HANDPICKING THE WOW STUFF FOR YOUR UGANDA SAFARI

By Jonathan Benaiah (The Ugandan Tourist)

I’ve been a little bit silent for the past couple of weeks, catching up with work while still scouting out for more and more adventures. Please excuse me for the short episode of silence! I intend to blog a lot more often going forward and fortunately the year still looks blissful with a lot to look forward to. I am glad to let you know that I actually just got invited for an all-expenses paid rafting trip on the Nile on any one weekend; so I’m certainly looking forward to the thrill that comes with plummeting, gurgling water, and the possibility of surviving drowning. I will be sharing my experience of the rafting trip with you when that time comes.

That aside, I have been receiving messages from you my beautiful family requesting for travel recommendations with a number of friends intending do some sightseeing in Uganda. Of recent, I have been quite fascinated by a whole lot and that would imply a lot of writing as well. But for you today I choose to handpick just 10 things to spice up your Ugandan travel plan. I must admit that I failed completely at arranging them in ascending or descending order, but I’ve lined them up alphabetically. “I’m confident you will smile all the stay.”

Fort Portal town, Such a delight!

Though my origins spring from this little town located 297 kilometers west of the capital (Kampala), having this one on the list is not a biased choice. Fort Portal gets a well-deserved seat on this list for what she has to offer.

The many times I have been to Fort Portal, I have been mesmerized at the diversity of things to see and experience. My visits to Fort Portal have changed from the routine family Christmas or Easter homecomings to a time of short excursions. This relatively small town is the cleanest of all Uganda’s townships and is the administrative capital of the great Tooro Kingdom; a realm governed by the world’s youngest monarch, the tall standing Rukirabasaija Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV (quite a mouthful of names right there).

A tour of Fort Portal permits a royal cultural visit to the King’s palace (which is dependent on availability; but often easier with advance bookings and better when the king is away), or a religious and historical trip to the beautiful catholic shelter Virika Cathedral of Our Lady of Snows and the Anglican Ruwenzori Church of Uganda.

You can also enjoy glorious sightings of several Crater Lakes the height of which is the dubbed “Top of the World Hike” that leads from the restful Crater Lake called Nyabikere (which in English means the “lake of frogs”). The views at the crest of the “Top of the World Hill” are to die for and even more beautiful at dawn when the sun wakes from her sleep gently illuminating the darkened hills and then prettifying the lakes below.

Adding to Fort Portal’s menu, visitors can also visit the “Chimpdom” popularly known as Kibale Forest National Park that shelters about 1,500 chimps, or the several shades of green tea estates, the stalactite and stalagmite caves (the spiritual Amabere ga Nyina Mwiru Caves), and the biodiverse Semliki National Park and Wildlife Reserve. These are all found just in the neighborhood.

Whether simply on a tour around Fort Portal town or passing through, don’t miss the opportunity of interacting with the local people, or the chance to visit the Mpanga market (that sits meters above the swooshing river from which it gets its name). You can also buy some sweet bananas or a Rolex off the street (a tasty tortilla-like omelet of onions and tomatoes), or ask for a coffee at one of the restaurants. I find Fort Portal town such a delight whenever I visit and I highly recommend it!

Jinja, Extreme Adventures!

The source of the Nile and the adventures along this river are perhaps some of the things that quickly come to mind when the name ‘Jinja” is mentioned. Now nicknamed the ‘Adventure Capital of East Africa”, this town located approximately 81 kilometers east of Kampala along the northern shores of Lake Victoria still fascinates me the many times I visit. Bungee Jumping, Quad Biking, White Water Rafting, Kayaking, a trip to the true source of the world’s longest river, sunset cruises, or horseback tours are some of the activities to prime. Jinja is the place to go for an extreme adventure and a fine destination for adrenaline junkies.

Adding to the adventure list, you can take voyages along the veins of one of the towns (Jinja town) where industrialization in Uganda had its first sights and breathed its first, and where colonial architecture still stands unshaken.

White water rafting in Jinja. Photo by Ordinary Life

Karamoja, take the lid off the ancient basket!

Reading my Tweets or Facebook posts you might realize that of all Uganda’s National Parks, my heart beats most for the remotest of them all, the wild and virgin Kidepo Valley National Park. But it is more than the wildlife park that this corner of northern Uganda has to offer. The people and their way of life is in itself mind-boggling and a visit to Karamoja offers you an opportunity to lift the lid off this fascinating ancient basket of fine secrets.

An Elephant in Kidepo Valley National Park. Photo by Herbert Byaruhanga

A cultural trip to the Karamoja region presents an opportunity to interact with these Nomad Warriors, the proud people living traditional semi-nomadic lives herding several heads of cattle and other livestock in this remote and semi-arid region of northeastern Uganda.

Famous for their previous lifestyle of raids and cattle rustling (forcefully taking cattle from neighboring communities) the Karamojong people still believe that their God (Akuj) gave them all the cattle in the world. Today to most of them livestock is still sovereign and they measure the dignity of a man by the number of cows he owns.

