WHY SHOULD I VISIT UGANDA?
Here are our top five reasons why you should visit Uganda:
- Gorilla Trekking – Bwindi National Park
- Queen Elizabeth National Park – home to the tree-climbing lions
- Murchison Falls National Park – Uganda’s largest National Park
- Kidepo Valley National Park – rugged and dry wilderness experience
- Jinja – Source of the White Nile and Uganda’s adventure capital
Uganda is a small country that punches above its weight as far as tourist attractions go. Uganda stands out for a couple of reasons: The source of the longest river in the world, the largest lake in Africa (3rd in the world), over 10% of the world’s bird species (over 1000), half the world’s mountain gorillas and Africa’s highest mountain Range (the Rwenzori’s with Africa’s 3rd highest peak). With a tropical climate and higher altitude, Uganda is pleasant to visit the whole year round.
What is the best time to visit Uganda?
Gorilla trekking, the main reason that people visit Uganda, can be done year-round, but it is most pleasant during the dry season, December to February & June to mid-September. Below is a list of the 4 main parks and the best times to visit them:
The general rule of thumb is that the low-lying areas are hot and humid while the mountainous areas are milder, but still mostly warm at night. The top of Mount Elgon is covered with snow most of the year round.
Best time for birders is from May to September, with August and September being outstanding.
Which places should I include in my visit?
As the major focus of your visit is likely to be a Gorilla trek, Bwindi National Park is the place to experience these incredible creatures and it also affords an opportunity to trek the rare gold monkey in the Mgahinga Gorilla Park which is close by. Bwindi is easily combined with the Queen Elizabeth National Park, home to chimpanzees, tree climbing lions and the rest of the Big 5, excluding the rhino.
Kibale National Park is a logical extension to your stay as it is just north of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is known as one of the best places in Uganda to trek chimpanzees and encounter 12 other species of primate. With its evergreen and deciduous forest and savannah plains, a stay in Kibale is both restful and scenic.
Semuliki National Park and Semliki Wildlife Reserve are excellent for bird watching and there is an opportunity to interact with the Chimpanzee researchers and the resident chimpanzee troop.
If you have more time, include Murchison Falls National Park, where you can go chimpanzee trekking in the Bugongo Forest, boat up to the bottom of the Murchison Falls, which is on the Victoria Nile, enjoy watching the wildlife and excellent birdlife.
To add a bit of adventure to your trip, don’t miss out on Jinja (source of the Nile) where you can enjoy boat trips, water rafting, bungee jumping, kayaking and fishing.
How long should I visit Uganda for?
- If you just want to go on a Gorilla Trek, 2 nights in Bwindi (1 gorilla Trek) or 3 nights (2 treks) will be sufficient. Depending on your flights it may be necessary to spend the 1st and/or the last night in Kampala/Entebbe.
- For a 7 night stay, I would include Gorilla Trekking with three nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park
- If you intend to stay longer, I suggest you add on a 3 night stay in Muchison Falls National Park, 3 nights in Kidepo Valley National Park and perhaps 2 nights in Jinja.
What is the weather like in Uganda?
Spanning the equator, Uganda’s temperatures do not differ significantly during the year. Having said that, December to April is somewhat warmer and June & July a little cooler. The Victoria Nile Valley and low-lying areas in the north of the country can get quite hot. Nights in the mountains and high-lying areas can be quite cool.
As is quite typical of the equatorial region of Africa, Uganda experiences two wet seasons, namely from September to November and a long wet season from May to May with dry seasons in-between. Uganda has a high rainfall, except in the very north. Rainfall for most of the country is between 1000 and 1500 mm per annum and is often in the form of afternoon thundershowers.
Do I need a visa to travel to Uganda?
Except for some countries in central Africa, central America and Malaysia, all other countries need a visa to enter Uganda. Please consult your travel agent to ascertain whether you will need a visa. A visa will be issued, without prior application, on arrival at point of entry (valid for up to 90 days) to all nationalities except Sudan. The Ugandan Government is encouraging all visitors to apply for an e-Visa, which is available online.
