Known as the “Pearl of Africa,” this east African landlocked country is home of gorgeous lakes, incredible wildlife, and lovely people. The warm tropical climate will welcome you, and the lush landscape and rich cultural heritage will keep you stimulated and engaged throughout your entire stay. If you’re up for spiking your adrenaline while communing with the natural wonders of the world, Uganda is your place to be. Here are the 15 best things to do in Uganda, the source of the Nile and the epicenter of adventure.
Explore Murchison Falls National Park
Uganda’s largest national park of 1,500 square miles, Murchison Falls is located in the northwestern part of the country, about 200 miles from Kampala. Here, the Nile river is forced through a small gap (also called the Devil’s Cauldron), creating a gorgeous 140-foot waterfall. Bisected by the Victoria Nile, MFNP offers both land and water safaris where you can see warthogs, buffalo, storks, elephants, giraffes, crocodiles, and many other animals, as well as the awe-inspiring Karuma Falls.
Experience Immense Beauty at Lake Bunyonyi
If great beauty interests you, a trip to the magical landscape of Lake Bunyonyi, meaning “place of many little birds,” should make your list. Located close to the border of Rwanda in southwestern Uganda between Kabale and Kisoro, Bunyonyi comprises 29 islands dotting the lake, making it one of the most scenic parts of Uganda. Its depth of 3,000 feet makes it the second deepest lake in Africa. For a romantic adventure, take a canoe ride around the lake and watch the sunset over the terraced hillsides. Interesting fact: One of those islands along the lake is Punishment Island, which was used as a place to leave unmarried pregnant girls as punishment for having pre-marital sex. Their only option for return was to swim back. Yeesh.
Go Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi
Uganda is home to almost half of the mountain gorillas in the world. After some hiking, bushwhacking, and major sweating through Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, you can spend time observing gorillas in their natural habitat. Note that it can run pretty pricey, and you'll need to apply for a gorilla trekking permit, which costs around $600. You’ll also probably want to go with a tour, which can range from $1,000 to $6,000 per person—a fat chunk of change, but absolutely worth it if you can manage. Only eight people are allowed to visit a gorilla family a day, so you’ll want to book your trip well in advance. If you need help deciding who to go with, Insight Safari Holidays and Kori Safaris are two great tour companies to try.
Explore Culture at the Uganda Museum
Located on Kira Road in Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda, you’ll find the Uganda Museum, the largest and oldest museum in the country. Listen to traditional music (and check out the traditional instruments), see tools from the Stone Age, tour their ethnohistory, paleontology, and ethnography sections, and become more acquainted with the building blocks that make up the rich Ugandan culture and heritage.
Channel Your Inner Hipster at Elephante Commons
Owned by a Portland native (of course), this hipster-chic garden cafe located in Gulu (a northern region of Uganda about 200 miles from Kampala) is a popular spot among ex-pats. Get a little taste of home with wood-fired pizzas, craft cocktails, burgers, and even Mexican dishes. The owners are currently in the works to turn Elephante into a new cafe, community center, hotel, kid corner, playground, and free public library to enrich Gulu’s community at large. They’re open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily as part of their soft opening. To find it, head to the Children’s Village near the Jibu Water sign.
Hang With Lions and Elephants at Queen Elizabeth National Park
Uganda’s second biggest but most visited national park, Queen Elizabeth is located in the western region of Uganda about 250 miles south west of Kampala. Its biodiversity is what makes this park truly special: savanna, humid forests, gorgeous lakes, and wetlands all blend together to create a dramatic atmosphere fertile for all kinds of flora and fauna. Go on game drives, track chimps, take nature walks and hikes, ride a boat through the Kazinga Channel, visit the salt lake, and straddle the equator. You can even go hot air ballooning while admiring the impressive sunsets against the green rolling hills. Try African Adventure Travellers for a comprehensive two-day tour.
