One of the most dramatic recovery stories in Africa in the last 30 years has been Uganda. In that time the nation has successfully rehabilitated itself from being the homicidal playground of an utter madman – Idi Amin Dada – to one of the most effectively governed, safest and pleasant of African travel destinations. Known primarily for one of the last protected areas of refuge for the endangered Mountain Gorilla, Uganda is also home to the Rwenzori Mountains – known also as both the iconic Mountains Of The Moon and the ultimate source of the Nile – Lake Victoria, Murchison Falls and many others places of unique interest and beauty.
Uganda is one of the Rift Valley states with its southern and eastern frontiers abutting Tanzania and Kenya, both of which are traditionally among of the strongest tourist destinations in Africa. The three nations, that at one time a loose confederation of British Administered territories, share between them the jewels of the African crown. Lake Victoria is perhaps the most obvious of these, but each nation also has one of the principal mountain ranges of the region that in combination form one of the most important mountaineering destination on the globe.
The capital city Kampala is an engine of regional economic growth, with the fastest growing economy on the continent, and while not without some questions of legitimacy, the Ugandan government is led by regional strongman Yoweri Museveni. Museveni’s brand of benign dictatorship, although not absolute, is extremely pervasive and enduring. It has been a success so far, however, and bearing in mind how badly mauled Uganda has been by the lunatic fringe in the past, that is a fact worth celebrating.
Travel To & Within Uganda
Why Travel To Uganda
Uganda is a green and pleasant land. In this regard it typifies its location, and although heavily populated and almost entirely deforested, it lacks the bone dry desperation evident in many other quarters of the region. Land use, although traditional, tends be practical, and in fact Uganda owns a remarkable small scale farming structure that is most evident in the unbelievable ubiquity of bananas. It is a happy nation, and even if a little too steeped in the gun culture, it exists in a rough neighbourhood, and effectively keeps the peace to a degree that there are few places in the country that do not feel fundamentally safe and welcoming.
The main attractions of Uganda are it’s national parks, and in particular it’s primate reserves, of which there are three: Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Mgahinga National Park, and Kibale National Park. Kibale has a diversity of primate species, some 13 in all, including the Red Colobus, but most importantly a still viable population of chimpanzees. Bwindi and Mgahinga are famous for hosting small populations of the critically endangered Mountain Gorrilla. Bwindi also supports a similar diversity of other primate species, including chimpanzees, and is a reliable viewing destination for all.
Other national parks of unique interest include the Queen Elizabeth National Park, a more orthodox wildlife destination, the Rwenzori National Park, home to the Rwenzori Mountains, perhaps one of the most unique areas of mountain ecology in the world, Murchison Falls National Park on the Nile and the Semuliki National Park in the low lying west that is most famous for its extraordinary lowland forest ecology and prolific birdlife.
The Upper Nile River is host to some of the world’s most respected rafting rapids, second in order perhaps only to the Zambezi.
Culturally and socially Uganda is also a very attractive destination. Like quite a few other countries in the region the scars of an ugly past are not hard to find, and to a large degree these affect the artistic expressions of music, the visual arts and literature. However the healing process has been underway for some time and those scars are not as livid as they are in say Rwanda, Liberia or Sierra Leone. Kampala has a great nightlife, it absolutely buzzes with energy, and refreshingly it is a town so preoccupied with commerce that on the whole has little time for begging, coercion, con-artistry or crime.
When to Visit Uganda
East Africa customarily has two wet seasons, the long rains between March and May, and the short rains between October and November. In the west of the country, and in particular in the mountainous region within and surrounding the Rwenzori National Park, there are also said to be two periods of rain. The short rains, which are usually in the morning, and the long rains which are usually in the afternoon.
If it is your intention to trek in the Rwenzori Mountains then January and February are the optimum months, with a second window of opportunity available between mid-June and August. However, with raspberries the size of golf balls, giantification evident among all the most prominent plant species and with bogs everywhere it is not difficult to ascertain that it rains all the time in the Rwenzoris, and that in some months it simply rains more.
It is hardly surprise therefore that Uganda is so green. However during the period between December and late February the weather is dry(ish), and therefore this is generally regarded as the optimum period to visit the country. On the whole though Uganda has a very agreeable climate. While not quite the highlands of Kenya, or the central plateau of Zimbabwe, it is nonetheless one of the most European friendly eco-regions of the continent.
The north and northwest border regions of Uganda are still a little bit of a no-go area. The Sudan, long a purveyor of local malfeasance, is active in sponsoring unrest on the Ugandan border, and a long running insurgency by the Lord’s Resistance Army has yet to be stamped out.
The western border region adjoining the DRC also has a history of unrest, with the nastiest incident in the general catalogue of African tourism mishaps occurring in Bwindi in 1999. This incident resulted in the brutal murder of 8 foreign tourists and sent shockwaves through the industry. It invited a swift, brutal and effective response from the Ugandan military which now has an almost permanently visible presence in the region. The incident seems to have been an isolated act of violent brigandry, however, but on any trek in the region you will be accompanied nowadays by at least one armed member of the National Parks Department.
Kampala and the wider region has no particular reputation for general crime, although incidents do occur, and the rules of common sense should at all times apply.
Uganda at one time had the worlds highest incidence of HIV/AIDS infection, although radical action has since reduced this. Definite caution is needed in matters of sexual prolificacy in Uganda, which is particularly the case since there is a strong overtone of sensuality in the country, and rewarding contacts in this regard are not difficult to find.
Malaria is also prevalent, and mosquitoes are everywhere. A course of anti-malarial prophylactics is essential along with an industrial strength insect repellent.