You may find yourself at the source of the Nile River which is the longest river in Africa, on a boat cruise on Lake Victoria which is the largest body of water in the world or in the impenetrable Bwindi forest which is world famous for being home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.
Wherever you go and whatever you do in Uganda, you’ll be blown away by the beauty of its natural wonders and the warmth of its people
GORILLA TREKKING IN UGANDA
Gorilla trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is hot, sweaty, muddy and exhausting but it’s totally worth it. Some say gorilla trekking is tantamount to a religious experience; where you spend a silent hour with one of the world’s most majestic primates.
Uganda tourism more or less revolves around gorilla trekking and to a lesser extent chimpanzee trekking in a selection of gorgeous national parks and impenetrable forests. There are estimated to be fewer than 1 000 wild mountain gorillas in the world of which half are found in the Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and the rest found in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the DRC.
In 1981, environmentalists estimated that there were only 254 mountain gorillas left in the world but thanks to international intervention and gorilla trekking tourism in Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC; the population of wild mountain gorillas is slowly increasing.
These critically-endangered primates can’t breed in captivity and the only way to ensure their survival is keeping them safe and protected in their natural habitat.
There are two gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda; Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Bwindi is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas so it’s obviously the more popular choice when booking a Uganda tour to see gorillas.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is referred to by locals as ‘The Place of Darkness’ because of its dense tree tops. It’s an ancient montane and lowland forest which spans some 206 square kilometres and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its outstanding biodiversity and the large number of endangered species living in the forest.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park spans some 20 square kilometers and is made up largely of the Virunga habitat which stretches across into Rwanda and the DRC. The national park includes three of the 8 major Virunga peaks; Mount Gahinga, Mount Muhabura and Mount Sabyinyo.
Booking a gorilla trekking safari in Uganda offers visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit in silence for at least an hour with these gentle giants. Other activities in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest includes a scenic walk to a wonderful waterfall, visiting the local Batwa pygmy population and enjoy a guided nature walk in the forest learning more about its outstanding fauna and flora.
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is also home to the endangered l’Hoest monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and blue monkeys.
Uganda boasts a fine selection of national parks that are simply superb for a safari tour. From Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park to Murchison Falls National Park, Kibale National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park; visitors on a Uganda holiday are spoilt for choice for wilderness areas to visit.
Uganda has 10 national parks; Murchison Falls National Park is the largest and Queen Elizabeth National Park is the second largest. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to half the population of mountain gorillas in the world and Kibale Forest National Park is popular for chimpanzee trekking.
Obviously, gorilla trekking and chimpanzee trekking are the two major attractions followed closely by birding safaris in Uganda; but you’ll be surprised at what else you can see and do in Uganda if you’re an avid wildlife enthusiast.
The national parks of Uganda are renowned for their incredible biodiversity and are rich in flora and fauna. They’re home to the Big 5 which includes forest elephants, forest buffalo, rhino, lion and leopards as well as an abundance of antelope, prolific birdlife and a number of endangered species.
An antelope to look out for is the Uganda kob (Kobus kob) which looks like an oversize impala ram. It’s often seen in the Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth national parks on the open savanna grasslands and wetlands. You’ll recognise the Uganda kob from the country’s coat of arms.
Two other species which are unique sightings on a Uganda safari tour are the sitatunga (also known as marshbuck) which is a swamp-dwelling antelope found in East Africa; and the topi antelope which looks a lot like a hartebeest but is actually a sub-species of the tsessebe.
For a Big 5 safari tour in Uganda, you’ll find the famous tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha area in the Queen Elizabeth Park as well as the remote Kidepo National Park; the smaller and more reddish forest buffalos in most national parks in Uganda as well as the savanna elephants and forest elephants which are a smaller and hairier version of what you find in southern Africa; and elusive leopards.
Uganda was home to thousands of both black and white rhino but civil war in the region as well as rampant poaching has decimated the rhino population in Uganda. A group of 22 rhino are kept in safekeeping at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and are part of a rehabilitation programme aimed at re-introducing rhino to the region.
FISHING SAFARI IN UGANDA
You’ll be forgiven for coming to Uganda just for a sport fishing holiday and ignoring the gorillas, chimps and birds. Fishing in Uganda is excellent; mainly because a quarter of the country’s land surface is covered in water.
Uganda boasts a number of impressive lakes including the world-famous Lake Victoria which is the largest lake in Africa and the second-largest fresh water lake in the world. Lake Victoria and other legendary Uganda lakes such as Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Mburo have a fine selection of islands where you can base yourself for an outstanding fishing trip in Uganda.
