Mutesa I, the Kabaka or king of Buganda was fond of hunting, and he picked the area known today as Kampala as one of his favourite hunting grounds. It was the ideal breeding ground for several species of plains game, particularly Impalas. The name Kampala derives from a Kiganda phrase ‘kasozi k’empala’, the hill of antelopes or hill of impalas, and is thought to have originated in 1881, when the Kabaka of Buganda built his courts on the surrounding hills.
Today, Kampala is the country’s capital city that is steadily becoming a popular destination for tourists and for business travellers, drawn by the vibrancy of this developing African city. Kampala offers a variety of cultural activities, including attractions like the Uganda Museum, the Kasubi Tombs, and various arts and crafts galleries.
The main campus of Makerere University, one of East and Central Africa’s most prestigious and oldest universities is situated on the Makerere Hill in Kampala. First established in 1922, most of the region’s leading political figures including former Ugandan president Milton Obote and late Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, the former Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki, and the current president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, were some of its notable alumni. Some of the world’s most prominent writers, including Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Paul Theroux, and V. S. Naipaul also studied or taught at Makerere University.
The Entebbe International Airport serves as the entry point for most visitors to the country, and an arrival into Entebbe greets you with the beautiful sight of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa. Located on the shores of the lake, Entebbe is a scenic town located less than an hour’s drive away from the capital city, Kampala. Entebbe is the location of State House, the official office and residence of the President of Uganda.
Entebbe’s name was derived from ‘e ntebe’, which means a seat or chair in the Luganda language. The site was where a Baganda Chief used to sit to preside over legal cases. It became a British colonial administrative and commercial centre in 1893 when Sir Gerald Portal used it as a base. It served as the capital city until 1962.
The Entebbe Botanical Gardens offer a nice opportunity for a nice relaxing stroll after the long arrival flight. The historical site of Kigungu, where the first catholic missionaries arrived to establish the catholic faith in Uganda, is located in Entebbe. Also located in Entebbe is the oldest golf course in East Africa at the Entebbe Golf Club, which was established in 1900. The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, (formerly known as the Entebbe Zoo), is located next to the club.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was gazetted in 1991 as a protected area, in recognition of its over 25,000 year old natural history, importance as a water catchment area, and home to incredible biodiversity.
Bwindi supports almost half of the world’s endangered Mountain Gorillas. Some of Bwindi’s Mountain Gorillas have been habituated, and they can be visited on gorilla tracking trips. There are several forest trails during which you can find the stunning vegetation and more than 350 species of colourful birds and butterflies. Chimpanzees, and elephants are present, but may be hard to come across. It is easier to encounter small forest antelopes such as bushbucks and duikers. It is the only forest in the world in which chimpanzees and gorillas co-exist successfully.
During your stay at Bwindi, we recommend a visit to the Batwa, Uganda’s oldest living ethnic group. The hunter-gatherer community works together with the park authorities to preserve the forest and its wild animals, and each visit to Bwindi, and to their cultural villages supplements their income and discourages excessive bush meat hunting. The visit is extremely interesting and it is possible to spend an entire day learning about their lifestyle, including sharing their meals and joining in the rejuvenating cultural dances!
From its humble beginnings as a fishing village, the British founded Jinja town in 1907 and it served as the administrative centre for the region. The origin of the name ‘Jinja’ is derived from the languages of the Baganda and Basoga peoples who lived in the area, on the banks of the River Nile. The famous British explorer Speke historically named the section of the Bujalangi Falls as the source of the River Nile, and despite modern science now placing the source of the legendary river in Rwanda, the ‘Place of Rocks’ was not only an important site for trade and fishing for the local people, but continues to hold spiritual significance for many.
Today, it is an established modern town offering big adventures! Fishing is one of the biggest attractions in the town, and impressive and large Nile Perch, Tilapia and Tiger Fish are the prized catches. White water rafting (including Grade V rapids), relaxed canoeing and kayaking, water skiing, bungee jumping, sailing, quad biking, horse riding and golf at a 9 hole golf course make the town a must for anyone seeking sports and adventure.
KIBALE NATIONAL PARK
Kibale National Park was initially established as a wildlife corridor for forest elephants migrating between the Queen Elizabeth National Park and the northern parks such as the Kabalega Falls National Park. Kibale is Uganda’s supreme park in terms of richness in diversity of plant species, and for sheltering one of the highest densities of primate species in the world. Ancient forests of trees over 50m in height, and equally magnificent buttress roots form a natural playground for the chimpanzees, red-tailed monkeys, diademed monkeys, blue monkeys, white cheeked mangabeys, olive baboons, black & white colobus and the park is home to East Africa’s largest populations of L’Hoest’s monkeys and red colobus monkeys.
Chimpanzee tracking is the most popular activity at Kibale and is the main attraction and activity at the park. The park shelters an astounding 1500 chimpanzees. Tracking takes place twice a day, in the morning and in the late afternoon. At night, it is possible to enjoy guided forest walks to search for nocturnal primates such as bush babies and the unhurried pottos.
