As far as safari holidays go the places that instinctively come to mind might be the ranging savannahs of Kenya or perhaps South Africa’s Kruger National Park. It may therefore come as a surprise to know that one of the newest and increasingly popular safari destinations is the once troubled and relatively small nation of Uganda.
Uganda is a land that has certainly had its problems and what may seem like centuries ago to those looking in on the conflict from the outside; the warring and dictatorial leadership of the Amin regime certainly left its mark on this country the repercussions of which can still be felt today. Modern Uganda is however very much a country on the up, striving to achieve a potential that has lain dormant for so many decades. Slowly but surely more and more people are discovering what Uganda has to offer, one of the most green and fertile lands in Africa and a treasure trove of cultural history.
When people think about Uganda safaris their immediate thoughts, if any, usually turn to the gorilla trekking experiences that have become synonymous with the country. In truth though there is an awful lot more to Uganda than just its resident primate colonies, not to say that such an encounter isn’t an incredible thing, but to see just one side of this eclectic and colourful nation is like only reading the first chapter of a book.
The gateway for many into Uganda is the international airport near Entebbe. This city, once the seat of governmental power, is today a bright and vibrant municipality that sits on the banks of the vast Lake Victoria. Often overlooked by visitors as a simple way-station, it is certainly worth spending a little time to get to know this area. One of the most rewarding activities and an excellent introduction to the primates of Uganda is a visit to the remote Ngamba Island Chimpanzee reserve. A small islet residing just off the
banks of Lake Victoria the sanctuary can be accessed regularly by boat. Other attractions on the mainland include the extensive Entebba botanical gardens as well as the numerous craft markets where you are sure to pick up a bargain or two.
Uganda actually boasts a number of recognised National Parks include the picturesque Mburo Lake reserve which lies to South West of Entebbe. Dominated by a series of inland lakes the small but densely populated park is covered in acacia woodland which provides ideal habitat for a number of species including eland, zebra, buffalo, leopards and hyenas as well as aquatic species such as crocodiles and hippos.
To the very far west, straddling the border with Angola is the renowned Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, a conservancy famed for its densely vegetated and mountainous geography which provides the ideal habitat for over half of the world’s remaining Mountain Gorillas as well as 10 other species of primate. Gorilla trekking has become synonymous with Uganda and an increasing number of travellers are endeavouring to see these beautiful animals while they still exist in the wild. Devoting a few days to navigating through the montane forest and dense jungle is certainly worth while for the opportunity to see our nearest cousins face to face.
One of the largest and most diverse reserves in Uganda is the Queen Elizabeth National Park featuring a kaleidoscope of ecosystems from savannah to rainforest, thick papyrus swamps and vast crater lakes the QENP as it is abbreviated has one of the highest biodiversity levels of any reserve in Africa. With over 100 mammal species and an incredible 606 different types of birds the QENP is brimming with life and colour. Visitors can expect to see a range of animals from hippopotamuses, elephants and leopards to chimpanzees and the famous Rukungiri District black-maned lions.
Uganda is a diminutive but no less precious gem, nestling at the heart of Southern Africa and as the saying goes, good things come in small packages.
Craig is an enthusiastic traveller, writer blogger and associate of Mahlatini, specialists in African safaris and Indian Ocean Island retreats