Uganda is NOT the Pearl of Africa. It is Africa. The tourism experience is priceless. It is a gut looking attraction, but few tourists come here… and so I envy them that have not discovered this country.

So, for our honey moon, back in 2009, we went to Egypt. I had been told and convinced that it was the best place to visit. Here we were to explore temples, pyramids, go to the aswan high dam and of course sail the Nile on the motorized hotels, call them ships. That is literary what we were lined up for, and we had that fun. I remember bribing a local guide a champagne into the room….alcohol had its restrictions. But I tell you, Egypt was booming with tourists. My guide then tells me it still is. I wonder for Uganda.

I compared the Egypt experience with that of Uganda and am still wondering why Uganda, so beautiful endowed, still has very few tourists coming through. My findings have formed this piece. May be the traveler world can wake up and smell the coffee…and come to Uganda. It is my mission.

I have come to believe that to know Africa, first understand Uganda. In fact, you get more.

If there is any one country where all the attributes of Africa can be found – rich cultural heritage and diversity, wealth of natural resources, breathtaking tourist attraction, contrast in color, sights and sounds, and food, I say it is Uganda. As a traveler, I have seen Africa, but I have loved Uganda!

Uganda is a highlights reel of the African landscape. With its dense, misty forests, snow-peaked mountains, glassy lakes and sprawling savannas, it is no wonder Winston Churchill dubbed this the “pearl of Africa”.

Our country is a land of contrasts. In half a day, you can drive from mist shrouded volcanic mountains to hot hazy Savannah, dappled with wild life, serene undulating hills of tea plantations, lush but ordered giving way to tangled jungle and rain forests with the musical accompaniments of chaotic, cacophonous bird life. You will never be in a hurry. And the people will not rush you. This is what makes Uganda distinctive.

This small country lies within the Great lakes region. The great lakes are seven, but four of these are found in Uganda – Lake Victoria, the largest water body in Africa, Lake Bunyonyi, the deepest lake in Africa with spectacular views, Lake Albert – part of the complex system of the upper Nile, and Lake Edward. The other three are Lake Malawi (Malawi), Lake Kivu (Rwanda), and Lake Tanganyika (Tanzania).

Then there is the River Nile- the longest river on the continent. It flows straight into the Mediterranean is a source of livelihood as it flows up north. Adrenaline junkies can get a fix any way they like in Uganda. With its Grade-5 rapids, the Nile is a magnet for whitewater rafting enthusiasts -- or try kayaking or a white-knuckle jet boat ride.

And more for the adventure hungry, trekkers can test their endurance by tackling the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Rwenzori Mountains, evocatively described as the “Mountains of the Moon”, with stunning views of the equatorial mist as a reward at the top. For more treks try Mount Elgon National Park or the dramatic Virunga volcanoes.

Uganda has something for everyone. Bucket listers too.

The threatened Mountain Gorilla lives in this part of Africa, right deep in the thickets of Bwindi impenetrable mountain forests. It’s got its restrictions with age and fitness, but this is a must see. These Gorillas are man’s closest relative. It is worth paying them a visit. They have become a quintessential attraction.

All the game species in Africa are to be found in Uganda as well. And better still, the animals are in protected areas (National parks and game reserves) without disturbance from crowds. You will have your peace viewing game. While Uganda lacks the recognition of its big-name neighbors like Kenya and Tanzania, her parks have all the animals – Big five and the Chimpanzees. In Murchison Falls, Uganda’s largest park, follow your morning wildlife drive with a cruise down the Nile to the base of the falls. It is the perfect way to spy elephants, buffalo, crocs and loads of hippos while relaxing on the boat with a beer. Head to Queen Elizabeth National Park for a better chance of spotting the elusive leopard or its trademark tree-climbing lions. Few tourists make it as far north as Kidepo Valley, but those who do are rewarded with a fantastic selection of animals and some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. If you are hoping to tick off the Big Five, add Zziwa Sanctuary to your itinerary to get up close to white rhino, which you track on foot. The tallest animal – Giraffe (Rothschild) and the world’s biggest animal – the elephant are all found here.

The scenery is to die for. As you while away on your trip, this small country tours take you up the mountains and hills, down rift valleys, on beaches of Lake Victoria where you will watch beautiful sunsets. Uganda is a birders haven too. It benefits from migrations that occur in the summer and winter.

A lot of our travelers come for business meetings and conferences. At the back of these official meetings, I encourage a day or two to visit the country side. Uganda indeed has something for everyone.

My message to the travelling world….wake up and smell the coffee… Uganda is calling. Moreover, it has been named the best destination to visit this year. Come for a Safari and you will see all of Africa…guaranteed.

Beware, you might not want to leave!!

Peter Mwanja

The writer is the Managing Director, Safari Chapter Uganda, a destination management company.

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