Uganda is a highlights reel of the African landscape. With its dense, misty forests, snow-peaked mountains, glassy lakes and sprawling savannas, it is no wonder Winston Churchill dubbed this the “pearl of Africa”.
Having stepped out of the
shadows of a deep dark past under Idi Amin and the Lord’s Resistance Army,
Uganda is no longer a country to be feared; in fact is widely regarded as one
of Africa’s safer destinations. Whether you are looking for mountain gorillas –
the country’s primary allure -- wildlife safaris, volcano trekking, whitewater
rafting or just kicking back on the beach, Uganda has the best of Africa
covered. Here are four unmissable Ugandan experiences -- and where to find
One of the quintessential Ugandan attractions is tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi
Impenetrable Forest, and nothing quite prepares you for the first glimpse
of black fuzz amid the dense foliage. The adrenaline kicks in when you are up
close to the imposing figure of a silverback, and it is all very Dian
Fossey-like when curious babies peek through the leaves, twisting, turning and somersaulting for your
entertainment. Gorilla permits will set you back a hefty $500, but do not think
twice about forking out for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Keep in mind
that a portion of the fee goes to the park and gorilla conservation
initiatives, helping to ensure their survival.
All the animals, minus the crowds
While it lacks the recognition of its big-name neighbours like the Serengeti
and Kruger Park, Uganda’s national parks have all the animals, minus the
crowds. In Murchison
Falls, Uganda’s largest park, follow your morning wildlife drive with a
cruise down the Nile to the base of the falls. It is the perfect way to spy
elephants, buffalo, crocs and loads of hippos while relaxing on the boat with a
beer. Head to Queen Elizabeth
National Park for a better chance of spotting the elusive leopard or
its trademark tree-climbing lions. Few tourists make it as far north as Kidepo Valley, but those who do are
rewarded with a fantastic selection of animals and some of the most spectacular
scenery in the country. If you are hoping to tick off the Big Five, add Ziwa Sanctuary to your itinerary to get up
close to white rhino, which you track on foot.
Adventure by the bucketload
Adrenaline junkies can get a fix any way they like in Uganda. With its Grade-5
rapids, the Nile is a magnet for whitewater rafting enthusiasts -- or try kayaking
or a white-knuckle jet boat ride. Those who prefer a different kind of plunge
can opt for bungee jumping by Bujagali Falls.
Trekkers can test their endurance by tackling the Unesco World Heritage-listed Rwenzori Mountains, evocatively
described as the “Mountains of the Moon”, with stunning views of the equatorial
mist as a reward at the top. For more treks try Mount Elgon National
Park or the dramatic Virunga volcanos where the borders of Uganda,
Congo and Rwanda converge. Adrift Adventure can
sort out all your whitewater needs, while Rwenzori Trekking Services
will assist with your trek to the moon.
Scenery to die for
Once the safari addiction wanes and your body needs some rest from those
bone-jarring bus journeys, Uganda has some beautiful spots for relaxing.
Magical Lake Bunyonyi
has intoxicating views, with the mist hanging low over terraced hillsides and
dugout canoes gliding through still waters. Ssese Islands
in the oceanic-sized Lake Victoria has some of the finest white-sand beaches
and burning sunsets; it is the kind of place where you will want to seek out a
hammock and bring a good book. Then there is stunning Sipi Falls
in eastern Uganda, which is earning a reputation for its uninhibited views of
the crashing water. Do not miss the coffee tours, where you will be shown the start-to-finish
process at a local coffee plantation, all culminating with a delicious steaming
cup as the sun sets over the banana plantations.
The article 'Uganda: The pearl of Africa' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.