In his book, My African Journey, Winston Churchill wrote, “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life— bird, insect, reptile, beast— for vast scale, Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa.’”
Native Ugandans and ecotourism adventurers in the know tend to concur with Churchill’s assessment. There is an abundance of natural beauty in the Pearl of Africa.
Uganda boasts exceptional and endemic wildlife, myriad national parks showcasing the best experiences responsible tourism has to offer, and opportunities for immersive cultural experiences.
Read on for our top picks among the countless things to do in Uganda, from Gorilla trekking and spotting Chimpanzees to our favorite tours, waterfalls and National Parks in Uganda.
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Established in 1991 to help save the critically endangered Mountain Gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the top tourist attractions in Uganda.
Bwindi is home to a large population of gorillas (estimated at 320), as well as nine other species of primates, endemic bird species, and over 200 butterfly species.
Visitors have an opportunity to hike with experienced local guides and trackers to observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat.
Some experienced travelers suggest that spending time with these majestic creatures is the single most rewarding natural history experience in the world.
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Did you know that humans and Chimpanzees share 98.8% of the same DNA?
Located at the foothills of the Mountains of the Moon (a.k.a. Ruwenzori Mountains), Kibale Forest National Park has the highest concentration and diversity of primates in all of East Africa.
Hike with experienced local guides to track these threatened Chimpanzees, which number around 1450, and observe them for a while. You’ll also see plenty of birds (325 species) and other flora and fauna.
You may even spot the rare L’Hoest Monkey or the endangered Red Colobus Monkey, among the other primates that make this forest their home.
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Measuring 764 square miles, Queen Elizabeth is Uganda’s most visited National Park.
And for good reason: Whether you love birding or mammals, you’ll find plenty to observe during a game drive at the equator-spanning park.
It’s known for prolific wildlife, including Leopards in the Mweya Peninsula, Chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge, and Tree-climbing Lions in the Ishasha area.
There are over 95 mammal species in all, over 600 bird species, Nile Crocodiles (which can be seen during a cruise through the Kazinga Channel), and a variety of different ecosystems.
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Located in the country’s northwestern region and measuring around 1,5000 square miles, Murchison Falls is the largest national park in Uganda.
The park offers an impressive array of animals, including Lions, Elephants, Chimpanzees, and one of the largest populations of Hippos and Crocodiles in all of Africa.
And of course, there’s also the waterfall for which the park is named.
Murchison Falls is one of the best places to visit in Uganda to see where the Nile River forces its way through a small gorge and then drops down over 140 feet, creating an extraordinarily picturesque view.
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While you’re visiting Murchison Falls National Park, take some time to enjoy a boat ride on Lake Albert.
Its vast delta offers a chance to observe more wildlife.
Look for Hippos, Crocodiles, large game and small, and all kinds of birds (including the rare Shoebill Stork).
This is an interesting way to view the wildlife you’ve seen in Murchison Falls National Park from a very different angle, as well as spotting other animals that are best seen from the water.
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Before or after seeing all this wildlife in Uganda’s national parks, you’ll probably be interested in learning more about them.
The UWEC focuses primarily on education and conservation, and is located in Entebbe, right on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Here you can learn about and see some of the country’s indigenous wildlife and ecosystems for yourself. It’s not a zoo, but rather a chance to view animals on open ranges.
In the process of learning about them, you’ll also be supporting animal conservation and species recovery initiatives.
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The largest and oldest museum in East Africa, the Uganda Museum has exhibits on the ethnography, archaeology, natural history, animals, geography, music, and paleontology of the nation.
Founded in 1908 and an excellent thing to do in Kampala, the bustling capitol of Uganda, the museum has a cultural village showcasing the traditional lifestyle of the indigenous natives and the many types of traditional houses.
It also has a range of musical instruments that guests are encouraged to play!
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A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Tombs of Buganda Kings at Kasubi is also a place to visit in Kampala. Here you’ll find four royal tombs within a large, circular building.
The traditional architecture of the Ganda people is exemplified at this site, as are the building materials, including wood, beautifully-shaped thatch, reed, wattle, and daub.
The Tombs were rebuilt after a fire in 2010. This is, according to UNESCO, “the most active religious place in the kingdom, where rituals are frequently performed.
The structures and the traditional practices that are associated with the site are one of the exceptional representations of the African culture that depict a continuity of a living tradition.”
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Wooden drums in a variety shapes and sizes, usually with heads made from the skins of goats or cows, are essential to the music and culture of Uganda.
History shows that these carved wooden drums have been used in ceremonies and rituals for centuries.
Around Entebbe, you’ll find a great concentration of drum makers, including the Royal Drum Makers of Mpambire.
This is a unique cultural experience, and you can also purchase a unique souvenir to bring home!
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Did you know that tea is grown in Uganda? These are high altitude teas, and Fort Portal is particularly known for its high quality tea.
You’ll see rolling fields blanketed in tea bushes along the lower slopes of the Ruwenzori Mountains. This area has a cool climate, which helps produce the best tea.
Local tea plantations to visit include the Kahangi Estate (which also grows coffee).
Besides providing an interesting learning experience, you’ll enjoy delicious tea samples at many of the shops in the area.
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Coffee plantations abound in Uganda, and many take a farm-to-cup approach by offering tours to caffeine-craving travelers.