Over 350,000 of them live in Uganda speaking a common dialect “Akaramojong”, so when you visit, if you want to say “Hello” or “what’s up”, simply say “Ebalai” (pronounced Ee-ba-layi). The Karamojongs live in bundles of grass thatched structures called “Manyattas” surrounded by perimeter enclosures often made of reeds, protecting and separating one family’s property from another.

Tourists climb down a rock in Karamoja. In the background are some of the Manyattas. Photo by Kara Tunga
The highlight of a trip to Karamoja is the participatory and almost never ending dance called “Edonga” which involves repeatedly leaping on twos, off the dry and hot dusty ground like men on spring riders, similar to the leaps made by the Australian kangaroos. I find this one of the most interesting dances in Uganda.

There are travel specialists that can put together a tour for you to the Karamojong region but those who are brave-hearted can still wander on their own to experience the beauty of one of Uganda’s best kept secrets, Karamoja!

The endearing Edonga dance of the Karamojong people

Murchison Falls National Park, yes that famous park!“The world’s longest river explodes through a narrow gorge and pours down to become an equable stream whose banks are jammed with hippopotamuses and crocodiles, waterbucks and buffaloes and the gigantic elephants”. This is in all probability a statement quite familiar for those that have heard of or read about this northwestern National Park that also shelters lions, leopards, giraffes, hartebeests, oribis, Uganda kobs, chimpanzees, and a healthy checklist of bird species.

Tourists on a safari in Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park needs not a detailed account for it has many a time been replicated and is best described through several websites and magazines including the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) website. I am probably not the only person to recommend this savannah, riverine forest and woodland National Park. The park is extremely famous.

The game drives are rewarding with sightings of the heavyweights as well as the middle weight predators of the jungle. Get to watch predators stalking on prey, prey that has learnt to live on the edge of life while other wildlife species fearlessly graze on. The boat cruises are incomparable and now the park also offers one in two destinations in Uganda to enjoy balloon safaris.

So get visiting and please remember to share with me your experiences of the visit as well as selfies at the top of the mighty falls. You may also want to read my article about what you see at the top of the Murchison Waterfalls here  https://goo.gl/h6srNE.

The Murchison Waterfall from which the park gets its name

Ndere Cultural Center, Still the finest musical fusion of Uganda’s culturesI call it the musical summary of Uganda’s culture and it is accessible just a few minutes from the heart of Kampala City (on a good day without traffic). Are you on a quick safari and do not have the kind of time to visit but are still interested in all of Uganda’s cultural communities? Or are you in Kampala for some time and looking for a quick taste of Uganda’s culture?

Head over to Ndere Cultural center for the entirety of Uganda’s brilliant sounds. Ndere presents dances like dingi-dingilarakaraka and the royal bwola dance from Acholi Chiefdom in northern Uganda; Bakisimba a royal dance from the central kingdom of Buganda; Ekitaguriro from the western Ankole kingdom, the courtship dance of the Karimojong and the Runyege-Ntogoro dance of both the Bunyoro and Tooro kingdoms of western Uganda. The center goes an extra mile to give you a taste of Rwanda and Burundi as well.

Traditional dancers entertain guests at Ndere Cultural Center

For what it offers, the price charged is (for lack of a better word) extremely “affordable”. Here are more details about the Ndere Cultural Center written by yours truly.

Rwenzori Mountains, No one will ever conquer them for you!

Now I have not yet hiked the Rwenzoris either, but these mountain ranges sit way high on my bucketlist; high on my list of things to do this year and if not, then early next year God willingly.  But from interactions with friends who have conquered the over 5,000 meter high mountain peak, I chose to add this to the adventure list of places I want you to visit and to the list of things I want you to do.

Mount Stanley (the great Rwenzoris) also christened the “Mountains of the Moon”, is the third-highest mountain in Africa – after Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Kenya in Kenya, and is a hiker’s amusement. I have always thought that it must be a beautiful feeling standing at Africa’s third highest point with snow and the equator just meters away! I will only know when I eventually hike up this mountain

The hike is not one for the faint hearted but one that requires stamina, a good team of porters, an excellent guide, a pair of fine boots and mountaineering gear to start with. All these can be provided by Rwenzori Mountaineering Services (RMS) or Rwenzori Trekking Services (RTS) if prior booking is made. Whether with RMS or guided by the RTS, I recommend you embrace the challenge and get something to speak of yourself before age beats you at its game. And as the old saying goes, “no one will ever see them for you as beautiful as they will appear through your own eyes”.

Hiking the snow-capped Rwenzori mountains

Sipi Falls, More than just the cascading waters!The views of a series of waterfalls that roll off a 70-meter cliff thundering down and then splashing waters around this chilly area in Eastern Uganda have kept me engulfed in “wish thoughts” for quite some time. Luckily, those wishes will be no more but stories of experiences after my trip to the districts of Mbale and Kapchorwa later on this year.

Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa district

These 3 series of waterfalls were christened “Sipi” and have been the muse for television ads, and also used in corporate branding simply because they are a stunner. The Lonely Planet has referred to Sipi as “arguably the most beautiful waterfall in all of Uganda”, and looking at photos from friends and video clips of waterfall baths, I can’t dispute.

