Incredible wildlife experiences and the warmest of welcomes await amongst Uganda’s rich patchwork of diverse habitats.
Comparatively small, on the scale of Africa, Uganda has more than its fair share of the biggest and the best. Within its borders you’ll find the source of the Nile, the continent’s biggest lake (Lake Victoria), its tallest mountain range and many of the giants of the animal kingdom. This is the most bio-diverse country in Africa, with vast tracts of rainforest, marshland, plains and snow-capped mountains. There are over twenty nature reserves to explore and opportunities for wildlife spotting abound, from hippos wallowing in the waters of the Kazinga Channel, to gorillas in the misty highland forests.
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Top things to do in Uganda
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this jungle-clad gem. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Uganda.
One of the many charms of Uganda is the warmth of its people. In the capital, Kampala, you’ll be welcomed into the cafes and guesthouses with wide smiles and cries of ‘Welcome Mzungu’ an endearing term for ‘foreigner’. Very much a tribal nation, you’ll find a colourful mix of traditional customs and dress that change frequently from region to region. Spending time with Ugandans in their villages offers a fascinating glimpse of an older way of life.
Wild encounters on the Nile
At the mighty Murchison Falls in Uganda’s northwest, the Nile plunges almost fifty dramatic metres down into the churning waters below. Soak up the best of African wildlife from a safari boat downstream. Here the river draws lions, giraffes, leopards and elephants to its shores, while crocs glide through the waters and hippos wallow in the shallows.
A chest-beating experience
Tracking Silverback gorillas deep in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is not just a highlight of Uganda, but probably one of the most rewarding wildlife encounters in the world. These incredible creatures are powerful, but gentle and seeing them in their natural habitat is a truly humbling, and for many, profound, experience.
Lesser known things to do in Uganda
While there are many well-known things to do in Uganda, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Ugandan adventure.
Visit The Karamojong
This ethnic group speaks a Nilo-Saharan language and lives in and around the Kidepo Valley National Park. The park itself has an other-worldly geology that features irregular mountains and sheer cliffs. It’s also home to copious animals including zebra, occasional lion prides and savannah species found nowhere else in the country like wild dogs and cheetah.
The Mountains of the Moon
This mountain chain stretches for over 100 kilometres between lakes Albert and Edward and encompasses many diverse types of vegetation and habitat. Its higher peaks fall within the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, and strenuous and often technical trekking is a key draw for fit visitors to the region. The range’s highest summit is a snow-capped peak on Mount Stanley at 5,109m.
Enjoy the National Park nature
Uganda has ten National Parks, clustered in the southwest but with notable exceptions elsewhere. Each has its own distinct cultural, wildlife or geographic appeal. Find the one to match your passion, from trekking challenging peaks to birdwatching or gorilla tracking.
Lounge at the lakes
Uganda has a particularly regal selection of lakes to visit including Victoria and Albert, Edward and George. The fisherman on Lake Victoria evade the hippo and crocodiles while northern Lake Albert known for its richly diverse bird life. Lakes Edward and George are connected by the impressive Kazinga channel. Elephants, crocs, leopards and lions can be spotted from the boat trips that leave from Mweya.
When is the best time to visit Uganda?
Temperatures in Uganda are pleasant year round, so the most important consideration for visitors is the timing of the wet and dry seasons. These seasons vary year on year, and where you choose to go will also dictate what weather you are likely to experience.
To generalise, the savannah areas of Uganda tend to be warm, while the mountains can be cooler. The temperatures on the savannahs vary between 22°C and 32°C during the day, but in the mountains temperatures can fall as low as 8°C.
In the southwest (gorilla trekking territory) the rainy months tend to be October - November and April - May. While you may think the wettest months aren't the best times to visit, if your trip is solely to see the gorillas or chimpanzees, this can actually be quite a good time to go, as there is a lot less mist obscuring the stunning views and tourist footfall is lower.
Don't forget to look over our local partner's pre-departure packs for the best advice on how to dress and what equipment to bring on your trip to Uganda.
Interesting facts about Uganda
Uganda is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
- English is Uganda’s national language though over 30 indigenous languages are also spoken.
- In Uganda, bikes are the main form of transportation in urban areas, with vehicles driving on the left-hand side of the road.
