 RF
  • Uganda
    Oleg Znamenskiy / 123 RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Uganda

Pearl of Africa

As a touring young minister, Churchill called Uganda the ?Pearl of Africa'. It is a reputation which, over 100 years later, this dynamic country has little trouble living up to. Though the interim period brought suffering to the Ugandan people and their precious lands, the nation is now firmly positioning itself as one of Africa's major safari destinations, throwing in climbing opportunities, bird watching and gorilla tracking for good measure.

Embrace the wild

Home to Africa's largest lake, the source of the world's longest river and half of the world's remaining population of mountain gorillas, Uganda packs a punch which precious other wildlife destinations can equal. To the west, the districts of Kabale and Kanungu hold the Bwindi Forest and its fascinating population of endangered Mountain Gorillas. It has also been classified as one of the most biologically diverse places on earth, whilst the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a paradise for bird lovers with well over 300 species.

Big game safaris

With miles of uninterrupted savannah, Uganda's elephant population is free to wander as it pleases. The boundaries of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, located to the southwest, provide some of the best opportunities to see them in their natural habitat. An all-round safari paradise, the park also promises prides of lions, elusive leopards and the spotted hyena - famous for its distinctive 'laugh'.

The source of the Nile

Head east and you'll find the source of the world's longest river. Flanked by the city of Jinja and submerged by the Owen's Fall Dam, the site now provides most of Uganda's hydroelectric power. Downriver, you'll find fantastic sections for white water rafting and game fishing, as well as the glorious Murchison Falls with its 40-metre cascades of white water. Below the falls, the banks of the river are home to thousands of hippos, crocodiles and an incredible spectrum of birdlife.

Take on the mountains

The mystical Rwenzori Mountains, sometimes referred to as the Mountains of the Moon, rise spectacularly in the west, bordering Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have long fascinated climbers, not only for the challenge offered by their highest peak Mount Stanley, but for the diversity of landscapes on their slopes. Climbers pass from tropical rainforests to heath forests, into strange marshlands and rocky outcrops until finally reaching the snow-covered caps of the glaciers.

Uganda: the key figures

Surface area : 236040.0 km2

Population : 25600000 inhabitants

  • The beauty of the mountain landscapes.
  • The focus on ecotourism.
  • The diversity of Uganda's wildlife.
  • There are still safety problems along the borders.
  • Some areas are yet to reach their full touristic potential.

Uganda: what to visit?

Uganda: what to buy?

You can purchase local handicraft: clay pottery, clothes, such as the 'kanzu', a long cotton dress for men, or the 'gomas', the equivalent for women. Paintings, traditional and modern, are also very popular and music lovers will be able to purchase recordings of local music. Shops are open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, from Monday to Friday and from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm on Saturdays.

Uganda: what to eat?

Almost every tribe and region has its typical dishes, ranging from sundried fish and tasty stews, to banana dishes and succulent fruit. Matooke is one of the most popular dishes, made from plantain (savoury bananas) and served with peanut sauce and fresh fish. Many tribes prefer to smoke or salt and dry their fish, instead of serving it fresh.

Other areas make tasty dishes from beef, smoked or in a sauce, whilst in the west many cow-rearing tribes prefer a diet of milk, butter, beans and other simple foods.

Uganda: what are the cultural particularities?

Uganda is home to over 30 indigenous languages from five distinct linguistic groups, spawning an intricate mosaic of cultures, customs and traditions. As you travel through the country, you'll come across monarchical tribes, ceremonial dances, agricultural communities and diverse music, arts and handicrafts.

Central Uganda is dominated by the Bantu group, and more specifically by the Buganda people. The tribe has a monarchy, with King, Queen and Queen Mother, as well as a Prime Minister. A special significance is given to dance and many important occasions are accompanied by a dedicated ritual.

To the north, east and the west, tribal make-up is far more diverse, though many of them also place an importance on ceremonial dances, sometimes to communicate with the spirit world.

Uganda: travel tips

It may lie on the equator but Uganda has a superbly temperature climate for the majority of the year. The best times to visit are therefore between April and November, whilst December to March sees far warmer temperatures, often in excess of 30C. Temperatures can also vary widely depending on which part of the country you visit. The south, for example, has a far wetter climate due to the presence of Lake Victoria, whilst areas of the north are arid and dry with temperatures hovering around 40C.

The Ugandan tourism industry's focus has, for a while now, been on the promotion of ecotourism and to this end the country boasts some fantastic reserves. As well as protecting the diverse ecosystems and species, the projects aim to support local communities through tourism, often offering a source of employment which would otherwise not exist. The country has ten national parks, all offering eco-activities and exceptional wildlife.

Those preparing for a mountain climbing trip should be aware that temperatures on both Mount Elgon in the east on the border with Kenya and the Rwenzori Mountains in the west both experience sub-zero temperatures. Mount Stanley, the Rwenzoris' highest peak, should only be attempted by climbers with past experience but there is a fantastic beginner's circuit which requires only a good level of spirit and plenty of motivation.

Though most of the country provides an extremely safe environment for its visitors, you should take extra care in areas around the borders with South Sudan, Congo and most especially to the east of the country, along the border with Kenya.

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