For Outpost’s 2018 Global Travel Guide, we asked our regular contributors to share which destinations worldwide deserve the spotlight this year. See “Quick Travel Stories” for all our 2018 spotlight destinations!
It was the mountain gorillas that took me to Uganda, but it was so much more that has driven my desire to return. Near the dusty town of Jinja in eastern Uganda, red soil peeks through lush grass and small trees roll down to the banks of a raging river. Ugandans travel there by car, minivan and bicycle for picnics, parties or just a day out. Fortunate travellers may find it their waystation at the end of a long day of overlanding, where they can pitch a tent around a blazing campfire.
The river is the Nile (the Victoria Nile, to be precise), and as a marker there attests it was once believed to be the sole legendary source of the great river. Yet the fact that we now know it to be just one source makes its former claim no less impressive.
Having spent many months travelling around Africa, the tranquil afternoon and evening spent at that campsite—and the friendly people in their Sunday best who stopped by to say hello, ask where we were from and to have their photo taken with us!—remains one of my all-time African highlights.
Uganda has had a recent rocky history, even apart from colonization—from dictator Idi Amin, devastating civil war to experiencing one of the world’s worst and first HIV/AIDS outbreaks (but also lauded worldwide for taking early national action)—but it is one of the more stable of African nations, and has arguably reclaimed its “Pearl of Africa” moniker most commonly attributed to Winston Churchill. The mountain gorillas alone are reason enough to travel to Uganda—indeed to Africa itself!—but once there, there is just so much more.
In the west, the Ruwenzori Mountains or Mountains of the Moon—glowing at sunset and jungle-clad by day—loom over a string of mirror-like alpine lakes. The range is the highest in Africa and offers some of the continent’s most challenging and rewarding hiking, and some of its deepest legends. The lakes beneath are home to birds and frogs aplenty, while the forests nearby echo with the call of monkeys and mangabeys.
Not too far away, forests teem with chimpanzees and platforms have been built in treetops to watch for bigger game or to avoid marauding forest elephants. The shy and diminutive Twa people (also known as the Pygmy) may chat to you about their unique life. Or maybe they will disappear into the forest and go unheard and unseen.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has one of the continent’s densest populations of hippos, where Uganda’s national bird, the regal Crowned Crane, struts and lions purportedly climb trees, although few ever see them nestled in paw-dangling delight in an acacia.
Entebbe has an airport that attained infamy for a terrorist hijacking in the 1970s, but just a stone’s throw away sits a botanical garden around which children will happily take you on a guided tour, while the waters of Lake Victoria lap lazily on its periphery. The vast lake itself—Africa’s largest—takes a chunk of the country, and away from Entebbe its shoreline is occupied by enormous crocodiles, small villages, forests of papyrus, colourful fishing boats and clouds of insects, all serenaded by the haunting calls of swooping fish eagles.
Uganda may not have the masses of Big Game of some of its East African neighbours, but then again it doesn’t have the number of tourists they have either. And besides, they don’t have mountain gorillas…or a source of the Nile!