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Uganda Attractions And Landmarks Guide
The “Switzerland of Africa,” as it’s sometimes known for its wealth of mountains and lakes and overall scenic beauty, suffered terribly under the regime of Idi Amin back in the 1970s and subsequent civil unrest after he was deposed. (The film The Last King of Scotland, starring Forrest Whitaker, paints a searing portrait of the unhinged dictator.) As a result, Uganda largely fell off the tourist map -- with a stigma that continues to this day.
Yet Uganda’s wildlife, decimated by poaching and neglect under Amin, is now re-emerging in sizeable numbers. An attractive safari destination once again, it is probably the best choice for seeing great apes, our closest genetic cousins - gorillas and chimpanzees - in the wild. (Other choices are Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but Uganda has the densest population of them and Congo may still have outbreaks of civil unrest.)
More Than Wildlife
There’s a lot more to see and do in this compact East African nation than meeting and mingling with its wide variety of resident wildlife, as memorable as that experience is. One attraction is the land itself, with incredible diversity squeezed into an area about the size of Michigan.
Even more rewarding are cultural encounters with the people of Uganda – who comprise more than 40 ethnic groups..Despite being one of the poorest nations in the world, Ugandans are known as among the world’s most friendly people. That’s true whether they’re women toiling on steep hillside farm fields, men walking long distances balancing heavy bundles on their heads, or giggling children waving at passing vehicles filled with tourists.
In Uganda you’re sure to get a friendly hello wherever you go. Smile back at passersby and if offered something to eat or drink -- even from a family that may have little of it -- be sure to accept; it’s considered impolite not to. When entering a village, your group may be greeted with song and dance.
Depending upon your itinerary, you might have an opportunity to meet with members of a Pygmy tribe, watch a traditional healer demonstrate herbs used to cure a variety of ailments, interact with delightful children at a local school, or partake of a luncheon of Ugandan delicacies prepared by a farmer and his wife.
But What Wildlife There Is
Of course, outstanding opportunities for game viewing are what attract most visitors to Uganda. Its parks teem with cape buffalo, giraffes, antelopes, elephants and lions, including unusual tree-climbing lions. Giant crocodiles bask in the sun along river banks, while countless hippos cool off submerged in rivers and lakes. Some believe it offers the most diverse wildlife of any country in Africa.
Most notably, Uganda is one of only three countries where you can visit with endangered and elusive mountain gorillas -- of which perhaps fewer than 900 exist in the world.
Nearly half of them hang out in the aptly named Bwindi Impenetrable Narional Park. Trekkers in groups of eight follow their trails during often vigorous outings that can last from one to several hours, depending upon where the band has chosen to settle down for a day of eating and resting. Habituated to humans and not fearful of them, they are as likely to be as curious about you as you are of them.
Chimpanzees, the closest living relatives to humans, as well as a variety of monkeys are found in Kibale Forest National Park, though they can be harder to locate. Kibale is known for possessing the highest density of primates in the world, but the chimps move fast and can be elusive.
Traditional Game Parks
Queen Elizabeth National Park is the best place to see a variety of wildlife, including hundreds of bird species. You’ll find all the Big Five here except for rhino, which were all poached out in the Amin era. But at the private Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary north of Kampala, which has a breeding program and where guides lead rhino walking safaris, there are now 13 southern white rhinos living in the wild.
Uganda’s largest wildlife park, Murchison Falls National Park, named after the falls along the White Nile, is rich in both game and scenery. In the far north is a much less visited park, Kidepo Valley National Park, where mountains form a backdrop to wide-open savannah and lions, cheetahs, leopards, and elephants roam freely across the plains. It generally draws raves from the relatively few visitors who make it there.
Land and Water Ho
Uganda’s terrain consists of a surprising combination of semi-desert and lush rainforests, savannah and woodlands, and even snow-clad peaks near the Equator.
While the nation is landlocked, it encompasses a large part of Lake Victoria, which is so vast it’s often referred to as an inland sea. The headwaters of the Nile River originate in Uganda before plummeting through a narrow gap in the escarpment at Murchison Falls and exploding out the other side in a rushing plume of foam and spray.
This rich triumvirate – wild animals, friendly people, and beautiful terrain – make Uganda one of the top destinations in Africa…even for those who still harbor memories of long-deposed dictator Idi Amin and subsequent strife. You’ll find a number of safari operators on Stride that will help you develop a whole new appreciation of this country.
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