- Policy states that for every tree cut down in Uganda, three more must be planted. This is to protect the country from deforestation and to preserve threatened wildlife habitats.
- The tiny church in Nebbi is one of the world’s smallest. It accommodates just three people and is 8ft tall.
- For its size, Uganda has disproportionately large percentages of the world’s bird and butterfly populations making it an ornithologist’s paradise.
Insider tips from our local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Uganda. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Make the most of a birdwatcher's paradise…
Uganda is a true birder's utopia. With 1,075 recorded species within its borders, it is home to around half the bird species on the African continent, including 24 Albertine Rift endemics - notably the Grauer's broadbill and Shelley's crimsonwing - and one endemic of its own, the Fox's weaver. This huge array of birdlife is largely thanks to Uganda's unique and varied topography, which includes habitats of arid landscapes in the north, as well as rainforests in the west and savannah in the east. Setting out on a birdwatching trip with expert guides in Uganda is a hard experience to beat. Highlights of these trips include spotting the yellow-footed flycatcher in Budongo Forest, the Puvel's illadopsis at Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, shoebills in the Mabamba Wetlands and the green-breasted pitta in the rainforest of Kibale National Park. And don't forget the Guinea-Congo biome bird species found in Semuliki National park - here you can spot the Congo serpent eagle, the long-tailed hawk and black-casqued wattled hornbill. If birding is your thing, then Uganda should be on your travel wishlist.
Raft the world-class rapids…
Rafting the Nile north of Jinja is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Adventurers will be in their element, with myriad kayaking and rafting options available from our trusted local experts. The Nile’s Category 5 rapids need to be taken very seriously as they offer some of the most thrilling and exhilarating whitewater on the planet, made more dramatic still by their glorious setting. Jinja is a magnet for adrenaline fiends and culture seekers alike.
Explore Kampala on foot…
Kampala positively overflows with options for the experience-hungry visitor. It oozes vitality and character while reigning the chaos in, making it a great introduction city for those new to Uganda or Africa itself. Join a guided walking tour, a cultural or crafting workshop or explore its palaces, museums and markets on foot. Avoid taxi rides into grid-locked quarters to keep stress levels to a minimum.
Boggle at the Big Five on Safari…
Uganda’s equatorial forest ecosystems can be accessed far more easily than better-known safari destinations. This makes it the perfect country in which to spot more than just the ‘big five’ while on safari. In little-visited wetland zones, semi-arid savannahs and higher altitude Afro-montane forests, seize unparalleled opportunities to view monkeys, chimps, mountain gorillas, birds and insects (350 mammal species have been recorded).
What to read before you go to Uganda
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Uganda, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'Abyssinian Chronicles' by Moses Isegawa
Isegawa’s mesmerizing novel paints an intimate portrait of a family cloaked in its tribe’s centuries-old traditions dealing with shifting political and cultures expectations. The era is the terrifying reign of Idi Amin, and the narrative uses the upbringing of a young boy to convey the brutality, beauty, riches and paucities that paved the way for the Africa of today.
'The Last King of Scotland' by Giles Foden
Journalist Foden has crafted a profound and often comedic masterpiece in which a Scottish doctor becomes appointed personal physician to Idi Amin. As the doctor’s awareness of Amin’s autocratic reign of terror increases, so a thought-provoking mediation begins on ‘conscience, charisma, and the slow corruption of the human heart’.
'A Bend In The River' by VS Naipaul
This novel, set in post-colonial mid-20th Century Africa, is one of Naipaul’s best-known works and features on many ‘must read’ compilations. It describes the life of an Indian merchant, Salim, who sets up shop in an unnamed African country at an eponymous bend in the river. It contrasts the dislocation of the developing world against colonial ambition.
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Best of both worlds
Many of our itinerary ideas offer a range of activities designed to make your trip into a memorable adventure, and some of them include remarkable contrasts offering you the best of both worlds on your holiday - think urban and rural, nature and culture, mountains and coastlines.
Do you already have an idea of what your dream holiday in Uganda entails? Whether you're ready to book or would like your ideas to be fined-tuned into something more, send an enquiry and our trusted local experts will design your perfect tailor-made holiday.