The forest’s other inhabitants include buffalos, bushbucks, duikers, warthogs, sitatunga antelopes and giant forest hogs, bush pigs, civets and genets and the shy and reclusive forest elephant. These animals may be difficult to see due to the thick vegetation. The flowers and figs attract butterflies and over 300 species of tropical birds such as the endemic Kibale Forest thrush, which add even more colour and vibrancy to this enchanting forest park.
The nearby Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary is a community-run reserve that was established to protect the Magombe Swamp, a haven for both birders, with over 330 species recorded.
KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Located in the northeast of Uganda, Kidepo is an area of wild and magnificent acacia country framed by the Napore Nyangea Range and the Natera Hills. Semi-arid and hot and dry, it may come as a surprise to know that this is possibly the best region of the country for wildlife viewing. Due to its remote location, the area remained virtually untouched for decades, and over 86 species of animals, of which 28 cannot be found anywhere else in Uganda, have flourished and can be found in the park.
The south-west of the park is filled with stunning rock formations, while the northern area offers the Kanangorok Hot Springs, and the borassus palm forests, which attract over 475 recorded species of birds, including the Karamoja apalis. Other species include ground hornbills, partridges, ostriches, turacos, bee-eaters, rollers, and over 56 species of raptors and a variety of migratory birds. The bird count is second only to that of the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The rich diversity of wildlife includes large numbers of lions, elephants, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, buffalos, bat- eared foxes, black backed jackals, wild dogs, hyenas, klipspringers, hartebeest, roan antelopes, Bright’s gazelle, giraffes, oryx, bushbabies, Uganda kobs, zebras and greater kudus.
Game drives are extremely rewarding, and Kidepo is famous for its guided walking safaris in real big game country, an experience similar to that experienced in Kenya and Tanzania. There are more sedentary hiking trails, and a visit to one of the villages of the local Karamoja or Ilk communities can complete a visit to the area.
LAKE MBURO NATIONAL PARK
Popular as a stop over for travelling by road between the cities and Bwindi Forest, Lake Mburo National Park may be small in size, but it packs a punch when it comes to wildlife viewing and activities. Its mosaic of habitats covering rocky outcrops, savannah, forest, lakes and papyrus swamps are home to a surprising array of plants, birds and animals.
The Ruizi River feeds 14 lakes in the wetland area, which encompasses about a fifth of the park’s area. Lake Mburo is one of the 5 larger lakes within the park itself. Birds such as the colourful Papyrus Gonaleks and African Finfoots can be seen amongst the reeds. The main vegetation is wooded savannah, due to the absence of elephants that would otherwise naturally control the spread of trees and big bushes. The park authorities sometimes clear the woodland vegetation to encourage savannah grass, which in turn lures many plains game species.
Lake Mburo National Park’s best attractions may be the activities on offer in and around the national park. Refreshing sundowners followed by a night game drive in the park are fun, while walking safaris are a thrilling and a welcome break after the long drives in Uganda. Horseback riding is available, and brings you up close to the plains game. Boat trips and fishing on Lake Mburo are nice and relaxing, and offer you spectacular encounters with the hippos or the shy and water-loving Sitatunga antelope. An exciting exploration of the area can also be done on quad bikes!
MGAHINGA NATIONAL PARK
Mgahinga National Park, Uganda’s smallest national park, is a little jewel located within the Virunga Conservation Area that also includes the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The enchanting park is home to three of the Virunga’s extinct volcanoes: Muhavura, Sabyinyo and Gahinga. The park’s highest point is Muhavura’s peak at 4127 metres above sea level. The mountain has a small crater lake that is incredible for a refreshing swim, and hiking can be done on all three volcanoes. There is a habituated group of Golden Monkeys that can be tracked. Guided walks sometimes present the chance to see elephants, buffalos, giant forest hogs, bush pigs, small antelope and birds in the luxuriant forests. Cave explorations and boat trips in canoes are also available.
Mgahinga National Park’s main aim is to provide shelter to Mountain Gorillas, and whereas it is possible to obtain tracking permits for the Nyakagezi Group, it is not encouraged, as this gorilla family tends to range far and wide, more often than not venturing in to Rwanda. There is a lovely lodge with breathtaking views located on the foothills of the Virunga Mountains, the perfect base for those who wish to visit the spectacular park yet have access to the more reliable gorilla tracking experiences at Bwindi National Park, or for those looking for an overnight stop if travelling between Rwanda and Uganda by road.
MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
One of the oldest and largest conservation areas in Uganda, the spectacular Murchison Falls of the River Nile cascade some 40m through a tiny rock crevice of 6m, creating one of the most powerful and stunning sights in Uganda. The explorer Samuel Baker named them in honour of the then president of the Royal Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.
Boat trips along the River Nile, which runs from the heart of Africa to the Mediterranean Sea, are one of the top attractions, an exciting adventure to the base of the waterfalls, also called the ‘Devil’s Cauldron’. Drives and hikes to the top of the Murchison Falls are a popular activity. The Karuma Falls, a series of exciting rapids, is a popular destination for white water rafting, offering what is often considered the most exhilarating rafting in Africa.
