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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.
- Official name: Republic of Uganda.
- Location: Eastern Africa, west of Kenya.
- Area -Total: 236,580 sq km, land: 199,710 sq km, water: 36,330 sq km. Landlocked.
- Capital city and major towns: Kampala. Major cities and towns Gulu, Lira, Jinja, Mbale, Mbarara, Masaka.
- Borders: A landlocked country on the equator in East Africa, Uganda is bordered by the Democratic Republic of Congo (formally Zaire) to the west, Sudan to the north, Kenya to the east and Rwanda and Tanzania to the south.
- Climate: Uganda's temperatures are moderate throughout the year. In Kampala, near Lake Victoria, average daily temperatures range from 18 to 25 [degrees] C. There are two dry seasons (December to February, June to August); semi-arid in the northeast.
- Population: 33,398,682 (2010 est.) 40% below the age of 14. Growth rate 3.5%
- Ethnic make-up: Baganda 16.9%, Banyakole 9.5%, Basoga 8.4%, Bakiga 6.9%, Iteso 6.4%, Langi 6.1%, Acholi 4.7%, Bagisu 4.6%, Lugbara 4.2%, Bunyoro 2.7%, other 29.6% (2002 census)
- Religion: Roman Catholic 41.9%, Protestant 42% (Anglican 35.9%, Pentecostal 4.6%, Seventh Day Adventist 1.5%), Muslim 12.1%, other 3.1%, none 0.9% (2002 census)
- Language: English is the official language, Swahili is also spoken. There are some 40 indigenous languages the most common being Luganda and Luo.
- Communication: The country code for Uganda is +256. Telephone, telex, fax and airmail services connect Uganda to all parts of the world. International direct dialling is available in all major centres. Public call boxes in post offices and main towns operate on a card system, available from most small shops. Several cellular phone companies operate in Uganda and roaming works near most major cities and towns. Internet cafes are plentiful in major city centres.
- Business hours: Business hours are generally from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm on weekdays with a lunch break between 1 and 2pm. Some businesses open on Saturday morning.
- Currency: The unit of currency is the Uganda shilling (UGS or USh). 1 Ugandan shilling = 100 cents. The US dollar is traditionally the hard currency of preference, but Euro and Pounds Sterling are also widely accepted. Hard currency cash can be changed for local currency at banks and private bureau de change in all large towns, but travellers’ cheques are not widely accepted outside Kampala. Local currency can be drawn against Visa and other major credit cards at selected ATMs in Kampala, at Entebbe International Airport, and in a few other large towns.
- Currency exchange: Most hotels offer forex facilities, though sometimes at disadvantageous rates. Forex facilities remain open at the main airports.
- Banking: Banks and bureau de change are available at airports and in all major towns. Banking hours are from Monday - Friday 8.30 am - 2.00 pm (some banks open on Saturday morning).
- Credit cards and traveller’s cheques: Some credit cards are accepted in the major hotels, American Express is the most widely accepted.
- Tipping: Tipping is appreciated. Most hotels and restaurants include a 10% service charge.
- Time: GMT +3 all year-round. Uganda maintains an almost constant 12 hours of daylight. Sunrise is typically 6.30 am and sunset at 6.45 pm.
- Electricity:220-240 volts AC.
- Water: Ugandan is not recommended to drink. Bottled water is readily available.
- Landscape: Mostly plateau, with a rim of mountains. The lowest point is Lake Albert (621 m) and the highest point: Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley (5,110 m).
- The national parks and reserves: The national parks of Uganda (11, 023 sq km) have been set aside as wildlife and botanical sanctuaries. There are 10 national parks and a number of game reserves. The main national parks are; Bwindi Impenetrable, Kibale, Kidepo Valley, Lake Mburo, Mgahinga Gorilla, Mount Elgon, Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, Ruwenzori, and Semuliki.
- National museums and historical sites: The Uganda National Museum, Kampala; Bigo Bya Mugenyi, Kabaka Mwanga’s Lake, The Kakoro Rock Paintings, Kamukazi, The Kasubi Tombs, Masaka Hill, The Mparo Tombs, Mubende Hill, The Munsa Earthworks, The Namugongo Shrine, The Nkokonjeru Tomb, Ntusi, Numagabwe Cave, The Nyero Rock Paintings.
- Flora: The vegetation of Uganda can be divided into; forest, moist savannah, dry savannah, semi-desert, aquatic vegetation, afro-alpine moorland and grassland.
- Fauna: The East African plains support some of the last great herds of wildlife left in the world, offering a greater number and diversity of species than any other continent: Uganda offers 50 large mammal species all members of the ‘Big Five’ (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhinoceros) and she is particularly famous for her primates – especially the mountain gorillas (western lowland, eastern lowland and mountain). There are also 300 species of butterfly.
- Avifauna: Uganda offers over 1000 avian species including many migratory species from Europe and Asia.
- Entry requirements: A valid passport. Most visitors to Uganda require a visa to enter the country. Three-month single-entry tourist visas are available from all Ugandan embassies (price subject to nationality).
- Health certification: Visitors arriving from areas affected with yellow fever and cholera require certificates of inoculation. Malaria and bilharzia are endemic.
- Vaccinations: A number of vaccinations are recommended for visitors to Uganda (check with your doctor in advance).
- Malaria: Malaria is endemic in tropical Africa and protection against it is necessary.
- HIV/AIDS: HIV/AIDS is a serious problem throughout Africa.
- Medical Insurance: Travellers to Uganda are recommended to obtain medical insurance prior to arrival.
- Security: Uganda is a safe country to travel in. Ugandans are warm-hearted and generous people and are eager to help visitors get the most out of their stay. Uganda is a politically stable, multi-democratic country. As in all countries, a little common sense goes a long way and reasonable precautions should still be taken, such as locking valuables in the hotel safe and not walking alone at night.
- Travelling to Uganda
- By air: Entebbe International Airport, which lies 40 km from the capital Kampala, is serviced by a number of international airlines.
- Driving: Driving (international driving licence required) in Uganda is on the left-hand side and traffic signs are international.
- Public transport: Buses and taxis operate in most towns. Price is open to negotiation and should be decided in advance.
- Dressing: Uganda has no winter and lightweight clothing is worn all year-round. It is considered insulting by local tradition to dress scantily or improperly. Daytime temperatures are generally warm to hot, evenings are cooler, especially at high altitudes.
- Do’s and don’ts: It is an offence to: deface a Ugandan banknote; urinate in public; sunbath topless; hire a prostitute; buy or take drugs; remove wildlife products from Uganda, export products made from elephant, rhino or sea turtle derivatives, or to remove coral. Swearing and blasphemy are inadvisable. Visitors are requested to stand when the Ugandan anthem is played, or the national flag raised or lowered. They are also advised that photographing the president without prior permission or any military installation is not permitted.
- Photography: It is considered courteous to ask people if you may take their picture before doing so, particularly in the more far-flung rural areas. A small (token) payment for the photograph may be expected, rather more as a form of polite appreciation than anything else.