3 THINGS YOU MUST DO IN UGANDA
January 1, 1970
by Alma Villacastin
10 Nationals Parks, 3 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, one of the largest populations of primates in the world, one of the few places where you can meet the protected Mountain Gorillas, home of the second largest lake in the world, Victoria Lake, and source of the longest river on Earth, the Nile River.
These were just some of the reasons why we chose Uganda as our African home for the last 5 months. And we couldn’t have made a better choice!
Uganda, also known as The Pearl of Africa, is a relatively small country so you can travel around easily. It offers a great diversity including rain forest, savanna, waterfalls, lakes and no crowded safaris where you will see the Big Five: lion, elephant, hippo, rhino and buffalo.
There is a lot to see in Uganda but there are 3 Must-Do Experiences that you shouldn’t miss:
- Mountain Gorilla Trekking
- Boat Safari at Murchison Fall National Park
- Lake Bunyonyi, the “Switzerland of Africa”
1. Mountain Gorilla Trekking
A unique experience where you get to spend one hour with a family of Mountain Gorillas protected and guided by a local armed ranger in a group of maximum 6 people. The gorilla families that you will meet are habituated, what means that have been familiar with human presence, work done by the rangers over months, sometimes years.
Mountain Gorillas live exclusively in the mountains at the border between DR Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
Gorilla Permit from UWA
First, you need to get a permit from UWA, Uganda Wildlife Authority. It cost $600 per person (Yes, it is expensive but the permit in Rwanda, the only other option to trek mountain gorillas, costs $1,200 per person). It can be obtained in the UWA headquarters in Kampala or through any travel agency. There are only a few spots per day, so book in advance!
You can also do Chimp Trekking if you prefer. The permit costs $150 per person and you will meet for one hour a family of chimps in their natural environment guided by a ranger.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Gorilla Treks take place in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. You will need to travel there the night before the experience. It takes around 10 hours drive from Kampala. On the day, you will meet the team of rangers at 8 am at UWA office at Bwindi National Park to receive a short introduction and start the trek!
A Magical Encounter
We walked around 2 hours through a green, dense forest. Gigantic trees and plants, jungle sounds and humid and magic environment… and then, we spot a big black hairy gorilla lying on a bed of leaves, enjoying his afternoon nap. He looked at us while yawning. Behind him, some young and baby gorillas where playing and jumping on top of each other. The mama gorillas were peacefully eating from the trees.
The excitement and fear is present during the whole hour which actually goes by very fast! A baby gorilla ran towards me, touched my arm and quickly went back to his mum. They are playful and adorable. At one point, the Silver Back jumped from behind the group and situated himself just in front of us. I guess we were getting too close. It was fantastic and humbling to feel his power and sense of protection.
2. Boat Cruise Safari
One of the things that differentiates Uganda from other safari destinations, is the abundance of water which creates great conditions to see wildlife as they approach lakes and rivers to drink and refresh.
I absolutely loved seeing them so close from the boat, drinking and playing with the water! Families of elephants splashing water at each other, buffalo and hippo peacefully sharing the same space, impalas and giraffes and the famous Nile crocodile on the riverside.
Where to do it?
There are two National Parks in Uganda that offer the option of a Boat Cruise Safari, Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The cruises long 1.5 hours and cost $60 per person, you can buy the ticket inside the Park. Note that you also need to pay $40 per person as the daily fee entrance to the National Park.
Murchison Falls National Park:
- Pros: cruise through the Nile River ending at Murchison Waterfalls where the river falls down 42 meters. You can get off the boat and trek to the top of the waterfall. Large and numerous groups of giraffes and home of the big Nile crocodile.
- Cons: There are lions and leopards but we were not able to see them.
Queen Elizabeth National Park:
- Pros: large groups of elephants and hippos all over the place, and this park is the home of the famous tree climbing lions! You won’t spot them from the boat, go the south of the park, Isasa Sector where they live and are easy to see.
- Cons: if you are a giraffe fan as I am, there are no giraffes in this park neither waterfalls.
3. Lake Bunyonyi
When Uganda was still a British protectorate, in 1889, it was nicknamed “Switzerland of Africa” and you will agree after visiting the South West!
The scenery in South Western Uganda is just magnificent. We visited Lake Bunyonyi after our Gorilla Trekking experience and were very impressed by the landscape; green hills, large blue lakes dotted with small islands and huge volcanoes on the horizon.
We enjoyed some canoeing and visited the islands around the lake, each of them with its own history and legend. Local people were delighted to see our interest in their beloved Uganda and proud to show us their rowing, farming or singing skills.
Don’t miss the chance to camp at the lakeside, under a sky full of stars to wake up the next day with the sound of the birds and an amazing lake view. A natural paradise.
Tips to travel around Uganda
Here you have some tips from our personal experience travelling and living in Uganda. Hope they will be useful for your trip!
Rent a car
Roads are bumpy in some areas but self driving in Uganda is a fantastic way of discovering the country, very safe and much cheaper than an organised trip! We used the company RoadTrip Uganda that rents 4×4 vehicles with camping equipment and offers a great service.
National Park 24 hour fee
You will pay $40 per person for 24 hours in the National Parks. Plan properly what time to enter and exit so you don’t have to pay extra days.
Be a camper
Camping in the National Parks was one of our highlights of the trip. It is cheaper and allows you to enjoy the experience at a higher level.
Other gems of the country
If you have time, other fantastic places to visit in Uganda are:
- Kidepo Valley National Park: amazing landscapes
- Crater Lakes at Fort Portal and Kibale Forest: primates paradise!
- Jinja: source of the Nile
Don’t miss the opportunity to talk to Ugandans, they are the friendliest people we have found in our travels around the world. They love to hear from you, laugh with you. Give them your time, smile to them, say hello and their reactions will make your trip.