Uganda is a very lovely and beautiful country with a lot of attractions all wrapped around exceptional scenery that just give the best panoramic views in the eyes of any traveler that sets foot on its soil. There is so much more behind Uganda being called “The Pearl of Africa” and the fact that it attracts thousands of tourists each and every year that passes by. Could you be planning a visit to Uganda? You could have a lot of anxiety and questions which is ideal for any traveler and perhaps, it’s recommended to always carry out some research before booking your safari holiday or vacation with any safari company. This Uganda safari review article highlights all the relevant information and facts you will need if you are to have more than a successful and memorable safari in this small landlocked country.
When you research about the best places to visit in Africa, 9 out of 10 safari blogs / websites will list Uganda in the top three destinations; but why Uganda? As said previously, there’s a lot behind the country being called the “Pearl of Africa” and it’s definitely one of the best places to visit in Africa, all because of the beautiful landscapes, wildlife, primates, waterfalls and history it carries.
Uganda harbors over half the population of the endangered mountain gorillas that are left in the world with most of them living in Bwindi Forest. This has made Bwindi Impenetrable National Park the most visited national park in Uganda for Gorilla Trekking, followed by Murchison Falls National Park which attracts over three quarters of the wildlife safaris in Uganda.
The source of river Nile (The longest river in the world) lies right in Uganda in a city called Jinja and next to it is the John Speke Monument, a commemoration symbol of John Speke’s discovery that dates way back in the late 18’s.
When you think about Culture, Uganda is definitely one of those countries that will catch your eye. With tribes like the Batwa, the Karamojong and the exhibitions at Ndere Cultural Center, there nothing more you would ever ask for. The Batwa experience is one of those cultural experiences that will hardly run out of your memories. The encounter with the Batwa pygmies is usually an addition to a gorilla trekking safari in Bwindi and is always filled with moments of storytelling, cultural dances plus more traditional activities. This tribe still lives an ancient life in the forests of Bwindi despite the change in the respective eras of the world.
There are hundreds of reasons to cross out all the other destinations you have in mind and settle with only Uganda on your possible list. A safari to Uganda will unmask all the facts, beauty and adventure that you will always crave for! Let it be years in time.
Planning your Safari
It’s recommended to plan your safari ahead to avoid last minute uncertainties and interruptions. Take time and list down your expectations of the safari, the activities you intend to carry out and also find out about all the requirements that are needed for the Uganda safaris package you are about to book. This way everything will be in place and you won’t face any uncertainties. A good example I can give about this is the need to book a gorilla trekking permit in advance so as to secure it early since permits usually get finished quickly especially for the best gorilla families like Buhoma and Nkuringo. Booking in advance will also help you secure your desired accommodation and be rest assured that you have a spot unlike tourists who end up sleeping in other safari lodges than described in the itineraries. You also have to decide on whether to book short Uganda safaris or Long Uganda safaris depending on your budget and schedule.
Choosing a Tour Operator
Uganda currently has over 400 tour operators but unfortunately less than half are affiliated to the Association of Uganda Tour Operators (A tour and travel body governing all tour operators in Uganda). A portion of them don’t operate under legal terms, others have a lot of negative reviews from previous clients with bad experiences on platforms like Safari Bookings and Trip Advisor but it really becomes so hard to point out a genuine tour operator that you believe will give you the best safari in Uganda. When choosing a tour operator, ensure that you are dealing with a company that is affiliated to AUTO (Association of Uganda Tour Operators) which you can check from the association’s Website.
This affiliation will guarantee you 100% financial security of course considering other factors too. Secondly, check through the company’s reviews on Safari Bookings and Trip Advisor then try to relate to the previous experiences of past travelers. It’s usual to find a few negative reviews but if the negative reviews overweight the positive reviews then it is better you try checking out another company. Lastly, avoid sending money to personal bank accounts. Only send money to the company’s bank account or Pesapal account if need be to confirm your safari and make sure you are issued a receipt when your payment reflects the safari operator’s respective account.
Don’t mind so much about the age of the company because so many new tour companies are born often of which most of them are start up by people who have been in the field for long but rather prefer running their own business. Surprisingly, a new tour and travel company can give you the best experience but your selection also matters. Going with experience is strongly encouraged meanwhile.