The Budongo Forest, to the south of the national park, provides refuge for families of chimpanzees and other monkeys such as Patas monkeys, colobus monkeys and baboons. Guided walks in the forest, river cruises along the Nile, and fishing for Nile perch, Tilapia and Tiger fish are just some of the other activities available in the area.
Wildlife viewing is extremely rewarding in Murchison Falls National Park, with its landscape ranging from forest to open savannah. An exploration of the immense park by vehicle presents the elephants, hartebeest, hippos, buffalos, crocodiles and other plains game, including the Uganda kob, Jackson’s hartebeest and waterbuck. Lions, leopards, hyenas and the shy aardvarks are also frequent in the park. It is one of the two places in Uganda to see the endangered Uganda Giraffe (Rothschild Giraffe). Rhinos are not present in the park, but can be visited at the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. The excellent initiative has seen the re-introduction of White Rhinos to Uganda, and they are cared for in the safety of the sanctuary.
QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Located at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains, the Queen Elizabeth National Park’s landscape is perhaps the most visually stunning in country, so much so, that this area is often referred to as ‘The Pearl of Africa’. Contiguous with the Congo’s Virunga National Park, the landscape encompasses bush land, swamps, savannah, various crater lakes as well as the shores of the larger Lakes Edward and George.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has become synonymous with its famed tree-climbing lions, often found lazing on acacia trees in the Ishasha area of the park. Lions are not generally good at climbing trees, and the extra effort they exert in doing so is believed to be so that they can escape biting insects, mainly found in the grasses and low bushes below.
The park is home to large numbers of elephants, some resident and some migrants from the Congo. Almost 100 species of animals including giant forest hogs, buffalos, hyenas, leopards, and a variety of plains game such as the Uganda Kob, Sitantunga and Topi antelopes can be found.
Boat trips along the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake Edward to Lake George, or on Lake Nyamusingiri, which is encircled by thick forest, could bring you spectacular encounters with the world’s highest concentration of hippos and the 4ft high shoebill stork, or the crested crane, national emblem of Uganda. Over 600 species of birds, among them Central African species, can be found at the park.
The Kyambura Gorge, cutting a green dash through the park, shelters some chimpanzee families and a walk through the vine-covered forest of trees is an exciting experience in itself. There is one group of habituated chimpanzees at Kyambura. Black and White Colobus monkeys and L’Hoest’s monkeys can sometimes be encountered during walks through the Maramagambo Forest.
THE RWENZORI MOUNTAINS
With the majestic Mt. Margerita as the highest point in Uganda at 5109 metres above sea level, the legendary Rwenzori Mountains, described by Ptolemy as the ‘Mountains of the Moon’, are located in the western part of Uganda, along the border with Congo.
The vegetation of the mountains can be classified in to five distinct vegetation zones, and ranges from rain forest to moorland. The landscape can be dramatic at times, with churning rivers and waterfalls, which together with the calls of the monkeys and birds break the otherwise dream-like silence of the mountains. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its rich and diverse ecosystem, some of the over 70 species of mammals that can be seen include Eastern Chimpanzees, Colobus and Blue Monkeys, Forest Elephants, leopards, the endemic Rwenzori Duikers, and there are over 200 bird species some, several of which are endemic to the mountains.
Unfortunately, as the mountains are very difficult to scale, more challenging than other more popular mountains in East Africa, only a few get to sample the stunning views of glaciers, alpine plants such as lobelias, groundsel and heath that can only be found at this altitude, and in this area, in Uganda.
Located at the romantic setting at the base of the “Mountains of the Moon”, Semliki’s landscape ranges from grasslands, wetlands and bamboo forests, but the main attraction is the dense lowland tropical forest, which adds mystery and charm to this remote area.
The Sempaya Hot Springs, gushing up to 2m above the ground attract an amazing diversity of birds, including shoebill storks, painted snipes, eagles, spoonbills and colourful flycatchers. Semliki is an ornithological hot spot, as it hosts several Congolese bird species found nowhere else in Uganda. The Semliki and Wassa Rivers draw good numbers of hippos, reedbuck, giant forest hogs, lions and leopards, buffalos, elephants, flying squirrels, bush babies and other small primates.
Uganda’s oldest conservation area, Semliki is one of only two areas in Uganda at which night game drives can be experienced. You can usually see nocturnal species such as leopard, lion, spotted genets, white-tailed mongoose, eagle owls and spectacular nightjars.
A visit to the remote and spectacular Nkusi Falls, or a lazy boat cruise on Lake Albert in the nearby wildlife reserve can be arranged, as well as guided nature walks in the gallery forest where you can see primates, birds, butterflies and different species of plants. The prime attraction in the forest is the group of about 70 habituated chimpanzees, always a thrill to track. Visitors are sometimes invited to join the resident chimp researcher on the habituation work.