Things to Do in Uganda on a Self Driving Safari
Besides the traditional Safari trips of planning and booking a whole trip with a travel agency, you can think of something new and exciting; a self-drive tour. You can experience the ultimate feel of relaxation and get all the excitement you can imagine with the incredible option of renting a car and drive on your own & at your pace.
Taking out a car for a tour on Self-drive in Uganda lets you enjoy different activities which give you an up close and breath-taking view of the spectacular scenery, animals and birds among other wildlife. In order to enjoy the best of your time in Uganda, you need early preparations such as looking out for a car to hire, places to visit, activities to do among others.
The many things to do in Uganda show just how blessed and biologically diverse the country is. Uganda has it all from the climate, people, national parks, hot springs, waterfalls, snow-peaked mountains, dense forests, rivers and Lakes. For these reasons, Winston Churchill described her as the “Pearl of Africa”. A lot of countries have friendly people but often in a selective way. Ugandans are friendly to all kinds and categories of people. It is why the country has arguably the best refugee policy in the world.
Most tourists come to Uganda to see the wildlife. Of all the wildlife Uganda has to offer, the Mountain gorilla is the most attractive. The mountain gorillas have allowed thousands of visitors to also discover good things about the country which wouldn’t have been the case had it not been for the primates. This is not to say that Uganda’s wildlife is not as that attractive. In fact, even without the Mountain gorillas, Uganda would still remain one of the best places to go on a safari in Africa. We have come up with a long list of the top tourist attractions in Uganda. The list is not exhaustive because Uganda has so much to offer.
Things to Do in Uganda
Gorilla Trekking: This had to be top on the list because it is the most popular activity in Uganda. Uganda is lucky to have half of the overall population of mountain gorillas and in two national parks – Bwindi and Mgahinga. Mountain gorillas are endangered but their numbers have grown to slightly above 1000 in the last decade. Bwindi has 17 habituated gorilla groups which are open to tourism while Mgahinga has one large one. Gorilla trekking in Bwindi National Park is special because it is the only park where one can also choose to for the gorilla habituation experience. The Gorilla habituation experience is different from gorilla trekking in that it involves more time with the primates. The gorilla habituation experience is also more expensive but participants get to move with researchers and learn more about the primates. To reach Bwindi, one needs to endure a journey of 8 hours by road (450km from Kampala). For nature lovers, the journey can be very rewarding because the scenery is simply amazing. The landscape, forests, water bodies, mountains and valleys seen along the way is why the area is referred to as “the Switzerland of Africa”.
Eat some of the local food: Whenever one visits a new place or country, the first thing that should come to mind is the local food. Uganda has a variety of tasty local dishes. Almost all the 64 tribes in Uganda have a traditional dish. Fish is always on the menu in every country and Uganda is no exception. A favorite cuisine is smoked fish mixed with peanut/groundnut sauce and taken with millet bread. The Baganda love matooke (bananas) and peanut sauce. This dish is very popular among tourists. Other local dishes include yams, pork, chicken, potatoes, vegetable and sorghum. The hotels also include most of the known international cuisines for visitors who are less experimental. I almost forgot to mention the very popular Rolex or chapatti with eggs .
Lion Tracking and Spotting Tree Climbing Lions in Ishasha: Uganda is the best place to see tree Climbing Lions on earth. These rare cats are found in the Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park. A few tee climbing lions are also found in Lake Manyara in Kenya and in South Africa. The tree climbing lions of Ishasha in Queen Elizabeth National Park are many and the chances of seeing them higher than anywhere else. Queen Elizabeth also offers another exciting opportunity – The chance to track lions in the Kasenyi sector with experienced Researchers. Lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth National Park involves the use of GPS. A sensor is inserted into a collar which is then put around the lioness. The lion tracking experience is very different from that offered during game drives. During game drives, vehicles are not allowed to drive away from the main park roads. Tourists are also not allowed to get too close to the lions. With lion tracking, participants can be driven deeper into the park and away from the park roads as they follow the lions. Participants in the lion tracking experience may be requested to help in collecting samples from the lions after using a tranquilizer.