Get Brunch at Prunes
With all of this wildlife tracking, you’re going to need your energy. The best brunch spot in Kampala is the beautifully decorated Prunes, a great place for ex-pats and locals alike to get some work done, socialize, and fuel up. Sip delicious coffee, munch on eggs, pancakes, cereals, salads, pastries, and sweets, and enjoy the great service with this home-away-from-home dining experience.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the Nile
Attention, all thrill seekers, and fitness fanatics: A trip to Jinja is an absolute must. Also known as the adventure capital of East Africa, the rafting here is some of the best in the world but also some of the scariest. You can raft up to Class V rapids at the source of the Nile River, and if you get tossed out during your journey, several kayakers are cruising around to help you get back in your boat. Getting there is fairly simple—from Kampala, you can drive about an hour, or take the Uganda Postal Service bus to the Jinja station. Try Nile River Explorers or Nalubale Rafting for several different choices on tours, difficulty levels, and packages.
Bungee Jump Into the Nile
The Lake Victoria Source of the Nile flows through Uganda and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, a river with deep historical and religious significance. Bungee jump from a platform 150 feet in the air straight down toward the Nile (and splash right into it), for an exhilarating and blood-pumping experience of a lifetime! This is also located in Jinja, but you can check out Nile High Bungee or Adrift for more information on booking a jump.
Straddle the Equator
Located along the Masaka-Mbarara highway in Kayabwe (about 43 miles from Kampala), you’ll find an actual equator landmark where you can stand with one foot in the Northern and Southern hemispheres at the same time. You can also visit the equator line at Queen Elizabeth National Park, located about five or six hours west of Kampala). Don’t forget to wear sunscreen!
You might not think of Uganda as having much of a Jewish community, but a unique and interesting experience is a visit with the Ugandan Jewish community, the Abayudaya. The Abayudaya includes about two to three thousand people who practice a form of Judaism brought in around the 20th century. At the time of their formation, they faced widespread persecution, especially under Idi Amin who ordered the destruction of synagogues and other acts of hate. Today, you can visit their small red-bricked synagogue in a town near Mbale, attend a service, and learn more about their fascinating history and religious culture.
This UNESCO World Heritage Center is the burial ground of four Buganda monarchs, a sacred religious place for the Buganda Kingdom of present day Uganda. It is here that many centuries-old rituals and ceremonies take place, acting as a sort of spiritual, political, and cultural epicenter for this community. Note that the tombs were struck by a horrific fire in 2010 and are still being restored. It’s located on Kasubi Hill, about three miles or 15 minutes from Kampala city center. To find it, go about half a mile up from Hoima Road and turn left to go straight up the hill, and then left again at Masiro Road to the entrance.
Track Wild Chimpanzees at Kibale Forest National Park
While most think of gorilla trekking in Uganda, chimp trekking is an equally magical experience with man’s closest relative, the impressive primates who share 98% of our DNA. In groups of six, hike the Kibale Forest (a 300-square-mile moist evergreen forest in Western Uganda, home to 13 species of chimps) to see black and white Colobus, the grey-cheeked Mangabey, red-tailed monkeys, along with more than 350 species of birds and plants. Check out Prime Safaris and Tours for a more detailed itinerary and package options.
Hit the Nightlife
Ugandans know how to party. There’s always some excuse to go out in Kampala, whether it’s themed nights, events, or seeing some new, cool DJ, and the bars and clubs stay open 'til dawn, some even 24 hours. The city attracts partiers from all over the region—Kenyans, Tanzanians, Rwandans, and westerners all flock to the city that never sleeps. Try Casablanca on Acacia Avenue for a more local vibe, Big Mike’s down the road for an expat oasis, and Koko Bar in Ntinda for a more student-friendly atmosphere. Take a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) as a cheaper way to get around or a regular taxi if you’re new in town and want to be extra safe.
Discover Crafts at a Traditional Market
Fresh fruits, vegetables, treats, clothes, shoes, jewelry—you name it, you will definitely find it at an open air market. Try the Kikuubo Shopping Zone for a truly authentic market experience, buzzing with energy and chaos and variety. For great local produce, try the Nakasero Market located in the central business district, or head to the Owino Market, known for its secondhand clothing along with home appliances, spices, foods, bags, and more. The prices aren’t fixed, so sharpen your haggling skills, because you’re going to need them!