The source of the Nile river starts in the Rwenzoris, Africa’s tallest mountain range that stretch across western Uganda shrouded in mist and teeming with glaciers, waterfalls and alpine lakes. These ‘mountain’s of the moon’ are the home of Uganda’s mountain gorillas and tracking them through this majestic habitat is one of the country’s most iconic experiences.
Nature – diverse and resplendent – looms large in Uganda. And Ugandans have worked hard to create and maintain national parks and conservation zones for its incredible biodiversity. Rafting the Nile is a world-class adrenaline adventure while booking a safari will most likely reveal Africa’s Big Five. There are fewer visitors here than in other parts of East Africa so the only competition you’ll have for space is the odd hippo wandering into your campsite.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Uganda.
Home to almost half the world’s surviving mountain gorillas, the World Heritage–listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of East Africa’s most famous national parks. Set over 331 sq km of improbably steep mountain rainforest, the park is home to an estimated 340 gorillas: undoubtedly Uganda’s biggest tourist drawcard.
This fabulous national park is on nearly all itineraries, and while you'll never be far from other safari groups, you're guaranteed to see a large range of wildlife, potentially including giraffes, lions, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes and elephants. The famous tree-climbing lions in the remote Ishasha sector of the park are a fascinating highlight, but many people also come specifically to see some of the amazing 611 bird species that can be found here.
Located 23km southeast of Entebbe in Lake Victoria, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, or 'Chimp Island', is home to over 40 orphaned or rescued chimpanzees who are unable to return to the wild. Humans are confined to one of the 40 hectares while the chimps wander freely through the rest, emerging from the forest twice a day for feeding at 11am and 2.30pm. This coincides with visitor arrival times to the island, with viewings of the chimps via a raised platform.
Once described as the most spectacular thing to happen to the Nile along its 6700km length, the 50m wide Victoria Nile is squeezed here through a 6m gap in the rock and crashes through this narrow gorge with unbelievable power. The 45m waterfall was featured in the Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart film The African Queen. Murchison was even stronger back then, but in 1962 massive floods cut a second channel creating the smaller Uhuru Falls 200m to the north.
Located 12km from Mbarara on the road to Kampala, this cultural village features the best museum displays in Uganda. Set on the grounds of a former palace of the Ankole king, this quality museum explores the peoples of southwestern Uganda, particularly the Ankole, through artefacts, a cultural village replica and a heap of info. There's a restaurant serving traditional Ankole dishes, such as smoked Ankole cow's milk and boiled meats. There's also a new on-site hotel.
While it functions primarily as a zoo, this centre is actually a world-class animal refuge that has benefited from international assistance in recent years. Most of the animals on display were once injured or were recovered from poachers and traffickers. Star attractions include chimpanzees (a good alternative to pricier Ngamba Island), southern white rhinos, lions, leopards and shoebill storks. Keep an eye out for the baby elephant wandering about too.
The Budongo Forest Reserve is a large (825-sq-km) tract of virgin tropical forest on the southern fringes of Murchison Falls National Park. Its main attractions are chimpanzees and birds (366 species), but the huge mahogany trees are also worth a look. It’s a great add-on to your Murchison Falls National Park visit, with your park permit allowing you entry to Budongo too.
It's worth popping into this happening community arts centre to see what's on, whether it be an art exhibition, fireside chat or cultural performance. They sell beautiful Ugandan crafts and there's also a restaurant serving local food and banda accommodation for USh50,000, including breakfast. Proceeds go to job training for local youth.
This centre for Ugandan contemporary artists includes exhibit space, a library, workspace and resource centre. It is in the process of moving to a nearby space; keep an eye out for upcoming events on its website, including its biannual Kampala Contemporary Art Festival.