Whether you like to travel and see the world as a holiday tourist, a working tourist, a historical student or a research tourist, whatever your reason for travelling to other lands far and near, please do not miss taking in the Pearl of Africa. Many may not even know what or who the Pearl of Africa is; well, she is the third member of the original 3 East African States that were Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. Uganda is a good case of ‘now you see her now you don’t.’
During the colonial days and into the early 1970s, she was known for her beauty, her fertility in providing food for her people, her many kingdoms, and her friendliness. Then, Idi Amin Dada, Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army and HIV/Aids happened. Slowly and silently, Uganda slid into obscurity, a place no one wanted to visit. She was forgotten for a number of decades, yet, it is never over until it is over. She is back and boy is she back!
Below are 10 reasons why you must visit the Pearl of Africa.
The people of Uganda are some of the world’s population that has gone through some very harrowing experiences. When Idi Amin Dada, the dictator who ran the beautiful pearl to the ground took power, violence was meted not only on the foreigners who were forced to leave, but on the people of the land themselves, many of whom sought refuge in neighbouring countries. They took jobs as teachers, farm hands, maids and any and all kinds of jobs that were available to make ends meet. For those left behind in Uganda, HIV/Aids soon took over where Idi Amin left off and whole villages were almost wiped off. Only the very old and the very young were left. Following very quickly on the heels of the HIV/Aids pandemic was rebel Joseph Kony and his ragtag Lord’s Resistance Army that fought the government, raiding villages and killing and raping women and conscripting the children to serve as children soldiers.
Yet, in all this, the people of Uganda did not give up. As many of the people who had fled the country returned home at the re-installation of democracy beginning mid-1980s, they have gone to work to rebuild their nation and have remained the friendliest and most welcoming people on the continent of Africa, and most probably the world. You just need to meet the Ugandans to fully appreciate what a special people they are. Their love for visitors is genuine, they love to sing and dance and make one feel truly appreciated. It makes no sense to visit a place, admire its animals and landscape and not take the time to know the people who own the place. Take time to know the Ugandans.
The Old Kingdoms
Before the colonial masters took over Africa, there existed kingdoms in most of the nations that were well-functional in the role of governing people and helping in maintaining culture. Some of these monarchies were so powerful and well administered that even the colonialists wisely thought to work alongside rather than against them. Of such countries was Uganda with its now 5 functional kingdoms that were recognized world over, with the most famous during the colonial era just because it sided with the British against the rest of Uganda kingdoms, being the Buganda Kingdom led by the Kabaka (king). These kingdoms were in force until the 1960s when Dr. Milton Obote’s government decided to declare them outlawed. This Obote rule was followed by the dictator, Idi Amin, who completely dismantled the kingdoms through a change in the constitution.
In 1992, four of these kingdoms of the Buganda, Toro, Busoga, and Bunyoro-Kitara were reinstated to their rightful place from where they, Obote and Idi Amin, had abolished them by the new democratic government in power. If you are a history student, a research student, or simply just someone who loves to learn about the roots and traditions of other people, learning of the kingdoms of Uganda, their kings, the Kabaka of the Baganda, the Omukama of Toro, the Kyabazinga of Busoga and Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara, and the way of life of each group of people will give you great insight into the history and roots, and it help you in understanding the nation of Uganda as a whole. These kingdoms are fully recognized by the law of the land and do assist the central government as they yield quite considerable political influence on the people. A visit to these palaces will give insight to the past lives of the Uganda peoples before and after the colonial era. In fact, the Baganda had the burial grounds of their kings renovated not so long ago and this should make for an interesting visit. The Pearl has many facets that make it all the more valuable.
Rivers, Waterfalls, and Lakes
The longest river in the world, the Nile, is fed by Lake Victoria, the largest freshwater lake in Africa, and second largest in the world. The Nile snakes its way 6,000 km northward to empty itself into the Mediterranean Sea at the Nile delta in Egypt. You would definitely be forgiven if, at the shores of Lake Victoria, you mistakenly thought you were at the ocean. Indeed, Lake Victoria is a mini-ocean in this landlocked country with beautiful beaches, complete with palm trees under whose shade you may take a cool drink as you take in the activities on the lake as the breeze and breaking waves soothe you most likely into a nap. There are also excursions available out on the lake to some 84 of the most idyllic islands that make up the Ssese Islands archipelago. Most of these islands are well-inhabited and lie in the north-west of the lake.
