Uganda has been called the "Pearl of Africa." Compared to other African countries I have visited, it is surprisingly lush, green and fertile. The country is bordered by large lakes (Victoria, Edward and Albert – you'll perhaps note a bit of British influence) and water is readily available throughout the southern and western regions that I visited. Farming is seen everywhere, including up steep slopes that must give the local workers quite a workout going to and from the fields. Bananas, tea and coffee are among the larger crops. Fishing also employs a great many people. Fresh tilapia is a local specialty and I highly recommend it.
The main attraction in Uganda for wildlife enthusiasts is definitely the mountain gorillas, which can be seen in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in the southwest part of the country (near Rwanda and Congo). But since only twelve people a day can visit the gorillas, Uganda has lately been emphasizing one of its other natural resources: bird watching. There are many species of birds in Uganda that are found no where else in the world, including some two dozen that inhabit the evolutionary "islands" of the high Virunga mountain range and the wonderful shoebill stork.
Uganda offers other game parks as well, including two that I visited: Lake Mburo National Park and Queen Elizabeth Nation Park (there's those Brits again). While the parks were certainly worth seeing, visitors should probably think of them more in terms of side trips from gorilla trekking or bird watching rather than as destinations in and of themselves. Compared to the other parks I visited in Africa (see: the "Reviews of Game Parks" page), these two parks had considerably less game and it was generally more difficult to see. The country and people of Uganda suffered many atrocities during the seventies under the dictator Idi Amin. Although he was ousted in 1979, fighting among various factions continued through the eighties and into the nineties. During this period of upheaval, many animals were killed, either by poachers for profit, by soldiers for target practice, or for food. Many species have never recovered and those that have are more wary of vehicles and people than their counterparts in other countries where the animals have had less to fear. The good news is that Uganda today is stable and the country seems very much on the mend. Nevertheless, there is still a considerable military presence in the country, especially along the borders with Rwanda and Congo. Also, armed rangers now accompany the gorilla trekkers, not for protection from the gorillas, but from guerrillas (in 1998 several visitors to Bwindi were kidnapped and killed by insurgents trying to damage Uganda's tourist industry, but things have been stable since and, I am happy to say, the visitors have returned and I felt very safe at all times).
Aside from the gorilla trekking, two highlights stand out in Uganda. The first was just traveling along the roads and through the villages, especially the fishing villages. More so than in other countries I visited, I had a chance in Uganda to see more of what the regular people were doing, from farming, to fishing, to making bricks, to hauling loads on bicycles. A second highlight was a cruise along the Kazinga Channel between Lake Edward and Lake George, which can be done as a day trip within Queen Elizabeth Park. We got to see plenty of hippos, birds and other wildlife, plus once again got to see the fishermen in action.
Further information and reviews of these game parks, and the others I visited, can be found in the "Reviews of Game Parks" page.
Related page: Gorillas