When pioneer tourist Winston Churchill set foot in Uganda in 1902, he was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the country he called it the ‘Pearl of Africa’. He was right. This where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle. Where else but in this uniquely lush destination can one observe lions prowling the open plains in the morning and track chimpanzees through the rainforest undergrowth the same afternoon, then the next day navigate tropical channels teeming with hippos and crocodiles before setting off into the misty mountains to visit the majestic mountain gorillas?
Besides all these, Uganda is also blessed with a vast bird population of more than 1,000 species. Uganda is Africa condensed, with the best of everything the continent has to offer packed into one small but stunning destination. Uganda is home to the highest mountain range in Africa, the Mountains of the Moon in the Ruwenzori National Park. It is the source of the mighty Nile, and around Jinja offers the best white-water rafting in the world. Bwindi National Park (331 sq. km), christened the Impenetrable Forest, is home to half of the world’s known mountain gorillas, about 330 of them – there’s just one Bwindi gorilla for every 20 million people! Penetrating the Impenetrable Forest is no picnic, as the terrain is steep and the foliage unforgiving, but what a reward. All the hardships are forgotten in an instant with the first glimpse of the gorillas in their mountain kingdom. No bars, no cars – this is not a safari park but their world, and you become their privileged guests. A country with fantastic natural scenery and a rich mosaic of tribes and cultures, Uganda is bordered on the east by Kenya, on the north by South Sudan, on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the southwest by Rwanda, and on the south by Tanzania. The southern part of the country includes a substantial portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania.
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As its name suggests, Bwindi is famed for its dense forests, which provide the ideal cover for its equally famous residents, the endangered mountain gorillas. One of Uganda’s newest parks (it was opened in 1991); pristine and largely undiscovered Bwindi is also one of her most prized ecological gems. Quite apart from the gorillas, the park features volcanic peaks, bamboo forests, extensive swamps, clouds of rare butterflies, 120 species of mammals, an exotic selection of monkeys (including chimpanzee) and some 346 species of birds.
One of the last remaining areas of rainforest in Africa, Kibale offers dense forest with 250 tree species, grasslands, swamps and a scenic field of volcanic craters. Standing at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains, the park is an extension of the Queen Elizabeth National Park, one of Uganda's most recent national parks. Most famous for its chimpanzee communities, statistics suggest that the park offers the visitor a 90% chance of viewing these fascinating creatures, over 600 of which live in nests in the tree canopy.
Lake Mburo National Park, which is 260 square kilometres in size, was gazetted in 1982 as Uganda's fourth national park. It is composed primarily of grassland, wetland and acacia woodland habitats. At the centre of the park lies Lake Mburo which, together with 14 other lakes in the area, forms part of an extensive wetland system. The park is home to topi, eland, klipspringer, zebra, buffalo, oribi, sitatunga, and leopard as well as an excellent variety of water and acacia savannah bird species like crested crane, marabou stork and bronze-tailed starling.
Murchison Falls National Park encompasses a large swath of African savannah, sliced in half by the Nile River, creating some of the most spectacular waterfalls in East Africa. Murchison Falls is Uganda's largest national park (3,840 sq.km) and it may look familiar since it was featured in the movie African Queen. Murchison Falls Park is home to lions, giraffe, chimpanzees, hippos and more than 450 species of birds.
Queen Elizabeth National Park covers an area of about 1978 sq kms; its position provides a magnificent view of the rift valley floor that occupies Lake Edward and Gorge. The area was strategically located with a stunning view of Mount Rwenzori, the plains and the composite jagged mass of mountains that are good for activities such as hiking. On the other side of Lake Edward, there is a famous hill known as Mitumbe that looks out to the Congo. Its beauty is signified with changing colors from blue to green, with gentle slopes.
The Rwenzori Mountains is an afro-alpine realm of luxuriant forests which feature the most extensive stands of alpine ‘big game’ plants in East Africa (such as giant groundsels and 7 metre-high powder-blue lobelia). This park features jagged peaks, alpine lakes and huge stands of aromatic evergreen Podocarpus trees, below which grow giant ferns, wild ginger, hibiscus, begonias, balsams and arum lilies.