Uganda, a country in East Africa, is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, making it an ideal destination for nature-lovers and safari enthusiasts. Some of the world’s highly endangered species thrive in this territory, including mountain gorillas and chimpanzees.
Although easily accessible, Uganda remains an under-visited and intriguing destination compared to its counterparts like Kenya and Tanzania. Most areas remain untouched, offering an authentic view of East Africa’s wildlife. It only has one city, which is its capital of Kampala, while the rest of its towns are filled with national parks, rough roads, and quiet villages. If you want to take yourself on a nature trip, here’s a list of some of the most beautiful places you can visit in Uganda:
1. Visit Entebbe’s zoo and botanical gardens
Established in 1951, Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary serves as a shelter for various animals saved from captivity. It spans a total of 51 square kilometers (19.7 square miles), especially designed to look as close to a real wildlife habitat as possible. Some of the animals you will find here are chimpanzees, hyenas, zebras, and lions. The best time to come here is during early mornings when the animals are active; they have a tendency to hide in the shade because of the heat of the sun come midday. Nearby is the botanical gardens, a nice place to visit whether you’re interested in botany or you simply need to unwind. Here, you will see towering trees with monkeys and birds gracing the jungle-like views.
2. See the source of the Nile River
Jinja, a town located along the Nile River, is a popular destination among backpackers for the thrilling outdoor activities it has to offer. It is also a day-trip option for travelers coming from Kampala, Uganda’s capital. First, you can visit the source of the Nile, where you will find the starting point of the longest river in the world. Although there’s nothing to do here except take photos, it is a must on many travelers’ bucket lists for the sole experience of actually seeing the Nile’s source. On the other parts of the river, you can go white water rafting and kayaking. Most Kampala tour operators offer travel packages that include these activities.
3. Find three extinct volcanoes
Located in the highlands, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is home to 39 mammal species, including rare mountain gorillas and endangered golden monkeys. There’s also a record of 79 bird species thriving in this 33.7-square-kilometer (13-square-mile) park. Declared as a sanctuary in 1930, it also features three extinct conical volcanoes: Sabyinyo, Gahinga, and Muhabura. If you’re interested in exploring caves, you can arrange a visit to the caves located at the slopes of the volcanoes. The most famous one is Garama Cave, which can be easily reached from the park headquarters.
4. Explore Uganda’s oldest rainforest
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, set on the fringes of the Rift Valley, is considered as one of the country’s oldest rainforests. Believed to be in existence since 25,000 years ago, it contains more than 400 species of plants, 120 species of mammals, and 350 species of birds. Also, roughly half of the world’s mountain gorilla population freely roams and lives in this UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. The most popular park activity is gorilla trekking, which will allow visitors to see the gorillas in their natural habitat. Most people who visit this park stay in the nearby towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo.
5. Marvel at Murchison Falls
Murchison Falls National Park, spanning approximately 3,840 square kilometers (1,483 square miles), is Uganda’s largest national park. Managed by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, it is also home to the country’s largest population of crocodiles. Its main feature, as suggested by the park’s name, is the Murchison Falls, which has a height of 43 meters (141 feet). A part of the Nile River also passes through the area, where visitors can ride a boat until the foot of the falls. Other areas of interest located within the grounds of Murchison Falls National Park are Buligi Game Tracks, Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, and Rabongo Forest.
6. Enjoy a nature walk at Lake Mburo
Known for the 500-year-old Precambrian metamorphic rocks in its vicinity, Lake Mburo National Park is Uganda’s smallest savannah park. The park, which has a size of 370 square kilometers (142.9 square miles), is part of Western Uganda’s wetland system. Its main residents are crocodiles and hippopotami, but buffaloes often come and visit to drink water from the lake. Birds like kingfishers, pelicans, and herons can also be seen flying around the park. Various activities like quad biking and forest walks are available at Rwonyo Rest Camp, the park’s center for tourism activities. A part of the collected entrance fee at Lake Mburo is used for the benefit of the local community, like building classrooms and health facilities.
7. Go hiking at Rwenzori Mountains
A UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site since 1994, Rwenzori Mountains National Park is home to Africa’s third-highest mountain peak. It lies on the Uganda-Congo border, an ideal destination for hikers and mountaineers. The oldest recorded person who trekked in the Rwenzori Mountains is a 78-year-old woman named Beryl Park. There are also 20 lakes within Rwenzori, the most accessible of which is Lake Mahoma located at the Central Circuit. Meanwhile, wildlife species thriving in the area include 70 mammals and 217 bird species. The park is also referred to as Mountains of the Moon, a name that geographer Ptolemy used to call the mountain range in 150 AD.
8. See zebras and giraffes
One of East Africa’s most beautiful landscapes can be found at Kidepo Valley National Park, a 1,442-square-kilometer (557-square-mile) protected area with a vast grassland inhabited by a number of wild animals. It is the only park in the country where visitors can see zebras and giraffes in one area, as well as white buffaloes, which are rare animals in Africa. Other animals you may spot in the park include elephants, bush pigs, leopards and bushbucks.Those who are interested in hiking can start from the park’s headquarters and go to the Lamoj Mountains and the Kidepo River Valley. You can also visit the Kanangorok Hot Springs, where the waters are believed to have healing properties.
