When I left to go traveling in Africa last year, Uganda wasn’t even in my itinerary. My buddy convinced me that I had to go so I applied for a Uganda visa in Nairobi and booked a bus ticket. I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on this beautiful place. Uganda turned out to be one of my favorite countries that I have ever visited. The people are incredibly friendly, it’s safe and easy to get around, and best of all it is extremely affordable. Here are the 13 best things to do in Uganda, the Pearl of Africa.
If you’d prefer, you can watch my condensed version in the video below.
Visit Lake Bunyonyi
I’ll start this list off with my absolute favorite place in Uganda, Lake Bunyonyi. This freshwater lake located in the southwest of the country near the Rwanda border.
The shore of Lake Bunyonyi is pretty undeveloped. You’ll find a few farms, campgrounds, eco-resorts, and several small villages. The whole area is safe and interesting to walk around and explore. Canoeing, kayaking, and birdwatching are the most popular activities for tourists visiting the lake. Lake Bunyonyi is a great, laid back place to just relax.
When visiting Lake Bunyonyi on a budget, the town of Kabale is the best place to stay. This is a small, quiet town located about 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the lake. The town offers several budget hotel options available. A decent room can be had for around $10 per night. The town is walkable and hassle-free. It is worth spending an afternoon just walking around town and exploring.
To read my complete guide, check out my article: How to Visit Beautiful Lake Bunyonyi. Here, I outline how to travel to Lake Bunyonyi from Kampala, list the best things to do, and recommend a few inexpensive accommodation options. Check out my guide to 15 Rift Valley lakes for more ideas.
Go Gorilla Trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest
Gorilla Trekking is, by far, the most popular activity in Uganda. It’s on every traveler’s bucket list. Mountain gorillas are an endangered species that are found only in Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. The entire species has fewer than 1000 individuals. Uganda is home to half of all mountain gorillas. If you book a tour in advance, expect to spend around $1200.
Unfortunately, I didn’t go gorilla trekking while in Uganda as it was just out of my Africa travel budget. I missed out. Everyone that I’ve met who went has raved about it and told me that it was the greatest experience of their lives. Now I’m regretting it. At least it gives me an excuse to go back to Uganda. Don’t be like me though. Budget for the gorilla trek and go before they increase the permit prices or worse yet, the gorillas go extinct.
While I was in the region where the treks take place, I did some research about pricing and tours. I found that the cheapest way to visit the gorillas in Uganda is to just show up and organize the tour when you are there. As long as you have a few days to hang around and wait, you can save about $400 over booking in advance through a tour company. The Uganda gorilla trekking permit costs $600. The whole tour should cost $800-$900 if you book directly with a guide.
Visit Sipi Falls
Sipi Falls is a series of waterfalls located in eastern Uganda near the town of Mbale. The highest waterfall is about 100 meters. The surrounding area is full of lush, green hills which are excellent for hiking.
The town of Sipi is located within walking distance of the falls. It is a small, one-street town with several restaurants and hotels. In order to get to the falls, you must pass through a lodge and pay a small fee of around $1. No guide is necessary.
For more info, check out my article: How to Visit Sipi Falls Independently and on a Budget. Here, I outline how to travel to Sipi Falls from Kampala, how to hike without a guide, and recommend a few accommodation options.
Hang out in Kampala, Uganda’s Crazy Capital City
In general, African capital cities aren’t too exciting. They are crowded, dangerous, and difficult to get around. Traffic is a mess and it is impossible to walk around without someone hassling you or trying to sell you something.
Kampala is a bit different. It is actually a pleasant place to hang out and shouldn’t be missed if you are traveling in Uganda. Probably one of the most tourist-friendly capitals in all of Africa, Kampala is affordable, has incredibly friendly locals, and is even fairly walkable. Good street food is also available. There aren’t any major tourist destinations within Kampala. To me, Kampala is mostly just a nice place to hang out.
Some of the best things to do in Kampala include:
- Party- Kampala is a great city for going out. Ugandans love a good party. You’ll be sure to make friends when you go out, even if you’re alone. Beers and 100 ml bags of booze cost around $1. Nightlife in Kampala is pretty wild.
