If Africa was a movie, Uganda would be its trailer.
You can see pretty much everything, albeit in small quantity, that Africa has to offer in this relatively small land-locked country.
With its dense misty forests, snow-peaked mountains, glassy lakes, sprawling savannas and the most hospitable folks, you will struggle to single out your highlight in Uganda.
With that, I have picked out Uganda’s top ten must-see features from an astounding variety of attractions.
Source of the Nile
What else was going to appear first here than the world’s longest river!
Everybody should be excited to see the point where River Nile kicks off its epic journey northward. Declared as one of the Seven Wonders of Africa, the source of the mighty River Nile in the eastern town of Jinja is must-see.
This is the point where Lake Victoria spouts the Nile waters out to kickstart a 6,650 KM-long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. It is magical to stand where great explorer John Speke stood when he discovered the source. Taking a picture with the statue of Mahatma Gandhi here; going on a boat ride across the river and into Africa’s largest freshwater lake, Victoria, seeing birds, monkeys and other wildlife makes a trip to the source simply priceless.
The source is 80kms (50miles) from the capital Kampala, but there is a plethora of attractions to see on your way there, including the very important Mabira Forest which hugs the highway for several kilometers midway from Kampala to Jinja.
Once you arrive in Jinja, the quality of air dramatically improves, and you tend to experience a whole new sense of energy.
For adrenaline junkies, Jinja is paradise. The source of the Nile is a magnet for white-water rafting enthusiasts where you can plunge down Grade-5 rapids or otherwise kayak or try the white-knuckle jet boat ride. Those who prefer a different kind of plunge can opt for bungee jumping by Bujagali Falls.
Jinja also allows for camping, nature walks, parties, quad biking, horse-back riding, and much more adventure activities. This place is famously known as the “Adventure Capital of East Africa.”
Gorilla tracking is what fetches Uganda the most tourism monies and understandably so. Tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and or the Virungas is the quintessential African safari experience as nothing on safari compares to coming face to face with man’s closest cousins.
Nothing quite prepares you for the first glimpse of these gentle giants in their natural habitat. Their behavior is as amazing as their size.
I mean, these are enormous animals: up to three times as bulky as the average man and five times stronger than the biggest rugby player, and yet despite their fearsome appearance, gorillas are remarkably peaceful.
Bwindi in western Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s remaining endangered mountain gorillas.
This biological heaven also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including chimps and baboons plus 350 bird species. Bwindi was named the best place for bird watching in Africa by Bird Africa Club.
Bwindi can be reached within a six to eight hours drive from Kampala via Mbarara then Kabale. A daily bus service leaves Kampala for Butogota via Rukungiri and Kihiihi. A matatu or boda-boda can take you from Butogota to the park entrance gate at Buhoma.
Mgahinga Gorillas National Park is another place for gorilla tracking, but the park also has a huge cultural significance, particularly for the indigenous Batwa pygmies.
Mgahinga can be approached from Kisoro, which is 43kms west of Kabale, and approximately 460 kilometers southwest of Kampala.
There is a reason why Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most visited game park. The rolling savannas, humid forests, sparkling lakes, and fertile wetlands have drawn a horde of wildlife here. Queen’s classic big game, ten primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 bird species make up the tourists’ must-see list here.
In Kyambura gorge, an underground forest within Queen, you can see chimps and other primates. The boat ride along the Kazinga Channel is another spectacle which takes you closer to elephants, hippos, buffalos, crocodiles, and plenty of birds as they come to the waterhole.
Salt mining on Lake Katwe is another exciting experience that is hoisted by the presence of the flamingos.
But perhaps the signature attraction of Queen is the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha which lies in the southern sector of the park along the Democratic Republic of Congo border. The resident lions here have taken to a curious habit, climbing into giant fig trees and acacia trees to laze about.
There is no one proven reason why these lions hang out in trees, but it is a great prospect for tourists to witness as one of them pounces on to their prey from a vantage point.
Uganda is one of the most popular birding destinations in Africa hosting over 50% of bird species on the continent. The country boasts over 1060 bird species which is 11% of the world’s bird species – many of them endemic to Uganda.
Given the concentration of so many birds in the relatively small country means that serious birders can travel to many birding locations throughout the country with relative ease in the attempt to check off as many species as possible and enjoy the scenic countryside along the way.
All the beaches and islands on Lake Victoria including the busy Lutembe beach near Kampala offer birders the ultimate chance to see both migratory and resident birds. Bwindi was voted the best birding destination in Africa; Murchison Falls National Park came in at number nine on that list. Queen Elizabeth National Park also boasts over 600 bird species. Forests like Mabira are teeming with birds. There are birds everywhere. This country is a birding paradise.
