The Pearl of Africa, Uganda - Primates, Gorilla Trekking, Safari

The Pearl of Africa, Uganda

Home / Destinations / The Pearl of Africa, Uganda

The Pearl of Africa, Uganda

Somewhere in his book, My Africa journey, Winston Churchill describes Uganda as “The Pearl.” Mainstream has taken it a notch higher to call Uganda the “Pearl of Africa,” which remarkably represents the name accurately. The Equator strands across its plains, dividing the country into two climates with the colder south and dryer air as you head further into the northern areas. The southwest, immediately after the equator, raises into jugged highlands blanketed with massive patches of rainforest reserves. Within its rainforest reserves are some of the most precious wildlife jewels on the planet, the mountain gorillas, which attract a healthy flow of tourists into the country.

In the center of two rift valley arms, the geographical position of Uganda and the equator combine to control the weather and create a landscape that has none like it in all the world. It is Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the vital and refined essence of a continent. The Pearl of Africa views are extensive. Everything that you see makes for greatness and freedom and unequaled nobility. When in the highlands, travelers wake up in the morning and think: Here I am, where I ought to be. When you breathe in, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air.

Highlights

  • Meeting the eyes of a mountain gorilla on the bamboo-clumped slopes of the Virunga mountains.
  • Rafting grade-five rapids on the Nile
  • Following a narrow rainforest trail awkwardly with the heart-throbbing pant-hoot chorusing of chimpanzees
  • Cruising the Kazinga Channel in the shadow of the Ruwenzori mountains while elephants drink from the nearby shore
  • Watching a prehistoric shoebill swoop down on a lungfish in the brooding reed-beds of Mabamba Swamp.
  • The roaring, spraying sensory overload that is standing on the tall rocks above Murchison Falls

Meeting The Mountain Gorillas


In the southwestern corner of the Pearl of Africa is the Virunga volcano mountains where more than half of the last remaining mountain gorillas flourish. One can trek, and within meters, spend at least an hour with the precious gorillas of the mountain. Gorilla trekking is arguably the most exciting wildlife encounter The Pearl of Africa has to offer — though, tracking chimps in the Kibale Forest tramples it for some tourists.

What things to do, which places to visit?

In the Pearl of Africa’s southwestern corner is the Virunga volcano mountains, where more than half of the last remaining mountain gorillas flourish. One can trek, and within meters, spend at least an hour with the precious gorillas of the mountain. Gorilla trekking is arguably the most exciting wildlife encounter The Pearl of Africa has to offer — through tracking chimps in the Kibale Forest trample it for some tourists.

In Uganda’s premier savanna reserves, one can be almost certain of encountering lions, elephants, buffaloes, and many savannah dwellers.

There are the Ruwenzori Mountains and Mount Elgon, where one can explore East Africa’s bizarre montane vegetation without the goal-oriented approach associated with Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro’s ascents.

And there is Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, which — with its white-water rafting, kayaking, and bungee jump — is revered as East Africa’s ‘Adrenalin capital.’

The Pearl of Africa’s natural attractions far exceeds the trek to see mountain gorillas and the ‘BIG 5’ game drives that are a safari craze. Of all Africa’s reasonably established safari destinations, Uganda is the most green, the most fertile — the most overwhelmingly tropical! In the Pearl of Africa is where the eastern savanna meets the west African jungle — and it does offer visitors the best of both these fantastic worlds.

In no other African destination can one see a comparable variety of primates with so little effort — not just the great apes, but also more than ten monkey species, as well as the tiny, wide-eyed bushbaby and peculiar potto. If Uganda has primate enthusiasts wandering around with ear-to-ear grins, it will have birdwatchers doing cartwheels.

By far, Uganda is the smallest of the four African counties in which specialists have recorded more than 1,000 bird species. It is particularly rich in western rainforest specialists — in practical terms, undoubtedly the finest birdwatching destination in Africa. And yet, after well representing its position as the Pearl, Uganda does feel like a more intimate, unspoiled, and low-key destination than its safari peers.

