The ancestral capital of the Buganda kingdom is modern day Uganda’s capital too.
And for an African first city, it’s got real charm and panache.
You can still see some of the thatched relics of the former glory years at the Kasubi Tombs, or you can taste the frenetic energy of day-to-day Ugandan life between the sun-cracked streets of Central Kampala; a place of throbbing markets (the city’s Owino market is said to be the largest in Central-east Africa) and echoing mosque minarets (that soaring Gaddafi National Mosque is a must!). On the edge of town is the more straight-laced area of Nakasero Hill, where well-to-do villas house the country’s elite and expats chatter in the ramshackle bars.
- Kibale National Park
Pierce into the dense jungles and wetland forests of the great Kibale National Park and you won’t be disappointed! What awaits is one of the world’s most awesome arrays of wild chimpanzee packs, and you can see these majestic simians of Central Africa trawling through the undergrowth and commanding the canopies on game drives and safari excursions of all different types. There’s a kaleidoscope of other curious little monkeys to spot too, like the rare L’Hoest’s and the Ugandan red colobus. It’s also possible to wonder up at ancient fig trees, and see some more recent efforts to create sustainable coffee plantations in the area.
- Ssese Islands
A cocktail of golden sands worthy of Latin America, sun-kissed beaches and lapping waves, the archipelago of the Ssese Islands is Uganda’s answer to the tropical gems of the East African coast on the Indian Ocean. Peppering the waters of Lake Victoria, they are considered the country’s premier rest and relaxation spot, with the popular Buggala Island and Bulago coming up top of the menu. You can either kick-back in one of the lakeside resorts, or wax up the walking boots and make for the hills, where hippo-dotted swamps hide between the ridges. Kayaks and other watersports are also available on Buggala.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park really does live up to its name! A land of rocky peaks and endless green, it’s covered in some of Africa’s oldest primeval forestry. The biodiversity – think geckos next to gorillas next to a multitude of curious insects – garnered the spot a UNESCO World Heritage tag, while most safari goers head this way in search of colobus monkeys and chimpanzees. The breathtaking landscapes are typical of the Albertine Rift. They rise and fall to untrodden valleys and summits, with quartzite massifs here and teak-shrouded riverways there. It’s definitely one to write home about!
- Murchison Falls National Park
Named for the roaring cataracts that carve right through their middle, the wilds of the Murchison Falls National Park are unquestionably some of the most amazing in north-western Uganda. The protected area is actually the largest national park in the country, with a whopping count of nearly 4,000 square kilometers between its borders. The biggest attraction is – of course – the point where the Victoria Nile crashes through a tight-knit gorge and over an escarpment of more than 40 meters in height. However, travelers can also look forward to stalking lions and giraffes and elephants and more!
Entebbe, for most international visitors at least, will be the entrance point to Uganda. It’s here that the nation’s Entebbe International Airport makes its home; its runways butting up against the waters of Lake Victoria. Most will also leave promptly, on their way to Kampala or the country’s other far-flung safari destinations. Those who linger can enjoy a laid-back place that still trundles to the tune of the old British Protectorate – for it’s here that the English colonists made their base in earlier decades. One of the relics of that age is the beautiful National Botanical Gardens, while there are also charming churches, and the official residence of the president: the Ugandan State House.
- Queen Elizabeth National Park
Handily named just QENP for short, this huge dash of wilderness that lies close to the banks of Lake Edward and the DRC border in the west is Uganda’s most famous national park. It’s visited by thousands of tourists each year, who come in search of the lazy Congo lions and the swinging chimps that can be seen mingling between the Maramagambo Forest and the grassy savannah. The whole area is also scarred by countless volcanic features, going from the awesome Katwe craters to great rifts in the earth, making it an interesting and eye-catching place to go on safari drives and game seeking journeys.
