Uganda’s tourism sector has shown promise with increasing numbers of leisure tourists, accounting for the largest share of tourists. The country’s tourism potential is endorsed by publications such as Lonely Planet and National Geographic Traveler, with a focus on landscape and wildlife. The tourism industry has created jobs and positively impacted household welfare, but challenges remain such as the need for government leadership, skills upgrading, investment in protected areas, and stronger marketing efforts. Despite the impact of the pandemic, Uganda’s tourism industry maintains high satisfaction rates and the likelihood of return and recommendations. Uganda’s leisure tourism highlights include mountain gorilla tracking, white-water rafting, chimpanzee trekking, wildlife safaris, and birdwatching.
Uganda’s tourism industry has made significant progress over the past decade, with improved infrastructure, accommodation, and tour operator services. The country boasts diverse natural attractions, including the opportunity to see mountain gorillas, lions, elephants, buffaloes, and over 1,000 bird species. The country’s tourism industry has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a significant drop in tourist arrivals and expenditures in 2020. However, Uganda has a healthy reputation for safety and hospitality, and the industry is expected to recover with new and exciting developments in the coming years. In 2019, Uganda welcomed a record high of 1.5 million tourists, with an average expenditure of $111 per day and an average stay of 8.7 days.
Tourist Attractions in Uganda
Uganda is enriched with an extraordinary measure of world-class tourism resources, despite its small size (241,551 square kilometers). The country is best known for having the world’s largest population (54 percent) of mountain gorillas. Tourists can track gorillas in two of the country’s two national parks: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) —a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) heritage site—and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP). Three of the country’s national parks and several forest reserves also offer opportunities to track chimpanzees. In all, the country contains 24 primate species.
Uganda is also renowned for its wildlife safaris. Uganda’s national parks contain 38 carnivores and 30 antelope species. In fact, Uganda is the only country in the world that has both the Big 53 and gorillas.
Uganda’s most visited safari destinations are Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) and Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP). Still, excellent game viewing is also available in parks such as Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP) and Lake Mburo National Park (LMNP).
In addition to wildlife, Uganda’s protected areas host the continent’s largest variety of bird species (1,082 species). This attracts birders from around the globe to BINP, QENP, KNP, MFNP, Semliki National Park (SNP), and several forest reserves.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park (RMNP) offers top-notch trekking and climbing experiences. The snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains, topped by the 5,100-meter Margherita Peak, are the highest mountain ranges in Africa and one of Uganda’s major UNESCO World Heritage sites. The volcanic Virunga Mountains and Mount Elgon also offer excellent trekking opportunities.
Other adventure activities are available in Jinja, which many consider the continent’s second-best adventure tourism destination after Victoria Falls. Activities on offer include white-water rafting, bungee jumping, jet boats, river surfing, and zip lines. Jinja is also one of two primary sources of the Nile, the world’s longest river. Lake Victoria, the world’s second-largest freshwater lake, also serves as a tourist attraction.
While nature-based tourism is the country’s primary draw, Uganda also contains some significant cultural tourism resources. Many leisure tourists visit local communities offering experiences such as village tours, cultural dance performances, cultural hikes, craft demonstrations, etc. The Kasubi Tombs, burial grounds for four Buganda Kings, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another noteworthy cultural site is the Karamoja.
Primate Viewing Adventures
Primate viewing adventures are the biggest tourist attractions in Uganda, with most tourists adventuring into the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’s mist jungles to trek the mountain gorillas. With over 19 primate species and a good number of human-habituated primate troops in their natural habitats, Uganda offers the best primate viewing adventures on the continent and an excellent sustainable tourism program.
With the largest human populations surrounding national reserves, Uganda tourism directly benefits the local communities, creating a healthy relationship between wildlife and human settlement. Additionally, sustainable tourism programs are greatly supported by the government collaborating with local and international organizations.
Other primates of much interest to tourists in Uganda include the golden monkey, de brazza’s monkey, black and white colobus monkey, red colobus monkey, potto, bushbaby, grey-checked mangabey, l’hoest’s monkey, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey, patas monkey, baboon, and blue monkey.