But first, let’s take a detailed quick look at the most impressive attractions in the Pearl of Africa.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Home of the mountain gorilla

Regarded to be one of Africa’s most biologically diverse and oldest forests, dating as far back as the Pleistocene era (2.5 million years), Bwindi Impenetrable is a real rainforest spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys that form a protective habitat for the mountain gorillas.  Until 500 years ago, the national park was part of a much larger forest stretching south to the slopes of the Virunga Mountains but later separated due to human settlement.

Within its borders, Bwindi hosts more than 450 mountain gorillas. In Bwindi Impenetrable N.P, tourism focuses on gorilla trekking at four primary locations or trailheads; Nkuringo in the southwest, Rushaga in the south, Ruhija in the East, and Buhoma in the north. A gorilla permit in Bwindi currently costs USD 700 per person, a single visit. Because most tourists focus on the mountain gorillas, it may come as a surprise that within Bwindi roams over 120 mammal species, and only Queen Elizabeth NP surpasses that number in Uganda.

Bwindi has some of the best nature hiking trails in the country for naturalists. It’s a great birding destination with over 350 bird species recorded, 23 of which are endemic to the Albertine Rift. Other captivating activities around the park include canoeing on the neighboring lakes (like lakes Mutanda & Bunyonyi), cultural visits with former forest natives known as the Batwa, community walks, and landscape photography. It is best to visit Bwindi during the dry season between June to August and December to February.

Bwindi is quite some distance from the main Entebbe International Airport that the most effortless reach is by small chartered or scheduled flight. Otherwise, the nine-hour road drive is a scenic road trip that most private safari travelers prefer to enjoy the Pearl of Africa’s beautiful countryside. You can add Bwindi to safari destinations like Kenya’s Masai Mara, Tanzania’s Serengeti, Queen Elizabeth, and the nearest, Lake Mburo National Park.


Today’s Trending Gorilla Adventures—Customize Them For You!

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

7 Days | Walking, Hiking, Culture & Gorillas
FROM 4,925 pp, sharing

View Adventure Details

UGANDA GORILLA & WILDLIFE SAFARI EXPEDITION

UGANDA GORILLA & WILDLIFE SAFARI EXPEDITION

6 Days | Gorilla Trekking & Savannah Safari
FROM 2,538 pp, sharing

View Expedition Details

Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale Forest

Kibale Forest

Nature Lovers, Chimps & Primate Tracking

Kibale Forest and the nearby crater lakes are a traveler’s dream. Kibale National Park is blessed with a beautiful combination of incredible scenery, easy access, a great range of accommodation choices, and a remarkable variety of activities to engage your lazy holidays in the Pearl of Africa. The scenic appeal of Kibale remains an alluring diamond to nature lovers that hope to catch a view of some of its wide range of forest birds, hike the backcountry trails, track chimpanzees and view a wide range of other primates within the emerald forest canopies.

The 766 square kilometer park extends southwards from Fort Portal to form a contiguous block with Queen Elizabeth NP, interspersed with grassland patches and swamp. It’s a typical Afro-montane and western lowland forest spanning altitudes between 1,100 to 1,590 meters. At least 60 mammals live within Kibale, with 13 primate species swinging on its tree-tops. If you take the forest and swamp hikes, you’re most likely to see around five or six primate species.

Although an impressive number of large mammals are roaming its forest floor (e.g., lion, elephant, buffalo, hippo, etc.) Kibale remains the best place for primate viewing in Africa. Chimps tracking excursions start at the visitors’ center known as Kanyanchu, and a chimpanzee permit in Kibale costs USD 150 per person. Kibale is an excellent addition to a safari drive in the nearby Queen Elizabeth NP and Semiliki National Park. It is the only southwestern park that has a connecting northern route to Murchison Falls National Park.

tree lions in QENP Uganda the pearl of africa

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Family Game Drives & Boat Safari

The 1,978 square km Queen Elizabeth National Park is the Pearl of Africa’s most famous safari attraction. It is bounded to the north by the gigantic Rwenzoris and Kasese town, west by Ishasha River and Lake Edward along the DRC border, to East by Lake George, Kyanbura Gorge Kalinzu forest Reserve, and to the south by Kigezi Wildlife Reserve. At least ten crater lakes lie within the park, the most accessible of which cluster north of Mweya. The entire Ugandan shoreline of Lake Edward, the northern and western shores of Lake George, and the Kazinga Channel that connects the two lakes are all located within the park.