Visit the main local Markets: There is no better way to learn about the culture of a new place or people than to visit the busiest local markets. Markets offer a true picture of the kind of life everyday people live and what their values are. You might even get to hear about the latest political or social gossip. Each town in Uganda has a large market where most of the folks got to do home shopping or sell their merchandise. In Kampala, the best three markets are Owino, Nakasero and Nakawa. Owino market is famous for its chaotic stalls but has of recent been renovated with shops in storied buildings. You can find almost anything on sale in Owino market. They have the trendiest second hand (almost new) clothes and shoes. You can find the very best brands. How they reach all the way here is a mystery. Just as you leave the cloth store, you will encounter a shop selling traditional herbs/medicine for all kinds of medical issues. Nakasero is a smaller market specializing in foodstuffs, vegetables, fruits and electronics. It is more organized than Owino Market perhaps because it is located in the city center. As chaotic as it is, Owino market is highly recommended in order to have a taste of Kampala’s chaotic life. Make sure you keep your wallet or handbag safe. The market has some of the city’s smartest pickpockets.
Tour Kampala: Kampala is Uganda’s only city at the moment. It is a large city with over 2 million people. Kampala is the best place to experience everything good and maybe bad about the country. One good thing for sure is that the people are genuinely friendly. Kampala is also relatively calmer and safer than Nairobi in Kenya but that will not stop a few crooks from taking your phone on the street on a bad day. There are several things to do while in Kampala that anyone would struggle to make a selection. The city has a large expert community working with international governmental and non-governmental organizations. The modern bars, shopping malls and restaurants are where the international experts love to hang out. You can read more about the top attractions in Kampala for specifics. Kampala also has several markets, cathedrals, temples and art galleries. The art galleries display the work of Uganda’s best artists in form of photographs, sculptures and paintings.
Visit the Uganda Martyrs Shrine and Cathedrals: If you are on a Mission Trip to Uganda, you might want to check out Uganda’s famous cathedrals. Rubaga Cathedral is Uganda’s most important Roman Catholic cathedral. It was built in 1914 on one of Kampala’s most prominent hills. This is where the most influential catholic Priests and Bishops sit. A guided tour can be arranged to see the beautiful interior and impressive artifacts. You could also visit the tomb for the first African Catholic Bishop and other clerics at the church cemetery. For those of the Anglican faith, the Namirembe Cathedral is the place to go. This Cathedral was built in 1919 and is where the top offices of the Anglican Church are located. For the ultimate Mission Trip, you should visit the two Uganda Martyrs Shrines in Namugongo. These shrines mark the spot where over 20 young Christians where executed on the orders of Kabaka (King) Mwanga of Buganda in 1886. The King had asked them to denounce their new Christian faith but they refused and chose to die.
Visit the Baha’i Temple: Uganda happens to have the only Baha’i temple in Africa. The temple is built on top of a hill and offers great views of Kampala city The Baha’i faith unites all races and teaches the true values of humanity while focusing on human rights. A single Baha’i temple is built in every continent. At the time of its construction, the temple was the tallest building in Uganda and the East African region in general. It has a capacity of 400 people. The temple has a beautiful compound with flowers, trees and well maintained lawns. Tourists go to the temple for picnics, relaxation, photos shoot or to just marvel at the unique architecture. Those curious about the Baha’i faith are free to attend the Sunday prayers. Entrance is to the facility is free.
The Ndere Centre: Ndere means a flute. A flute is one of the most musical sounding instruments in Africa. The Ndere Centre is one of the most visited places in Kampala. The Centre aims to promote Uganda’s diverse cultures while instilling a sense of pride in them. It is frequented by those who are interested in learning about Uganda’s cultural heritage. Every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, hundreds of people (including tourists and expatriates) gather at the 700 seater venue to enjoy traditional dances, music and dinner. The cultural performances are from all of Uganda’s main tribal groups. The different dance groups are carefully chosen and only the best from each tribal group are allowed to perform. The groups come up with something new every week and that’s why people come again and again. If you are in Kampala, this is the best place to go to learn about the Uganda Culture.
Lake Victoria: In Lake Victoria, Uganda has the largest freshwater lake in the world. The lake is shared by Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Lake Victoria is where the river Nile starts its journey to Egypt. The lake is home to over 198 species of fish and 355 of birds. The dominant fish species is the Nile Perch. This is one of Africa’s largest fish and should be top of the list if you planning to do sport fishing in Uganda. Lake Victoria is also home to some of Uganda’s best hotels and lodges. From these hotels, you can relax by the beautiful beaches or jump into a boat to visit the amazing Islands. You can visit the section of the lake in Jinja to see the source of river Nile or go to the Ssese Islands including the Ngamba Chimpanzee sanctuary which we shall discuss as an attraction of its own later.