Travellers who are visiting Kenya, as well as Rwanda may find it helpful to apply for an East Africa Tourist Visa that allows entry to all three countries on a single visa. You can find information on the visa application process at the consular section of your local Ugandan embassy or its website.
What are the health requirements for Uganda?
Uganda is a malaria risk area. Anti-malaria medication is recommended, and you should consult your doctor in this regard. To minimise the risk of contracting malaria, wear long trousers and cover your arms in the evening, and apply mosquito repellent.
Yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from an endemic country. The following vaccinations are recommended, but not compulsory:
- Hepatitis A & B
- Tetanus, Diphtheria & Pertussis (TDAP)
- Mumps, Measles and Rubella (MMR)
- Meningococcal meningitis
- Cholera vaccinations
How do I travel around in Uganda?
There is a good network of public buses throughout the country, which are quite inexpensive. Mini-bus taxis offer short local journeys, while larger coaches are used for the longer distance routes. You may want to have the independence of hiring a motorbike (Boda Boda) in the main cities. Self-driving is an option if you travel on the main tourist routes where the tar roads are fairly good. The dirt roads vary from okay to terrible, particularly in the rainy season. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended if you are planning to travel on dirt roads.
Tour companies provide vehicles and drivers for transfers and tours, both private and scheduled. It is by far the safest way to travel when on holiday.
There are light aircraft flights to the main tourist areas, as well as a couple of charter companies that service the various regions of Uganda. Scheduled route prices are reasonable, but charter can become quite pricey.
TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
All about Gorilla trekking
Gorilla permits are issued on a first come, first served basis. Full prepayment of the permits is required to secure them. If permits are booked at different times (example: two couples travelling together, but booking at different times), the chances are that they will visit different families to each other.
Gorilla trekking may involve up to a two-hour drive on dirt roads to the nearest access point for a particular family of gorillas – it all depends on where the Gorilla families are in the park on a particular day. Trekking can take anywhere from 30 minutes to six hours, but on average, the trek is between two and three hours. Each group of eight (max number per group) will get one hour to spend with their Gorilla family per day. The reason for such a short visit is to minimise the impact on the Gorillas as much as possible. The trekking fee is used to pay the park rangers, maintain the park itself, compensate the villagers when their crops are destroyed by the Gorillas in an effort to prevent them from killing the gorilla.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi is in the southwestern part of Uganda, a few kilometres from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 25km north of the Virunga Mountains. “Impenetrable” refers to the huge stands of bamboo and over 104 species of ferns that make it difficult to penetrate the forest under the canopy of over 163 species of trees.
Not only is Bwindi home to about 340 mountain gorillas of which 4 families are habituated to humans, but it also boasts chimpanzees, red, black and white Colobus monkeys and 115 other species of mammals. A birder’’s paradise with over 348 species of birds, it is also home to a few endemics. The park also sports 220 species of butterflies, over 1000 species of flowering plants, numerous frog, chameleon and gecko species.
For such a small park, only 331km² in size, it definitely punches above its weight as far as experiences go with its incredible diversity of species and its mountain gorillas.
The 4 habituated family groups of gorillas are: The Nkuringo, the Rushegura, the Mubare and the Habinyanja families.
About 1000 individuals of the Batwa people, pygmies, live in the area around Bwindi. Some live in the 100 hectares of forest adjacent to the national park. The Batwa Cultural Experience will give you a glimpse into the life and culture of these people in what is essentially a living museum. As the forest is too small to allow them to sustain themselves in the traditional way, the museum helps to preserve their culture and traditions.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Flanked by the Kibale National Park to the north, the Virungu National Park in the west and the Kigezi Game Reserve to the northwest, Queen Elizabeth National is the most visited national park in Uganda.
The main feature of the park is the 32km long Kazinga Channel. This is the wide channel that connects Lake George and Lake Edward. It is littered with crocodiles and hippos, but also attracts many water birds to its shores and wetlands.
The Rwenzori Mountains can be seen in the distance from the northwest of the park. The streams flowing from the mountains feed lake George and thus the Kazinga Channel.
