“For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale, Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa’.” Winston Churchill, My African Journey, 1907. What Winston Churchill expressed in his writing still holds true today. Uganda is truly beautiful, truly diverse, truly gifted by nature, and with truly friendly people.
Uganda is home to the source of the world’s longest river, River Nile; the largest number of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas; vast and diverse natural wildlife reserves; all year-round tropical weather; a diverse cultural heritage with 56 tribes, 9 other indigenous communities and 40 living languages; snow-capped mountains; diverse marine life and attractions; a wealth of unexploited natural resources; a vibrant day and night life; as well as a young educated population bursting with innovation and potential.
Landlocked, Uganda is found in East Africa and is boarded by South Sudan in the north, Kenya in the east, Tanzania in the south, Rwanda in the south-west and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the west. It is 236,040sq km (146,670 sq miles) – about half the size of Spain. The climate is tropical with two seasons – wet (March-May; September-November) and dry (June-August; December to February) with an average temperature of 78˚ F/25.6˚ C. The population is estimated at 44 million and is the youngest population in the world with 50% being 15 years old or younger.
Uganda’s official languages are English and Kiswahili (an Eastern African language created from a mixture of Bantu languages and Arabic). The currency is the Uganda Shilling (UGX).
The earliest man in Uganda was the Stone Age man and lived around 60,000-50,000 BC. Uganda’s present diversity is a result of four ethnic groups that migrated here. These are the Bantu, Luo, Atekerin (Nilo-Hamites and Luo/Nilotic), and the Sudanic. Present day Uganda was forged by the British from 1890 to 1926. Uganda was a British protectorate from 1894 to 1962 and gained independence on October 9, 1962. Uganda is a democracy with an elected president, members of parliament and other local representatives.
Uganda has ten national parks with diverse wildlife including the Big Five (lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, rhino). In additional to the parks, there are game reserves that are protective areas for animals living outside of the parks. Other game found in Uganda include rhinos, antelopes, cheetahs, giraffes, warthogs, crocodiles, hyenas, hippos, zebras, baboons, chimpanzees and mountain gorillas.
All Uganda’s national parks have amazing wildlife. The highlights below just speak to the uniqueness of each park.
Rwenzori N.P. was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 because of its natural beauty, and the all year-long snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains. Semliki N.P is home to incredible hot springs and Uganda’s pygmies. Dominated by part of the Ituri Forest in the Congo Basin, this is where East African meets the biodiversity of Central Africa. Ishaka, in Queen Elizabeth N.P. is the best place to see tree climbing lions in Africa. Lake Mburo N.P – with 5 of the 13 lakes in the area bordering the Park, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Murchison Falls N.P is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the Rift Valley wall. Huge volumes of River Nile waters force their way into a gorge which is less than 10 meters wide. The Park has an incredible Savanna landscape. Mt. Elgon N.P is named after the mountain, which is Africa’s 17th highest mountain. At 4,000km², Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Kibale N.P has 13 species of primates including the chimpanzee and is one of the most varied regions of tropical forest in Uganda. Kidepo Valley N.P. is listed as number 3 in ‘Africa’s 10 Best National Parks 2013’ by CNN Travel. Bordering Kenya and Sudan, it is the most isolated among Uganda’s parks, but also the most magnificent. Mgahinga Gorilla N.P is home to endangered mountain gorillas and to the indigenous Batwa Pygmies. Bwindi Impenetrable N.P was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, has 400 species of plants as well as some of the endangered mountain gorillas.
Uganda has the largest mountain gorilla population, making it one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the world. About 880 gorillas survive in the world today and Uganda has half of them. There are over 5,000 chimpanzees found in Uganda. Other primates include monkeys, baboons and nocturnal primates such as bush babies and pottos.
With more than 1,000 bird species, Uganda is home to over 50% of the entire bird population in Africa. It is often referred to as a birdwatcher’s paradise. Queen Elizabeth National Park has 605 species, which is largest population of any protected area in Africa. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park was voted Africa’s number one birding site (2012) by the African Bird Club.
Four of East Africa’s great lakes are found in Uganda – Lake Victoria, Lake Kyoga, Lake Albert and Lake Edward. Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest fresh-water lake at 68,000 sq. km. Ssese Islands, in Lake Victoria, are a paradise with sandy beaches, birds and beautiful vegetation. Lake Bunyonyi is believed to be the second deepest lake in Africa with a depth ranging between 44m and 900m. River Nile, the longest river in the world at 6,695 kilometers (4184 miles), and the only river to flow northward, has its source in Uganda. You can also raft the river’s level 5 rapids. Some of Uganda’s great waterfalls include Murchison, Sipi, Kalagala , Sezibwa, and Itanda. Uganda has 12 wetlands of international importance.
River Nile is one of African’s Seven Natural Wonders. Serving 11 countries, it is the Wonder that engages the most countries of any Wonder. It takes the water approximately three months to travel from Jinja in Uganda to the Mediterranean Sea. The river is also famous for the Nile Crocodile, which can grow to a length of 20ft/6m (the longest in Africa) and can weigh up to 1,500lbs/680kg.
The Kigezi region is nicknamed the “Switzerland of Africa” for its scenic landscape and weather. Mt. Rwenzori (5,109 m), the most celebrated of the “Mountains of the Moon”, is permanently snow-capped; a rare condition in equatorial Africa. It was voted among the top hiking places in Africa and in the world. Virunga Volcanoes in south-western Uganda were declared “a must see place for 2012” and among the 12 places one has to visit in their lifetime. Other mountains for hiking include Mt. Elgon, Mt. Mgahinga, Mt. Muhabura, and Mt. Moroto.
Uganda is increasingly experiencing a growth in faith tourism. Uganda is 84% Christian, 14% Muslim and 2% other, including Animist (Animism is the religious belief that objects, places and other creatures all possess a distinct spiritual essence).
The Catholic Basilicas in Namugongo and Munyonyo, as well as the Protestant Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo, where young Christian men were killed by Kabaka Mwanga II in 1886 for failure to renounce their faith, attract thousands of pilgrims annually. The Baha’i Temple (for the Baha’i faith, and the only one of its kind in Africa) is found in Uganda.
Agrotourism, community tourism, butterfly watching, shopping and a rewarding social life.