There are many extinct volcanoes known as explosion craters that dot the landscape of Western Uganda.
The craters are concentrated in three areas; the Katwe explosion craters within the Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Bunyaruguru crater field near the Kichwamba escarpment and the Ndali-Kasenda Crater Field located near Kibale National Park. Many of the creators are home to freshwater and in the Katwe area a couple craters have saline lakes. The explosion craters are very scenic and offer great views from the rim.
The Ndali-Kasenda Crater Field has created what Uganda tour operators call the “Romantic Trail” where lovers stroll while scenery viewing. The scenery here is the stuff of wallpaper.
The areas around the craters are generally lush and full of thriving vegetation. A wonder that has evolved from such violent beginnings!
Snow-Capped Mountains of the Moon
Rwenzori Mountains, also known as Mountains of the Moon, are home to six of Africa’s 10 tallest peaks. Expert mountain climbers credit Rwenzori for being the toughest mountain to climb in the whole of Africa; more technical to climb than her taller and more famous cousin Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. The Rwenzori is popular with climbers who trek through rainforests and alpine meadows to the snow-capped Margherita summit which stands at 5,109 metres.
Rwenzori rises high from the Albertine Rift Valley floor providing a stunning backdrop to the Queen Elizabeth National Park and other surrounding features. The highest peaks here are permanently snow-capped and although they are often surrounded by clouds, you do get the rare opportunity to see their massive existence in full.
Beyond mountaineering, Rwenzori is home to the widest variety of mountain flora in Africa and for this reason it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lush Africa Safaris offer a series of guided hikes in the national park, ranging from one to 12-day journeys.
The picturesque Kidepo National Park
Few tourists make it as far north as Kidepo Valley, but those who do are rewarded with not only the best selection of animals, but some of the most spectacular scenery in Africa.
Situated up in the country’s remote northeastern corner, Kidepo contains rolling savannas extending towards mountain ranges in three countries, Uganda, Kenya, and South Sudan. Kidepo has – in the recent past – won a few travel accolades including being named one of the best game parks in Africa by CNN.
Distant mountain ranges touching the sky, large herds of buffalos together with the sprawling grasslands create picturesque scenery – at times – making it look like a painting.
The black-backed jackal bat-eared fox, aardwolf caracal, and the world’s fastest land mammal, the cheetah are found in no other game park in Uganda.
Kidepo was once the playground of Idi Amin, and you can still visit the haunting ruins of a lodge that could just as easily have been designed as a massive bunker.
You can also visit an indigenous tribe the Ik here besides bird watching, and hiking on several rocks.
The Majestic Murchison Falls
At the Murchison Falls, the mighty R. Nile explodes through a 6-meter gorge to form the most dramatic feature along its 6,650-kilometer journey. The river forces its way through rocks and falls 43 meters forming the hardest waterfall anywhere in the world. The view from the top of the falls is a sight to behold as the onrushing water violently thunders and blows a fine mist high into the sky filled with dancing rainbows. The view from a boat below gives a sensational view of the majestic falls while surrounded by crocodiles, hippos, and other animals.
Murchison Falls is Uganda’s biggest and oldest game park, and you just can’t know what you will encounter.
The Bottomless Lake Bunyonyi
In the southwest of Uganda between the towns of Kabale and Kisoro lies Africa’s second deepest lake.
Lake Bunyonyi is Uganda’s deepest lake at 2950+ feet (900+ meters) deep.
The landscape around the lake is indicative of its depth with steep slopes covered with lush green vegetation protruding from the water’s edge.
Bunyonyi means “place of many little birds” and as the name suggests, there is plenty of birdlife around here. The lake also plays host to freshwater crayfish, one of the few places in Uganda they can be found.
With many resorts on the lake shores and on many islands in the lake, there are plenty of spots to enjoy this lake from. Bunyonyi is proof that not all islands need beaches to thrill.
Stimulating Caldera on Mt. Elgon
Straddling the Kenyan border east of Mbale town in eastern Uganda is Mt. Elgon, the eighth-highest mountain in Africa. Elgon rises from the broadest base of any free-standing mountain in the world.
Elgon’s tallest peaks form a jagged circle around the more-or-less-intact caldera, which has a diameter of about 8 kilometers (5miles) – making it one of the largest in the world. You can also visit the many caves within the park.
Meanwhile, while in the region don’t forget to go check out the stunning Sipi Falls, which is earning a reputation for its uninhibited views of the crashing falls.