Uganda travel guide
2 Minute Summary
Safe, small and with a perpetually springlike climate, Uganda is a real treat when it comes to African travel. But it packs a lot in for its size. Ten national parks protect over half of the world’s mountain gorillas, along with chimpanzees, rare golden monkeys and a classic safari checklist including leopards, lions, elephants and hippos. Over 1,000 species of birds – more than 10 percent of all the world’s species – inhabit its mountains, forests, wetlands and the shores of Lake Victoria, the long-sought source of the Nile. The rugged ‘Mountains of the Moon’ include Africa’s third highest peak, complete with equatorial snow.
Uganda remains very much a tribal nation, and as you travel round this compact country, the music, dance and dress change almost by the hour – there are over 40 recognised languages. But one word you’ll hear wherever you are – from guides, waiters, drivers and roadside corn sellers – is “Welcome!” – along with “mzungu!” – a friendly term for “foreigner”.
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Uganda map & highlights
Make the most of your time
Uganda’s small size is deceiving – not only does it contain a diverse range of landscapes, it also takes longer to travel between them than you might think, thanks to its bone-shakingly awful roads. But the scenery out the window easily makes up for this. Most of Uganda’s attractions are clustered along its western edge – in the Rift Valley – so there is a shifting backdrop of mountains and extinct volcanoes, dramatic craters, sparkling, hippo-filled lakes and dense ancient forest. Passing through towns and villages is a glimpse into daily life as Ugandans spend their days largely outdoors – carrying charcoal on their heads, babies on their backs, serving “rolex” (rolled eggs) hot off the grill, and simply hanging out.
Chimpanzees inhabit several of Uganda’s protected forests, including Kibale – which shelters a total of 13 primate species including some 1,500 chimps; Budongo, where they are best seen from Feb-Sep; and the stunning “underground” forest of Kyambura, set in a deep gorge in Queen Elizabeth National Park. You’ll spot other forest species and learn about the ecosystems on guided treks.
Uganda is home to over half of the earth’s 800 or so mountain gorillas, and most of these live in the mist-shrouded forests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Tracking one of the 11 habituated families is Uganda’s most compelling activity, as a 2-6 hour trek up the steep slopes of the Rift Valley culminates in an eye-to-eye encounter with one of our closest relatives, lasting up to an hour.
Jinja is Uganda’s outdoor adventure centre, famed for white water rafting on the thundering source of the Nile. You can also kayak, mountain bike and even bungee jump – or take a more leisurely horseback ride through the lush local scenery. Take a trek through nearby Mabira Forest with a birding guide, or explore pleasant Jinja town, with its Indian-influenced architecture and wonderful daily market.
Africa’s largest lake is a haven for birdlife. The lakeshore, particularly around Entebbe, is lined with guesthouses and a monkey-filled botanical garden, while the islands act as beach resorts for landlocked Uganda. Ngamba Island (45 mins by boat) is a sanctuary for some 48 orphaned chimps; visitors can observe them interacting and learn about their behaviour in the education centre.
Murchison Falls NP
Until a few years ago, Uganda’s parched northeast was out of bounds due to a brutal civil war. This meant its largest national park remained virtually untouched, with wildlife populations flourishing. Now firmly back on the tourist map, it offers sunset Nile cruises, fabulous lodges, epic game drives along its vast savannah – and its magnificent centerpiece: Murchison Falls, where the Nile hurtles though a 7m-wide gap.
Queen Elizabeth NP
Queen Elizabeth National Park, flanked by massive mountains and pocked with ancient craters, offers some of Uganda’s most compelling game viewing. Four of the Big Five can be seen here, along with thousands of hippos and over 600 species of birds. Cruise along the Kazinga Channel into Lake Edward for a serene safari experience, or head down to Ishasha to encounter tree climbing lions.