QENP is the best park in Uganda for a family safari, boasting the highest number of mammals and reptiles bird species in the Pearl of Africa. 95 Mammal species, including ten primates, live in QENP. A boat safari on the Kazinga channel can show you many animals by the shores, and Kasenyi Plains claim the largest population of lions in the country.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is en route to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (480 kilometers southwest). It is a great safari destination combined with chimpanzee tracking in Kibale (see above) and gorilla trekking in Bwindi. On its own, the park is the best option for safari game viewing in both the northern and southern circuits of the park.


Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda the pearl of Africa

Murchison Falls

Big 5 & Boat Safari

Away from the hooves, canines, and claws, Kenya is home to one of Africa’s most intriguing and historically essential coastlines. The Kenyan coast stems excellent natural beauty and is home to marine parks, bustling coral reefs, bird-filled and coastal forests, all of which make for a fabulously diverse holiday after your inland wildlife safari. The southern Kenya coast presents perfect don’t-make-me-think beach holidays with Diani, Galu, and Funzi beaches standing out getaways for honeymooners and romantics.

Suitable for diving and great for deep-sea fishing, Mombasa is Kenya beach destination for the younger, more social crowd, which means excellent restaurants, nightclubs, and adventures. And Mombasa’s airport means easy combining a Kenya safari with a beach holiday. The stunning Malindi region and Lamu islands are the northern delights of the Kenya coast holidays. Malindi and nearby Watamu are the sorts of places that once you’ve been, you tend to come back to.

Kidepo Valley National Park, Pearl of Africa Uganda

Kidepo Valley

Big Game Safari, Culture

Kidepo Valley National Park is the furthest park in the dry northern region of the Pearl of Africa, away from most of the other safari attractions. It is one of the most alluring destinations in the country, boasting an intense wilderness atmosphere, rugged mountain scenery, and exceptional viewing and bird watching adventures.

The northeast is home to Uganda’s most distinct ethnic group, the Karamojong nomadic pastoralists whose love of cattle has an obsessive quality rivaling that of the Maasai of Tanzania and Kenya.

Africa Safair Adventure Activities you can do in Uganda

Jinja

Source of Nile, Adrenaline Adventures

Jinja lies about 80km east of Kampala, overlooking the point where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria. It’s the mighty Nile river source rather than the moderately attractive town that attracts visitors to Jinja. The thrilling series of grade-five rapids below Bujagali Falls, rafted by three different companies, has emerged in recent years as perhaps the single most popular tourist activity in Uganda, surpassing even the mountain gorillas of the southwest. There is, too, a particular poignancy attached to standing on the slopes from where Speke first identified that geographical Holy Grail which, less than a decade earlier, had lured an obsessed (and hopelessly misdirected) Livingstone to a feverish death near Lake Bangweulu in Zambia. No less impressive is the knowledge that the water flowing past these green slopes will eventually drain into the Mediterranean, following a 6,500km journey through the desert wastes of Sudan and Egypt. 

Jinja has an attractively lush location on the northern shore of Lake Victoria above the Ripon Falls, identified by Speke in 1862 as the Nile source, but submerged following the construction of the Owen Fall Dam in the 1950s. 

Jinja is famous because of the river corridor as a major tourism center in the region, emphasizing adrenalin-oriented activities like bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, kayaking, quad bike riding, and horseback riding. The town center admittedly boasts little of genuine historical note. Some fine colonial-era Asian architecture and a spread of thickly vegetated residential suburbs carved from the surrounding jungle do give Jinja a compelling sense of place.

