Uganda is a landlocked country bordered by Kenya in the east, South Sudan in the north, Democratic Republic of the Congo in the west, Rwanda in the southwest and Tanzania in the south. Uganda’s total land area is 241,559 sq. km. About 37,000 sq. km of this area is occupied by open water while the rest is land. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, which it shares with Kenya and Tanzania.
Uganda is located on the East African plateau, averaging about 1,100 meters (3,609 ft.) above sea level. The plateau generally slopes downwards towards Sudan explaining the northerly tendency of most river flows in the country. Although generally equatorial, the climate is not uniform since the altitude modifies the climate. Uganda’s elevation, soil types and predominantly warm and wet climate impart a huge agricultural potential to the country. They also explain the country’s large variety of forests, grasslands and wildlife reserves. Uganda has a total population of about 35.6 million people.
The official language is English and currency used is Uganda Shillings (UGX 1/- equivalent to USD $3600). The president of Uganda is Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in January 1986 after a protracted six-year guerrilla war.
Straddling the equator is Uganda, which lies within the Nile basin on the eastern plateau at an average of 3,609 feet (1,100 meters) above sea level. Major lakes include; Lake Victoria, Lake George, Lake Albert, Lake Edward & Lake Kyoga. Uganda’s scenery is varied, from long elephant grass, endless papyrus swamps, to the amazing order of the tea plantations. Topographically much of Uganda is gently flat. The southwestern part is generally mountainous where you find the Kigezi regions covered with terraced hillsides. The semi-arid north east part in Kidepo valley is averagely dry. The road network improves each day and one can drive from Kampala to the west in just 4 hours on a tarmac road or to the north-west region. Various attractions are located in different parts of the country with Bwindi in the south, Kidepo in the North east, Murchison in the north- west, Jinja in the central and many others like the Rwenzori Mountains in the west.
MAJOR CITIES & TOWNS
Uganda’s capital with an estimated population of over 2 million people & a city that never sleeps. With heavy traffic that exceeds the small roads, busy markets, taxi parks, banks, shopping malls, schools, hospitals and many hangout places. Kampala was originally built on 7 hills but it grew to over 10 hills but it’s still fairly a small geographical area. Downtown Kampala is congested and ‘Boda-Boda’ (motorbikes) are used to ease transport within the city. Alternatively taxis are also used for longer distances since they are very cheap. Famous attractions in Kampala include Kasubi tombs (UNESCO world heritage site), Mengo Palace, Baha’i temple, Martyrs Shrine, Rubaga Cathedral, Gaddafi mosque, Owino market etc.
Known as the adventure capital of East Africa, Jinja is one place every traveler would love to visit. Located on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, 82km east of Kampala lies this historic town famous for having the source of the Nile. The people of Jinja are mostly the Basoga who speak ‘Lusoga’ – a Bantu speaking language.
Fort portal town is located amidst several attractions like the Kibale forest, semliki valley and the Rwenzori mountain foothills. This is also where the heart of Toro Kingdom lies, Uganda’s youngest traditional kingdom. This area is also said to be associated with the legendary Bachwezi Empire. Driving from Kampala via Mubende town, fort portal is 300km away and takes about 5, 6 hours to get there. Amazing highlights of a trip to fort include chimp tracking in Kibale forest, Tooro crater lakes, kingdom palace and the caves.
Situated near the Rwanda border in the Kigezi region is the Kabale town also known as the Switzerland of Uganda. This region is located near Bwindi impenetrable forest making it a perfect stop over for most tourists. This is one of the largest towns in Uganda and also densely populated. Also famous for its attractions like the lake Bunyonyi. It’s generally cold and rainy all year long so most people have resorted to agriculture as an economic activity. The Kigezi highlands are very fertile and are arguably the most scenic part of Uganda.
Other Major cities in Uganda include;
Mbarara, Gulu, Kasese, Masaka, Mbale, Wakiso, Entebbe and so many others.
