Uganda – Destination To Go Before You Die
I just traveled to Uganda, a country that left me speechless. And I truly feel that I will forever have a special bond with this country. Undoubtedly it will leave you speechless too with its tapestry of landscapes. An abundance of resplendent wildlife I have never before experienced and some of the most welcoming locals you’ll ever meet. It is a small country but has more to offer than one could imagine.
It’s home to Africa’s tallest mountain range (the Rwenzoris), it has the source of the Nile, the longest river on Earth. It’s also home to Africa’s largest lake- Lake Victoria. The most iconic experience in Uganda is undoubtedly tracking mountain gorillas in their misty habitat.
Emerging from the shadows of Uganda’s dark history with two unimaginably brutal dictatorships, tourism is now slowly returning. Nowadays, Uganda is one of the safest destinations in Africa. I never felt unsafe even for one moment.
Don’t rush, please. Uganda is huge and the distances are exhausting to drive. But due to fewer visitors compared to neighboring Kenya and Tanzania, you can enjoy the diversity of nature by yourself.
Altogether, Uganda was an unforgettable treat for me and for my 23rd birthday this year.
In the following, I want to reflect on my thoughts about Uganda and what you can do while you are there. And I want to share a touching story with you at the end.
Kidepo National Park
In the northeast of Uganda (about 10-12 hours drive from Kampala), there is a national park hidden away in a valley called Kidepo National Park. The scenery is incredibly stunning and this was the park where I did my first Safari Tour in Uganda. The short-grass savannah of the nearly 1450-sq-km national park is surrounded by mountains.
The park is relatively remote. But it offers the largest range of species of all national parks in Uganda. Hence, it is an insider tip among tourists. You can see a wide range of animals such as cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, lions, kudus, foxes, zebras, ostriches, buffalos, and different types of antelopes. It is worth it, because I have seen almost all of them in one day.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuaries
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was established in 1997 to protect the almost extinct white rhinos. Not only can you approach them at very close range, but you can also spot more than 300 different bird species.
Kibale Forest National Park
The main attraction in the Kibale Forest National Park is the Chimpanzee trekking.
It is located in western Uganda, near Fort Portal. The National Park protects the ecosystem of the Kibale Forest, a mountain and rainforest system with enclosed marshes and grasslands. Due to its high altitude between 1110 and 1590 metres, there is a relatively pleasant climate despite its tropical latitude. Kibale is most notable for harbouring a number of chimpanzees. Maybe they get less attention among the traveler’s community than the endangered mountain gorillas. But tracking our closest relative in a jungle is one of the highlights of every Ugandan itinerary.
Additionally, I walked around the Bigodi Swamp. The Bigodi Swamp is home to 200 species of birds, including the Great Blue Turaco. Eight different primate species can be observed like the red colobus monkey, baboons, black & white colobus monkey, and the mangabey.
The Beauty and Myths of Lake Buyoni
One of my personal highlights in Uganda was Lake Buyoni.
Lake Bunyonyi has captivating scenery and villages. To make the best out of your stay, I would recommend taking a boat trip on Bunyonyi Lake. By the way, Bunyonyi translates to “place of small birds”. At the lake, there are more than 200 species of birds. And there are 29 islands.
We had beautiful hikes on the islands. There are not only myths but also true and sad stories about some of the islands on Lake Buyoni. Like Punishment Island. So what is it about?
Before the practice was abandoned in the 1940s, they would force unmarried pregnant women onto this uninhabited island on Lake Bunyonyi as a traditional form of punishment. This tiny island is called Akampene (“Punishment”). The women would either starve to death or drown trying to swim to the mainland, because most of them never learned to swim. But sometimes, they were saved by poor men or slaves who could not afford the regular bride price (my guide told me it is 3000 USD).
I would more than recommend everyone to have a walk on some of those islands to see the daily life of the locals.
Visit the Batwa Community
The Batwa, commonly known as pygmies, are an endangered group of people around the Kabale Districts of south-western Uganda. Batwa people have been living for thousands of years in the forest as hunter-gatherers. Due to the establishment of the Bwindi National Park for Mountain gorillas, the Batwa were evicted from their traditional forest lands and territories. Nowadays, the Batwa are essentially living on the edge of society.
To tell you the sad truth- the Batwa in Uganda are experiencing a systematic and pervasive discrimination by the government and other sectors of society. They work for other Ugandans for food because their rights as indigenous peoples are not respected. Their main income or maybe their only income is from tourism and donations you give to them. The poverty I got to see is unbelievable. It is a system of injustice we are living in. Unfortunately, most of us are good at denying it and looking away. Give them a small donation when you visit them, please.
Bwindi National Park and Gorilla Tracking
On my birthday, I went to Bwindi National Park for the Mountain Gorilla Tracking and a forest hike to the swamp of Bwindi National Park. For most people and even for me, this is the absolute highlight of my Ugandan visit.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. It also houses five other species of primates, 113 mammal species, over 200 butterflies and 360 bird species. There are human-habituated gorilla families that tolerate the presence of humans for a short time each day. The trek might not be easy for some people as you walk along the wooded and muddy slopes, tangled vines and bamboo into the dense and impenetrable jungle.
But an experienced guide will be able to show you traces of previous gorilla activities. Such as nests, dung and nibbled bamboo shoots. It’s an incredible experience and a poignant moment to see a gorilla face to face.
I would put it on a “Things to do before you die” list. Evoking a deep connection with our closest cousins is truly a once in a lifetime experience. I will never forget that day.
Tracking Mountain Gorillas
Really nothing prepares you for their sheer beauty, those brown eyes or their stunningly human-like expressions. This special encounter lasts just one precious hour.
