Wednesday, 11 February 2015 19:48
I was beyond excited to be going to Uganda. I had been to Africa several times, but this was my first visit to East Africa. Even though Uganda is a relatively small landlocked country (bordered by Kenya, Sudan, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania), there is so much to explore and experience. During my first visit, I got a taste of the many things the country had to offer. I had heard so many good things about Uganda and I was anticipating a real treat. I will tell you that the country lived up to, and even way past my expectations.
A new wave of tourism is continuously rising in Uganda, and I would be among the first to witness it. Known as the Pearl of Africa, the country offers an adventure in all types of tourism, and it has some of the most magnificent sites and natural resources that you ever could imagine. Uganda is also home to one of the tallest mountain range in Africa, Mount Rwenzori, the continent largest lake, Lake Victoria and the world's longest river, the River Nile. I would get to explore all of these natural wonders.
Uganda is also one of the few countries in the world through which the equator crosses. The imaginary line that divides the earth into two halves, the equator runs through Uganda at a point situated south of Kampala along the Kampala – Masaka road where two cement circles marking the equator line are located.
Uganda is also a very safe country to visit and easy to explore. Home to 10 national parks and three UNESCO World Heritage sites, it is no wonder that travelers are visiting the country to explore some of its grandeur. I was going to Uganda for the 39th Annual African Travel Association (ATA) Congress.
Upon arrival, I found that the people were so friendly, and quick to welcome and embrace visitors from all over the world. The locals made me feel so comfortable and right at home. We checked into the beautiful Speke Resort Munyonyo whcih was the host hotel for the ATA conference. This one-of-a-kind upscale resort offers the ultimate in luxury accommodation and leisure facilities. It is an excellent choice for any type conference, business meetings or specail event. Situated in Munyonyo on the shores of Lake Victoria, we had the option of enjoying the Olympic size swimming pool, equestrian centre, 5 star restaurants, gymnasium and sports facilities. I really loved this hotel and service was great.
We enjoyed a three day tour of Uganda before the ATA conference began. One of the first things we did was to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park as a part of a safari tour. Located in western Uganda, the park is about about 234 miles from Kampala, Uganda's capital and largest city. Since we were at the Speke Resort in Kampala, we had to get up early the next morning to make the journey to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The trip proved to be well worth the long drive. The 764 square mile park gave us the unique opportunity to view the scenes that it is most famous for, including its mountains, volcanic cones, deep craters, and mineral crater lakes such as the Katwe Craters, from which salt is extracted. It was quite an experience observing the beauty of the lake that seemed to turn from a relaxing blue to a serene green. The park consists of a great savannah grassland of roaming animals and scattered euphorbia trees growing everywhere.
I was truly blown away by the beauty of the park's countryside, the mountains, greenery and serene lakes.We took in spectacular, breathtaking sceneries that almost seem to put you in a trance. Very exciting on the tor throughout Queen Elizabeth Park was the stunning view of Mount Rwenzori. The mountains range, located on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo supports glaciers and are the source of the Nile River. The highest Rwenzori peaks are permanently snow-capped and it is a mystical experience to see the mountain with a snow white top when it is hot on the ground. These mountains are good for hiking activities. We got to drive around them and get out for a short hike and look out at the magnificent views of the jagged range of mountains that included the famous Mitumbe Hill where you can look out to the Congo. It seemed surreal viewing through the mountains to get a glimpse of the Congo!
Queen Elizabeth National Park is where you get to see what is known as the "Big Five" in Uganda. The big five are among the most dangerous, yet most popular species that the big game hunters used to hunt. Now tourist come to observe the Big Five in their natural habitat. In Queen Elizabeth National Park we got to see all five of the Big game animals on almost the same day. We saw the elephant, lion, buffalo, and the hippo. It was kinda of scary seeing lions prowling the open plains. But we did not dare get out of our jeep. We did not see the leopard. The leopard is one of the hardest to spot so the guide told us. We would get to see the leopard at the Ugandan Zoo on the last day before we left. Around the lake is where we saw the buffalo roaming and the hippopotamuses swimming and dipping. It is reported to have about 100 mammal species. So here you can see any animal imaginable. In addition to the Big Five, it was a real adventure to see the antelopes, giraffs, different types of monkeys and warthogs.
After the game watching and scenic two-hour drive along the Kasenyi plain, we did a boat cruise where we sailed along the Kazanga Channel. This was very relaxing and we got to view hippos and sea animals basking in the water. We stopped along the way and had lunch in the town of Mbarara, at the Agrip Hotel. I was glad to take breaks and rest time along the drives. At the end of the day, we did not dare take the long drive back to Kampala. We stayed in a Mweya Safari Lodge where we had checked into when we got to the western part of Uganda.
After the ATA conference, we got to visit another great park, Murchinson Falls National Park. This is Uganda's largest park that is known for it's beautiful scenes and concentration of game also, as well as birds. Here is where you will find the magnificent Murchinson Falls, where the park derived its name. We spent the night at the Samiya Safari Lodge. Arising early in the morning, we ventured to view the falls by way of the Nile River that runs through the park. Our ferry boat tour down the Nile allowed us a spectacular view approaching the roaring Murchinson Falls. The lush greenery around the falls was a site to behold. The sun shining on the falls is a scene that I will never forget. Needless to say, there were many photo opportunities. Along the Nile we observes very large size hippos and exotic fish. And yes, we saw a very large scary looking crocodile on the banks opening and closing it's mouth! Upon return that evening, we were entertained by the Mubako Community Group Artist with homemade musical instruments who perform daily at the ferry embarkment.
The parks of Uganda are real tourism draws because they are natural wonders to behold in and of themselves. Even if there was nothing else to do in the country, it would be worth a visit to go to one of the ten national parks located there. Uganda's vast bird population of more than 1,000 species makes the parks a birdwatcher's paradise. We did a little bird watching at Queen Elizabeth National Park where it is said to have over 500 different species of bird flying around. In addition to Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchinson Falls National Park, Uganda is home to many other great parks including Kibale Natioanal Park, known for it 13 species of primates; Lake Mburo National Park, where you will find Lake Mburo and four other smaller lakes and Bwindi National Park that is well-known for its Mountain gorilla tracking.
From the very beginning of my visit to Uganda, I was captured by its beauty. From the snow-capped peaks of Rwenzori Mountains, to the excellent safaris, fantastic birding opportunities and beautiful scenic national parks, the country had already lived up to its reputation before I continued my tour. I had not even done the capital upbeat city of Kampala yet and I was in love with Uganda!
Visit Uganda (Part 2): Explore Jinja- the Source of the Nile River