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A Gap Year in Uganda

Why go backpacking in Uganda?

Oh Uganda, where do we start! There is so much to keep any restless backpacker busy in this land-locked country of East Africa. Spot the big five on a safari, go chimpanzee tracking in the jungles, or hike the mountains to catch a rare glimpse of a mountain gorilla. You can sunbathe on islands in the middle of Lake Victoria, watch the flowing current of the source of the Nile, awe at historic crater lakes and stand over the equator. No wonder Winston Churchill declared this land the ‘pearl of Africa’.

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Cities and sights

The first port of call for most travellers will be Entebbe as this is where the Uganda’s international airport is. Entebbe is home to more than an airport though: this where the incredible Lake Victoria lies, Africa’s largest lake and the world’s second largest freshwater lake. Visitors can take boat trips or canoe across the water to the Sesse Islands in the middle of the lakes for a moment of relaxation, sunbathing, and peace. The Entebbe Botanical Gardens is a great place to take in the views of this vast lake, with jungle areas, monkey, birds and parrots to keep you company.

The Entebbe Wildlife Education Centre is another place to add if you haven’t quite managed to tick off every animal you wanted to see. Via the airport, this rescue and rehabilitation centre will allow you to get up close with giraffes, rhinos and lions, although the amount of animals varies as they eventually are released. It’s a great way to learn about the African mammals and birds and to understand the importance of conservation.

Kalampa is Uganda’s capital and only city, and since adopting the US dollar, Uganda’s economy is booming. This growing city offers the usual quirks of any capital, with music venues, bars, club, and restaurants that sample world cuisines although it’s worth trying the local meal, Luwombo which is a meat or ground nut served in steamed banana leaves. To get a taster of rural Uganda, backpackers can take a bicycle tour to visit the local villages surrounding Kampala, and meet the locals. The standard way of getting from A-to-B is to hail a boda-boda, a small motorbike with a seat in the back, and take the slightly-death-defying ride through the streets. You can ask to go slower if it’s a bit too thrilling.

National Parks and Wildlife

National Parks are in abundance in Uganda, and if you’re lucky enough to get to all ten then you’ll be treated to a wide variety of landscapes, scenery and wildlife. The most famous National Park in Uganda has got to be the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park where a large proportion of the endangered mountain gorilla lives. You have to get a permit to see them and you’ll need a gorilla guide who will know where to find them and they’ll be able to advise you.  There are also monkeys, chimpanzees and over 100 other mammals here as well as the alien-looking hornbill bird.

If you want to do some serious primate spotting then Kibale Forest is the best place for chimpanzee tracking. This tropical rainforest is a wet one and sees annual rainfall, and where there’s rainfall there is a hell of a lot of life. There are 13 species of primate and 70 mammals, including elephants, leaopards, warthogs and golden cats, which is like a large spotted cat…or a small cheetah. It can go either way.

Situated near Kibale National Park, Rwenzori Mountains and Queen Elizabeth National park, Fort Portal is the ideal base camp for those focusing their backpacking trip on becoming one with nature. Western Uganda is also home to extinct volcanoes which have formed some pretty impressive crater lakes. Ask around about the ‘Top of the World’ hike which takes you past several crater lakes, villages and tea plantations.


One of Uganda’s biggest events is the 9-day long East African Safari Rally. For more than 50 years, owners of classic cars (pre 1971) take to the rugged terrain of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, crossing deep rivers and dirt travels every two years in November.

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