Encounter gorillas in the jungles of Africa’s Pearl
Hand out-stretched, each knuckle, nail and fingerprint perfectly visible, the gentle giant that is a mountain gorilla, offers an invitation to share a brief but powerful moment of understanding. With calculations surmising that humans and gorillas share up to 98% of their DNA, it’s likely that you’ve been on dates with people you have less in common with than this calm, aware, wide-eyed individual. Watching the family of your new friends play, graze, wrestle and chill out together, was it worth trekking many jungle miles for this opportunity? Absolutely it was.
Winston Churchill coined the term ‘Pearl of Africa’ in his 1908 book discussing the beauty and diversity of the animals, birds and reptiles of Uganda. This land-locked East African nation has been through a lot in the century since then, but undoubtedly its magnificence remains a huge draw. A position over the Equator means you can expect wet and dry seasons rather than the quarterly changes that many visitors are familiar with. The driest periods June to September and December to January are the obvious choice for crowds seeking some Ugandan magic, but a low season experience results in a more intimate, you might even say more spiritual, connection with a special land and its inhabitants, both human and slightly less human.
To this end we’d recommend visiting in May or November. The early rains begin at the end of March and continue through April. They are known as the long rains, not because they last longer, but due to heavy downpours. During April, many parks close, tracks become boggy, and travellers are likely to get stuck. So, choose a date in mid-May when things are opening back up, but prices remain low. At the other end of the year, November is a good option, during the short rains, for excellent rates on accommodation and tours, less congestion in parks and a more relaxed pace to enjoy indigenous traditions while supporting communities of guides, artisans and farmers through the economic instability of seasonal swings in tourist activity.
Wild and Natural
Uganda might be best known for its gorilla and chimpanzee trekking opportunities, but with ten stunningly beautiful national parks, there are also plenty of chances to see the ‘Big Five’ – lion, leopard, rhino, elephant, and buffalo. Professional guides advise on how to enjoy the best of Ugandan wildlife even in low season. Murchison Falls National Park is the largest of the protected areas and is home to phenomenal wildlife, over 450 bird species, and the thunderous waters themselves, known locally as Kabalega Falls. It’s here that the Nile squeezes through rocks just 7 metres apart. Another favourite hotspot is Queen Elizabeth National Park, renowned for its tree-climbing lions, but if you really want to get off the beaten track, consider Kidepo Valley, the most isolated of the country’s reserves.
On the northern shores of massive Lake Victoria, source of the River Nile, the city of Jinja is a popular centre to get your fix of exciting activities. Imagine breakfasting in a hot air balloon at sunrise, or enjoying boat trips, paddle boarding or horse riding in breath-taking scenery surrounded by colourful wildlife and birds. Or are you into something rather more exhilarating? There are plenty of professional operators offering adventurous opportunities. Try bungee jumping from a height of 40 metres into the waters of the Nile far below, white water rafting on grade 5 rapids or zip-lining through a forest filled with primates. With constant equipment checks and continuous training, these activities might be safe, but you’ll be left feeling almost as wild as the jungles around you.