Things to Do in Uganda
On June 3, 1886 in the town of Namugongo just northeast of Kampala, 26 young men were burned to death for their refusal to their Anglican and Catholic faiths. The Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine, also called the Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine, was built on the site to commemorate the lives lost and was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
The church, built in the shape of a typical Baganda hut, features 22 copper pillars representing each of the 22 Catholic men, all of whom were formally canonized in 1964, a first in modern Africa. On June 3 each year, Catholic pilgrims from throughout Uganda visit the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine to pay their respects and attend mass.
Located in the Kisoro District of southwestern Uganda, scenic Lake Mutanda sits in the shadows of a string of misty volcanoes and is a popular base camp for gorilla trackers, bird watchers and volcano trekkers taking excursions into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National Park.
Due to its remote location and limited accommodation options, Lake Mutanda remains pristine and tranquil. Located in a region aptly nicknamed “Little Switzerland,” the freshwater lake attracts a wide variety of birds to its shores, including Uganda’s national bird, the grey-crowned crane. Birdwatching boat trips often encounter pelicans, Hadada ibis, African spoonbill, sacred ibis, kites, hawks and buzzards. The unique African clawless otter also calls the lake home.
Lake Mutanda is also one of only a few lakes in Uganda safe for swimming (no bilharzia, hippos or crocodiles to worry about), as well as canoeing or paddling in a traditional dug-out canoe.
YARID, short for Young African Refugees for Integral Development, was founded in 2007 by a Congolese refugee living in Uganda. Today, the YARID Center seeks to empower refugees, orphans and other displaces persons through education, healthcare and training to become contributing members of society. What started as 350 kids, a soccer ball and a field has expanded to include English, literacy, business training and computer science classes; a women’s empowerment program; a full calendar of special workshops and an expanded Sports for Development program that addresses issues of ethnic violence, conflict resolution and youth unemployment.
The YARID Center welcomes self-funded volunteers to participate in its programs for a single day to three months. Common volunteer activities include teaching English, assisting in the soccer program and visiting area families.
As the burial site of four Buganda kings, the UNESCO-listed Kasubi Tombs hold important cultural and spiritual significance in Uganda. The main Muzibu Azaala Mpanga structure is made from organic materials and marks the central point of the site, which sprawls across Kasubi Hill.
Nearly half the planet’s remaining mountain gorillas live within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. It’s one of only three places in the world where travelers can see this critically endangered animals in the wild. Located in Southwestern Uganda, Bwindi covers 124 square miles (320 square kilometers) of plains and mountain forest famous for its biodiversity. Besides the iconic gentle giants, some 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds and 202 species of butterflies live amid the 200 tree and 100 fern species.
While the park is a birdwatcher’s paradise (sighting 150 species in a single day isn’t uncommon) and has more mammal species than any of Uganda’s other national parks, visitors come to this UNESCO World Heritage site to track mountain gorillas. Each morning, trekkers head out into the forest in search of one of about a dozen gorilla families (between 300 and 400 individuals).
This massive park in the countryside of Uganda is home to the famed Rabonga Forest, the Nile River and plenty of wildlife. Travelers will find hippos, chimps and plenty of crocodiles on a visit to this stunning natural wonderland.
Travelers can take a boat cruise along the Nile and get up close to bathing elephants, water buffalo and massive hippos. Game drives through the vast savannah showcase the best of this country’s wildlife, including giraffes, warthogs, baboons, honey badgers and even an occasional lion! Some tour outfits offer birding adventures for those who want to check winged creatures off their Life List and chimp walks through the landscapes give visitors once-in-a-lifetime access to these incredible primates. Travelers can purchase handmade items and unique souvenirs at nearby Boomu Women’s Group and support this unique female-run collective.
Since 1952 this incredible park has been attracting host country nationals and foreign travelers alike, thanks to diverse wildlife, stunning landscapes and volcanic craters. Widely-recognized for having the largest concentration of hippos in the world, Queen Elizabeth National Park is also home to chimpanzees and a variety of antelope species. Visitors who venture to the Ishasha River Camp will find dozens of elephants living in the surrounding grasslands and a lucky few may even spot the King of the Jungle relaxing in the branches of African shade trees. In addition to game drives, visitors will find navigating the landscapes of this vast park truly memorable, thanks to diverse terrain, which includes winding rivers, crater lakes, volcanic peaks, thick forests and vast savannahs.
One of the richest areas of biodiversity in all of Uganda is Kibale National Park, known primarily for its chimpanzees but equally for its tropical forest. Kibale National Park covers just under 300 square miles in southwestern Uganda, with the much larger Queen Elizabeth National Park just to the south of it. These adjacent parks give wildlife lots of room, which makes this part of Uganda particularly popular for safaris.
