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Uganda - When and where to visit
Uganda lies on the elevated basin which rises between the eastern and western branches of the Great Rift Valley. Most of the country is over 1,000m in altitude, and the topography is generally quite flat. The most mountainous part of Uganda is the Kigezi region in the southwest. North of Kigezi, on the Congolese border, the 70km-long and 30km-wide Rwenzori Mountains form the highest mountain range in Africa; Margherita Peak (5,109m) on Mount Stanley, the highest point in the Rwenzori, is exceeded in altitude on the African continent only by the free-standing Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro. Other large mountains in Uganda include the volcanic Virunga range on the border with Rwanda and the DRC, and Mount Elgon, a vast extinct volcano straddling the Kenyan border. There are several smaller volcanic mountains in the north and east.
With the exception of the semi-arid northeast, Uganda is characterised by high precipitation and fertile soils. Indeed, close on 25% of the country’s surface comprises water. In the southeast, Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa and second-largest freshwater body in the world, is shared between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. In the west, lakes Albert, Edward and George lie on the Albertine Rift floor straddling or close to the Congolese border. At Jinja, on the Lake Victoria shore, Owen Falls (now submerged by the Owen Falls Dam) is the primary source of the White Nile, the world’s longest river, which passes through the marshy and ill-defined Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert.
Uganda’s equatorial climate is tempered by its elevated altitude. In most parts of the country, the daily maximum is between 20°C and 27°C and the minimum is between 12°C and 18°C. The highest temperatures in Uganda occur on the plains immediately east of Lake Albert, while the lowest have been recorded on the glacial peaks of the Rwenzori. Except in the dry north, where in some areas the average annual rainfall is as low as 100mm, most parts of Uganda receive an annual rainfall of between 1,000mm and 2,000mm. There is wide regional variation in rainfall patterns. In western Uganda and the Lake Victoria region it can rain at almost any time of year. As a rough guide, however, the wet seasons are from mid-September to November and from March to May.
Equator-straddling Uganda has a warm climate all year round and seasonal temperature variations are insignificant, but a strongly seasonal rainfall pattern. The wettest months are April, May, October and November. Campers won’t enjoy these months very much (you’ll be packing up your tent in the rain as often as not) while hiking on the Rwenzori can be particularly miserable. Abundant rainfall also means that large wildlife tends not to congregate conveniently around water sources in the national parks. On the other hand, photographers seeking landscapes will revel in the haze-free atmosphere of the wetter months.
For many visitors, the highlight of a visit to Uganda is the opportunity to track mountain gorillas and consequently, most formal itineraries follow an established circuit between Kampala and the gorilla parks in the extreme southwest of the country. This is, fortunately, the area with the greatest density of natural attractions and associated infrastructure. A typical tour heads west from Kampala or the international airport at nearby Entebbe to the scenic Fort Portal area where the main attraction is chimpanzee tracking in the forested Kibale National Park, followed by a two- to three-night visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) at the foot of the Rwenzori Mountains. South of QENP is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which offers no fewer than four separate gorilla tracking locations. It’s a long haul from Bwindi back to Kampala/Entebbe and many tour operators now offer their clients an overnight break at Lake Mburo National Park. It is possible to cover this itinerary in seven days (ten would be better) and many people do. However, those with time and flexibility to delay and detour will discover much more. Days can be spent exploring the Fort Portal and Rwenzori area, while Lake Bunyonyi and the Virunga volcanoes are worthwhile diversions near Bwindi.
A trip along the Victoria Nile is one of the highlights of any visit to Murchison Falls NP © Ariadne Van Zandbergen
Visitors intent on reaching true East African wilderness (a rare commodity in the densely populated south of Uganda) will want to head north to the Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley national parks. These experiences do, however, incur a cost of increased travel time and expenditure. Visitors with time for a day trip at the end of their visit invariably head east from Kampala to visit the famed Source of the Nile at Jinja. If this event represents a tick on a list rather than a life-affirming experience, the same cannot be said for Jinja’s other main attraction: the menu of adventure sports offered along the Nile corridor north of the town. Activities such as white-water rafting, kayaking, bungee jumping and quad biking attract a steady flow of the young and young at heart.
If you want to view and compare sample itineraries, please see the Uganda gorilla trekking and safari tours section on SafariBookings. This comparison website lists tours offered by both local and international tour operators.