The Ishasha area in the southern part of the park is famous for its tree-climbing, black maned lions and huge herds of buffalo. This part of the park is very different to the rest of the park, but well worth a visit.
Volcano craters, cones, lakes and the Maramagambo Forest are other prominent features of the park which is 1978 km² in size. With 4 of the Big 5 (rhino not present), chimpanzees in the Kyambura Gorge and Kalinzu forest, 90 other species of mammal and 605 species of birds, the park is a great place for a safari, chimpanzee trekking or birdwatching.
Kibale National Park
Sunset over KibaleKibale is a mixture of tropical forest, grassland and swamps. It is home to about 30% of the Chimpanzees in Uganda. Kibale is the best place to do chimpanzee trekking, and 99% of the time you are guaranteed to see these incredible mammals. There are two trekking options, the normal trek where you spend 1 hour with the chimps or the Chimpanzee Habituation excursion which allows you more time with the chimps but is more expensive.
Kibale National Park, 795km² in size, borders northern Queen Elizabeth National Park and together they form a 180km long protected area for animals to move freely in. With 375 bird species, Kibale is an excellent birding destination and with 13 primate species and 70 mammal species, should be included in your itinerary.
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Falls Wildlife Reserve form the Murchison Falls Conservation area which is 5360km² in size, and Uganda’s biggest conservation area. It is situated in the north of Uganda on the Albertine Rift which is the western spur of the Great Rift Valley. The Victoria Nile flows through the national park from east to west, creating the Murchison Falls before it flows into the northmost point of Lake Albert. A combination of savannah, riverine forest and woodland, it is the only park in Uganda that can offer the Big 5, as rhino have just been reintroduced.
You can explore the park while on game drives, nature walks, boat trips and birding. With over 400 bird species, including the sought after Shoebill (best seen January to March), it is a birding mecca.
About 3 hours drive from Kampala, enroute to Murchison Falls National Park, Budongo Forest is East Africa’s largest Mahogony forest. Bordering Murchison Falls National Park, it is dominated by Mahogony and Iron-wood trees which number amongst the 465 tree species found here. It offers 290 species of butterflies, 130 species of moth, 15 species of mammals and 9 primate species. Budongo is home to the largest number of Chimpanzees in Uganda,but trekking here only offer a 50% chance of seeing them, due to the large range it offers.
With over 360 bird species including 2 endemics that are found nowhere else, Budongo is excellent for birding.
Semuliki National Park & Semliki Wildlife Reserve
Bounded in the west by the Semuliki River, a tributary of the Congo River, and the Rwenzori Mountains on the east, the Semuliki National Park and Semliki Wildlife Reserve form an important conservation area for the Ugandan Kob.
Semuliki National Park is essentially a forest and also home to the Sempaya Hot Springs, unusual species like the pygmy antelope, 2 species of flying squirrels and the Water Chevrotain. As the eastern extension of the Ituri Forest of the DRC, Semuliki is home to the Batwa pygmies that originate from this forest.
Semliki Wildlife Reserve, adjacent to the National Park on the eastern side, is mostly savannah, woodlands with swamps in the area close to Lake Albert. With 440 bird species, it is one of the premier birdwatching destinations in Uganda. You may also encounter chimpanzees on a primate walk and well as red-tailed, black and white Colobus monkeys. Activities include game drives, nature walks, boating, hiking and cultural visits.
Kidepo Valley National Park
The Kidepo Valley National Park is fed by two rivers, namely the Kidepo River and the Narus River, that run through the rugged savannah. During the dry season the rivers stop flowing and become a series of waterholes and pools that attract the animals as there is only one mostly permanent spring in the park. It is in the arid north of Uganda, bordering on the South Sudan and Kenya, and is a land of endless plains with mountains as a backdrop, the highest being Mount Morungole, a dominating presence.
Surprisingly the park has 475 bird species making it a prime birding destination. Game viewing is excellent with 77 species of mammals on offer. During the dry season the wildlife are best observed in the Narus valley and the wetlands. You can also experience the culture of the Karamojong herdsman that hail from the area.
