A reputation for political instability and the looming shadow of Idi Amin have long – and unfairly – blighted Uganda’s fledgling tourism sector. Now, though, things are looking up for the central African nation once described as “the pearl of Africa” by Winston Churchill.
And a brief look around is enough to show you why. From the second you step off the plane, the overwhelming impression of Uganda is one of rich natural diversity, friendly locals and a burgeoning cultural scene that is currently producing some of the most exciting artists in Africa.
Culturally, much of the action happens in the capital, Kampala, an urban sprawl ringed by farmland and perched on the muddy banks of Lake Victoria. While most foreign travellers confine themselves to the city centre or the diplomatic quarter, Kololo, its worth venturing into the bustling bars and clubs of Kabalagala, where expats and locals meet for a slug of the local Nile beer and a friendly game of pool.
Away from the capital, Uganda’s towns and cities have little in the way of diversions (although Jinja’s location on the banks of the River Nile has made it a favourite with thrill-seeking rafters). Instead, head west towards the Congo border where, along with the fascinating pygmy people of Fort Portal, Uganda’s natural wonders reveal themselves.
A popular spot for wildlife watching is Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is home to four of the Big Five, a flock of flamboyant flamingos and the rare tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.
The star attraction, though, is the iconic mountain gorilla, which can be found further south in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. While you’re down there it’s also worth taking a detour to Lake Bunyonyi, a mountain retreat famed for its stunning vistas and freshwater crayfish.
More natural wonders await in northern Uganda, home to the magnificent Murchison Falls, and in the east, where visitors will find the outstanding desert crags and ossified anthills of Kidepo.
Regardless of where you go in Uganda, when it comes to leaving, it will be with a heavy heart.