In the mid-1950s, the fishing industry in Uganda was transformed through the introduction of Japanese nylon gillnets and the introduction of a new fish species called the Nile Perch. Fish production was 6 times higher than it was previously over a period of 30 years but unchecked fishing practices has seen a vast reduction in fish numbers to the point where local subsistence fishermen are battling to catch enough fish to feed their families.
For this reason, reputable tour operators offering fishing safari packages in Uganda practice “catch and release” sport fishing.
The best fishing spots in Uganda include Lake Victoria and the legendary Ssese Islands; the Nile River near the city of Jinja and in Murchison Falls National Park; and Lake Mburo National Park. The magical lure of a fishing trip to Uganda is catching an enormous freshwater Nile Perch.
You can go on a fishing trip to Uganda throughout the year but the rainy months of April and May should be avoided as well as the full moon week.
CHIMPANZEE TREKKING IN KIBALE FOREST
Most people head to Nyngwe National Forest in Rwanda for chimpanzee trekking but the best place to see our closest primate relatives is in the Kibale Forest National Park in Uganda. Compare to gorilla trekking in Uganda, chimp trekking in the Kibale Forest is more affordable and just as fascinating.
You head off into the dense forest early in the morning and hope to find the habituated chimps fairly quickly before it gets to hot and humid. You can approach quietly without them fleeing, unlike the Rwanda chimps that flee if a branch snaps.
Chimp trekking groups taken to Kibale Forest National Park are small; no more than 4-8 people so it’s a private and intimate excursion and one that you’ll remember for a long time. You can quietly observe the chimps of Uganda playing, feeding, sleeping and travelling through the forest.
CULTURAL TOUR OF KAMPALA
Kampala is a massive city that sprawls out over more than 20 hills. It has an estimated population of 2.5 million and is ranked as the 13th fastest growing city on the planet. It’s also rich in cultural heritage.
A cultural tour of Kampala takes you to an interesting selection of museums and monuments and the city hosts annual festivals that showcase the country’s cultural diversity. A cultural tour is a great opportunity to learn more about the country’s fascinating history, traditions and cultural beliefs of its people.
For example, in June each year, thousands of people descend on the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine located a short 15-kilometre drive or walk to the east of Kampala. They go to honor and pray to God through the intercession of 22 Martyrs.
Popular cultural tourist attractions in Kampala are Rubaga Cathedral and the Kasubi Tombs.
The Kasubi Tombs are ancient royal tombs located about 5 kilometres from Kampala on Kasubi hill. They’re the burial grounds for 4 Kings of the Buganda Kingdom which is referred to as Kabaka, and are still an important cultural site for the Buganda Kingdom. They’re also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For many years, ancient Ganda rituals were performed at the Kasubi Tombs which also hold historical treasures of Kabaka. The Kasubi Tombs are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Uganda and definitely worth a visit while on holiday in Uganda.
Namugongo Martyrs Shrine
The Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is one of the most distinguished shrines in Uganda and is an important site for Christians in Africa. It’s where 32 Catholic and Anglican martyrs were burnt alive on the orders of Kabaka Mwana in 1886. Actually, it’s believed the number of martyrs burnt alive was closer to 45.
The people of Anglican and Catholic faith were martyred because they refused to denounce Christianity. Their martyrdom spread like wildfire throughout Uganda which angered King Mwanga II who ordered the execution of the 32 men on Thursday 3 June 1886. Many more believers died at the hands of Kabaka Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887.
Every year on 3 June, thousands of Christians from eastern and central Africa flock to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine to pay their respects and reinforce their faith by paying pilgrimage to the martyrs. The long wait in the days leading up to the pilgrimage journey to the Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is filled with religious events which includes prayers, baptism, plays and festivals.
Saint Mary’s Cathedral Rubaga is the parent cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala which is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Uganda. Known simply as Rubaga Cathedral, it’s the home church of the Archbishop of Kampala.
Mwanga II of Buganda donated land on Mengo Hill in 1889 to the French Catholic missionaries (White Fathers) who later built the modern Catholic church. Catholicism in Uganda was only just emerging as a prominent faith in the country and the new Rubaga Cathedral cemented its existence in the city.
The construction of the Rubaga Cathedral started in 1914 and it was consecrated in December 1925. The remains of the late Archbishop Joseph Kiwanka (1899-1966) are housed inside the cathedral. He was the first African Catholic Bishop and the first African Archbishop of Kampala Diocese.