- Mount Elgon National Park
The rock-ribbed, jungle-topped highlands of the Mount Elgon National Park are peppered with so many natural beauties it can be difficult to describe them all at once. Cascading down from the extinct caldera of one of Africa’s oldest volcanos, there are waterfalls, dank cave systems, and rugged canyons aplenty. Visitors can also feel the geothermal activity at a series of hot springs, or wonder upwards, to where African goshawks and elegant bush-shrikes flit through the skies. Monkey wise, there are the likes of De Brazza’s and colobuses, along with blue monkeys and some other rare simian species.
One of the main transportation and administration hubs of eastern Uganda, tin-shack Mbale hosts its own regional government and a clutch of good hotels and guesthouses. It’s particularly useful for those on their way to the heights of Mount Elgon and the famous summit of Wagagai – a 24-million-year-old volcano that is the seventeenth highest in all of Africa. (For the best base of explorations around the hiking trails and glorious mountain’s that erupt around Mbale, be sure to hitch a local minibus out to Bududa.) Back in the town itself and you can enjoy the hustle and bustle of day-to-day Ugandan life, along with plenty of shops and market stalls.
- Lake Mburo National Park
Despite being one of the smallest national parks in Uganda, the swaying savannah grasses and riparian habitats of Lake Mburo certainly pack a punch. They come spotted with buffalo herds and zebras, crossed by prancing reedbucks, and stalked with hyenas. Today, much of the area is clad in young forestry, which springs up from the swamplands that dominate along the shores of the eponymous lake. These make for great game viewing during the dry season, when the animals congregate at the watering holes. What’s more, Lake Mburo National Park is one of the most accessible going, with easy access along the highway from Kampala, the capital.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
You’ll have to go to the far southern depths of Uganda to find the great galumphing beasts of the highlands: mountain gorillas. The appropriately-named Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is one of the top places to find them too, with its indelibly green rainforests falling down from the windswept heights of cloud-shrouded volcanos. The area buts up to the famous Virunga Range, and offers game sightings of rare mountain gorillas alongside other awesome creatures – think woodland elephants, golden monkeys, wild hogs and jackals. Yep, you can see them in the DRC too, but things here just happen to be a little safer!
- Kidepo Valley National Park
Hidden away in the northern reaches of Uganda (in one of the more dubious and unsafe parts of the country), the Kidepo Valley National Park is a great fly-in visit. It’s sat a whopping 700 kilometers from the capital, and is known for its remoteness. Totally undeveloped and untouched by mass safari tourism, the region is the old stomping ground of the Dodoth pastoralists. These semi-nomads shared the landscapes of savannah and mud plain with oodles of buffalo, hippo, oryx and wild dogs, which can still be seen flitting between the grey-haired acacia groves and wetlands today.
It’s just a short drive along the highways east to the river town of Jinja, which juts out into the waters where the Victoria Nile emerges from its eponymous lake. Sleepy, sun-cracked and relaxed, the place is the perfect antidote to the energy of life in the capital. It’s got a clutch of great bars, but is most famed for the wealth of riparian resorts that line the banks.
You’re sure to be able to find something to suit, with everything from pool-peppered boutique hotels to more rustic ecolodges surrounded by monkeys to choose from. And when you do want to get the blood flowing, be sure to head for the whitewater rapids on the river for some rafting!
- Fort Portal
Still chuffing after the appearance of tarmacked roads in 2007, the regional town of Fort Portal has a truly enviable position beneath the serrated tips of the mighty Rwenzori National Park. Chimps and gorillas tread the backcountry close by, giving the place a real feral feel. However, the center is anything but wild, with human energy dominating the action.
There, it’s all about bustling markets and haggling for local farmer’s produce. Fort Portal is also a fine base point for launching excursions to the aforementioned Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Lake Edward.
Lira is a little crossroads city in the midst of north-central Uganda. While it’s actually the fourth-largest in the country, it still manages to retain that charming provincial vibe and sleepiness. Travelers rarely come here too, adding a dash of off-the-beaten-track character and local authenticity. Those who do make their way to Lira’s streets get to see a real Ugandan city in action, and even get to hear sobering and visceral stories of the ravaging civil wars of former years – this place was hit particularly badly by the onslaught of Joseph Kony and his private army.