But it is not just about the cascading waters, it is the stories told about the falls, the cultural attachments and the activities carried out around and along the falls that add a sweet flavor to all trips to the Sipi falls. The peak of activities to be recommendedis the bloodcurdling adventure called abseiling; a controlled descent of a vertical drop along the side of falls.

Take a trip approximately 300 kilometers northeast of Kampala to this wonder of Africa and you can thank me when you return.

A tourist abseiling at Sipi Falls in Eastern Uganda

Ssese Islands; unplug, unwind, immerse!Have you heard of the statement that “Life is always greener on the other side”? How about we say “life is normally cooler at the seaside, but coolest when nothing but the sea is what you see around you”. Let no man lie to you guised in the olden tale that “no man is an island, blah blah blah”. Let no man tell you that you can’t enjoy life on an island. Lead yourself to the archipelago of eighty-four islands that is known as Ssese for an out of the world experience that is really “out of this world”!

Located in the northwestern part of the world’s second largest fresh water lake (the lovely Victoria) lies these islands chiefly known as disjoined fishing isles that will feed you on plenty of fish and still spoil you with beauty and a VIP travel experience often mistaken for the Caribbean islands in the Americas.

Take off your shoes and take a graceful walk along the sandy beaches, go for an island birding excursion, ride a bike, embark on a cultural island tour, go fishing or just sit and relax at one of the chic lodges on the island. This island paradise will have you pampered and heavily rewarded. Visit the Ssese islands to unplug from the noisy and congested mainland, unwind from the stressful days of work and feel free to immerse yourself in the waters of Africa’s largest lake. I recommend you visit Ssese!

A beautiful sunset with views of the lake on Ssese Islands. Photo by UTB

Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center (UWEC), getting close and personalHere’s one place that I have been to very many times but of all my visits to this popularly known Entebbe zoo, the most rewarding of them all has been the time I braved the fears of snake bites and giraffe kicks, the time I got up-close and personal with the rock python in what UWEC has labelled the “Behind the Scenes” activity.  I like UWEC because at the education center I’ll always get a quick summary of most of Uganda’s ecosystems and will learn a new thing each time I visit.

A visitor feeds giraffes during the “Behind the Scenes” activity

The center has lions, leopards, rhinos, giraffes, elephants, snakes, crocodiles, several primates including the celebratory chimps and a number of bird species like the widely loved yet often sporadic shoebill stork.

Previously called the Uganda Wildlife Education Center and now relaunched as the Uganda Wildlife Conservation Education Center the center is a statutory body finely managed by a friendly, dedicated and very knowledgeable team.

With a fresh beach, donkey rides and now a worldclass child play area, UWEC is a family destination that you must visit.

Ziplining, some of the best places to enjoy a ride

Ever heard of the statement “YOLO” or listened to musical pieces that repeat the lyrics “while we young…”? The message emphasized is one; “to live life to the fullest because You Only Live Once, YOLO”. For many people, activities that put a tough or gentle tap on the adventure switch turn out to be the most fulfilling and memorable.

For me ziplining wherever it is done, will often be rewarding. My favorite zipline in Uganda is as you would have thought the most popularly known Super Skyways that are managed by Griffin Falls Camp in one of Uganda’s largest forests, the thick Mabira. But I have also done the zipline at the Extreme Adventure Park in Busiika and I found it fascinating as well. I now plan to visit the Lake Bunyonyi area and also possibly the recently launched zipline at the Kisiizi falls in the Southwestern Ugandan district of Rukungiri for the same. It’s a safe activity, it is affordable, it is fun and I highly recommend it.

Tourists enjoy ziplining in Mabira Forest

Bonus: Take a journey southwest to the Gorilla KingdomYou were probably thinking about how one could ever write a piece of things to see and activities to enjoy in Uganda and not make mention of the fact that this country provides permanent citizenship to over half of the world’s remaining population of mountain gorillas. I am only here to reconfirm and “re-recommend” a visit to the gorilla kingdom for your chance to say hello to this priceless species of apes, the Mountain Gorilla.

You can find more articles about gorilla tracking and primate safaris in Uganda on my blog The Uganda Safari News but here’s my most recent visit to the Gorilla kingdom.

Uganda has no limit to what she offers. This East African country will always have tourists spoilt for choice when in need of a complete safari experience. No competition can ever beat the rich diversity held within the landlocked borders of the loved “pearl of africa” and no country will ever summarize the entire African continent as well as Uganda does.

There is that statement that “when life offers you lemons, make lemonade”, but what do you do when life offers you such vast variety with so much to choose from? I say go ahead and be greedy for just that time; after-all you can never get overdosed or ever die of too much travel. Visit Uganda…!

I hope you loved this one as well. Please leave a message in the comment box below.

Written by 

My old folks call me Jonathan Benaiah but I prefer to go by as “The Ugandan Tourist“. I love to travel, write, take photos (of nature mostly). Ask me my best kind of trips and I'll tell you that it's those moments which allow me enough time in the African bush.