From the source of the mighty Nile River, to the snow-draped slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains, the forest haunts of endangered mountain gorillas, game-filled nature reserves and the vast expanses of Lake Victoria, Uganda is rich with opportunities for unforgettable experiences. Straddling the equator in Central East Africa, the country holds a variety of other natural treasures and a vibrant culture, giving rise to its moniker as ‘The Pearl of Africa’.
Nature lovers can visit one of 10 national parks, including Bwindi Forest and Mgahinga Gorillas on Uganda’s southern tip, which are cumulatively home to more than half of the world’s wild mountain gorillas. Guided treks through the tropical forest will almost guarantee close-up sightings of the gorillas, as well as encounters with a colourful myriad of other mammal species and birds.
Other parks such as Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo Valley offer a classic safari experience, connecting visitors with the iconic Big Five and a wide range of unspoilt habitats. While these parks are easily accessible, they are not packed with tourists, allowing for a true safari getaway. Wildlife is Uganda’s main tourist drawcard, and there are numerous other reserves which treat visitors to exceptional game viewing.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is a particularly special place, boasting dramatic explosion crater lakes, wetlands, savannah, gorges and lowland forest. Activities range from boat trips on Lake Edward or the Kazinga channel, to chimpanzee tracking, hiking and game drives.
Just west of the park, the Rwenzori Mountains - otherwise known as the Mountains of the Moon - tower 5 000 metres above the landscape. This is one of the few permanently snow-capped mountains in Africa, and ascending climbers can watch the scenery steadily changing from tropical rainforest, to alpine vegetation, rocky outcrops and glaciers.
Almost half of the massive Lake Victoria lies within Uganda’s borders, and the 84 forested islands of the Ssese group are well worth a visit for birders and insect enthusiasts. Reached by boat or ferry, the islands are a watersport lover’s paradise. On the northern shores of the lake, pay a visit to the Speke Monument in the bustling town of Jinja, which marks the source of the mighty Nile River.
Adrenaline junkies can bungee jump over this significant landmark, or embark on adventures such as river rafting. While Lake Victoria is Africa’s biggest lake by surface area, Lake Bunyonyi in south-western Uganda is thought to be the continent’s second deepest, and is surrounded by lovely forests.
Kampala; Uganda’s capital, is awash with colourful markets, art galleries, busy traffic and street-side food outlets, not to mention friendly locals. Just outside the city, the Kasubi Tombs are the burial ground of royals from the great Buganda Kingdom, giving a wonderful insight into Uganda’s history.
Drive up north to the Murchison Falls National Park, where the Nile surges down white-water rapids before plunging over the wall at Murchison Falls, turning into a languid stream that attracts prolific wildlife. Go east, and you will find the extinct volcanic wonderland of Mount Elgon and the extraordinary rock paintings at Nyero Rocks.
Uganda has a raised topography which keeps temperatures relatively mild throughout the year. However, the best times to visit for gorilla trekking are during the dry seasons, which occur during January and February and again from June to September. Game viewing in the savannah is best at the end of the dry seasons when wildlife is concentrated around water sources, and safaris are best avoided during the heavy rains of April and May.