Lauded by many as “the Pearl of Africa,” Uganda is one of the most fertile countries on the continent, with an astonishing array of wildlife and a diverse society that celebrates its vibrant culture through music, dance, and art. Though this small East African nation suffered greatly under the dictator Idi Amin Dada, today Uganda’s economy has recovered and its people look to their future.
Uganda’s diversity of flora and fauna, its snowcapped mountains, booming falls, and serene lakes, make it the perfect place for visitors looking to experience the African outdoors in all its glory. Uganda is home to the Big Five (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinoceroses, and buffalo), as well as the largest gorilla population in the world. Bordering Lake Victoria (the largest lake in the world) and home to the source of the Nile, Uganda is the heart of East Africa and continues to entice travelers from around the world looking for an unforgettable African wildlife experience.
1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park: We admit it has an intimidating name, but this park isn’t as impenetrable as it sounds. Located in southwestern Uganda, this rain forest is home to half the world’s mountain gorilla population. In order to participate in gorilla tracking, one must obtain a permit at the Uganda Wildlife Authority in Kampala. Bwindi is also home to 90 other mammal species, including 11 different primates. Located along the ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a wonderful place for hiking, bird watching, and monkey viewing.
2. Lake Mburo National Park: Famous for its astounding biodiversity, this park, located in southern Uganda, is excellent for game viewing. There are approximately 68 species of mammals in Lake Mburo National Park; it’s the most famous for its eland antelope, zebras, topi, and impalas. The park’s five lakes are home to an abundance of crocodiles, hippos, and water birds. Guided walks and boat rides are great ways to observe the animals that call this national park home.
3. Murchison Falls National Park: Uganda’s largest park, this swath of land is bisected by the Nile and named after the thunderous falls where Africa’s longest river plunges 141 feet (43 meters) from the Rift Valley escarpment into a pool below. The Murchison Falls are an impressive sight, as are many of the animals to be seen in the park, such as giraffes, chimps, and elephants. We recommend taking a launch trip to the base of the falls to admire both flora and fauna.
4. Queen Elizabeth National Park: With almost 100 mammal species and 606 bird species, Queen Elizabeth is one of Uganda’s best national parks for a traditional safari. Stay in the tourist village on the Mweya peninsula, take launch trips on the Kazinga channel, and see whether you can spot some tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha sector.
5. Rwenzori Mountains: Whether you are an experienced climber or an enthusiastic amateur, the Rwenzori Mountains offer world-class hiking and climbing. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, these mountains are breathtaking, and guides are available to take passionate hikers all the way to the snowy peaks.
6. Virunga Volcanoes in Mgahinga National Park: In the Mgahinga National Park, hikers can explore the three extinct volcanoes that make up the Virunga Volcanoes: Mount Sabyinyo, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Muhavura. On the final peak you will find yourself in Uganda, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo all at once.
7. Bungee Jumping and White Water Rafting: Adrenaline junkies should plan to try the Nile High Bungee in Jinja, the only bungee platform in East Africa, or navigate the wild rapids of the White Nile for a few hours or a few days—whichever you can handle.
8. Source of the White Nile: Many explorers have come to Uganda in search of the source of Africa’s longest river. The White Nile springs from Lake Victoria, and the area offers beautiful vistas and boat rides on Lake Victoria and the Nile.
9. Ssese Islands: This archipelago of 84 islands is situated in the northwestern corner of Lake Victoria. Off the beaten tourist track, the white sand beaches of these islands provide visitors with the perfect place to relax. Rest while visiting Bugala, the largest of the islands and one of the only ones with accommodations for tourists.
10. Royal Ascot Goat Races: If you’re in Uganda in September, check out this curious event. Beginning in 1993, a horse-breeder pitted goats against one another as a fund-raising race. The races now take place every year and have gained such popularity that they were moved from the Kampala Rugby Club to the Speke Resort in Munyonyo. Participants enter a goat with the hopes of winning a cash prize, and spectators arrive in their Sunday best and outrageous hats, mimicking the attendees at the traditional Ascot horse races held in Ascot, England.
Visitors to Uganda do not have to worry about intense tropical heat and humidity as they might elsewhere on the continent. Thanks to the country’s elevation on a plateau, the climate in Uganda is mild. The small nation also receives ample rainfall. Though it is wetter from April to May and from October to November, Uganda is a great place to visit all year.
Visas: You can apply for a visa at the Ugandan embassy or consulate ahead of time or at the airport when you arrive. Most foreign nationals require a visa to enter Uganda, and proof of yellow fever inoculation is needed for applying for a visa. For a list of further visa details and requirements, visit the website of the Embassy of the Republic of Uganda in Washington, D.C.