- Go on a tour of the city- Hire a boda boda or taxi for a couple of hours and have the driver give you a tour of the city. Most drivers will be happy to show you around. I recommend you shop around a bit for a personable and honest driver. Make sure to haggle hard as they will surely try to overcharge. This is a good way to get the lay of the land and find out where everything is located within the city.
- Uganda National Mosque- This impressive mosque was completed in 2006 and can hold 15,000 people. It was originally called Gadaffi National Mosque then was renamed in 2013. This is an interesting place to visit, even if you’re not religious.
- Uganda National Museum- This is a nice place to go to learn a bit about Uganda. The museum includes exhibits about natural history, archeology, and the culture of Uganda.
- Take a walk- Central Kampala is safe and surprisingly walkable. I walked around at all hours of the day and night and had a good time just exploring the city and meeting people.
Sample the Local Food and Eat a Rolex
Overall, Ugandan food isn’t too exciting but it is worth a try. Be sure to take advantage of the abundant fresh tropical fruits and veggies. I ate the best tasting avocado that I have ever eaten in a small restaurant in Kampala. Fish is another commonly available dish. Particularly around the lakes. Various roasted meats, stews, cooked vegetables, porridges, and fried breads are also common.
The rolex is a Ugandan delicacy. It’s basically an omelet with tomato and onion wrapped in a chapatti. They are sold in markets and roadside stands all over Uganda for around 40 cents apiece. A rolex makes for a nice snack or meal. This is the best street food that I ate in all of Africa. It’s filling, healthy, cheap, and tasty.
Visit the Source of the White Nile and go White Water Rafting in Jinja
Jinja is a laid-back little town sitting on the shore of Lake Victoria. It is located in the southeast part of the country about 50 miles (81 km) from Kampala. Jinja is a nice town that is worth spending a day or two exploring.
The most popular activity in Jinja white water rafting. The town is famous for it. Some other popular activities include birdwatching, bungee jumping, kayaking, and mountain biking.
Here, you can also visit the source of the White Nile. This river originates in Lake Victoria then flows north into Sudan where it meets up with the Blue Nile. To view the source of the Nile, you can take a boat tour or simply view the area from a lookout point on the shore. You can walk here from Jinja.
Jinja is a very touristy city so prices are slightly higher there than in the rest of Uganda. Because it is such a popular tourist destination, you can find some more upscale restaurants and hotels in town if that is what you are looking for.
Go Chimpanzee Trekking
Chimpanzee trekking for an excellent alternative to gorilla trekking if the gorilla permit is outside of your budget. Some travelers argue that the experience is even better due to the uncanny valley nature of man’s closest living relative, the Chimpanzee. These fascinating creatures share 98.7% of our DNA, after all.
The best place to go Chimpanzee trekking in Uganda is Kabale National Forrest. The tour costs around $150 and takes a full day.
Safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Located in the far west of Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most visited park in the country. Here, you’ll find 95 different species of mammals including 4 of the big 5 as well as 500 species of birds. The park is famous for its rare tree-climbing lions. It’s one of only two places in the world that they exist. You also have an excellent chance of spotting the African Bush Elephant. If you’re looking for wildlife viewing, this is one of the best places in the world.
Queen Elizabeth National park is also known for its spectacular natural beauty. The region contains many unique volcanic features. You’ll see craters, cones, and beautiful crater lakes.
Stand on the Equator
Uganda is one of a handful of countries that straddles the equator. If you haven’t already done this in another part of the world, standing on the equator is an interesting activity to check off of your travel bucket list. You can take a photo at the monument and stand in the Northern and Southern hemispheres at the same time. It’s super touristy but kind of fun.
Here, you’ll also meet guys demonstrating how the flow of water down a drain changes direction as you cross the equator. This is just a trick that these guys do to earn a bit of money from tourists, not a real physical phenomenon. The Coriolis force is not strong enough to change the flow of water over such short distances.
Visit Murchison Falls and Murchison National Park
Also known as Kabalega Falls, Murchison Falls is a spectacular waterfall on the Victoria Nile River where the water forces itself through an 8 meter (23 foot) gap in the rocks and drops 43 meters (141 feet) before flowing into Lake Albert. The area at the bottom of the falls is called Devil’s Cauldron.
