For those looking to discover someplace beautiful and off the beaten track, Uganda is a rapidly developing tourist destination with something for everyone. Less modernised than neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Rwanda, Uganda offers Africa as you’ve always imagined it – wild, verdant, beautiful, and just waiting to be explored.
Many come to Uganda looking for an up close and personal experience with its most famous primate residents – the mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the chimpanzees of Kibale National Park. What many don’t realize is that Uganda is a fully fledged safari destination in its own right, with Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park being particularly good for game viewing.
Those seeking to explore Uganda’s history will find that the nation’s capital, Kampala, is awash with the nation’s rich (and sometimes dark) past.
A big part of Uganda’s charm is its natural beauty, but that isn’t to say that the modern conveniences that contemporary travellers crave cannot be found. Uganda is home to fantastic lodges, amazing tented camps, and brilliant backpacker budget options.
Uganda Safaris and Tours
Uganda is very nearly the most complete safari destination in Africa – boasting both the Big Five, the enigmatic mountain gorilla, and the ever-popular chimpanzee.
The country’s unique mix of savannah and forested national parks makes it a good place to get a sense of the sheer diversity of Africa’s wildlife, and even a short safari in Uganda can take you from mist-shrouded mountains to wide-open plains.
Compared to neighbouring Rwanda, Uganda offers up similar experiences at a cheaper rate. While many will say that Rwanda’s gorilla trekking experience is a superior one, visitors to Kibale National Park will get a much more intimate chimpanzee experience than can be found anywhere else in the world.
Bwindi being in the country’s south and Kibale in its north means that it’s possible to combine the two parks with a visit to the world-famous Queen Elizabeth National Park – home to four of the Big Five as well as being one of only two places in Africa where you can see tree-climbing lions.
Farther afield, parks such as Murchison’s Falls, Kidepo Valley, Semliki, and Lake Mburo offer up diverse and fascinating experiences.
A visit to Uganda wouldn’t be complete without visiting its cities, and Kampala and Entebbe offer very different environments. The hustle and bustle of the nation’s capital, Kampala is where you’ll find much of the country’s history, whereas peaceful Entebbe on the shores of Lake Victoria is a great place to get away from it all. Either or both can be added to your Uganda itinerary with ease.
Wildlife of Uganda
For most people, Uganda is synonymous with its primate population. From the gentle giants of the Bwindi Impenetrable Mountains to the playful chimpanzees of Kibale, visitors to Uganda often come to see our forest-dwelling relatives in their natural habitat.
Uganda is also a safari destination in its own right, with the entirety of the Big Five represented across the country’s ten national parks.
Uganda is an especially good destination for primate viewing, with species such as the red-tailed monkey, I’Hoest’s monkey, black and white colobus, grey-cheeked mangabey, and more joining the more iconic chimpanzees and gorillas.
The Big Five is technically present in the country as well, although the white rhinoceros can only be seen in sanctuaries and leopards are quite a rare sight. Elephants, buffalo, and lions are considerably easier to spot. A noteable absentee in Ugandan national parks is the wildebeest, but most other well-known African fauna can be spotted across the country’s diverse parks. Uganda is also home to a number of unique species such as the near-endemic Ugandan Kob antelope and the endangered sitatunga antelope.
Birdwatchers will find Uganda is an especially diverse, with everything from open savannah to dense forests to verdant wetlands on offer.
National parks of Uganda
The sheer variety of landscapes in Uganda offers up a lot of options though, and we here at Shadows of Africa are only too happy to take up the challenge of designing a truly unique safari experience for you.
The forest parks of Bwindi Impenetrable and Kibale are arguably Uganda’s most famous tourist attractions, with people flocking from all over the world to go gorilla and/or chimpanzee trekking in the parks.
While Bwindi Impenetrable does not boast the same gorilla numbers as neighbouring Volcanoes National Park, it is considerably cheaper to go gorilla trekking in Uganda. The park itself, a mist-shrouded jungle full of mystery, is an attraction all of its own – and you’ll find yourself immediately enchanted by its dignified quiet.
Gorillas can also be seen in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, although it is a little harder to get to.
Kibale, famed for its chimpanzee population, lays claim to some of the best chimpanzee trekking in the world. Visitors to the forest park can be almost guaranteed of seeing these endearing, fascinating creatures in their natural habitat – with experienced guides knowing just where to go to see the action. Day-long chimpanzee habituation programmes are a great way to learn more about our nearest relatives in the animal kingdom.
Traditional safari enthusiasts will find a wealth of game-viewing opportunities in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park, with both offering their own unique facets. Queen Elizabeth is one of only two places in Africa where you can see tree-climbing lions, while Murchison Falls takes its name from the waterfall that sees the world-famous Nile plunge 43 metres from Lake Kyoga into Lake Albert.
For those craving something farther from the tourist trail, Ugandan National Parks cover a huge range of climates and landscapes. The hot springs of Semuliki, semi-arid Kidepo Valley on the Uganda-South Sudan border, and tiny Lake Mburo National Park all offer up something different.
Geology buffs can also visit the famed Mountains of the Moon in Rwenzxori Mountains National Park and see the world’s largest volcanic base in Mount Elgon.
Tribes and Religion
The bulk of Uganda’s 34 million plus population come from three distinct language groups: the Bantu in the southeast, Nilotic in the north, and the Central Sudanic on the border with South Sudan.
While cultural tourism ncounters aren’t quite as commonplace as they are in Tanzania and Kenya, it is possible for visitors to visit traditional villages close to most national parks – with all of the Big Four (Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable, and Kibale) offering something close by.
The most prolific of the tribes of Uganda are the Baganda (sometimes known as the King’s Men). The Baganda are so named for their monarchist form of government, which was restored to them in 1993. To this day, the Baganda enjoy a high level of autonomy. The Baganda comprise 17% of Uganda’s total population, with more than 6 million individuals identifying as being part of one of the 52 tribes.
Other prominent Bantu speaking tribes include the Busoga, the Ankole, and the Kiga.
The most prominent of the Nilotic speaking tribes are the Lango, who make up some 1.5 million of Uganda’s population.
Uganda is a predominantly Christian country, with 85% of the population identifying as Christian (with Roman Catholicism comprising almost 42%). Other religions include Islam (12.1%) and traditional faiths (roughly 1%).
Primate Trekking in Uganda
Gorilla trekking is usually done in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which is home to 340 individual gorillas (almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population). A select few of the gorilla ‘families’ have become habituated and can be visited by tourists, although permits are limited in number and often sell out well in advance.
Chimpanzee trekking, done in Kibale National Park, is a popular and affordable activity in Uganda. More than 1,000 chimpanzees call the park home, and move freely within its limits and beyond. Chimpanzee trekking usually takes 2-3 hours, although longer ‘chimpanzee habituation’ treks can be arranged as well.
In both cases, strict rules apply when observing these wild animals. While the animals have become somewhat used to the presence of humans, interacting with the animals is strictly forbidden and could be dangerous.