Top primate destinations include Mgahinga National Park (mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, Batwa cultural encounters, and Volcano hiking), Kibale National Park (Chimpanzees & other 11 primates), Budongo Forest, Semuliki, and Kyambura Gorge (Chimps).
Birds and Game Viewing
Though lucking in the abundant wild game compared to Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda has a varied number of wildlife species that provide for a memorable wildlife viewing experience. Complimented by a low number of tourists, Uganda’s game viewing attractions offer a more private safari experience. That’s why many prefer Uganda.
The African bush elephant, lion, leopard, and Cape buffalo are some of the most sought-after animals on Uganda safaris. Furthermore, there are 142 reptile species, 501 fish species, 86 amphibian species, 345 mammal species, 1,242 butterfly species, and 1,020 bird species in Uganda.
Tourists can view all of the Big Five in Uganda’s savannah parks. Lion is quite common in Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, and Kidepo national parks, where they can often hunt Uganda kob.
Boat Safaris and Water Sports
With its prime location in the African Great Lakes region, Uganda has a variety of water bodies that are popular spots for tourism. White water rafting and kayaking are popular activities on the rapids near the source of the Nile at Jinja.
Boating is commonly Lake Victoria, Lake Mburo, and Lake Bunyonyi. Boat launch safaris bring tourists the closest to wildlife and rare birds on Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park and Victoria Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park. The boat safari is a perfect way to adventure close to buffaloes, hippos, crocodiles, the rare shoebill, and a wide variety of bird species that inhabit the banks.
Sportfishing is another favorite Uganda tourist activity. Fish like the Nile perch and tilapia can be caught in designated areas of Lake Mburo and the banks of the Nile. The best canoeing adventures are on Lake Bunyonyi and Lake Mutanda in southwestern Uganda, close to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Hiking and Mountain Climbing
Uganda tourism offers a great many opportunities for mountain climbing, hiking, and nature walk. The Rwenzori Mountains summits, stretching on the western border with DR Congo, feature the 16,795-feet (5,119-meter) Margherita Peak, a climber’s favorite and highest summit of the Ruwenzori Range in East Africa and the third highest in Africa (after Mounts Kilimanjaro and Kenya). Rwenzoris also features Mount Speke (16,043 ft), Mount Baker (15,892 ft), Mount Baker (15,892 ft), and Mount Emin (15,741 ft).
The Ruwenzori Mountains are a favorite Uganda tourism attraction for nature hikers because of their vegetation, ranging from tropical rainforest through alpine meadows to snow. The range supports its own species and varieties of giant groundsel and giant lobelia and even has a 6 meters (20 feet) tall heather covered in moss that lives on one of its peaks. Most of the range is now a World Heritage Site. It is surrounded jointly by Rwenzori Mountains National Park in southwestern Uganda and the Virunga National Park in the eastern Congo.
Tourists head to Uganda’s southwestern corner into the Virunga Mountains guarded by Mgahinga Gorilla National Park for moderate hiking. The park encompasses three peaks, Mount Gahinga (11,398 ft), Mount Sabyinyo (12,037 ft), and Mount Muhavura (13,540 ft).
Mount Elgon on the eastern border (shared with Kenya) is another hiking and climbing attraction. It also has one of the largest calderas in the world.
Religious tourism is a relatively new phenomenon in Uganda despite the existence of traditional religions and the introduction of foreign religions about 140 years ago. In the last three decades, religious tourism has gained recognition from various actors, including the government.
Uganda Martyrs Catholic Shrine Namugongo, where 22 Catholic martyrs were killed between 1885 and 1886, is the most prominent religious attraction for martyrdom and pilgrimages. Other religious tourism sites in Uganda include Anglican Martyrs Shrine Namugongo, Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine, St. Mary’s Rubaga Cathedral, St. Paul Namirembe Cathedral, Kibuli Mosque, Old Kampala National Mosque, Kigungu landing site, Baha’i Temple, Bishop Hannington site, and Paimol site in Agago District.
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