The Nile starts its northward bound trip at Ripon Falls in Jinja, a sight that has won Uganda a prestigious accolade for being voted one of the wonders of the world. The Nile offers water sports like rafting, fishing, kayaking, and many great adventures.
The Murchison Falls, Ripon Falls, Sipi Falls, Bujagali Falls, and Owen Falls are just a few of the more than 10 waterfalls to be found throughout Uganda with its many rivers and inland lakes. Other than the mother of all lakes, Lake Victoria, the Pearl of Africa is dotted with many beautiful lakes like jewels on the crown of this beautiful land to include Lake Albert, Lake George, Lake Edward, Lake Buhera, Lake Bujuku, Lake Bugondo, Lake Bunyonyi, and Lake Bisina.
Many people are not aware that the Pearl of Africa goes by many names, another one being the Banana Republic. This name has nothing whatsoever to do with the type of government that rules the country, but, rather the country’s ability to grow lots of bananas among other foods. If you are a health conscious person, taking care of your caloric intake, as you should, then Uganda, with her many varieties of fresh fruits is the place to visit. The papaya and jackfruit are so full of flavour and juice like you wouldn’t believe. Pineapples are so large and juicy, even the core is as edible as it is soft and sweet. The mangoes must have been those in the Garden of Eden.
Then there is the wide variety of vegetables, nuts, and roots. These should have you well covered. More than 80% of the country’s population has access to food from their own lands, which makes this beautiful country one of the few in Africa that is almost 100% food secure. The abundance of rain allows for two, sometimes three harvest seasons a year. Plantains or bananas or matoke in the local lingua are among Uganda’s top cash food crops with cassava, millet, sorghum, maize, beans, sweet potatoes, and groundnuts.
Uganda’s other export earners in agriculture are tobacco, cotton, tea, and coffee. In fact, both varieties of coffee beans, the Robusta and Arabica, are grown here. Incidentally, the Arabica variety was introduced in Uganda in the 1900s, but the Robusta is an indigenous plant. According to Africa Big Five Safaris, “Coffee tours are organised through guides with knowledge of coffee farming, processing, and roasting,” while talking about Arabica coffee grown on the slopes of Mount Elgon.
If you are looking to invest in Africa, in the agriculture or food processing, tourism or export, availability of food and in its purest form, and the abundance of water whether river, lake or rain, this should be good enough reason for you to look into visiting the Pearl of Africa. Uganda offers very good agricultural opportunities on the continent.
The Pearl of Africa is a unique country, indeed. Because of its abundant rains and tropical climate, tracks of land easily can turn into impenetrable forests. Nature in her wisdom decided to give Uganda a healthy dose of the African elephant with its voracious appetite and a huge need for water daily. As the big animals trek the Savannah grasslands looking for foliage, they effectively keep the land from being overgrown with trees and shrubs.
It is here where you will find the king of the jungle lounging in the shade while his cousin, the leopard, will be up to the tree, both waiting for the unsuspecting zebra, antelope, or wildebeest that will be dinner. In the 1970s, the rhino was becoming virtually extinct in Uganda due to indiscriminate poaching. The effort to reintroduce the animal in the country since 2001 has seen the population grow to 20 white rhinos with the most recent addition having been born at the Ziwa Sanctuary in August 2017. The most dangerous of all mammals, the Cape buffalo, is also to be found here where it finds lots of grass to graze on.
The many waterways, including the Nile River, are habitations of the hippo, which you would most likely mistake for small islands on the river if you are not familiar with their habits of submerging the head, legs, and torso underwater and only leaving the back exposed. The crocodiles are in abundance and so are the many species of primates. Heading this primate list is the largest concentration of mountain gorillas in the world and the sister chimpanzees. Giraffes, gazelles, and loads of other animals populate the Savannah and forests of the Pearl of Africa.
Are you interested in bird-watching as a hobby or for study? Uganda boasts of over 1,000 varieties of birds, so you would be hardpressed to be bored on a bird-watching trip. With such a vast number of birds, it is no wonder that the national symbol of the nation would be a bird!
The grey crown-crested crane has been the emblem on the Ugandan flag well over a century, having been selected by Sir Frederick Jackson, the then governor of the Ugandan British Protectorate in 1893. This beautiful bird stands more than 3 feet with long black legs and a neck that competes with its slender legs for length. On its head, it proudly wears a fringe of pearl grey feathers. The three colours of the Ugandan flag, Yellow, Black and Red, make up the colours of the crested crane’s head.
