10 Top Things to See and Do in Uganda

A farmers market in Nakawa, Kampala
A farmers' market in Nakawa, Kampala | © William Kane

Culture Trip Writer

For its small size, Uganda has a lot to offer travellers on the lookout for the ‘full package.’ Read on for the top places and things you should see and do while in Uganda.

Explore the beautiful chaos that is Kampala

Some say they need special training to navigate through Kampala’s streets. Others ask Ugandans, “How do you know where to highlight off a taxi when everything looks the same?” It’s true, getting around is an extreme sport of sorts but that’s just one of Kampala’s charms. From the boda bodas (motorbike taxis) lawlessly snaking through traffic to the honk happy matatu drivers intimidating private car drivers, it’s a sight to see — and yet, if you stick around for more than a week, it’ll all appear to be completely normal all of a sudden.

The beautiful chaos in Kampala’s traffic

Rub shoulders with the party animals

Kampalans are known in the region for their vigour to withstand going out and ‘happen’ every single day of the week regardless of the weather or the economic and political state of the country. With clubs, bars, restaurants and lounges opting for themes such as oldies’ night, ladies night, Caribbean night, sushi night, African pot and so on, there is always something or the other going on somewhere that suits your mood and pocket. For example, there are over ten places to eat, drink and dance on John Babiiha Avenue alone. Similarly the suburb of Kisementi is famous for its nightlife, boasting banks, supermarkets, two radio stations, several unique restaurants, sports bars, the most popular mall in the country that houses a cinema, a hospital, a gym, a spa, a bookstore, a supermarket and a number of high end shops. This makes Kisementi a busy area day and night.

Kampala revelers enjoy Mr. Vegas Street Jam Show

Discover the charm of an open air Ugandan market

Ugandan markets are guaranteed to give you the real African market experience. Uganda’s markets such as Nakasero are big on fresh farmers’ produce. Word is, the Ugandan pineapple is the most delicious and her tomatoes are the juiciest in the region. Vendors also sell inexpensive second hand clothes, shoes, books, beddings – anything you want, you could get it at Owino Market which was once East Africa’s largest open market. Unfortunately, development is eroding it as a mall is steadily growing in its place. Take a Sunday stroll through the Sunday market as two streets are closed off to enable vendors bring out all their merchandise and for buyers to have enough room to browse and haggle articles on sale and enjoy the chants vendors employ to attract buyers, be ready to have your arm tugged at as they try to grab your attention. They mean well.

A lady buying crafts in the market

Take a hike in the mountains

Uganda is gifted with a magnificent topography that is manifested in picturesque mountains all around the country. Summit the snow capped Rwenzori mountains in south west, Elgon in the east, Mt. Moroto, Napak and Kadam in the north. Each mountain offers a unique hike trail giving travellers an advantage to actively enjoy nature. There are over 20 mountains in Uganda.

A picturesque scenery at Mt. Elgon

Enjoy a dip in a crater lake at Kyaninga Lodge

Like the mountains, Uganda has plenty of lakes formed in a volcanic crater or caldera. The ones in dormant volcanoes like Lake Kyaninga in Fort Portal in western Uganda have fresh waters. A swim in the Crater Lake in Kyaninga before lunch at Kyaninga Lodge is something some ought to do while in Uganda. The serenity of Lake Kyaninga is as inviting as it’s ominous, with steep banks at most edges, she hides her 220 metre depth well. The swim across looks doable by the average swimmer, with the constant foreboding that a prehistoric monster will rise out of his murky depth and make a quick lunch of one, adding to the excitement!

Kyaninga Lodge’s backdrop, a crater lake

Track and see chimpanzees in Kibale National Park

Kibale rain forest in Kibale National Park, located in southern Uganda, is the perfect destination in the whole of East Africa to be mesmerised as you watch the chimpanzees swing from tree to tree. Because chimpanzee tracking is one of life’s great experiences, permits are limited. It’s advisable to book in advance. Tracking usually lasts three hours with just one hour spent with the chimps.

A young chimp eating maize

Go gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Gorilla trekking is the biggest draw and the highlight of all visits in Uganda. Gorillas are one of the rarest and most intriguing apes and the fact that Uganda has their biggest population in the world makes gorilla trekking a must-do activity. In Uganda, gorilla trekking can be done in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga National Park, marvel at the unique gorillas in this once in a lifetime experience.

A mountain gorilla chilling in its habitat

Get your adrenaline kick on the Nile in Jinja

Jinja is famed for its adrenaline inducing activities thereby obtaining its title as East Africa’s adrenaline capital. Get your fix white water rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping, quad biking, horse riding and mountain biking through the colonial town and through the villages to appreciate the sunset over the mighty river Nile. Stand in the spot John Speke was when he ‘discovered’ the source of the Nile, feel like a true explorer that you are!

Rafting on River Nile in Jinja, Uganda

Go for a safari drive through the numerous game parks

Enjoy a game drive in one of the 10 national parks managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority. The parks have so much to offer from savannah drives, boat rides, forest walks and wildlife research. Spot a tree climbing lion in Murchison Falls National Park, explore the wild that is Kidepo National Park named third best national park in Africa by CNN, point at a yawning hippo on your boat tour in Lake Mburo National Park and zoom into the rarest of birds. With over 1000 bird species, Uganda is unrivaled on the continent as a bird lovers destination

Zebras sighted during a game drive in Uganda

Meet the Karamojong

Explore ‘Uganda’s best secret’ Karamoja, the land of the Karamojong in north eastern Uganda. The Karamojong live a very minimalist and fascinating life that hasn’t been adulterated by the modern times. They are semi-nomadic herders who live for their cattle and women. Visit East Africa’s largest traditional village and sleep in a kraal as you watch the stars for a full authentic African cultural experience.

A Karamojong from north eastern Uganda

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