Chimpanzee Trekking in Kibale Forest National Park: Kibale forest is located in the western part of Uganda close to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kibale National Park is considered the primate’s capital of Africa. It is the best place to tack chimpanzees in the world. The reason for this is because the chimps are easier to find after only a short time of tracking. Kibale forest national park has over 1,500 individual chimps. 3 communities have been habituated and opened to tourism. Kibale forest is also one of the few parks where one can go for the chimpanzee habituation experience. This activity is slightly more expensive and involves more time with the primates. Visitors are led by experienced researchers to have a comprehensive understanding of wild chimpanzees for 4 hours. Apart from chimpanzees, Kibale forest is home to 12 other primates including blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, baboons, vervet monkeys and pottos. Chimpanzee trekking in Kibale begins with a briefing at the Kanyanchu Visitor Center. Visitors are then led out to track the chimps for about 3 hours. Visitors are only allowed one hour with the primates. During this time, they can observe them feed, play, groom, mate and relax. Chimpanzees are more vocal and mobile than gorillas. They spend a lot of time on top of trees and its more difficult to catch up with them.
Golden Monkey Trekking in Mgahinga: Golden monkeys are very cute but endangered primates. They are characterized by their thick golden hair which makes them very attractive. Golden monkeys are thought to be a sub-species of the blue monkey. They are only found in Uganda Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Uganda, golden monkeys live in Mgahinga National Park. Uganda and Rwanda are the best places to track golden monkeys. The monkeys love feeding on bamboo shoots on the slopes of Virunga’s volcanoes. They are expert tree climbers and masters of acrobatics. Their greatest fear is the large African eagles which will not hesitate to catch them if they get a chance. Unlike Mountain gorillas whose population is now increasing, that of golden monkeys continues to decline.
Stop by the Equator Crossing: The main equator crossing in Kayabwe along Masaka road is one of the most visited landmarks in Uganda. It happens to be located along a major route used by tourists visiting Uganda’s main national parks. All tourists visiting Bwindi, Mgahinga, Queen Elizabeth, Mount Rwenzori and Kibale National Park make stopovers to take photos and have lunch at the equator. The equator line marks the point where the earth’s south and northern hemispheres are separated. In other words, the equator line divides the world into two. There are other marks to show the equator line in other parts of Uganda but not as visited as the one in Kayabwe. In Kayabwe there is a souvenir shop where tourists you can buy souvenirs. The best part is taking photos with two legs in different parts of the earth’s hemisphere to show your friends and other relations back home.
Visit the Source of the Nile in Jinja: Uganda is blessed to have the source to one of the world’s longest and most famous rivers, the Nile. The river Nile is associated with many famous events and is mentioned in the world most read books like the bible and the Koran. It is the lifeblood of many countries and especially Egypt. The River Nile gets its waters from Lake Victoria before starting its long journey to the Mediterranean Sea. The source of the Nile is only 2 hours away from Kampala by road. The government has built a beautiful garden close the source of the Nile where one can see relax, monkeys and birds. The famous Gandhi Monument is located in the gardens where visitors can go and take photos. You can combine touring the source of the Nile with a variety of activities like Bungee jumping, white-water rafting, quad biking, horseback riding or a boat cruise along the Nile river. Some of these activities will be or are already discussed in our long list of the top attractions in Uganda.
Visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary: This Rhino Sanctuary is located just before the Murchison Falls National Park on the way to Gulu. The sanctuary was established by wildlife conservation Agencies to protect Uganda’s last remaining White Rhinos. Uganda once had over 1,000 White and black Rhinos roaming freely in the national parks but extensive poaching wiped them out. There are no more Rhinos in the national parks and the only place to see them is at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. About 20 individuals are currently being protected in the vast Sanctuary. Visitors to the sanctuary have an opportunity to tour the facility under the guidance of Rangers and Researchers. The area has remarkable scenery and wildlife. The elusive Shoebill Stork is resident here but visitors can also see antelopes, hippos and crocodiles. An ambitious breeding programme to increase the number of Rhinos and releases them back into a few national parks is underway. Visit this sanctuary if you want to see Rhinos or learn more about their conservation.
The Murchison Falls: The Murchison Falls are one of the top tourist attractions in Uganda. They are found in the Murchison Falls National Park – one of the best in East Africa. The Murchison falls is home to chimpanzees, antelopes, Roskilde Giraffes, leopards, elephants, lions, hippos, crocodiles and over 450 species of birds. Despite the rich flora and fauna, the Murchison falls is the key attraction of the park. The falls are formed at a point where the great river Nile squeezes though a narrow gorge with several rocks creating massive waves and white form in several sections before making a final fall then continues its journey calmly to Egypt. The water spray creates a constant rainbow throughout the day adding on to the beauty of the falls.
