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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.