Lastly, make sure you send an inquiry to the first 10 websites you see and try to follow up with them regularly before making your final decision. This process should take you up to a week but if a tour operator drafts you an itinerary with good lodging options and a fair price then you can as well confirm your safari.
Where to go
Uganda has very many beautiful places that are worthy of exploring but it all depends on your expectations of your Uganda tour. If you opt for an excursion then Jinja City could be a possible destination for you if you are to get the best of activities like White Water rafting, Bungee Jumping, Kayaking plus more. If you prefer visiting mountain gorillas then Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are the possible destinations for you through Bwindi Forest will reward you with the best sights of gorillas while trekking gorillas in its wilderness. The experience is actually far better than a Rwanda Gorilla Trekking experience. Activities like wildlife viewing can best be carried out in Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park and more.
If you want an encounter with the Chimpanzees then Kibale Forest National Park, Budongo Forest, Ngamba Island Sanctuary, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park are possible destinations for you. The tourism activity(s) you intend to carry out determines your destination(s). A could example of this could be an urge for the best wildlife viewing, chimpanzee trekking and gorilla tracking experience which an itinerary highlighting Murchison Falls National Park, Kibale Forest National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can give depending on how many days you intend to spend in the country.
To find out where you will go on a Uganda safari, inquire with your safari operator on the activities you intend to carry out whilst on your Uganda safari and you will get all the answers regarding your safari schedule.
What to see
Gorilla Trekking is so far one of the most carried out activities in the Ugandan tourism industry and it should be top on your list of sights and activities. As said previously, Uganda harbors over half the total population of the remaining mountain gorillas in the world; these mountain gorillas share over 97% of human DNA and have characters like human beings. It’s definitely a nice experience bonding with creatures that have similar traits like you hence; you should give it a big consideration.
Uganda is also rich in wildlife which makes it one of the best countries when it comes to wildlife viewing. The best wildlife viewing activities can be carried out in Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park. These national parks are covered with Savannah grasslands; a perfect scenery when it comes to wildlife safaris in Uganda. While viewing wildlife, you can either opt for a game drive or rather opt for a balloon ride (available only in Murchison Falls National Park & Queen Elizabeth National Park at $380 per adult).
The rest of the sights are the beautiful scenery, waterfalls, monuments, cultural sites, lakes like Lake Bunyonyi and major attractions that are dispersed all over the country. You safari should have a gorilla tracking activity, a day of wildlife viewing and probably an excursion.
Where to Stay
Accommodation strongly determines the level of enjoyment of your safari. Endeavor to select a safari that has good accommodation / lodging options and avoid extremely budget accommodation because it might ruin your experience. Some safari lodges can go for as low as $50 a night but the facilities will make you uncomfortable and might end up ruining your fun.
Due to partnerships in the industry, most safari companies have agreements with safari lodges in place that allows them to get quality accommodation for less. A lodge with a rack rate of $300 plus can be included for just $120 or maximum $150 (Inclusive of Breakfast, Lunch and Supper) in your itinerary. This way, your budget safari will still be comfortable in terms of lodging. When looking through the itineraries you have received from several safari operators after inquiring with them, try to visit the websites of each safari lodge that features in the itinerary, look at their facilities and the rates as well. Despite the fact that safari operators might not send you the actual breakdown of your safari price, you can actually tell that you are getting good facilities by totaling the final price of accommodation throughout your safari. Opting for luxury accommodation can save you all this because you are sure your lodging options are 4.5 or 5 star and perhaps, you need such accommodation for honeymoons in Uganda.
Your activities and lodging options strongly determine the final price of your safari. Activities like Gorilla Trekking are inclusive of Gorilla Trek permits that cost $450 and $600 in low and peak season respectively and will reflect on the final price of your safari. As a matter of fact, typical wildlife viewing safaris are way cheaper compared to Gorilla safaris. The lowest a Gorilla safari can go for is $850 per person depending on the tour operator, the number of people on a trip and the number of days where as a wildlife safari can go for as low as $350 per person basing on the same conditions. The bigger the number of tourists, the cheaper the safari per individual because of shared facilities likes accommodation and safari vehicles. If you want to pay less for your Uganda safari, either join a scheduled group or book the safari in number s of 4 and above.