Bwindi is home to some 400 gorillas with a dozen fully habituated families available for tracking. Sharing 98% of human DNA, gorillas are extremely sensitive to our infections. They could die from a human cold. So please don’t go when you are ill.
Only eight people are allowed to track each gorilla family. Usually we needed to keep a distance of 7m. But occasionally the gorillas will cross this threshold and approach you. One gorilla with her baby approached me on my track and it ended up being next to me which was one of the most exciting moments I had in four years of traveling.
Some groups are just a short walk from the visitor centre. Others can take as long as five or six hours to reach.
Less than 1,000 mountain gorillas roam the rainforests of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. They are found nowhere else on the planet. Under threat from habitat loss, poaching and crossfire from the civil war, they were on the verge of extinction. But because of the successful conservation efforts in the past, they are surviving.
The great scientist Dian Fossey studied the mountain gorillas for 18 years in Rwanda and brought their exigency to international attention. She is a true hero because of the extreme danger of poachers she exposed herself to. She lived with them in the forest and raised funds for rangers. But sadly, she was murdered in 1985.
Uganda started to fund its gorilla conservation in 1993. And back then, the first Mountain Gorilla family became fully habituated to humans.
Ruhija Little Angels Orphanage & Primary School
This is maybe the most important story I am writing for this year. If you have time, I’d be grateful if you read the whole thing.
The gorilla tracking was an unforgettable and amazing experience I did for my birthday.
But what really touched my heart on this day was my visit to the Ruhija Little Angels Orphanage & Primary School.
Right from the first moment, I felt deeply connected with the director of the school – Happy Kyoheirwe Noredah. At the same time, when I saw the orphan children, I instantly carried all of them into my heart. The most beautiful thing is to see and feel their sincerity and happiness.
But step by step.
First I want to share Happy’s story (the director of the school).
The reason why she opened this orphanage home and school was because of her past.
When she was 15 years old, her father would pick up orphans from the streets and villages and pay for their school fees and try to support them. He would tell his friends about it and urged them to help since he was working with some wildlife organizations. So she grew up with the heart of her father helping orphans and needy children. Later when she finished her studies, she told her father that her dream would be to rent a house for orphans in her village and start looking for people to support them.
Most of the children are suffering, since many of them lost their parents to HIV.
Many of the orphans were abused as house maids and others were forced into marriage at a young age and have no access to education. She was fiercely determined to help them. Then she started to mobilize the community members who tried to give her anything they possibly could.
They started with nothing, but now they luckily have more support from the community to buy food and clothes for the children. 8 Years have passed by and just this month, my friends and I visited the orphanage.
Looking around, I found it hard to believe what kind of circumstances they are living in: small, dingy and dark clay rooms for the girl’s and boy’s dormitories. Their wet clothes are hanging on the ceiling. And now imagine yourself living in the mountains with high altitude- how cold and chilly it can get by night. One bed is shared by 3 girls or 3 boys and the mattresses are in very poor conditions. One room doesn’t even have bunk beds yet, which could help more children to live there. The rooms are not bigger than a small office cubicle in Germany.
There is not enough bedding for 300 children.
The school has a chairman, vice chairman, secretaries, advisers, security guards, cooks, maids and teachers who all need to get paid. All these people help Happy to find orphaned children from different areas. Then they consider how long the child will stay at the orphanage before returning back to their communities. Usually they finish primary school at her place, but then most of them return to their communities, sometimes without getting a chance of a secondary education.
School Life In Uganda
But some of the children can go to secondary schools with the help of some donations. However they have to return to the orphanage when the funds dry up. One term has 3 months and costs 700,000 Ugandan Shillings ($189) and due to the high cost, the shortfall can happen quite often. One year has 3 terms which costs approximately $570 USD to send a talented child to a boarding school where they can get an education to get to the next stage of the educational ladder.
The classroom’s walls are made of clay and mud, inside are just a few benches with desks and no lighting. Still under these circumstances, I was touched to see how eager all of them were to learn mathematics, English and science.
I couldn’t believe what I got to see. Despite enduring those difficult life conditions, many of them smiled with true joy as if they have never known anything else. At the end, I got pulled out into the courtyard where all the children sang and danced some traditional songs for us, songs that thanked us for visiting.
For me, education is the key to many problems in this world. It’s a basic human right, just like water
and food- everyone needs it. Everyone should have an education without any severe shortages of resources. My heart felt heavy thinking of the children and I vowed to help them! I always wanted to be the change I want to see in the world. So why not give the children a chance to change this world, and be the future they want to see?
Please, dear friends and families and visitors of my blog, donate some money if you can. Even a small amount would help.
Here is the link :A Brighter Future For Little Angels
With the donations we can help them with several projects and basic needs like:
- Money that would allow the older and outstanding children to complete entire terms in secondary school instead of returning to the orphanage when the funding runs out.
- Higher, better and evenly distributed salaries for the teachers and staff.
- Daily food of rice, maize or beans. (For less than $26 USD they can buy a 25kg bag of rice)
- New bedding and mattresses
- Restoration of the toilets and construction of new washrooms and new toilets
Needless to say, I really want to support them with all the necessary supplies they need in their lives. I visited many projects in the past, but this project was dear to my heart and if I can just do a small fundraising to help, it is the least I can do for those orphans.
And I hope with your and my support we can give them a better chance in life.
I plan to raise $3000 / 2700€ for the projects and challenges I mentioned above.
Not only do I just want to help but I will donate the first amount of 300USD / 270 € and put my words into actions.