Visit the Kasubi Tombs: The Kasubi tombs are one of Kampala’s prominent cultural attractions. It is a World Heritage Site and the burial ground for four of Buganda’s last Kings and other royals. The site was built on 1882 by Kabaka (King) Mutesa 1 of Buganda as his palace but was converted into a tomb after his demise. Three other kings choose to be buried in the tombs later on. They include Kabaka Mutesa II, Kabaka Mwanga II and Kabaka Suna. The Kasubi tombs are considered very important to the Baganda (the largest tribal group in Uganda). Several ceremonies and rituals conducted by representatives of the royal family to appease the spirits of the dead kings and sometimes ask for their favor. On a visit to the site, tourists will see artifacts like ancient Buganda drums, spears, bark cloth, grass-thatched huts and other royal regalia. Visit the Kasubi tombs to learn more about the history of this great African tribe. If you wish to see more of the Buganda tombs after visiting the ones in Kasubi, you can also check out the Wamala tombs or those for the Queen Mothers (Nnamasole Kanyange tombs). Apart from the Buganda tombs, you can visit the Karambi Royal Tombs and the Mparo Tombs for the Omukama of Bunyoro in Hoima.
Tour the Ssese Islands: The Ssese Islands are a collection of 84 islands within Lake Victoria. The most prominent are the Ngamba Island, Bugala, Bukasa and Banda. Most of the Ssese islands still retain their natural beauty with pristine wilderness that allows primates and other creatures to thrive. Covering 275 square kilometers, Bugala Island is the most visited and largest of the islands. The main activity was fishing but tourism has caught up real fast and could be the leading source of livelihood for the people in the island. On a weekend, the Island is packed with middle class Ugandan’s and international tourists who are interested in relaxing and having fun in the beautiful sand beaches surrounded by beautiful scenery. If you are interested in doing a lot of fun activities like swimming, quad biking, horse riding, island hopping and canoeing, then you should think about visiting these islands for at least 3 days. To get to the island, you need to take a ferry from Nakiwogo in Entebbe.
Go for a safari in Lake Mburo National Park: Lake Mburo is the nearest national park to Kampala city. It is Uganda’s smallest Savannah park but home to buffaloes, hyenas, hippos, crocodiles and several species of antelopes. Lake Mburo has more Zebras than any other national park in Uganda. It is also the best place to see leopards in Uganda. A Safari in Lake Mburo National Park is special because tourists can go for horseback safaris or use a Quad Bike to view the animals. These unique ways of viewing animals are possible because there are no lions to fear. Lake Mburo is one of the best places for fishing in Uganda and birders should expect to sport over 350 recorded species. Nature walks are also possible deep into the park unlike in other national parks. The scenery in the park is amazing and forests relatively intact because there are no elephants.
Lake Bunyonyi: Bunyonyi means “place of many birds,”. Lake Bunyonyi is an earthly paradise close to the districts of Kabale and Kisoro. The lake has 29 Islands and is one of the deepest Lakes in Africa. It receives a lot of visitors and is a point of relaxation before and after long safaris in Queen Elizabeth, Kibale and Bwindi National Parks. Lake Bunyonyi is attractive because of its natural beauty and calming nature. It is perfect for couples who want to stay in a quiet environment to relax and an enjoy the scenery. Apart from swimming and relaxing by the deep waters, one can go canoeing, island hopping and visiting one of the local Batwa or Bakiga Communities. The islands have few human settlements but there are several schools over there. You can also visit the former Island for lepers or the punishment island where girls would be abandoned (to die) if they got pregnant out of wedlock.
Visiting the Beautiful Lake Mutanda: The Lake lies on the foot of the three volcanoes found in Mgahinga National Park. The Lake is remarkable because of its natural beauty and location. Visitors can go for nature walks in the forests surrounding the lake or track the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys living in the area. The forests surrounding the lake are home to giant frogs, primates, chameleons and monitor lizards. Lake Mutanda has got several islands that can be explored by boat or canoe. With a boat or canoe, one can go for birding or visiting the local communities living in the islands. You can go further and see the equally beautiful Lake Mulehe, Bwindi forest and the border with Congo.
