The Pearl of Africa
For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life – plant, bird, insect, reptile, beast – for vast scale … Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa
Sir Winston Churchill, My African Journey
More recently emerged as a tourist destination than its neighbours, Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda has always been viewed as the ultimate African gem. It was to Uganda that the early explorers were attracted; and Uganda was the objective of one of the greatest engineering feats of history, the so-called ‘Lunatic Express’, the railway, which in 1899 finally reached the shores of Lake Victoria, 1,000 kilometres from Mombasa on the Kenyan coast.
Blessed with one of the most delightful climates in the world, Uganda occupies a serene green plateau, which lies between the eastern and western branches of the Great Rift Valley. Thought by many to be Africa’s finest birding destination, Uganda boasts over 1,000 species, which in relation to her relatively compact size (236,580 square kilometres) is a tribute not only to her fertility, but also to the diversity of her landscape.
The ‘Land of Lakes’
25 per cent of Uganda’s entire surface is covered by a glittering skein of lakes and rivers, earning her the title ‘The Land of Lakes’. They include the mighty Nile, which rises in Jinja, and the world’s second-largest freshwater lake, Lake Victoria.
The Switzerland of Africa
As to scenery, Uganda has been dubbed ‘The Switzerland of Africa’ thanks to its impressive mountain ranges, which include the legendary ‘Mountains of the Moon’, the snow-capped Ruwenzoris, and the enormous and immeasurably ancient Mount Elgon which, at 4,324 metres is all that remains of a massive volcano, now extinct, which forms the boundary between Uganda and Kenya.
Moorland to rainforests, savannah to swamp
The meeting point of the East African savannah and the West African rainforest, Uganda’s vegetation is immensely diverse stretching from snow-capped peaks and Afro-alpine moorlands to dense rainforests, golden savannah and semi-arid landscapes. Incredibly fertile, agriculture is the dominant sector of Uganda’s economy, contributing more than 70 per cent of gross domestic product and providing a livelihood for 90 per cent of the population.
A diversity of wildlife
Although not as plentiful as that of its neighbours, Uganda’s wildlife definitely has the edge on them in terms of diversity. Its pristine rainforests protect a wealth of wildlife including an astonishing number of primate species. Indeed, of the few thousand mountain gorillas that remain on earth, over half of them live in Uganda. Uganda is also one of the top places in the world to see chimpanzee, which are abundant in the Kibale Forest National Park, the Budongo Forest, and in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Murchison Falls National Park, meanwhile, is thought by many to be one of the most exciting wildlife experiences Africa has to offer and is THE place to see hippos and crocodiles.
A warm and welcoming people
Human presence in Uganda goes back over 500,000 years, and Uganda’s cultural history is one of the richest in the world. Today, still ruled by the Buganda, the Ugandan King, who maintains his glittering royal court at Bulange, just outside Kampala, the Ugandan people are one of the most warmly welcoming and gently gracious in the world. Speaking over forty languages, they can broadly be divided into four major language groups, Bantu, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic and Sudanic.