Transportation: The main international airport is located in Entebbe, 35 kilometers from Kampala, the capital city. There is also a domestic Ugandan airline based in Entebbe, and it is possible to charter flights to safari destinations.
Driving is the most common way to get around Uganda, either by private vehicle or by bus, and traffic moves on the left. It is possible to rent a car in one of Uganda’s major cities with an international driver’s license or a British driver’s license.
The cheapest and fastest way to get around Uganda is by minibus. Known as matatus, these minibuses run between all major cities and around much of the rest of Uganda but can be very crowded. Taxis are also available in most cities and towns, and though they may be more comfortable than matatus, they are more expensive.
Mobile Phones: It is possible to use your mobile phone in Uganda if you have an international plan, but doing so is very expensive. Phone shops can be found in most cities and town, and SIM cards and prepaid mobile phones are relatively inexpensive.
Today Uganda is a politically stable country, though conflict in some of its neighboring nations can sometimes be a source of concern for visitors. Certain areas of Uganda are less safe for tourists, and visitors are advised not to travel on rural roads at night. Check the U.S. Department of State’s consular website for up-to-date travel warnings for Uganda before planning your trip.
The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has created a security ratings system called the Ibrahim Index, wherein scores are based on each country’s quality of government. Before traveling to Uganda or anywhere on the continent, check the index and do your research.
Uganda broke from the British Empire and became an independent nation in 1962, but the history of its people has been preserved through an oral tradition for hundreds of years. Archaeological evidence shows that people were engaging in agricultural labor in the area now known as Uganda in 1000 B.C.E., making it one of the earliest inhabited areas in Africa.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, political and social orders developed among various ethnic groups to facilitate and profit from the Sudanese slave trade. In the 19th century the largest of these ethnic groups, the Baganda, expanded its kingdom, called Buganda. King Mutesa I was the last independent ruler of Buganda and was able to make Buganda’s transition to a British protectorate as peaceful as possible. (The Buganda kingdom exists to this day.)
The first European explorers arrived in Uganda looking for the source of the Nile in 1862, and in 1894, Buganda was declared a British protectorate; other territories around the kingdom became protectorates in subsequent years. Unlike many other European territories in Africa, Uganda was never actually colonized; that would have allowed foreigners to own land. European settlers and British traders were nevertheless able to profit greatly from Uganda’s cotton, coffee, and sugar industries.
In the 1950s, Ugandans started looking toward the many other African states that had achieved independence, and a Ugandan independence movement began, leading to a declaration of independence in 1962. The first leader of independent Uganda was Milton Obote, who ruled from 1962 until 1971, when Sergeant Idi Amin Dada staged a military coup and installed himself at the head of the government and the military.
In 1976, Amin declared himself the leader of Uganda for life. Amin’s rule was characterized by brutality, violence, and the disintegration of Uganda’s economy. In 1978, Ugandan forces exiled in Tanzania removed Amin from power. In 1980, Milton Obote took power again, continuing to ravage the country. Obote was pushed from power in 1986, and Yoweri Kaguta Moseveni became president. Moseveni was able to revive Uganda’s economy and restore political stability. He was reelected in 1996, 2001, and 2006.
1. Uganda is a landlocked country situated in East Africa. It is bordered by Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Sudan. It is slightly smaller than the state of Oregon. Uganda is separated into the Northern, Eastern, Central, and Western regions. It consists mostly of plateau but also has some of the most breathtaking mountains in Africa. Though lacks access to the sea, Uganda has a bounty of lakes and rivers, so the land is extremely fertile.
2. The official language in Uganda is English. It is taught in schools and used in government, administration, and newspapers, but few Ugandans outside of major cities speak English fluently. Ganda or Luganda is the most widely spoken unofficial language, but roughly 40 other native languages are spoken in Uganda. Most Ugandans are fluent in several of those native languages, and many also speak Swahili.
3. Especially in recent years, a significant campaign has been waged to protect Uganda’s natural environment. It has included the banning of plastic bags. When traveling to Uganda, do not take plastic bags with you, and respect the environment, especially outside of larger cities. Smoking has been banned in all indoor public places in Uganda since 2004, and violators face fines or arrest.
4. Uganda is home to 33 million people, and it has a young population: 50 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 15. The largest ethnic group in Uganda is the Baganda.
5. Uganda’s currency is the Ugandan shilling, represented by the symbol UGX.