Also known as Fort Patiko, Baker’s Fort is a military structure that was constructed by an early European explorer, Sir Samuel Baker. The military fort was built at a time when European settlers were trying to put a stop to the brutal slave trade in East Africa.
It’s located 2 kilometres from Ocecu Hill which is famously known as Got Ajulu. ‘Got’ means hill or mountain and ‘julu’ is an Acholi word that means ‘to raise’. The prominent hill was named Got Ajulu after the chief urged its residents to rise up and stand together, saying; “Let’s nurture our people so that our clan is not wiped away”.
Ocecu Hill was commandeered by the Egyptian Arabs as a convenient trading hub. They built huts which were used to store ivory, food and ammunition and also used the centre as a place to trade slaves. Fort Patiko holds important cultural significance because it was a place of great suffering and hardship for slaves and today stands as a symbol of freedom and equality.
Kabaka’s Mengo Palace
Kabaka’s Mengo Olubiri is the official residence of the King of Buganda; Olubiri meaning Palace. It was customary at that time for a new king to choose a hill where he would build his palace and then the palace would become the new capital of the Kingdom.
Mengo Palace was constructed for Ssekabaka Mwanga II in 1885. He took over the throne in 1884 at the young age of 18 and Mango Palace was his first royal home. Mwanga used the grinding stones that the Nvubu clan used to grind herbal medicine and thus the name Mengo (‘emmengo’ meaning grinding stones) was adopted for both the hill and the palace.
The King of Buganda abandoned Mengo Palace after it caught fire and all the important documents for the Kingdom were destroyed. This spooked Mwanga and he took hostage with the Roman Catholic Missionaries at Nalukolong.
Mengo Palace was converted to army barracks during the reign of Idi Amin in the 1970s. An adjacent site became a notorious underground prison and torture-execution chamber. The prisoners had no way of escaping because the dark concrete tunnel and damp cells were separated by an electrified passage of water.
The Bahá’í Temple in Kampala is the only temple left in Africa that’s linked to the Bahá’í faith that took root in Uganda in the early 1950s. It was completed in 1961 and today attracts hundreds of visitors from around the world.
A tour of Bahá’í Temple is a fascinating introduction to the religious customs of its followers. You can even join local community members
Katareke Prison Ditch
Katereke Prison was built in the late 1880s by the King of Buganda at a time when the kingdom was experiencing great political strife. Kabaka Mwanga had been removed from the throne and succeeded by Kabaka Kiwewa. His reign was short-lived and Kabaka Kalema was enthroned.
However, Kabaka Kalema was insecure and greatly threatened by his siblings who in turn became his political rivals. He ordered the construction of the prison and threw all his brothers and sisters into jail. He still felt threatened by his siblings and eventually had all 30 executed.
The Katereke Prison Ditch spans some 70 metres in diameter and has since been turned into stunning earth works. It’s a popular tourist attraction and for local people, it’s a reminder of Uganda’s brutal past during the Buganda era. It’s a 30-minute drive from Kampala situated in a place called Nsangi.
Located in the capital city of Kampala, the Uganda Museum showcases ethnological, natural-historical and traditional life collections of Uganda’s cultural heritage. It was founded in 1908 by the British governor who called for “all articles of interest on Uganda” to be procured.
The Uganda Museum is the oldest museum in East Africa. Included in the collection are musical instruments, hunting equipment, weaponry, archaeology and entomology artifacts.
Ndere Centre is a popular tourist destination in Uganda because it’s a central cultural hub; showcasing the country’s rich cultural heritage. Built on a large property, the cultural centre is surrounded by a beautifully landscaped garden which is shaded by mature fruit trees and other indigenous trees.
The architecture is a focal point of a tour of the Ndere Centre; where rare creativity blends seamlessly with African forms, materials, colours and construction of unprecedented heights. It exudes tranquility and creativity.
Ndere Centre has a resident troupe of performers who captivate the audiences with incredible cultural songs, dances and musical instruments. They strive to represent the 52 nationalities of Uganda in their performances; weaving cultural nuances into their storytelling.
There’s a performance every Wednesday and Friday at 7pm at Ndere Centre as well as a Sunday performance at 6pm. It’s worth a visit because it’s a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the country’s unique cultures, traditions and beliefs.
Uganda has one of the smallest churches in the world, named Bethel Church. It’s located on the top of Biku Hill in Nebbi Town; standing just 8 feet tall and 2.3 metres wide. It was built on the orders of Pastor Song and Henry Luke, a retired Archbishop.
Bethel Church is part of 12 prayer points constructed by religious leaders to give worshippers a closer connection to God.