These coffee plantations, which are located on quite varied terroir, provide sustainable income to their workers and an excellent (and delicious) export.
Ugandan coffee farms, whether small or large, collectively employ millions of workers, as coffee is the country’s largest export crop. Coffee farmers in Uganda grow robusta and arabica coffee varietals in 3 different regions of the country.
Visiting the plantations will help you explore the entire coffee process, from seedling to harvest and from roasting to brewing.
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Head northeast to Kidepo National Park to see an enormous variety of bird species (almost 500!). The park has both plains and mountains and features two seasonal rivers.
The IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas) here is situated within the Somali-Masai biome and is home to some of the rarest birds in Uganda.
Birdwatchers can hope to see the Abyssinian roller, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Black-breasted Barbet (Lybius rolleti), Clapperton’s Francolin, White-bellied go-away bird, and other endemic and rare Ugandan birds.
In terms of timing, migratory birds are in residence here from November until April.
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The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rwenzori Mountains are located on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and within the Albertine Rift (an incredibly biodiverse region).
Home to six of the ten tallest mountains on the continent, the snowy-peaked mountain range contains glaciers, and is a source for the Nile River. Much of the highest parts of the range are protected by Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
The highest point is Margherita Peak, on Mount Stanley, but you don’t need to summit it in order to explore the mountain range.
Just climb to Mutinda Lookout for a considerably easier journey (although it can only be accessed near the end via ropes and ladders), and then marvel at the picturesque view before you.
There is also plenty of wildlife to be seen there, including frogs, 217 bird species (including almost 20 Albertine Rift endemics), and 70 mammals!
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Appearing on the 5,000 Ugandan shilling note, Lake Bunyonyi is located in southwestern Uganda. It is surrounded by lush green hills, which make it a spectacular place to visit in Uganda.
What makes this location even more beautiful are the 29 islands that dot the lake. The lake is swimmable (there are no dangerous wildlife, and it’s bilharzia-free), and boasts deep waters.
Many visitors choose to explore the lake and islands via dugout canoe, which are available for rent (or via a guided tour). Or you can take a guided tour via motorboat, but watch out for otters!
The lake also has an abundant bird population, including the Uganda national bird, the grey-crowned crane. While you’re in the area, try the crayfish, which is a favorite local delicacy.
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If you like both animals and exotic plants, then one of the best things to do in Entebbe is to go to the Entebbe Botanical Gardens (formally known as the National Botanical Gardens of Uganda), which is located on the shores of Lake Victoria.
Founded in 1898, the grounds are home to Colobus monkeys, a plethora of different birds, and over 300 plant species (including 200 that are indigenous to Uganda).
Of particular note are the medicinal garden, the enormous trees, and the botanical garden’s seed bank. Part of the garden– a thick jungle– was used to film the original Tarzan movie.
Hire a guide so you can learn more about the incredible plant diversity here, which was brought in from all around the world during the Uganda attraction’s early days.
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Located on Lake Victoria, the Ssese Islands is an archipelago of 84 islands, about half of which are populated. With gorgeous forests, beautiful white sand beaches, and clear waters, this is a perfect location to simply relax and unwind.
Swimming here is not advised, due to the dangerous wildlife (see: crocodiles and hippos) and bilharzia.
Most travelers either stay on the largest island, Buggala, or Banda Island. Travel between the islands is available by lake taxi.
Birdwatchers will be especially delighted here, although there are also endemic butterflies, rodents, and a subspecies of Tragelaphus spekii, an antelope.
Of particular interest is Ngamba Island, which is home to the non-profit Chimpanzee Trust. Currently, there are 49 rescued chimpanzees in residence on 95 acres of forest.
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Founded in 1993, Semuliki National Park is one of the newer national parks in Uganda, and home to the area’s lowland tropical rainforest.
Located in western Uganda near the Rwenzori Mountains, the park features two mineral hot springs with extremely scalding temperatures (up to 212 fahrenheit). One of them, Mumguga, also has a geyser-like fountain.
The park also features two rivers, the Semuliki and Lamia, which offer watering holes for countless animals and birds. There are over 400 bird species and 53 mammals here, including 11 endemic species.
The area is also home to an indigenous forest-dwelling community, the Batwa (formerly known as pygmies). Visitors can learn about the Batwa’s forest-dwelling culture and traditions, as well as purchase some of their unique handmade crafts.
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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, which is located in southwest Uganda, is an important place to visit in Uganda for many reasons.
Uganda’s smallest national park protects rare mountain gorillas, as well as the endangered golden monkey.
Gorilla trekking experiences are available here at much more affordable prices than in Mountain Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda, and well worth doing.
There are also three extinct volcanoes within the park, which are all part of the Virunga Range. Other activities in the park include birdwatching (115 species!), hiking, climbing, and taking the Batwa Cultural Experience Trail.
This trail, which was created in conjunction with (and benefits) the Batwa, takes visitors to the compound of the last Batwa king and teaches them about this ancient Ugandan culture. –by Jessie Voigts, courtesy of Green Travel Media, featured image of Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda via Canva
BIO: Jessie Voigts has a PhD in International Education, and has traveled all around the world. She’s published 8 books about travel and intercultural learning, with more on the way. Jessie is constantly looking for ways to increase intercultural understanding, and is passionate sharing the world through her site, Wandering Educators.