Once East Africa’s most popular tourist destinations, Uganda went on to suffer civil war, tyrannical rule and years of ethnic conflict. However, the past two decades or so have seen relative peace throughout most of the country. Uganda’s tourism industry has been revived and national parks were rehabilitated as havens for the country’s precious wildlife.
Its most famous residents are the critically endangered mountain gorilla, of which half the world's surviving population lives in Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Aside from gorillas, chimpanzees, and the Big Five, another of Uganda’s attractions is as the much-sought-after source of the Nile River, as mythical as ever – and a magnet for whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts.
After tracking gorillas in the dense jungle, one might head north to Queen Elizabeth National Park, famous for its tree-climbing lions languishing in fig trees. Kyambura Gorge is renowned for its chimpanzee families, while the crater lakes are painted pink with huge flocks of flamingos that gather there.
Another highlight of Uganda is Mount Elgon, situated in the eastern part of the country. The mountain has the largest surface areas of any extinct volcano in the world, and is adorned with fascinating caves, cliffs, gorges and beautiful waterfalls.
The Ruwenzori mountains offer a memorable experience for both experienced and ordinary hikers. The Ruwenzoris consist of six peaks with permanent snow caps and three glaciers. The tallest, Margherita, is the third highest peak in Africa.
Uganda is also renowned for sharing the second largest lake in the world – Lake Victoria – with Kenya and Tanzania. At its upper reaches from where it leaves Lake Victoria at Jinja, the Nile has well-developed white water rafting opportunities. All along the river, intimate and comfortable camps and lodges support the rafting and river trips.
The Murchison Falls of the Nile are famous for a gorge some 30 feet wide. Volumes of Nile water pulsates through it, disgorging in a huge thunderous spout of water that creates perpetual spray which supports a variety of forest vegetation. The Nile continues its way to Lake Albert, and it’s possible to cruise on the river and see hippo and elephant on its shores in the area set aside as a national park.
There, one will also find huge stands of mahogany hardwood forest which is home to primates including chimpanzees.
There are about 5 000 chimps in Uganda that are protected amongst seven research and special conservation areas for them including the Kibale forest. Keen ornithologists will appreciate the more than 1000 species of birds recorded, many being endemics. Avifauna in the western areas is a mixture of more typical East African birds but with Congo, or western avifauna present, it is unique.
As a multi-cultural, multi-tribal country, Uganda has much to offer in its diversity of people. The country has been inhabited for eons, evidenced by 50,000-year-old Acheulian stone tools that have been found. However, it was the Bantu migration 2000 years ago from Western Africa that was drawn to Uganda’s fertile soils and plentiful rain that prompted settlement on the shores of Lake Victoria. Being accomplished blacksmiths, the Bantu fashioned iron tools to cut down trees, clearing land for agriculture and then tilling the land with iron implements. The north of Uganda is populated by the Acholi, a pastoral people, famous for their long horned cattle. The Acholi are ethnically Nilotic and akin to the Luo of Kenya and with affinities with Southern Sudanese who are mostly of Nilotic ancestry.
Uganda holds a special place in world history as explorers searched for the source of the Nile. From the time of the early Greek and Roman civilizations there has been a fascination and a quest for the source of the mighty river. This prompted a military expedition to find the source in the time of Ptolemy II. Although the Blue Nile tributary was found, it was the young British explorer John Hanning Speke whom is credited with being the first European to stand at what is now Jinja in 1858 and declare that it was the source of the Nile. He had been prompted to find a great expanse of water that the Arab traders described when he and the explorer Burton had met them in what is now Tanzania. Little did he know he would see the Lake and the source of the Nile. The Royal Geographic Society was his patron but Burton was too ill to join him on this expedition. He named the Lake after his queen, Victoria.
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