In 1907 Winston Churchill dubbed Uganda the ‘Pearl of Africa.’ A hundred years later, I discovered he was right. Uganda encompasses any African experience a traveler may ever dream to say they created a memory of. Mountains, lakes, rain-forests, bustling cities, friendly people, white water rafting, and the highest concentration of primates on the Earth makes Uganda a traveling paradise. Here are 5 reasons why I consider Uganda the Pearl of Africa.
Bwinidi: Home of the Gorillas
In local language Bwindi means impenetrable, take on the mission to find the gorillas and you’ll discover it’s aptly named. The journey to Bwindi is a destination in itself, an 8 hour, 97km pickup trek through steep mountainous passes. It’s a journey worth penetrating as trekking through the thick vegetation to spend an hour with these gentle giants of the forest is a memory that will last with you forever. Camping at the edge of the dense jungle adds to the surreal experience. Steam eerily rises from the jungle floor and keeps you awake with visions of gorillas, either the animal or renegade kind, emerging as a night time visitor from the forest. How could one ever forget the first sight of the gorilla family deep within the walls of Bwindi. The gigantic silverback, in an effort to assert his authority, runs directly toward you teeth bared and with a scream that turns your blood to ice and renders you immobile with terror. Once jungle roles have been established, he allows you to sit close and watch for an hour as his family interact, play and curiously watch you back. Check out this link on Gorilla Safaris for more information on how you can experience this for yourself.
Jinja: Source of the Nile and ‘The Bad Place’
Jinja is at the source of the Nile River and home to one of the world’s best commercial white water rafting experiences. Most people going to Africa are intent on rafting the Zambezi, overlooking the exhilarate power of the Nile rapids. Our guides, having rafted both rivers, said they were on a very comparable fear factor level, however there was no place in the world that compared with ‘The Bad Place.’ The Bad Place is the final Grade 5 rapid on the Nile run, and the place where I lost my stomach to my legs and thought for sure my life was seriously coming to a close. It’s a deadly churning wall of white water, sitting on the edge of a grade 6 run, which you must adeptly circumnavigate to arrive at the bad place. Your reward- a guaranteed high-flying flip out into the raging river, swirling out at the end with an ultra cool Ugandan experience.
Lake Bonyonyi: The Swiss Alps of Africa
Terraced rice hills and mountains surround Lake Bunyonyi and it’s 29 islands. It is referred to as the Swiss Alps of Africa, and is the perfect relaxing getaway. The lake is free from dangerous animals and bilharzia, making it perfectly safe for swimming. There are plenty of accommodation types here, but my Craig, my husband, and I opted for a campsite in a tranquil garden setting right beside the lake. Most of our time was spent swimming with the otters, lazing around in the sun, and taking walks up the mountain to spend time with the local villagers and appreciate the views. You can hire canoes to take out for a paddle, which are crudely made tree dug outs and incredibly hard to operate. It won’t take long before you perfect ‘The Muzungo Corkscrew’, a move performed only by Muzungu’s (white people). The locals will be highly entertained as they watch you spin around and around and around in the one spot, bewildered as to how to make the canoes move forward.
Kampala: Taxi Park Chaos
If for nothing else, you need to come to the capital city to experience The New Taxi Park. The taxi park is a chaotic mess, yet as with most chaotic messes in Africa, it has a certain local order to it. Close to a football field in size, every inch of the park is crammed with taxis, which in Africa are actually mini vans. Drivers try to move amongst one another in different directions, in an attempt to get out, and a constant stream of vans can be seen snaking out from the surrounding hillsides. Dumped in the middle of it, the Taxi park was our first experience of Uganda, on arrival from Kenya. We somehow in this mess, had to find the right van, marked only by numbers, to take us to our destination. Obviously sticking out like sore thumbs, our confused and stressed faces alerted the attention of some locals who pointed us to the right van to take us to our hotel. Kampala is a city of seven hills and unlike most African capital cities is relatively safe and has a relaxed atmosphere. There is a healthy hustle and bustle to the city and it’s well worth taking the time to walk around and experience it’s busy markets, restaurants and friendly people.
Ugandans: Warm and Friendly People
Ugandans are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. The locals greet you with gigantic smiles wherever you go, stopping you with calls of ‘Muzungu,’ to welcome you to their beautiful country. Ugandans don’t pester you, and they are always there to lend a helping hand or to share a story with you about the country they love so much.Ugandans have experienced much hardship, with the political disturbances of the past and the poverty and sickness that surrounds them daily, yet they never wear this pain on their faces. They are grateful for life, for their growing political stability, and the many muzungus who now come to visit and fall in love with this Pearl of Africa.