Planning a trip to the Pearl of Africa

Uganda is still low-key with tourist crowds: group tours seldom exceed six in number, and even the most popular wildlife game-viewing circuits retain a relatively unconstrained atmosphere. The pearl’s plethora of forested and game reserves remain highly accessible to independent travelers and relatively affordable to those on a limited budget, such as off-the-beaten-track gems as the Ssese Islands, Katonga Wildlife Reserve, Sipi Falls, and Kasenda Crater Lakes.

The Pearl of Africa enjoys one of the healthiest reputations of any African country when it comes to crime directed at tourists. The level of day-to-day hassle faced by independent travelers is negligible. And Ugandans as a whole — both those working within the tourist industry and the ordinary man or woman on the street — genuinely do come across as the warmest, friendly, and relaxed hosts imaginable.

Before you travel, please be informed of the likelihood of catching CORONAVIRUS if you don’t follow operating procedures put in place to protect you and others. For updated, local information, visit travelbans.org/africa/uganda/ or the government website health.go.ug/covid/. Otherwise, Uganda is open for tourism and entry/exit, and you’ll need a negative PCR COVID test certificate issued not more than 72 hours before your arrival.

With the constant development of the safari industry in Uganda and regular lodge and camp openings, the message is loud and clear: Uganda is thriving and open for business. And there’s a reason it remains one of the most sought-after private safari destinations: the game viewing is incredible year-round, there are no tourist crowds, the people friendly, the logistics easy, and you can visit the Pearl of Africa as a single destination without crossing borders and still get the best of all the Africa safari experiences.

Because we live right in the center of this enchanting safari destination, we give first-hand travel advisory. Our guests are like family, and we would never give out wrong information to our families. Uganda’s superb open-space safari attractions are safe to visit, and its warm, hospitable people will make your holiday vacation a memorable one.

Like all other countries globally, crime threats are present but can be avoided when you observe caution. Uganda is a very safe country, but opportunistic crimes such as petty theft, credit card fraud, and home robbery do occur – just like any other country. Chances of being a victim are rare, and incidences would most probably be in cities like Kampala. When in public places, please be vigilant and cautious by avoiding drawing too much attention to yourself and being less susceptible to pick-pockets.

The Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) attempt to deter crime has been increasingly successful with regular patrols and their forces’ placement in strategic locations. The police presence is noticeable everywhere, with security at the airport and borders and police in public places. Across Uganda’s National Parks and tourist destinations, the tourism police, park rangers, military army, and hotel/lodge security personnel are all present to ensure your safety.

Uganda, like many other democracies across the globe, occasionally goes through short periods of political change. The most political unrest in Uganda is usually centered around Kampala city, far from its magnificent safari attractions. And cities like Kampala, in this Coronavirus age, are a hot-bed for infections. The city you jet into the Pearl of Africa is Entebbe, a quiet suburb 34 kilometers outside the capital city housing the statehouse with beefed up security. In fact, in some instances, you’ll fly/drive out of Entebbe immediately after landing, heading to the southwestern or northern attractions. The Ugandan countryside is as peaceful as the bottom of the ocean.

Read more about Uganda’s safety >>>

Before you travel, please be informed of the likelihood of catching CORONAVIRUS if you don’t follow operating procedures put in place to protect you and others. For updated, local information, visit travelbans.org/africa/uganda/ or the government website health.go.ug/covid/. Otherwise, Uganda is open for tourism and entry/exit, and you’ll need a negative PCR COVID test certificate issued not more than 72 hours before your arrival.

