Uganda: Why it's a must visit

2013-08-14 07:57

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Choosing an African destination can be daunting if one wants to explore a country that captures the essence of this enormous and diverse continent.

Add a desire to experience something unique - beyond what you see in films and documentaries - and you cannot do better than Uganda.

Uganda is relatively small in relation to other African countries with an incredible concentration of culture, wildlife and dramatic landscapes. A good infrastructure and road network make travel to and within the country simple - you can reach the major sites comfortably within a day of one another making even the shortest visit to Uganda a multifaceted experience.

A single day can take you from equatorial mountain forest, through rolling hills of tea and banana plantations to the shores of Africa’s inland sea, Lake Victoria and it’s islands and endless horizons.

Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, is the source of the River Nile and for thrill seekers rafting this legendary river offers massive excitement. A short trip from Uganda’s capital, Kampala, is the town of Jinja, host to a variety of adventure operators offering thrills such as white water rafting, jet boating, bungee jumping, paragliding as well as accommodation for all budgets.

Lake Victoria itself is host to one of the largest species of fresh water fish, Nile Perch, terrific fighters that can reach the size of fully grown men. The lakeside town of Entebbe - also close to the capital - is a good launch point for fishing safaris for a few hours or even a few days between the islands South of Entebbe.

One island in particular, Ngamba, is remarkable because it is one of only two African island sanctuaries for Chimpanzees, the other being Tanzanian Rubondo Island in the South of the Lake. Ngamaba island welcomes day and overnight visitors who can view and interact with chimps and help preserve their precious habitat. 

The Chimp’s grand cousins, the Mountain Gorillas, are the wildlife sensation Uganda is best known for. A day trip from Kampala will take you to their home on the forested volcanic slopes in the South West of the country. This area alone, close to the borders of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, is stunning because of its dramatic lake and mountain scenery as well as the concentration of birdlife and forest creatures.

Signs of the ancient, volcanic activity that formed this landscape are readily found in the Albertine Rift Valley. Descending the hills into the vast valley which cradles the immense Lakes Edward, George and Albert, is a primeval experience. Standing on the Eastern rim one can see the distant Rwenzori over 70km away which form the Western rim, otherwise known as Mountains of the Moon as named by English Explorer, Henry Stanley when he passed through here in 1889. It was 5100 meter high Mt Ruwenzori that captured the world’s imagination when Stanley reported there was snow on the peaks straddling the Equator.

This rift area alone is worth focusing on because of its diversity and multitude of activity. With the town of Fort Portal as your hub, one can explore the hot springs and wildlife of Semiliki National Park and Toro-Semiliki Wildlife Reserve on the edge of Lake Albert, renowned by birders for its flocks of Shoebills.

Mt Ruwenzori and the foothills offer climbing and hiking expeditions and closer to Fort Portal you will find the wonderland of the Ndali - Kasenda Craters. Here one finds a concentration of over 30 ancient volcanic craters filled with lakes cradling water from a billion rain showers.

A small population lives off the rich soil of the slopes and there is a great selection of camps and hotels perched on the rims. The crater area is completely unique, a strange and wonderful world where Red Tail monkeys rattle the branches of tall trees, Blue Turacos scatter in protest, piebald cattle trim the pastures and motorcycle taxis (boda bodas) and bicycles ferry people and produce between the local market and the town of Fort Portal. The lush forests of Kibali National Park border the crater area with one of the highest concentration and diversity of primates in Africa, including chimpanzee. If there is one area you should visit in Uganda, it is this.

Accommodation in the Albertine Rift and many other places in Uganda is reasonably priced and varied. Most encouraging is that you will find many lodges and camps run by local communities with profits going to schooling and social development. Like much of Africa, it is the people that will leave a lasting impression on you as Uganda is renowned for being among the friendliest of the continents nations.

Where is your favourite African destination? Email us your story:

Anton Crone is a freelance writer and photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. Visit his blog Bright Continent or follow him on Twitter

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