African plains, friendly faces, rich red earth and oodles of culture – Uganda must be one of the most underrated holiday destinations in the world. Less than a decade out of conflict, many people are afraid to visit Uganda but in fact, it is one of the safest countries in Africa and you will be as safe here as you will be anywhere else in the world. What’s more, you will be able to take advantage of the country’s burgeoning economy and tourism industry, bearing witness to one of the most beautiful countries in the world as it blossoms back to life.
Uganda is situated in Eastern Africa, and is one of three countries to border Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and second largest tropical lake in the world. Formerly known as the “Pearl of Africa”, Ugandans are proud of their heritage. Their determination and dignity have helped them to endure more than two decades of war, and Africa’s pearl has regained some of its exquisite lustre. Wildlife lovers will be in their element, for in Uganda you will find the Big Five, gorillas, Rothschild giraffes, and much more.
Culturally, Uganda varies from north to south, east to west; at some fuzzy point, the local language changes from Bantu to Nilotic, to Swahili or Lugandan, making learning the language tricky! English is considered the national language of Uganda, and most Ugandans have a basic grasp of English, but it is always a nice touch to find out how to say the basics wherever you are. Most flights to Uganda will bring you to Entebbe Airport, a short drive from the country’s capital, Kampala. This is a perfect place to start your tour of the many delights that Uganda has to offer. Choose whether to concentrate your visit on national parks and the relatively cosmopolitan metropolises of Kampala and Paraa, or to venture to the more rural, poverty-stricken areas. If you choose the latter, it is wise to hire a driver with good local knowledge, or join up with an NGO for part of your trip.
Water, Water, Everywhere
For a country blighted by drought, Uganda is perhaps most famous for its water, not least Lakes Victoria and Albert. The Lakes returned to their indigenous names in the 1980s but reverted to their colonial monikers at the end of the civil war, in a bid to shed the country of the terrible associations of the civil war. The larger of the two, Lake Victoria, is situated to the south of the country and at almost 26,000 square miles is itself the size of a small country. Along the lake’s edges, you will find small beaches and restaurants, where you can relax with freshly caught fish, a coffee or a Ugandan beer and watch the world amble by – nothing rushes in Uganda!
The two lakes are linked by the River Nile, the world’s longest river. The true source of the Nile is much-debated, but the river runs from Rwanda, travelling 4,163 miles north before joining the sea in Egypt. In Northern Uganda, you will find Murchison Falls, one of the most famous and beautiful spots on the banks of the immense river. Here, the 50-metre-wide Victoria Nile squeezes itself through a 6-metre gap, thundering through the gorge with breath-taking power before meandering on towards Lake Albert. You can book a boat trip, which will take you as close as safely possible to the Falls – en route you will encounter hundreds of hippos, tropical birds and crocodiles, while on the banks you will see water buffalo, giraffes, elephants, deer and more, making it a truly spectacular holiday event that you are likely to remember forever. It is possible to book a ranger to take you on a hike or drive to the top of the falls.
Another thing that one of our favourite underrated holiday destinations has to offer is spectacular national parks, and Murchison Falls National Park is one of the best in the world. At over 2,000 square miles, the park offers mile upon mile of undulating African plains, packed with smaller lakes. You will be transported to scenes from the Lion King as you see countless species including birds, monkeys, lions, leopards, Rothschild giraffes, elephants and warthogs. For as little as $20 you can hire a ranger to take you on safari; there is nothing quite as special as watching a new day dawn over the plain, surrounded by magnificent beasts, safe and wild in their natural habitat. The best bit? Because Uganda is such an underrated destination, you won’t be joined by legions of other tourists jostling for the best camera picture and scaring the wildlife away! It is wise to remember that these are wild animals and, as such, you can’t guarantee that you will see everything on your list. You may be lucky, or you may be not-so-lucky, but your experience promises to be magical either way.
If you are planning a trip to Uganda, the likelihood is that you are on the lookout for gorillas. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a World Heritage Site, home to half of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas. It is estimated that nearly 400 gorillas live in the thick rainforest, but they can be elusive; it is not unusual for people to watch for days with no success, while others catch site of the splendid animals on their first visit. If you don’t manage to see gorillas, you are unlikely to leave too disappointed; there are almost a dozen other species of primate, as well as forest elephants, stunning tropical birds and insects, and the giant forest hog, which is almost as rare as the mountain gorilla.
Uganda is indescribably beautiful; the incredible natural beauty of the country exceeded only by the humility, openness and smiles of its people. It may be one of the most underrated holiday destinations right now, but watch this space: this country, with so much to offer, is set to become one of the world’s top holiday destinations in the coming years.