Jinja is a small town that is 87km from Kampala. Best known as the source of the Nile, the town has quite a bit of history. The Owen Falls Dam was completed in 1954 and is just 4 km from where the Nile leaves Lake Victoria. If you are an adventure junkie, Jinja must feature on your itinerary to Uganda. On offer in the area is: White Water Rafting, boat cruises, bunjee jumping, jet boating, kayaking, canoeing, fishing, motorbiking, quad biking and horse riding. Jinja also offers good birding. If you want to experience this area for a few days, we suggest you look at Wildwaters Lodge which is 25km downstream.
The 2nd largest lake in the world by surface area, Lake Victoria forms part of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It is the waters of Lake Victoria that feed the Nile which eventually runs into the Mediterranean Sea.
On the shores and islands of the lake are hotels and lodges that offer unique getaways and a well-deserved rest after your safari.
Lake Albert is part of the complicated system of lakes and rivers that characterise the upper White Nile. It is fed by the Victoria Nile and Semuliki River. With swamps in the south, mountains to the north west and south, Lake Albert lies in the centre of Africa. Few people have settled on its shores.
Kampala, Uganda’s capital is also its largest city.
Places of interest include:
Bulange, the Buganda Kingdom’s parliament and Lubiri, the palace of the king or Kabaka,
The Kasubi Tombs – UNESCO Heritage Site of the kings of Buganda
The Gadafi Mosque – Uganda’s national mosque
Ndere Centre – cultural centre of many cultures. You can even get cooking lessons here.
The Uganda Museum – Ugandan history
The Baha’i Temple – only Bahai temple in Africa
Several craft markets and monuments throughout the city
The Uganda Martyrs Shrine – to remember the Buganda that died for their faith
The Namirembe and Rubaga Cathedral – oldest cathedrals in Uganda with great views over Kampala
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary
If you have limited time in Uganda and want to experience both the mountain gorilla and chimpanzees, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, only 23km from Entebbe on Lake Victoria, is a great day tour option from Entebbe.
The Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Trust, established by amongst others, Dr Jane Goodall, initially started Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary for 13 rescued chimpanzees. This number has grown to about 50, all rescued from illegal wildlife traders. The sanctuary provides a safe place for these animals that cannot be returned to the wild.
Contact Q2 Travel for quotes and if you are interested in experiencing Uganda.
GENERAL INFO & HISTORY
Uganda is 236 040 km² in size, has over 100 tribes and 43 languages. Landlocked in central East Africa, Uganda borders the DRC, Tanzania, South Sudan and Kenya. The source of the White Nile is found in Uganda as is the 2nd largest lake in the world. A country still dominated by traditions which impedes its steps into the 21st century. Song and dance are important aspects of the Ugandan society.
Bantu people, who originated from west/central Africa, moved into the area by 400 AD. They cleared the forest in order to grow crops, raise chickens, goats and some cattle. Pastoralists, Nilotic speakers, moved into the area about the same time. They would use weapons to defend their cattle and raid other clans for theirs. They could provide military protection to the Bantu people, with whose elite they mixed and intermarried. This brought about a pastoral elite that would use the Bantu speakers to look after their cattle, in exchange for their protection, and who in turn would use the manure to grow better crops.
The Chwezi, a group of these elites, established states between the 13th and 15th centuries. They are believed to be the ancestors of the Tutsi. The Chwezi were displaced by a new group of Nilotic speaking pastoralists, the Bito, causing them to move south into what is today Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. The Bito established a state in Bunyoro and ruled over the Tutsi and the Hutu agriculturalists until the 19th century.
The Buganda state was formed on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. Their wealth lay in producing bananas and other crops. People fleeing the rule of the Bunyoro and internal conflicts also settled in Buganda. The Buganda’s social structure was basically clan-based. Expansion necessitated a change in governance structure which allowed Kimera to become the first Kabaka of the Buganda state. The Buganda state started to show expansionist tendencies in the late 18th century and by the middle of the 19th century had conquered most of the Bunyoro territory. The Buganda retained control of their territories by having a large army.
