Suggestions For Your First Trip To Uganda
If you’ve never traveled to Africa before, now’s your chance to start planning your first trip there and check something new off your bucket list! One of our favorite places on the vast continent to visit is Uganda, justifiably referred to as “The Pearl of Africa.”
We’d recommend Uganda for a couple of reasons: it is a fairly safe country with a significant expat population (and a surprising number of Indian immigrants), and many natives know at least a little bit of English, so it won’t be difficult to get around. Additionally, it’s a fairly small country, so you can easily fit a lot of highlights into one trip, and do it all by car.
If, based on all of that, Uganda now sounds like a place you need to visit, here is a loose itinerary with some of our best recommendations.
Your flight into the country will land you in Entebbe, a short drive from Uganda’s capital, Kampala. With a population of over 1.5 million, Kampala is very different from the rest of the country in that it is quite crowded, home to more than a few pick-pockets, and has a ridiculous amount of traffic. That being said, it is a pretty cool place to spend a day or so. In Kampala, you will find a fun mix of Ugandan culture and international influence (the streets are lined with chain fast-food restaurants like KFC and local craft markets, right alongside one another).
If you do choose to spend time in the city, we’d recommend staying at one of the guesthouses in Entebbe, on the edge of Lake Victoria, and commuting; your stay will be much quieter, and very scenic. This will also position you well to catch a cruise on the lake, which we would highly recommend. There are various types of cruises available: bird watching tours for nature lovers, wine-and-cheese cruises for foodies, and sunset cruises for anyone looking to relax after a long day in Kampala.
Once you’ve had your fill of the capital region, we’d recommend heading to the much smaller city of Fort Portal, which is about a four-to-five-hour drive west. Fort Portal is a popular place for expats to live, meaning there is an interesting combination of cultures present there. It’s also home to one of the true food highlights of the country: Sweet Aromas, n delicious, American-style bakery right in the city center. For lunch or dinner you can also dine at Duchess, where the menu includes Asian, American, and some European influences. Fort Portal is also a safe place to enjoy Ugandan nightlife, particularly by comparison to Kampala, which can be somewhat overwhelming for foreigners. There are many sports bars, dance clubs, and even some rooftop bars here, all with super cheap local beer (Nile Special is our favorite!).
If you happen to be in Uganda, or Fort Portal specifically, during football season, we’d recommend heading to a local sports bar to watch a match. Ugandans take their football very seriously: you will notice their quiet concentration on the TV screens in what would otherwise be loud, bustling bars! One reason why football is so important to locals is that there has been a recent increase in sports betting in Uganda, with international sports betting agents plastering their logos on billboards in even the smallest of villages. That’s not to say a ton of betting activity is based in Uganda, but available online sportsbooks still handle a great deal of activity, meaning plenty of locals are invested, so to speak, in the sport. That said, there’s also genuine passion for the football itself, so even if you don’t get into the betting scene, you can take part in the infectious enjoyment of watching a match.
In addition to its fun restaurants and sports bar scene, Fort Portal offers some unique outdoor excursions as well. Located in the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains, the town boasts many stunning crater lakes and even some caves that you can explore. Our favorite lake to visit is the stunning Kyaninga Crater Lake. Generally, in order to swim in the lake you have to be staying at an upscale lodge located on a hill above its shores, but we discovered that you can get access to the lake if you just agree to buy lunch at the lodge’s restaurant – which its totally worth it! The dock where you enter the lake has a few kayaks you can borrow, so we’d recommend exploring the clear blue waters by boat if you’re nervous about your swimming abilities (it’s a very deep lake with no lifeguard on duty). If you’d rather stay dry altogether, there are also plenty of walking trails that take you around the perimeter of the lake and provide equally impressive views.
Once you’ve explored the immensely pleasant Fort Portal for a while, your next two stops should be Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park. At Queen Elizabeth, located just an hour or so from Fort Portal, you can see all the animals you imagine when you think of an African safari: elephants, lions, exotic birds, hippos, etc. We’d highly recommend doing the boat safari there, as it allows you to get very close to some of the elephant families that enjoy cooling off on the lake’s shores. At Murchison Falls, meanwhile, you can see the stunning waterfalls the park has been named after, as well as the Victoria branch of the Nile River. At Murchison Falls, you can also safari, as well as enjoy a nearby rhino trek and – if you have the stomach for it – a bungee jump over the Nile itself!
Of course, there are still other areas to explore in the Pearl of Africa, but these suggestions should take up a week or so in total, and should get you off to a perfect start planning your trip.
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