The falls lie within Uganda’s largest national park, Murchison National Park. The park is located in the northwestern part of the country. Here, you can view 76 species of mammals, 450 species of birds, and one of the largest populations of Nile crocodiles.
Visit Lake Victoria
Uganda controls 45% of the coastline of Lake Victoria, the largest African Great Lake by surface area. Here, you can enjoy a wide range of recreational activities including hiking, birdwatching, picnics, kayaking, boat tours, fishing, and walking. If you’re lucky, you may spot some wildlife native to the area such as crocodiles, turtles, and hippos.
One thing you may not want to do in Lake Victoria is swim. The lake contains Bilharzia. This is a disease caused by a type parasitic worm. It is commonly found in most Rift Valley lakes. Luckily, the disease is treatable if you do happen to catch it.
Visit the Ssese Islands
While visiting Lake Victoria, consider taking a ferry ride out to the 84 island archipelago called the Ssese Islands. Here, you can relax on the beach, go for a boat ride, fish, hike, or rent a bicycle. This also a great opportunity to meet the local Bantu people who inhabit the islands.
Visit Owino Market
Visiting a Ugandan market is an excellent way to experience local life and see what products are available. Owino Market is probably the biggest and best market in Kampala. Here, you can buy almost anything including food, electronics, clothes, handicrafts, art, and more.
The market is at its largest and busiest on Sundays. Two nearby streets are closed off where vendors set up their stands to sell their goods. If you decide to buy any souvenirs, be sure to negotiate hard to get the best price. Most vendors try to overcharge tourists.
I recommend you treat yourself to some fruits and veggies while visiting the market. I bought the biggest and most beautiful avocados that I’ve ever seen here. They were spectacular. The tomatoes were gorgeous as well.
My Recommended Uganda Itinerary
Assuming you are starting in Kampala, you can easily pair these activities to save travel time. My recommendation would be to first make your way to Sipi Falls. On your way back to Kampala, you can break up the trip by stopping for a day or two in Jinja.
After spending a few days exploring Kampala, you can make your way to Kabale and visit Lake Bunyonyi while waiting for your Gorilla trek to begin. After, you can return to Kampala. From Kampala, you can visit Lake Victoria and spend some time exploring the city.
If you are arriving in Uganda from Kenya by bus, it would make sense to make your way to Sipi Falls first, then Jinja. Next, you would continue on Kampala and on to Kabale. From there, you can easily travel to Kigali, Rwanda by bus. This trip can also easily be done in reverse if you are traveling in the opposite direction.
How I spent my Time in Uganda
I traveled to Uganda from Kenya by bus. Once I reached Kampala, I made the trip to Sipi Falls and visited Jinja on my way back to Kampala. After exploring Kampala, I made my way to Kabale and Lake Bunyonyi before continuing on to Rwanda by Bus. This worked out pretty well and was fairly efficient.
One useful tip I can give if you are starting in Kampala is to leave most of your belongings in a hotel so that you don’t have drag all of your gear around. Most likely, you will be staying in the same place both times you pass through Kampala so you can easily lighten your load to make travel easier. It is a hassle traveling on minibusses with a log of gear. Leaving your bag in Kampala makes travel days a lot less stressful.
Final Thoughts on the Best Things to do in Uganda
For me, Uganda is a do-not-miss country if you are traveling in East Africa. It is one of the most diverse places on earth in terms of natural landscapes and wildlife. You’ll see rainforests, lakes, mountains, savannahs, and hundreds of species of plants, and animals.
The country is also fairly compact, making it easy to get around. From Kampala, you can travel pretty much anywhere within a day. Even with slow and unreliable African transportation, you could probably pack everything on this list into a one-week itinerary and you would have seen most of the country.
Maybe the best thing about Uganda is the people. Everywhere I went, I met friendly locals who were more than willing to help me out or stop for a chat. In fact, According to the BBC, Uganda is the most friendly place for expats. This is one of my favorite countries. I can’t wait to return.
Have you visited Uganda recently? Share your favorite things to do in Uganda in the comments below.
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