CULTURE & PEOPLE
In Uganda, there are many different ethnic groups with different cultures. The Bantu speaking people dominate much of East, central & south Africa and in Uganda they are form several tribes e.g Baganda, Bagisu, Basoga, batooro, Banyakole, Bakiga etc. In northern & eastern Uganda, the people who speak Nilotic languages dominate more including the Lango, Acholi, Iteso & Karamajong. A few Pygmies live isolated in the rainforests of western Uganda i.e the Batwa people who live near Bwindi.
English, the national language of Uganda is widely spoken followed by Luganda which is known by many people more than Swahili the trade language of East Africa. There are over 30 different languages spoken in Uganda. Traditional dance is part of culture and most ceremonies or special occasions will have these dancers from different tribes. The ‘Kiganda’ dance from the Baganda tribe is the most widely recognized where it involves the performers to move their lower body to a drum beat while keeping the upper part controlled. The ‘Basoga’ tribe have a special dance called the ‘Tamenhaibunga’ which expresses the importance of love and friendship in society. Other tribes like the ‘Ankole’ tribe have other special kinds of dances and can be seen while at cultural centers like Uganda museum or Ndere center in Kampala.
Uganda has a lot of fertile agricultural land which can grow anything thus a great variety food. The most common food grown is Matooke (green banana) which is peeled at the time of preparing and steamed in the banana leaves. It’s either served the way it is or mashed plus source either beef stew, beans, G.nuts etc. Posho which is made from maize is also common and prepared in most schools since it’s cheap.
Fruits like the Pineapple, water melon, yellow bananas and mangoes are also common and can be bought from food markets like Owino & Nakasero. The Lake Victoria & other lakes have a lot of fish including the ‘tilapia’ – a tasty fresh water fish that can be deep fried or cooked. Other foods include ‘Chicken Luwombo’ – which is chicken sauce prepared in banana leaves. The ‘Rolex’, a popular street delicacy and snack is also popular in Uganda and was listed among the top African fast foods by CNN.
It plays an important part of daily life in Uganda. Over four-fifths of Ugandans are Christian, either Protestant or Catholic. Around 10% are Muslims, a legacy of the Arab traders who came here in the 19th century. Ugandans are strong in their faith and see no conflict in holding to some traditional beliefs. In times of trouble, as well as praying to the Christian or Muslim God, people may also consult a local oracle or healer. Many shrines to the spirits are still in active use.
Common places like the Rubaga Cathedral, Uganda Martyrs shrine, Baha’i temple & Gaddafi mosque both located in the capital – Kampala, have become common places for most visitors for their outstanding structures and looks.
PUBLIC HOLIDAYS IN UGANDA
- New Year’s Day – 01 January
- NRM Liberation Day – 26 January
- International Women’s Day – 8 March
- Good Friday (exact day varies)
- Easter Monday (exact day varies)
- Labour Day – 1May
- Martyrs’ Day – 3 June
- National Heroes’ Day – 9 June
- Eid al-Fitr (end of Ramadan, exact day varies)
- Independence Day – 9 October
- Eid al-Aduha (Feast of the Sacrifice, exact day varies)
- Christmas Day – 25 December
- Boxing Day – 26 December
TOURISM IN UGANDA
Wondering why it is called ‘The Pearl of Africa‘? Where else can you see Lions prowling across the open savanna as day breaks before white water rafting down the Nile; then the next day set off into the misty mountains in search of the majestic mountain gorillas before settling in to watch a local cultural evening around the camp fire?
Uganda was ranked the number one destination for tourists for the year 2012 by Lonely Planet which is the largest travel guide and media publisher in the world. The following week, Qatar Airways, a member of the five star alliance, announced that it would be launching a service to Uganda’s international hub, Entebbe Airport.
Also Uganda’s tourism has been boasted by the presence of the famous Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable forest. It’s believed that these species are endangered and half of the world’s remaining gorillas are found in Bwindi. Gorilla trekking has been rated one of the top tourist activities by most travelers coming to Africa.