9. Experience chimpanzee tracking
Kibale National Park, covering a total land area of 795 square kilometers (307 square miles), is one of the primary research sites in Africa. Most researches are interested in chimpanzees and other primates living in the area, while others are focused on the park’s ecosystem. The park is open all year round, although it can be difficult to access during the rainy seasons, which are from March to May and from September to November. One of the most popular activities for tourists in Kibale is chimpanzee tracking, where guests will walk around the forest with a guide to spot the primates in their natural habitat. Before engaging in this activity, however, you have to get a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
10. Ride a zipline at Mabira Forest
Mabira Forest, also known as the Griffin Falls Camp, is an interactive park where an array of outdoor activities can be enjoyed. It is managed by a non-government organization that aims to promote development in the local community from the park’s proceeds. One of the most popular attractions at Mabira Forest is the 250-meter (820-foot) zipline that crosses the Musamya River. Aside from the forest layers, it offers views of animals that inhabit the park, like grey-cheeked mangabeys and red-tailed monkeys. Guests can also participate in a forest walk, a 30-minute trek through the untouched rainforest, to reach the stunning Griffin Falls. If you want a longer trek, you can proceed along the trail leading up to Namusa Hill.
11. Cruise through Kazinga Channel
Spanning 32 kilometers (19.9 miles), Kazinga Channel is the natural waterway that links Lake Edward and Lake George. It is part of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is best explored by joining a boat tour. A cruise along the channel is a chance to catch a glimpse of various animal species thriving on the shoreline, including hippopotami, buffaloes, and elephants. It also offers opportunities for bird-watching, since records show that almost 60 bird species thrive in this part of the park. Cruise boats that traverse Kazinga Channel can carry up to 40 passengers. Guests are usually accompanied by ranger guides during the tour. If you wish to join, you should book your seat in advance through the Visitor Information Center.
12. Enjoy the beaches at Ssese Islands
The Ssese Islands, an archipelago of 84 islands, feature pristine white sand beaches and an array of interesting plants. Divided by a natural channel, these islands are grouped into two: the Bugala Group and the Koome Group. Locals depend mostly on fishing for their livelihood, but other locals practice livestock farming. In fact, there are over 3,000 cattle and 250,000 poultry on the islands. It is also worth noting that controlled logging is allowed on the islands for economic purposes. Most tourists come here to experience fishing and swimming. There are small hotels and resorts around the archipelago, as well as camping sites.
13. Visit Lido Beach
Lido Beach, one of the most popular party spots among the locals, is located just a kilometer (0.62 miles) away from Entebbe International Airport. It is usually packed with locals during weekends, with events ranging from family-friendly affairs to drinking parties. The shores feature white sand, but swimming is prohibited to avoid infestation of blood flukes. The best time to go here is during the late afternoon, when the buzz is just starting and you can still enjoy a beautiful view of the sunset. The beach has a seating area for visitors, where people can eat food ordered from one of the stalls. There’s also live music, making the beach atmosphere even more inviting.
14. Climb up Tororo Rock
At first glance, the town of Tororo, located in the Eastern Region of Uganda, looks like any other quiet town in the country. That is until you see Tororo Rock, an outcrop rising up to 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) above sea level. The rock formation, approximately three miles (4.8 kilometers) away from the central business district, is home to ancestral caves and paintings found on rocks. Various hiking trips are available to reach Tororo Rock. It is an ideal hike, even for beginners, since it has a well-maintained trail and it only takes approximately an hour to reach the top. Once at the summit, you will see a breathtaking panoramic view of the whole town, as well as the nearby Lake Victoria.
15. Relax at Mutanda Lake
Lake Mutanda is a small freshwater lake in Southwestern Uganda with a private resort set up on 3.5-acre (1.5-hectare) land nearby. From the resort, the volcanoes of Rwanda and DR Congo are clearly visible. The resort has thirteen cottages where visitors can stay overnight, as well as a Swiss-inspired in-house restaurant serving food from breakfast to dinner. Lake Mutanda is an ideal base for various outdoor activities like boating, gorilla tracking, hiking, and mountain biking. It is also popular among birdwatchers, since the forested area surrounding the lake is home to different species of birds. There’s the grey-crowned crane, Uganda’s national bird, and raptor birds like buzzards and hawks.
Like in any other parts of Africa, there are certain safety measures a visitor should comply with when exploring Uganda. As much as possible, travel with an experienced local tour guide or, at least, seek the help of authorized park rangers to accompany you when visiting a national park. Meanwhile, to avoid infectious diseases, be cautious when entering caves and seek immediate medical attention in case you get bitten by bats or other wild animals. Also, make sure to bring basic medicines with you when you travel around Uganda, especially antimalarial medicines.
You might encounter places in Uganda where electricity is scarce, so make sure to bring a reliable power bank or portable chargers. It will also help if you write emergency contact numbers on a piece of paper and keep it with you at all times. The emergency hotlines in Uganda are 999 and 112.
Safety precautions are common sense wherever you visit in the world and, as long as you are careful and well-informed in advance, you should have a fantastic trip to remember. So go on … start planning your trip to Uganda!
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