Top 5 Experiences in Uganda

Daniel Noll and Audrey Scott August 12, 2014 4
Lush fields and hills lead to the dense forest. This is Uganda.

Lush fields and hills lead to the dense forest. This is Uganda.

We’d heard from other travelers that Uganda was among their favourite countries to visit in Africa, so with high expectations, we knew to find out for ourselves. It turns out we weren’t prepared for the extent of the lush, hilly landscape – dotted with lakes and rivers – that greeted us.

While mountain gorillas are the big draw for many people visiting Uganda, the country offers a lot more. And if adventure activities are your thing, you’re in the right place – because after a gorilla trekking adventure and a visit with tree-traveling chimpanzees, an all-out whitewater rafting experience on the Nile River will really get your blood pumping. Finish that off with what Uganda is especially known for – its people – and you’ll have given yourself a well-rounded first look at the country.

children on the dusty road waving and smiling

Always welcome. Uganda’s future, seemingly always at the ready on the roadside for a quick smile, wave…or dance.

With that in mind, here are our five top experiences from our travels in Uganda:

1. Gorilla Trekking

This is no zoo experience. This is meet-and-greet, in the jungle. These are wild gorillas; they aren’t waiting for you at the forest’s edge forming a welcome committee. You must plunge into the jungle to find them – without the sort of trekking paths to which you might be accustomed.

Up close and personal with a male silverback mountain gorilla.

Up close and personal with a male silverback mountain gorilla.

This means going deep into Bwindi Impenetrable National Park pulling yourself up its many hills by grasping wild plant roots and branches. While gorillas make their way in this environment effortlessly – it’s their home, after all – we humans need the help of machete-wielding trackers to carve a path. But you quickly forget the challenge and effort, as the focus is on the mission: meeting a family of mountain gorillas on their turf.

2. Lake Bunyonyi

This served as our base for gorilla trekking. We set up tents lakeside and found ourselves in a perfect spot to relax, decompress and enjoy the calm waters, watching dugout canoes full of vegetables and wares being paddled through the islands to the markets on the mainland.

a dugout canoe on the lake w rice terraces in the distance

Dugout canoes are the favorite form of local transport around the lake.

If you do find yourself with some extra time at Lake Bunyonyi, take a 30-minute walk up to Arcadia Cottages for a fantastic mountaintop view of the lake and islands below.

view of Lake Bunyonyi

Trekking up for a view of Lake Bunyonyi and its many islands.

3. Chimpanzee Trekking

Although the mountain gorillas usually steal the spotlight, chimpanzee trekking is also pretty cool and shouldn’t be underestimated. You begin early in the morning from Kalinzu Forest National Reserve and follow the sounds of the chimpanzees in the canopy.

Mother and baby chimpanzee together high up in the tree branches.

Mother and baby chimpanzee together high up in the tree branches.

Once you get close, the fun begins, and you leave the paths to climb through the forest to get the best view. It’s a challenging climb through the hills, but it’s a thrill to spot not only chimpanzees but also colobus monkeys in the trees above. Along the way, take a moment to enjoy the sounds of the jungle, including a chorus of African birds like none you’ve heard or seen before.

This is the jungle. Enjoy the entire show.

4. White Water Rafting on the River Nile

You might be aware that the Nile River is one of the world’s greatest and longest rivers. What you may not know is that one of its sources is in Uganda. What you may not know further still is that the river not only meanders in these parts, but also pulses and rages with surprising force.

Around the Ugandan town of Jinja, where the Nile is wide and full, small farm fields and villages line the way to a rafting put-in for a day of adventure on the water like none you’ve ever experienced.

rafting on the nile rivier

Working up to some of the Class V rapids on the Nile River.

Class V rapids. These are not for the faint of heart; they are an intense adrenaline run, usually filled with several raft flips and a fleeting sense of your own fragility. Nothing like the attempt to harness Mother Nature to help us understand how small we are amidst her greatness.

Just take a look at the photo below. Need we say more?

raft flipping on the nile river

And this is how you flip on the Nile River

If you prefer to take it easy and wish to avoid the risk of flipping, just let your guide know. There are measures they can take to ensure a smoother ride. Additionally, a safety boat follows your raft, and you can board it to float over the biggest rapids.

Note: This is an optional activity with Nile River Explorers, whose fees are not included in the tour. The cost: $110 USD for a half-day and $125 USD for a full day, which includes a nice lunch and a beer or two at the end. Given the price and the fact that the most memorable rapids occur in the afternoon, we recommend a full day.

5. A Visit to the Equator

Have you ever heard the story that water goes down the drain in opposite directions when you move from one side of the equator to the other? Is that truth or myth? A visit to the equator in Uganda will answer that for you. As part of our lunch stop at the actual equator line, we received a demonstration of the Coriolis Effect, whereby a local guide took us to spots north of the equator, south of the equator, and exactly on the equator. At each place, he poured water down a drain and placed a flower bud over the drain so we could see the direction the water was turning.

And the result? Those stories are indeed true. In the northern hemisphere, the water moved in a clockwise direction; in the southern hemisphere, it moved in a counter-clockwise direction. Directly on the equator, it seemed to just go down the drain without swirling.

dan and audrey standing under the equator sign

Hamming it up at the equator, as one does.


Getting There

Go over-landing in Africa with our Uganda & Gorillas Overland tour. G Adventures has a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.

4 Comments »

  1. John Manuel August 17, 2014 at 10:43 am - Reply

    I’m not debating what are the top 5 but I would like to add the boat tour of the Kazinga channel in Queen Elizabeth Park (amazing wildlife), trekking in the Rwenzori mountains and a walking tour of Kampala including the Owingo Market. These are some of my best memories of a recent visit to Uganda.

    • Audrey | Uncornered Market August 19, 2014 at 4:11 am - Reply

      Thanks, John, for sharing your top experiences from your recent trip! We did not have the opportunity to take the boat tour in Queen Elizabeth Park or trek in the Rwenzori mountains, although we had heard great reviews of both. Something for our next trip :)

      One of our other great memories from Uganda was a boda boda (motorbike) tour of Kampala. Like your walking tour it included the Owingo Market, but the motorbike also enabled us to go through a diversity of neighborhoods near the center of town. If you return to Uganda, give it a try!

  2. Claudia August 20, 2014 at 7:30 pm - Reply

    Your article brings back fond memories, though I would also add the Kazinga Channel to my top 3 highlights – you can see wildlife up close & personal in ways that you will not find on land safaris (especially hippos)

    • Audrey | Uncornered Market August 21, 2014 at 7:07 am - Reply

      Claudia, so glad that this piece brought back good memories from your travels in Uganda. A safari on the water sounds incredible. Can also imagine that there are lots of birds to see as well.

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