Bwindi Impenetrable forest
Located in south western Uganda, this world class tourist destination harbors more than half of the world’s surviving mountain gorillas. Also recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site, Bwindi ranks among the absolute highlights of any African Safari. This is one of Africa’s most bio diverse rainforests with primates, birds, gorillas, flora & fauna.
Murchison Falls National Park
This is one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952 and it is dominated by rich acacia woodland, savannah grass plains, forest patches and bisected by the Victoria Nile. The dramatic Murchison falls are the highlight of this destination, the Nile squeezing through a 7 – 8m wide gorge. This park has got plenty of game and can be accessed by both air and road.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
The most famous attraction in Uganda named after her majesty Queen Elizabeth II when she visited the park in 1952. Over 95 Mammals and 600 bird species can be found here including other attractions like the explosion craters, Kazinga channel, Kyambura gorge, Mweya peninsula, Maramagambo forest, Ishasha sector etc. This is where you will get to see the legendary ‘Tree climbing lions’.
Source of the Nile
The Mighty River Nile, runs from the source at Lake Victoria in Uganda and flows to the Mediterranean Sea in Egypt. Many rapids and falls are formed and white water rafting is a common activity. For one to visit the source of the Nile, they go through Jinja town, located several kilometers east of Kampala.
Kibale forest national park
The primate capital of the world with the most magnificent of Uganda’s rain-forests. The Major attraction at Kibale is the chimpanzee and chimp tracking is a common activity in this forest. The nearby fort portal town offers beautiful views of the lush green country side and tea plantations. Birds and other primates too can be found at Kibale forest park. A chimp tracking permit is required to enjoy any of the activities in the park.
The ‘True African Wilderness’ lies in Kidepo valley national park, located in the north eastern part of Uganda. This place is hot & dry with a lot of virgin land waiting to be discovered. Lions, leopards, Zebras, buffaloes are among the animals that can be spotted here. The nearby communities include the pastoral Karamajong people who are cattle raiders and hunters.
Running along the Congolese border with semuliki valley and Queen Elizabeth Park are the legendary mountains of the moon. The majestic Rwenzori Mountains are one of the popular hiking destinations in East Africa with Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Kenya in Kenya. The nearby Kasese town is the gateway to the Rwenzori’s and is unexpectedly hot and humid.
An archipelago of 84 islands located on the northwestern part of Lake Victoria, Uganda. The largest being Bugala island and other popular ones include Banda, Bukasa and many others. The Ssese islands provide the best environment for anyone willing to calm their senses and enjoy the beach while swimming in the water. This destination is a very common attraction for honeymooners.
Another UNESCO world heritage site located on Kasubi hill in Kampala, Uganda’s capital. This site acts as a burial ground for the previous four Kabaka’s of Buganda Kingdom. The site is considered to be a great cultural place for the Buganda Kingdom and other traditional rituals are carried out from here
Mount Elgon Park
An extinct volcano in Eastern Uganda, with the largest volcanic caldera in the world. Mount Elgon national park is also famous for the Sipi falls, Nyero rock Paintings, and the nearby Pian-Upe wildlife reserve. A lot of interesting features can be seen including Caves, Peaks & caldera, wonderful vegetation & more.
One of Uganda’s most breathtaking game parks found in the middle of an extensive rich acacia woodland and also one of the smallest. A medley of wonders including, Zebras, topis, elands, hippos, birds can be found here. This park is situated between the towns of Masaka & Mbarara in south western Uganda.
Located in south western Uganda between two districts of Kisoro and Kabale is Lake Bunyonyi. Set at an altitude of 1,950m the lake is encircled by steep terraced hills that rise to above 2,500m and it’s estimated to be 45m deep. It’s also called a place of many little birds, meaning a number of bird species can be spotted here.
Other Attractions include;
- Semliki National park
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
- Equator line
- Uganda Martyrs shrine Namugongo
- Mengo Palace
- Mgahinga national park
- Budongo forest
- Mabira forest
- Sezibwa falls
- Kisiizi falls