What makes Uganda a birding paradise is the diverse climatic conditions from dry savannah to tropical rainforests. European bird,s as well as native ones, live together during migration seasons and share this beautiful environment. You can catch sight of the Barn Swallow and European Bee-eater, two European birds that love visiting Uganda regularly. At Mabamba Wetland Bay, you will find the Shoebill Stork, the Saddle Billed Stork while the Goliath Heron and African Grey Parrot can be sighted in the Murchison Falls National Park. The Standard Winged Nightjar loves to come out and feast on the white ants, which appear in plenty in the Teso region when it is warm or, as they say in Uganda, during the white ants season.
With names like The Mountains of The Moon and The Blue Mountains, it just tickles one’s imagination as to what could be in store in such places. Uganda, a wondrous nation, has at least 15 mountains offering different flora and fauna and amazing trekking safaris.
The tallest mountain in Uganda is the snow-capped Mount Stanley, standing at 16,762 feet (5,109 meters) above sea level. Mount Stanley is one peak along the Rwenzori mountain ranges in the southwest of Uganda. From lichen to bamboo forests, from the rare moon-striped mouse to otter shrew, and anything in between, are the goodies hidden within the mountain. Mount Stanley, which receives a lot of rainfall year-round, is found in the area of Rwenzori National Park that is protected as a world heritage site.
Second in size is Mount Speke at a height of 16,043 feet (4,890 meters). It is also within the Rwenzori range, and here you will find leopards, antelopes, chimpanzees, and elephants among other smaller animal species.
The Rwenzori mountain range, also known as the mountains of the moon, is the longest mountain range in Africa and is found at the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 120 kilometers (75 miles) long range has four other peaks apart from Mount Stanley and Mount Speke – Mount Baker, Mount Emin, Mount Gessi, and Mount Luigi di Savoia. Many people enjoy hiking the mountain range and experiencing the different kinds of vegetation as they go up the icy peaks. They are also a great place for bird-viewing.
Mount Elgon at the border of Uganda and Kenya is an extinct volcano whose highest peak, named “Wagagai,” is on the Uganda side. Mount Elgon, always covered in snow at the top, is famous for climbing, hiking, and mountaineering.
Because of its tropical climate and rains in most parts of the country, Uganda has forests that are home to a great number of animals – birds, reptiles, and insects, not to mention an innumerable number of plant species. Though most of the original or primary forests have been lost over the years through deforestation, encroachment of farmlands and growth of towns and villages, there is still a good area under forest cover that is worth a visit.
One of the exciting reasons people love to visit Uganda is to go on a mountain gorilla trek. Where zoos around the world have taken animals from different places and kept them under controlled conditions, no zoo in the world has been able to keep a mountain gorilla as they do not do well in captivity. So, if you want to see one, then you have to make a trip to Africa and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the southwest Uganda. This is the main destination for those raring to go on a gorilla trek in Uganda. You will also get a bonus of meeting other members of the primate family added to the 345 mammals found in Uganda forests, over 5,000 plant species, tens of amphibians, more than 1,000 birds, and around 160 reptiles. The rich biodiversity in one place beckons one to visit this great country.
Uganda’s longest border is the lake on one side followed by a range of mountains that almost encircle this landlocked country. The climate is mostly tropical with temperatures ranging from 21-25°C (70- 77°F), but, of course, would be much cooler in the mountains with the top of Mount Elgon often covered with snow. A small part in the north is dry while nearly the rest of the country has an annual rainfall in the region of 1,000 mm to 2,000 mm. The climate of Uganda is so perfect that one would feel like it is a holiday every day.
The political climate in Uganda is also stable since democracy was restored in the 1980s. Other than the war with the Lord’s Resistance Army that lasted almost 20 years, Uganda has been politically stable. The stability has enabled the nation to recover and grow economically as well as democratically. There have been a few discontent voices in the opposition, but they have not seemed to shake the stability and steady progress of Uganda and Ugandans.
A special tourism police unit has been created specifically to protect tourists. “They are there for your safety and wellbeing. They even protect tourists from fraudulent, fake tour operators as arrests of them recently shows. Uganda is safer for tourists because of the Tourism Police,” writes Kabiza Wilderness Safaris on their website.
