With its abundance of magnificent natural scenery, Uganda is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. It offers world-class white water rafting at the source of the Nile and some of the region’s more peaceful national parks, where wildlife viewing does not involve long waits. Take your pick from the highest mountain range in Africa, the Rwenzori Mountains; one of the most powerful waterfalls in the world, Murchison Falls; or perhaps the highest primate density in the world, in Kabale Forest National park – Uganda has all this and more.
Uganda is home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorilla population. There is only one mountain gorilla for every ten million people on Earth. Tracking gorillas is an intensive experience that may require endurance but gives one a reward of the most interesting encounters with nature.
In most parks, a few gorilla families have been habituated so as your guide leads you through the trails of thick forest canopies, they can update you on the life histories and family stories of the various groups of gorillas.
Habituating a gorilla means getting them used to humans, for tourism and research purposes. This process takes between 2 to 3 years to accomplish. The national park field staff are trained to endure a game of patience as they watch gorilla families from afar. The skeptical animals will look at them with suspicion at first until rapport is established to a point where a gorilla family will stand within five metres of human presence. It is only after this habituation exercise that tourists are allowed to see the gorillas. Groups of gorillas are continuously monitored and since they are now fearless of human intrusion, they have to be protected for their own safety.
1. Know the Geography
Situated in eastern Africa, Uganda is mostly a plateau – a compact country occupying an area of 236580 square kilometres, roughly the size of Great Britain. It lies astride the Equator and has a mild climate with copious rainfall that is experienced three times a year.
2. Know When to Visit
Uganda is situated astride the Equator, so the country enjoys a tropical climate with very little temperature variation throughout the year. The main factor that determines your visit will be the rainfall patterns. In the southern part of the country, April is the rainiest
month. The rains stretch upto May, with another wet season in October and November. And although the dry months are good for bird-watching, do not forget the fact that the wet months are more productive since breeding takes place during those months.
3. Know the Weather
The country is known for its sunny and rainy weather which often does not require warm clothing except on some chilly nights in the mountainous areas in western and eastern Uganda. It is mostly sunny throughout the year, especially in the central region. Rainfall comes in torrents when delayed,especially when the expected patterns are delayed for some months.
Distinctive wet and dry seasons are typical of most Ugandan areas. For example, in the southern half of Uganda there is rainfall from March to May and September to November. The rest of the periods are dry. There is a well-distributed rainfall pattern around the Lake Victoria Crescent, with storms and unpredictable rains falling during seasons when there is no rain elsewhere in Uganda.
Areas such as Karamoja in the northeast are dry due to the dry winds blowing in from Somalia. There is very little variation in the weather in Uganda except for the mountain areas. The copious rains and bright sunshine are most responsible for successful rain-fed agriculture where grains,fruits and vegetables grow in abundance.
4. Know How to Camp
When camping in Uganda, there are some guidelines which may prove useful to you:
• Take along a First Aid kit with the usual essentials, sterile needles and syringes.
• Be aware of any environmental impact your visit may cause. You may use fuel wood for charcoal grilling your food as long as you do not start fires. Kerosene may also be used in cooking, but make sure that all the litter that is going to be left behind is properly buried.
Uganda suffers from a major environmental problem caused by polythene materials. Minimise use of them since they are non-biodegradable.
• A good water purifying system is useful. In case you have tablets, they will be handy. Otherwise, Uganda’s river and lake water is fresh enough to be boiled.
• Park regulations insist that you drive in before 1800 hours. Driving at night is prohibited.
• Uganda is a land of hospitable and courteous people, so be considerate of other people by, for example, avoiding the playing of loud music.
• When walking through any area, use the existing trails. Otherwise you encourage the widening of paths which can destroy the fragile environment.
5. Know Where to Track
Visitors come to Uganda to watch gorillas which are found in southwestern Uganda in two of only four parks in the world where the gentle creatures live. One park is Mghahinga, where chances of seeing mountain gorillas is tricky but assured. The second is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where you will surely see a gorilla family during its morning nap or late afternoon siesta after a good meal. Gorilla watching permits are expensive and there are queues to follow. If you want to track the gentle giants, you have to wait in order to be put on the manifest of those who have been permitted. You could be eliminated from the list on a slight suspicion of illness like flu because gorillas are easily susceptible to human diseases to which they have no immunity.