Sport Fishing: If you are in Uganda and wondering if angling is possible, then you don’t need to be worried. One third of the country is covered in water and this is enough to show that Uganda is a fishing country. The Nile perch is Uganda’s largest and most sought out fish by anglers. The Nile Perch can weigh over 100 kilograms. The average big catches weigh 60 Kilograms. Although most of the Nile Perch is found in Lake Victoria, the best place to catch them is along the river Nile in Jinja and the Murchison Falls National Park. The other major species in Uganda include Tilapia, Cat Fish and Mud Fish to mention but a few. Sport fishing in Uganda is still not developed to its full potential but there is a lot of potential as the economy of the country grows.
White water rafting, Quad biking, Bungee jumping and Horseback riding in Jinja: The Nile river offers the most adrenaline raising activities in Uganda. It is a river with several rapids and waterfalls. Even after the destruction of some of the main rapids and waterfalls to build hydroelectricity dams, white-water rafting in Jinja is still among the most popular in the world. Some of the rapids are Grade 5 while others are Grade 3. Families with kids can go for the grade 3 rapids
As one conquers the rapids, there are several resting places (islands) to marvel at the beautiful scenery, take a drink, spot birds and primates. Other Adrenaline raising activities in Jinja include Tubing over the Nile, bungee jumping, quad biking and horseback riding. The trails for Quad Biking and horseback riding are along the river Nile and rural communities. The idea is to allow visitors experience the beauty of the Nile while at the same time experiencing how Ugandan’s live their lives in the countryside. While on the bikes, you will pass through villages and see locals in their gardens, shopping in the local markets and children playing by the roadside. There is free training for all these adrenaline raising activities and one doesn’t need to have any prior experience.
Sipi Falls Uganda: The Sipi Falls are one of Uganda’s most beautiful and visited waterfalls. Located in Eastern Uganda in a town called Kapchorwa, the falls contain 3 waterfalls at the foot of Mount Elgon. The name Sipi was derived from the wild banana plants that are endemic to the area. Apart from hiking to the top of the three major falls, one can also take part in abseiling, fishing and swimming. The walk to the falls offers opportunities to check out the coffee farms and vast caves. The falls are located close to the starting point for hiking Mount Elgon. The Sipi Falls will give you amazing views of the vast Karamoja plains, Mount Elgon and Lake Kyoga. There are many good quality hotels around the area for both budget and luxury travellers.
Visit the Sempaya Hot springs in Semuliki National Park: Semuliki National Park is one of Uganda’ newest national parks. The park has unique and remarkable biodiversity by Ugandan standard. Its forests are an extension of those found in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Ituri and the Congo). Because of this forest extension, many of the wildlife in the park are not found anywhere else in Uganda. Semuliki national park is considered one of the top three spots for birding in Uganda. One of the Key attractions in the park are the Sempaya hot springs. The hot springs boil at temperatures of up to 103 degrees Celsius before shooting out in form of sprays. These boiling hot springs are an excellent spot for cooling off after birding or doing game drives in the park.
Ssezibwa Falls: This is also one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Uganda. The Sezibwa falls are found in the district of Mukono. They are close to Kampala and it takes about 45 minutes of driving to get there. Most tourists pay a visit to the place on their way to Jinja, Mount Elgon or visiting the Sipi Falls. The Baganda hold the falls in high esteem. It is believed that hundreds of years ago, a woman gave birth to twins (in form of water). One of the twins became river Sezibwa. People of all walks of life go to a shrine close to the falls to seek blessings and favor from the river gods. The Kabakas (Kings) of Buganda also visit the falls to show respect to the gods. Tourist can enjoy bird watching, primates viewing, camping or play games from the beautiful gardens.
Visit the Nyero Rock Paintings: These prehistoric paintings depict the kind of life that was led by the people in the area just after the Stone Age period. The paintings are located in Kumi District. The paintings are well preserved and found in 3 separate rock shelters. Most of the paintings are about the canoes, humans and wild animals which roamed the plains at the time. The rocks are also home to primates, birds and lizards.
Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary: Ngamba Island is one of the Ssese group of Islands. The Island was turned into a sanctuary for rescued chimps by the Jane Goodall Foundation and other partners. The chimps are brought to the sanctuary for rehabilitation but the quality of life given to them makes it near impossible for them to be reintroduced into the wild. Many primate lovers and tourists flock the island to see 50 orphaned chimps being feed and taken care of by trained caregivers. After the feeding, they are taken around the facility to learn about conservation activities. Volunteers are also allowed for a longer period of time under a special arrangement. Apart from the chimps, the Island is a beautiful place to stay in for those who are interested in bird watching, swimming, nature walks and Kayaking.