Chimpanzees are the most sought-after sight in Kibale, but they're not the only wildlife to see. Other animals in the area include elephants, buffalo, warthogs, bushbucks, leopards, mongoose, and more than 375 species of birds. There are also other primates, such as the Uganda mangabey, red colobus monkey, and L'Hoest's monkey.
Located on Kampala Hill, the Uganda National Mosque caters to the country’s significant Muslim population and has a capacity of 35,000 worshippers. Completed in 2006, the temple was originally known as the Gaddafi National Mosque and serves as the headquarters for Islam in Uganda. Its 166-foot (65-meter) minaret provides panoramic views of the city.
Lake Mburo National Park is host to hundreds of species of animals, from rare birds to zebras and hippos. A haven for nature enthusiasts, a trip here is the perfect way to discover Uganda’s rich yet fragile wildlife. The park is part of a wetland system spanning 50 kilometers and linked by a swamp, making it an integral part of the country's ecosystem.
With more than 350 bird species, Lake Mburo National Park is the perfect place for birdwachers to observe, among others, the rare Red-faced Barbet from popular spots such as Rubanga Forest. However, all animal and nature lovers are rewarded at the park; the lake itself offers a great spot for wildlife watching, while for those who enjoy hiking, Rwonyo Rest Camp is the best place to start. For the adventurous, quad biking and game drives are also available.
The best way to visit Lake Mburo National Park is to book a tour from Kampala with an early morning start. As Uganda is situated on the equator, the journey offers the opportunity to stop and stand over both the north and southern hemispheres. A day trip consists of a guided safari drive through the park, with a stop at one of the lakes for lunch. You can also add a guided nature walk, or perhaps a boat ride for a chance to see the crocodiles up close. Lake Mburo National Park can also be visited as part of a week-long night safari or as part of a cultural tour of Uganda. For the bravest embarking on a trek across the Rwenzori Mountains, visiting Lake Mburo will come as a pleasant and well-deserved break at the end of your trip.
More Things to Do in Uganda
Although most famous for being the source of the Nile River, Lake Victoria also boasts the title of the world’s largest tropical lake. Despite its diverse species, scenic shores, and vital role in local industries, much of the African Great Lake remains off-the-beaten-track, making it the ideal getaway from Uganda’s bustling cities.
Kisenyi, located in the heart of Kampala adjacent to the capital's central business district, is a huge neighborhood where some of Uganda’s poorest and most vulnerable residents live in extremely close quarters, many without access to running water. Despite these challenges, Kisenyi has a lively, vibrant atmosphere filled with informal businesses—everything from butcher shops and fresh produce vendors to furniture and metalworking shops. It’s been nicknamed Little Mogadishu after the 18,000 Somali refugees who call the slum home.
You haven’t seen a traffic jam until you’ve witness the Old Taxi Park in Kampala. Located in the triangle between Luwum, Burton and South Streets, the park serves taxis and minibuses headed to in Eastern Kampala and Uganda.
While a taxi park might not sound interesting at first, the Old Taxi Park has become one of Kampala’s most popular (and free) tourist attractions, as visitors come not just for transportation, but to witness the seemingly chaotic yet somehow functional scene as thousands of drivers in their white vans navigate the congested spot. Vendors wander through the maze of vehicles selling water, ice cream and snacks to drivers and passengers waiting to get out.
Built in 1885, Mengo Palace (Lubiri) is the historic official residence of the Buganda king. Following a 1966 military coup, the palace’s subterranean storage tunnels were used to incarcerate political prisoners. Although the palace’s classic facade has been restored, chilling reminders of the Idi Amin dictatorship remain in the grounds.
Nakasero Market has served as one of Kampala’s main trade spots since 1895. The vibrant and often chaotic market offers insight into local life and serves as a stark contrast to the embassies and elite hotels that surround it. Fresh produce can be purchased in the the large outdoor section, while the indoor portion specialises in clothes, machinery, and souvenirs.
Founded in 1908, the Uganda Museum in Kampala is considered one of the best museums in all East Africa. The museum’s extensive collection is divided among exhibits on Ugandan history, culture, science, natural history and archeology, making it a great first stop for first time visitors to get a thorough introduction to the country.
Highlights of the Uganda Museum collection include an exhibit on traditional musical instruments (some of which visitors can play), fossilized remains of an 8 million years-extinct Napak rhino and a cultural village filled with recreated traditional homes from various Ugandan tribes.
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