By Vinitha Naidu
Uganda is famously known as the ‘Pearl of Africa’ thanks to Winston Churchill who is said to have trekked, boated and traveled all over the country 100 years ago. This name has become a signature for the country – it is a well deserved one given the variety of natural wonders in Uganda.
Choose from ancient forests (like Bwindi), world’s largest fresh water lake (Lake Victoria), mountains (Rwenzori), variety of primates (chimpanzees to gorillas) and the source of the mythical River Nile found here. Uganda enjoys a tropical climate throughout the entire year and over the years it has been voted as one of best tourism destinations in the world.
Tourism is one of the main revenue generators in Uganda and attracts more mammoth visitors a year. With many international airlines offering convenient flights into the country, there are a lot of activities and interesting places to visit. Here are my top five places to visit in Uganda;
Source of the Rive Nile – Jinja
One of the longest rivers in the world, the Nile flows from south to north and is believed to originate in Lake Victoria, Uganda. Jinja is located only a two-hour drive from Kampala and the well laid road takes you through the dense Mabira forests and acre after acre of sugar cane fields. The two major sugar manufacturers in Uganda are located close to Jinja. Once you reach Jinja town, you can ask for directions to the source of the Nile. Boats are available for hire that will take you to the middle of the lake, where the Nile is said to originate. The boat ride is also a great way to indulge in some bird watching along the banks of the river. Some of the other activities in and around the place include a white water rafting run;a visit to the hydro-electric power plant at Bujagali Falls; bungee jumping; and visiting the Nile Brewery (prior booking required) which makes a popular Ugandan beer called Nile Gold.
Mountain Gorillas at Bwindi National Park
Uganda’s star attraction are the majestic mountain gorillas, which are found in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, located towards the western part of Uganda. The forest is home to some of the last surviving mountain gorillas and is one of the 69 UNESCO world heritage sites. You need to obtain a gorilla-tracking permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority before you start your journey, or you could contact any of the numerous safari tour companies located in Kampala. It can take 8-10 hours of driving to reach the misty mountains of Bwindi. Accommodation ranges from basic to luxury, but they all come with great views of the majestic mountains and the ancient forests that cover them. The gorilla trek could take anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on how quickly the gorilla family travels. Come prepared with sturdy walking boots, backpacks and water bottles as the trek covers steep and muddy terrain….you are, after all, walking through some of the densest vegetation in the area!
Walk along the Equator
Uganda is one of the few countries in the world to have the Equatorial line that bisects the world into North and South passing through it. Located a short one-hour drive outside Kampala, the site is marked with a huge yellow line and a circular cement monument that makes it ideal for photo moments! You can also watch a local entrepreneur demonstrate the effects of water drainage on either side of the Equator. They have a little portable sink, and when they put the drain right over the equator, the water goes straight down. And then when they move it 10 feet to the right, it goes clockwise; 10 feet to the left, it was counter-clockwise. A fun fact about the Equator: standing on the Equator makes you 3kgs lighter!!
Lake Mburo National Park
Conveniently located on the highway that connects Kampala to western Uganda, Lake Mburo is 50km of wetlands and swamps. Smaller than the other wildlife parks in Uganda, Lake Mburo is home to a variety of deer, zebras, hippos, buffaloes, jackals, hyenas and smaller nocturnal mammals. Some of the activities available include walking and horseback safaris; boat trips on Lake Mburo; and a visit to the observation hideout located next to the waterhole and salt lick. Lake Mburo is one of the few parks allowed to conduct night game drives which give you a chance to see some nocturnal animals like the civet, leopard, porcupine etc.
We enjoyed our stay at the Mihingo Lodge, which has tented luxury rooms built of stilts and offer sweeping views of the grassy wetlands. Tastefully built, the lodge is eco-friendly and solar powered. A lot of the activities help pay for some of the conservation efforts conducted in the park area.
Murchison’s Falls National Park
Murchison’s Falls National Park is one of the best places to head for a game drive especially if you don’t have too much time for long journeys. Located only 3-4 hours drive away from Kampala, the park gets its name from the magnificent Murchison’s Falls. The Nile explodes out of a narrow gorge and falls down in a thundering cascade to form the waterfall. After that, the Nile becomes a placid waterway and is filled with crocodiles and hippos. You can see a wide variety of waterbucks, buffaloes and birds along the river. One of the highlights of this area is taking a launch boat all the way to foot of the waterfalls through some beautiful papyrus swamps. The trip will take 3-4 hours. Plenty of accommodation options are available including the popular Paraa Safari Lodge with their thatched roofs and sunken pool. Early morning game drives can be arranged at the hotel reception with UWA trackers. Be prepared to head out at 6am for excellent game sightings as the animals tend to head into the bush as the day gets hotter. Wildlife found in this areas include lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, oribis, Uganda kobs, chimpanzees, and many bird species.
Vinitha Naidu is an ex-Googler who has been living in Uganda with her family for the past years. Being in Africa gives her plenty of opportunities to indulge in her love for travel and baking.