COVID-19 ENTRY RESTRICTIONS

  • There will be health screening procedures at airports and other entry ports, including wearing a facemask, sanitization, temperature screening, and physical distancing. If found with Coronavirus symptoms, you’ll be isolated and taken to a designated hospital for treatment. The MoH Emergency Operations Center manages the COVID-19 response and can be reached through their hotline: (+256) 0800 203 033, 0800-100-066, or 0800-303-033.
  • On arrival, tourists and business visitors will need to provide a negative PCR COVID-19 test dated no more than 72 hours before their arrival in Uganda. Outbound travelers will also be required to take a certified PCR COVID-19 test no more than 72 hours before departure. If you don’t have one, take one at a recommended hospital in Entebbe or Kampala before your flight at your cost ($26).
  • Several hospitals offer the PCR COVID-19 test in Uganda, and these include: Makerere University Hospital, Mulago National Referral Hospital, Lancet Laboratories (041-4341621), MBN Laboratories (0700-533-954), Nakasero Hospital (0312 531400), Kampala Hospital (0312 563400), City Medicals at City Ambulance Acacia (0392 177174), Ruby Medical Centre (0800 833 111), Case Clinic (0312 250 700), Mengo Hospital (041 4270222), Mbarara Doctors’ plaza (0703206832)
  • Your driver or tour operator will have to ensure that you proceed directly to your place of stay and do not mix with Ugandans. There will be no requirement to self-isolate. Physical distancing, sanitization, and facemask are compulsory for keeping you healthy while traveling in Uganda. There’ll be no self-isolation for 14 Days.
  • Ugandan nationals who arrive with a negative COVID-19 test will be allowed to proceed straight to their homes. It is not yet clear whether they will be required to self-isolate at home for 14 days or not.
  • National wide curfew is in effect, but travelers to the airport will not be affected if they carry documents for travel proof. Security operatives have been informed to let travelers through within curfew hours.

These travel restrictions are bound to be revised anytime; keep your ear to the ground if traveling.

Find out more in the restrictions Q&A >>>

Before you go to Uganda, make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. The risk of malaria is low in the higher altitudes (like Bwindi) but high in lower altitudes especially near Lake Victoria. It is higher if you are going into rural areas and villages outside the parks and reserves. Check with your travel doctor if you need vaccinations, and be sure to get them timeously.

Yellow fever 

The country requirement at entry: a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers aged one year or over arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. WHO vaccination recommendation: yes

Malaria

Malaria risk due predominantly to P. falciparum exists throughout the year in the entire country.

Find out more about health requirements in Uganda >>>

Entebbe Airport (IATA: EBB, ICAO: HUEN), also known as Entebbe International Airport, is the largest airport in Uganda. It is Uganda’s main international airport and serves the area of Entebbe. Entebbe Airport has non-stop passenger flights scheduled to 27 destinations in 15 countries. At present, there are 5 domestic flights from Entebbe.

There are no direct flights to Uganda from the United States, Canada, Southern America, Central America, the Caribbean, Southern Asia, China, Japan, Eastern Asia, South-Eastern Asia, Central Asia, or Oceania. The only intercontinental flights operating from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) are between Entebbe and Europe and between Entebbe and the Middle-East.

But there are connecting flights from major cities across the world and the cheapest ones are Kenya Airways through Nairobi, Rwandair through Kigali, Ethiopia Airlines through Addis Ababa, South African Airways through Johannesburg.

The newly launched Uganda Airlines will be launching direct flights very soon but for now, operates direct regional flights.

Non-stop flights from Entebbe to Europe

  • Brussels AirlinesBrussels Airlines (Star Alliance): year-round to Brussels (BRU).
  • KLMKLM (SkyTeam): year-round to Amsterdam (AMS).

Non-stop flights from Entebbe to the Middle-East / Western Asia

  • EmiratesEmirates: year-round to Dubai (DXB).
  • FlydubaiFlydubai: year-round to Dubai (DXB).
  • Qatar AirwaysQatar Airways (Oneworld): year-round to Doha (DOH).
  • Turkish AirlinesTurkish Airlines (Star Alliance): year-round to Istanbul (IST).