The investment climate is often dependent on the political stability of a nation and Uganda is one of the most stable democracies in Africa, offering investors a quiet and steady environment in which to grow their investments. With the recent discovery of oil deposits, the nation is bound to see an increase in investment seekers. Hopefully, it will work out as well for Uganda, as her other national resources of animals, birds, insects, reptiles, mountains, rivers and lakes have done in the past. Either way you look at it, all climate aspects in the Pearl of Africa are conducive to a wonderful and enjoyable visit.
There is no one who starts on a journey into the unknown without making arrangements of where they will stay. As you plan to visit the wonderful and adventurous Uganda, you will find a lot of accommodation providers online, and you can make your choice based on your pocket and the area you will be visiting. A few examples of what is on offer are:
5-Star magnificent hotels in the heart of the cities of Kampala and Entebbe right from the airport are in plenty, as are other types of lodges and bed and breakfast accommodations on offer in the East African nation of Uganda. In your travels, you will be spoilt with choices of places to stay.
If you prefer to cook for yourself, many places in the national parks, like the Irungu Forest Safari Lodge at Queen Elizabeth National Park, offers self-catering facilities and sleeping quarters. If you are travelling as a family and would rather live amongst the local people in the city, you can book accommodation at LK Kyengera House which is situated in a Kampala in a residential area. The house accommodates five people and is also self-catering.
If you love camping and the outdoors, then Camp Ndegeya Sculpture Park is one of the best places to camp. Built on a hill overlooking the serene community of Ndegeya, this camping site is a must-visit for those looking for a weekend getaway or a quiet place to hide and work from for a while. Weaver bird bike competitions are held on weekends and you might just catch one in progress. You can visit other places from the campsite. There are caravans, running water and bathroom facilities and a well-equipped kitchen for self-catering. There is also a chef and staff available if you need someone to cook for you.
Can you imagine sleeping in a room in the middle of the Nile River with the swirling waters as your front yard and the dense forest for your backyard? Wow, such is the accommodation available at Lemala Wildwaters Lodge. The lodge is built on a private island in the middle of River Nile. What a place to relax after a boat cruise or a canoeing adventure. Each unit has its own deck and bath, and furnished with hand-made furniture. A beautiful naturally-formed swimming pool made by the river is also part of this magical setting.
Since 2012, Uganda has received so many accolades from different organisations that, on its own, this would surely interest one to come and see what is so special about this place everyone is raving about. Just take a look at some of these:
- When the Lonely Planet picked Uganda as the Best Country in the World to visit in 2012, a previously-forgotten nation suddenly started getting loads of visitors.
- National Geographic chose Uganda as a World’s Top-Travel Destination in 2013.
- CNN in 2014 recognised Uganda as an emerging Top Tourist Destination in Africa and qualified this choice with the observation that Uganda offers “Wildlife without the Crowds plus Mountain Gorillas and Chimpanzees.”
- The African Economist concluded from a survey carried out in 2014 that Uganda was “One of Africa’s friendliest nations.”
- The New York Times has listed Uganda as one of 33 places one must visit in the world.
- Bloom Consulting in Madrid Spain ranked Uganda in the top ten of African Tourism Destinations in 2014/15.
There are more awards that are not listed here. Uganda is a unique country that offers a fresh approach into African tourism and as a travel destination. Africa’s rich diversities have made her stand out amongst her neighbours. The most biodiverse country in Africa and most ethnically diverse country in the world, her rich resources, abundant wildlife, and a high number of primates including rare and almost extinct mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Lakes and rivers that offer more than sport and mountains that challenge the fittest of the fit to come try and conquer; a climate that suits people from all walks of life, and an enabling environment, both political and business-wise, just makes this nation worth a visit.
Uganda is not getting all these raving accolades for nothing. Like the Phoenix, this nation has risen from the ashes where bad politics, the HIV/Aids pandemic, and an internal war waged by a ragtag misplaced bush army had left it for dead. The world had forgotten her and moved on, but she has refused to remain in the dump site. She has risen, dusted off the ashes, and shone once again like the precious pearl she is. Now, the world has no choice, but to stop and take notice. She cannot be ignored or relegated to the back burner of world affairs anymore. Uganda demands that you notice her, that you must admit that there are enough reasons why you must visit the beautiful Pearl of Africa and see for yourself, if only to confirm what you hear or disprove it. Who knows, you might yet discover unearthed treasures still.