Best known for its highly endangered mountain gorillas and fascinating chimpanzees, Uganda, known as the Pearl of Africa, is waiting to be explored.
The pearl of Africa
Situated in East Africa, Uganda is mostly a plateau straddling the Equator, offering a unique blend of East African savannah and West African rainforest, and a rare wealth of mountain and lake habitats. It is a unique destination where you can track chimpanzees through a rainforest in the morning and observe lions walking the open plains that same afternoon. Its tropical channels teem with hippos and Nile crocodiles, and last but not least, the incredible mountain gorillas that call the dense Bwindi Impenetrable Forest home.
As the country’s capital, this bustling city offers a good introduction to Uganda. Served by the international airport in Entebbe, engaging Kampala has a rich and colourful history with fascinating attractions such as Mengo Palace, the historic royal compound of the Buganda King, and the Kasubi Tombs which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tombs are an active religious place in the Buganda Kingdom, which serves as the burial ground for the previous four Kabakas or ‘kings’ of the Buganda people, where the Kabaka and others in Buganda’s complex cultural hierarchy frequently carry out important centuries-old Ganda rituals. The Kabaka is the unquestioned symbol of the spiritual, political and social state of the Buganda Kingdom, making the Kasubi Tombs an interesting place to visit from a cultural perspective.
On the shores of gorgeous Lake Victoria, Entebbe is an attractive, verdant town that served as the capital city during the early years of the British protectorate. Today, it’s the relaxed pace of life and nearby natural attractions that give the city its charm. Some visitors prefer to base themselves here for a few days rather than in busier Kampala. It’s also the ideal place to end one's trip if one is on an early-morning flight out of Uganda’s international airport.
Meet our closest relatives
Uganda's forests harbours 20 primate species, with Kibale National Park alone home to 13 including the recently discovered Dwarf Galago. But its country's great apes - mountain gorillas and chimpanzees - are the main attractions.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda's oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, dating back over 25,000 years. More famously, this ‘impenetrable forest’ also protects roughly half of the Africa's mountain gorilla population, as well as a further 120 mammal species, including elephants and primates such as baboons and chimpanzees, while offering some of the best birding in Africa. Guests come here to track the gentle creatures to observe them up close in their natural habitat, and saying there is no experience quite like this is probably the biggest understatement of all. By visiting these great apes, you too can contribute to their protection and conservation, as all the profits from gorilla treks go towards further research and conservation efforts.
The Mgahinga National Park sits at an altitude between 2,227 metres and 4,127 metres. The park also offers visitors an opportunity to get a glimpse of Virunga's rare mountain gorillas, and it is also an important habitat for endangered golden monkeys. The park also plays a significant role in Uganda's cultural heritage, as it is home to the indigenous Batwa pygmies. The tribe is the forest’s first settlers, and their knowledge of the land remains unrivalled. Mgahinga's most striking feature comes in the form of three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo. The volcanoes’ slopes and their diverse ecosystems provide an unparalleled backdrop to the area's striking scenery.
Kibale contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest, woodland and savannah in Uganda. Its varied altitude supports different types of habitat, making it one of Africa’s foremost research sites for studying its chimpanzees and other primates, and its vulnerable ecosystems. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously of which are 13 species of primates, including the chimpanzee. There are 351 tree species recorded in the park as well as over 375 species of birds. Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south, creating a 180-kilometre-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale National Park.
It's not just about the primates
A country of unimaginable diversity, the Big Five roam its savannahs and woodlands, and Uganda is just as much sought after by birders who comb the country's parks looking for over a thousand species among its varied habitats.
Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda’s oldest and most popular park, is set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains and offers magnificent vistas and panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel and the endless Ishasha Plains. The park’s diverse ecosystems make it the ideal habitat for almost 100 mammal species, including its famous tree-climbing lions, 10 primate species including chimpanzees, and over 600 species of birds (including the rare African Shoebill). The park is also famous for its volcanic features such as the Katwe explosion craters, from which salt is extracted. Activities in the park include nature walks, game drives, boat cruises on the Kazinga Channel, chimpanzee tracking in the sunken forest of Kyambura Gorge, and cultural visits to the local communities around the park.
First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda's largest reserve at 3,983 square kilometres, hosting many dignitaries over the past century including Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway, to name a few. The park is known for its stunning Murchison Falls where the Victoria Nile river surges through a narrow rocky gap and plunges a massive drop of 45 metres into a pool known as “The Devil’s Cauldron”, before flowing into tranquil Lake Albert. Apart from the waterfall, Murchison Falls National Park is also a popular site for wildlife, being home to more than 70 mammal species and 450 species of birds. Hot air balloon rides are also a great way to enjoy the magnificent landscape on offer.
Off the beaten track, Kidepo Valley National Park is nestled among the rugged hills and valleys of northern Uganda. This is a park so hidden away its beauty has mostly gone unnoticed. This 1,400-square-kilometre park contains diverse landscapes, from lush mountain ranges to vast plains, and is home to almost 500 bird species and 77 different mammals. Its savannahs support an impressive collection of fauna including elephants, lions, hartebeest and giraffes, with very few tourists to share the wildlife sightings with. The park is also home to one the smallest ethnic groups in Africa, a people called the Ik who allegedly journeyed from Ethiopia hundreds of years ago.
There is a good reason Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. With its incredible tapestry of landscapes, excellent wildlife viewing and trekking, and warm and welcoming locals, it packs a lot into one small country. Africa's tallest mountain range, the source of the Nile, the continent's largest lake, rare mountain gorillas, and a wide array of wildlife and bird species should be enough reasons to visit this beautiful country now.