Uganda was reasonably isolated until the mid-19th century when Arab traders from Zanzibar first reached Lake Victoria (1844). The demand for ivory had increased and with the elephants on the coast having been exterminated, the traders moved inland to supply the demand. They traded guns, gun powder and cloth and with the Buganda’s Kibaka in exchange for ivory.
In the meantime, the remaining Bunyoro territory came under threat from Egypt who wanted to secure ivory and slaves. The Khedive Ismail Pasha of Egypt, in an attempt to take the area north of Lake Victoria, sent a military expedition, lead by Samuel Baker to the Bunyoro territory. Samuel Baker was installed as the Governor-General of this new territory named Equatoria. The Bunyoro fought back and Baker retreated. On recounting his experience in Africa in a book, Baker vilified the Bunyoro, colouring negatively the British perceptions of the Bunyoro as they moved into Uganda.
With the arrival of the European explorers in Buganda territory, along came missionaries, both Catholic (French) and Protestant (British). Along with the Arab muslims, many of the Buganda were converted to thel three ideologies. It was about this time that the rinderpest, sleeping sickness and smallpox, all due to exposure to the rest of the world, ran rife and killed up to half the Buganda population in certain areas.
The protestant and catholic coverts within the Buganda ruling class, divided the Buganda kingdom. In 1892, these two factions started a war and with the help of the Maxim, a prototype machine gun, the protestants were victorious. They burned the French missions. The French, who had aligned themselves with the Germans, were compensated and Germany relinquished their claim to Uganda.
With the French and Germans out of the way, the British, with the help of the Buganda and Egyptian (Nubian) mercenaries, defeated the Bunyoro (5-year war) and another tribe the Acholi, took control of the areas north of Lake Victoria.
The Nubians revolted. The revolt was quashed in a two-year battle during which the Buganda Christians aided the British. The British repaid the Buganda, by negotiating a separate treaty which gave them more autonomy and self-governance along with half of the Bunyoro territory.
The Uganda Agreement (1900), saw Uganda became a British Protectorate. The British used the Buganda, who had offered their services to the British, to collect taxes and organise labour, The Buganda forced their language, form of Christianity and values on the rest of the Ugandan kingdoms, a move that caused great resentment.
In 1901, the railway line between Mombasa and Lake Victoria was completed. The British encouraged the growing of cash crops, in particular cotton, to fund the railway. The Buganda saw the benefits of growing cotton and as a result became considerably more prosperous than the rest of the tribes in Uganda. Progress in the form of industrialisation and education came along with the British involvement in Uganda. The Buganda, in particular, educated their children in these schools. Typing and translation were sought after skills.
In the years between 1920, commoners purchased small parcels of land from the estate owners and started growing their own crops, cotton and coffee among them. The old Buganda Kibaka’s were replaced by the more educated youth who soon fell into the same trap they had objected to in their elders, namely that privilege came with power. Only the Arabs were allowed to process and price crops. This move caused great resentment amongst the local population.
In 1949 some of the discontented Buganda burned down the houses of the pro-government chiefs. They demanded that these restrictions be lifted and their own representation in place of government appointed chiefs. This fell on deaf British ears.
In 1952, a new Governor, Sir Andrew Cohen, removed these restrictions, formed the Ugandan Development Corporation to fund new projects and reconstructed the Legislative council to include more Ugandan representation. In 1953, back in Britain, the idea of an East African federation was mooted, an idea that was vehemently opposed by the Ugandan chiefs who feared that such an federation would be dominated by Kenya.
Kabaka Freddie demanded Buganda be separated from the protectorate, which ultimately lead to him being exiled to Britain. Due to pressure from the Bugandans he was reinstated 2 years later along with the power of the Kabaka to appoint/dismiss his chiefs in government. A group, called Kings Friends, of people loyal to Kabaka Freddie was formed. Politicians who were opposed to Kabaka Freddie were dubbed “Kings Enemies”.