Foreigners who intend to visit Uganda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa once you arrive at Entebbe International Airport. However, if you intend to do an East Africa tour, there is the option of purchasing a single tourist visa for Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya at US$100.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may want to avoid contact with the visa process at the entry point and make sure you have your visa before you jet in. Thanks to technology, this can be done online with little or no hustle as long you have the requirements to getting the visa like passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and other Covid standard requirements by the government. Here are links to help you get started: visas.immigration.go.ug

When is the best time for a Pearl of Africa Safari Holiday?

Generally, a traveler can visit the Pearl of Africa all year round on safari or holiday. Travelers use many factors to tell when the best time is for a safari in Uganda is. Travelers can consider how much they’re willing to spend, which places they’ll be visiting and how much time you have on your calendar fixed for the trip.

Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. Even when considered the rainy season, April and May is a great time to visit Uganda and the Gorillas. The views are stunning, and it rains mostly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.

However, mid-March’s downpour through May and September through November, the rainy season, is mostly avoided by travelers. But we would urge you to travel during this time if you want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of off-season discounts.

When is the best time for gorilla trekking in Uganda?

Although gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, the best time for a gorilla trekking trip is during the region’s two dry seasons: January and February and June to September. There are fewer rains during the dry season, the roads are more comfortable to navigate, and you’re sure your itinerary will not be interrupted by a downpour. You should also note that during this time, everyone else will be thinking of traveling to see mountain gorillas, which makes permits very scarce, accommodation is expensive, and privacy hard to secure.

The wet seasons from September to November and March to May usually pull in fewer crowds, accommodation is cheaper, and it’s easier to process a gorilla trekking permit. But choosing gorilla trekking during the wet season would mean you endure the unfriendly experience of torrential rains, impassable roads, and difficult photography. Some travelers choose the wet season for the experience and price tag on safaris.

Explore the cultures, peoples, sounds, and sites of the Pearl of Africa.

Uganda Safari Packages

LUXURY UGANDA GORILLA SAFARI in the pearl of Africa

LUXURY UGANDA GORILLA SAFARI (Fly-in)

5 Days | Physically Demanding
Entebbe, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

View Holiday Idea

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

Gorillas in The Wild Adventure Safari

7 Days | Walking, Hiking, Culture & Gorillas
FROM 4,925 pp, sharing

View Adventure Details

Masai Mara & Gorilla Trekking Safari in Kenya and Uganda

Masai Mara & Gorilla Trekking Safari

10 Days | Fly-in Kenya & Uganda
Entebbe, Bwindi, Masai Mara, Nairobi

View Safari Idea

AMAZING UGANDA PRIMATES SAFARI

AMAZING UGANDA PRIMATES SAFARI

8 Days | Southwestern Circuit
Entebbe, Kibale, Queen, Bwindi

View Safari Idea

Best of Uganda Safari Holiday

Rwenzori Mountains Summit Climbing

9 Days | Margherita Peak (5109m)
Entebbe, Rwenzori National Park

View the itinerary

Best of Uganda Safari Holiday

Best of Uganda Safari & Gorilla Trekking

14 Days | Top Uganda Attractions
Entebbe, Mburo, Bwindi, QENP, Kibale, Murchison & Kidepo

View the itinerary

Private/Tailor-made Safari Trips

What is a tailor-made safari?: A Tailor-made safari or private safari is a vacation trip in Africa that is crafted around the traveler’s preferences—likes, expectations, recommendations, and travel style—with the guidance of an expert safari consultant. The trips listed above can all be customized to each individual for a perfect safari holiday.

With a wide range of experiences, attractions, and great expectations to choose from, putting together a perfect Pearl of Africa safari vacation can be a daunting task, especially when it’s your first time visiting Africa. And buying a pre-planned Africa safari package may not cut it.

Nkuringo Safaris consultants will listen and learn about your dream of Africa, what type of traveler you are, what moves your emotions, makes you smile, and what lasting memories you expect. We’ll then—with you—craft an Africa safari holiday, take care of all the ground handling and take you to your dream with little or no hustle on your part.

ENQUIRY
Open chat
1
Let's Chat!
Hi there,
We're glad you're here. If you need any human assistance, click that chat button to start a conversation with an expert.