Lastly, while comparing prices from various safari operators; don’t fall for low prices and make that a basis for confirming your Uganda safari. Look through the activities and the lodging options before making your final decision. There are cases when tourists ignore itineraries with good safari lodges because they are $100 or $50 higher than an itinerary with typically budget bed and breakfast accommodation. The main point is enjoying your safari in Uganda hence, don’t hesitate to top up those $100 or $200 for a better option because you can never have the same experience and can only have a different one.
Best time to travel
When is the best time to travel to Uganda? The best time to have gorilla safaris in Uganda is same as the best time to have wildlife safaris in Uganda and all comes down to one thing; traveling during the dry season of the year. These months are June to September and December to January. The advantage of traveling during the dry months is the fact that wildlife is always visible and you will find them in great numbers unlike during the rainy season when wildlife tends to take shelter from the rain. The roads in national parks are also not good during wet seasons and vehicles often get stuck on the muddy roads more reason as to why you should endeavor to book a 4×4 safari vehicle to overcome this.
You can have the best experience during the dry months of the year but there’s nothing more fascinating that spending cold days in the wilderness of the national parks while sleeping enjoying cold nights in safari lodges as well. Always endeavor to alternate to shake up your experience! If you last traveled during the dry months, next time try out the cold months, trek gorillas in the cold or rain and view wildlife in the cold. This way, every experience will seem new despite making return journeys to the same destinations you visited.
Safety & Caution
Is Uganda safe? Uganda is a very safe and peaceful country political wise, health wise among other considerations. The fact that it is a tropical country implicates there are chances of getting infected with malaria whilst on your trip if malarial prevention strategies haven’t been taken. The way forward to this is taking malaria prophylaxis before embarking on your safari to Uganda and in case you forget to take a dose or carry some then it’s recommended to communicate with your safari operator so that they organize a strip for you. There are also several health insurance companies you can subscribe to in case your health is at risk.
About HIV, the rate of HIV is not so high in Uganda but that doesn’t mean you should take any chances. Some tourists get involved in risky behaviors when in Uganda that often drowns them in regrets later on. The main point is creating an exceptional memory and not creating sad memories hence, you should always play it safe.
You are also required to be vaccinated against yellow fever and you will have to present your yellow fever certificate before you are given a visa to the country. Endeavor to always carry this certificate with you but in case you do forget or run out of time to get the vaccination then communications have to be made in advance to your tour operator so that they can organize one for you.
Please note that there also risks involved with any wildlife activities in the respective national parks. The fact that most of the lodges in the national parks are not fenced also puts you at risk especially if you don’t comply with the rules and regulations of the respective safari lodges. These lodges are built on elevated grounds which makes it hard to be accessed by wildlife and often have armed rangers to protect them 24 / 7. This doesn’t mean you should move even 500 meters away from its boundaries without consulting with the management and being assigned a ranger to accompany you. If you live by the rules then wildlife shouldn’t be of any danger to you.
Lastly, safety precautions are always given to tourists by safari companies and in case you don’t get any, try asking several questions and you will get all the answers you want. Make sure you always listen and living along the precautions you have been given.
Are Ugandans Friendly
Ugandans are very friendly and you will definitely notice this friendship the moment you set toe on its soil. However, friendship goes with interaction implicating you should always try to show gestures and interact with the locals in local languages. So far, Luganda is the most spoken language in Uganda and binds all the regions; a word or six in Luganda can make interaction easy for you. Your safari guide should teach you a few words in Luganda and Kiswahili when you arrive.
Fact is, the safari operator plans everything and does a lot but the most important role falls on your side. The activities on the safari might be nice with exceptional lodging options but it all comes down to you making sure you enjoy your safari. And how do you do that? Try out new things, ask questions, be active, tip guides and lodge staff and just make sure you enjoy your stay in Uganda. Also leave a foot print behind! It could be a charity visit at the end of your safari or rather anything that will make you always remember Uganda. If you’ve made it this far then you sure have plans of traveling to Uganda soon. Go on and book a safari to Uganda today to spark off your experience.