The Roman Catholic sector of Buganda formed the Democratic Party (DP). The DP, together with other small political parties that were formed, were opposed to being dominated by the Buganda Kibaka. Out of this sentiment, the Uganda People’s Congress (UPC) was formed by all those in opposition to Buganda rule, excluding the Democratic Party. The new party was headed by Milton Obote.
The British set March 1961 as the date for the election of a “responsible” government, in preparation for full independence. The Kings Friends urged Bugandans to boycott the elections, which they did except for the Catholic Bugandans who voted for the Democratic Party. As a consequence the Democratic Party won 20 of 21 seats and their leader Benedicto Kiwanuka became the chief minister of Uganda.
The British commission proposed a federal form of government in the future that would give Buganda some autonomy, a proposal that was welcomed by the Buganda and their new party Kabaka Yekka (KY). The UPC and KY agreed to fight the DP for seats in the interim government, that would be instituted on Uganda’s independence, for certain concessions to the Kabaka. The election of 1962, saw the alliance defeat the DP and when Uganda became independent in October 1962, Milton Obote became prime minister and the Kabaka the president.
In 1964, Obote and the UPC garnered enough votes to give the UPC a majority. The majority was achieved by several DP members crossing the floor on the promise that a referendum would be held on whether to return the “lost countries”, the Bunyoro lands the British gave to the Buganda, to the Bunyoro. The referendum was held and the lands restored.
During the next two years Obote cemented the UPC’s dominance in parliament. In 1966, Obote was accused of corruption, which proved true, and suffered a no-confidence vote in parliament. His response was to call on Idi Amin, the leader of the Ugandan army to help him to stay in power. He proceeded to suspend the constitution to keep control of the government and arrested those who voted against him. He forced a new constitution on the Ugandan people, which did away with the federal powers of the kingdoms and centralised power. This move caused Buganda to call for his removal which precipitated Obote calling in the army who captured the Kabaka’s palace, divided Buganda into four districts, did away with the kingdoms and instituted martial law.
While Obote relied on Idi Amin through two assignation attempts, he was not sure of his loyalty. This uncertainty resulted in Obote placing Amin under house arrest while his army expenditure was investigated. In 1971, Idi Amin instituted a military coup and assumed control of Uganda. Over the next 8 years, in an effort to secure his rule, over 300 000 Ugandans lost their lives. 580 000 Indians were forced to leave Uganda in 1972 adding to his growing list of human rights violations. Uganda suffered massive economic decline and social disintegration during his dictatorship.
In 1979 there was an altercation between the Ugandan army and Ugandan exiles on the Tanzania border. On Idi Amin’s orders the army, along with supporting troops from Libya, moved into Tanzania but were repelled by the Tanzanian army and the Ugandan exiles. Kampala was captured by the Tanzanian army in 1979, Idi Amin fled to Libya and Obote was reinstated. He was again ousted in 1985 by General Tito Okello. The National Resistance Army (NRA) waged a bush war and deposed Okello after only six months in power.
After an interim government and military commission, the 1980 elections saw the UPC re-elected and Obote again assume power. His term was characterised by corruption, massive food shortages, killings, terrorizing, harassing, torturing of the civilian population while trying to root out the NRA, In 1985 Obote was deposed by Tito Okello. While seeming to negotiate with the NRA, Okello tried to root out the support for the NRA resulting in mass killings. In 1986, the NRA, under Yoweri Museveni, seized Kampala and Okello fled. A government was organised which was dominated by The National Resistant Movement with Museveni becoming the president. Museveni has largely reformed the country and set it back on track for prosperity and he remains in power to this day.
Uganda is blessed with good agricultural land, rainfall and mineral wealth. It is emerging from fairly recent turbulent past and is slowly transforming and growing. The GDP is roughly made up of a 55% contribution from the services (including tourism) sector, 24% from the agricultural sector and 20% from the industrial sector.
The Uganda Shilling is the currency of Uganda. The US$ is widely accepted at tourist establishments, but for buying local goods, it is good to have the local currency. You will receive change from the locals only in the local currency.
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