Last updated: 05:40 PM ET, Fri September 09 2016

Uganda Goes for Broke

Destination & Tourism | David Cogswell | September 09, 2016

Uganda Goes for Broke

Photo by Isaac Kisamani

The Ugandan government has pushed tourism to a high priority as part of its plans for economic development and has launched a worldwide campaign to draw attention to the country’s unique tourism offerings.

The government’s tourism agency, Tourism Uganda, has hired public relations and marketing firms to promote Uganda in the U.K., Europe and North America. It’s the first time the country has mounted a tourism outreach of this magnitude.

As a tourist destination, Uganda has been eclipsed by higher-profile destinations, such as Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. But Uganda has some very special characteristics that are all its own and make it as attractive a tourism destination as anywhere in Africa.

The fact that Uganda has been largely unnoticed as a tourism destination is not all bad. The advantage is that it is not crowded or overrun by tourists. People on safari in Uganda are not likely to run into swarms of safari vehicles vying with each other for the closest look at that rhino mother and her baby.

And yet Uganda has much of what the best safari destinations in Africa offer, and a few things that cannot be found in the first-tier tourist destinations of Africa.

Only in Uganda

The landscape of Uganda varies widely, from rainforest to savannah to mountains, with rivers and lakes covering 30 percent of the country.

Uganda does have the Big Five, so you can go on safari in Uganda and see lions, rhinos and elephants and zebras and virtually all of the greatest wildlife Africa is famous for. But Uganda also has primates that live only in that part of Africa.

The great mountain gorillas, of which only a few hundred survive, all live in the Virunga Massif. It's the area surrounding a range of volcanoes that produced some of the most fertile soil in the world, from which wildly colorful and robust vegetation bursts forth rampantly.

The countries of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo draw boundaries through this region and divide it among themselves, but it is one region and it is the only place in the world where the gorillas can be found. Uganda has 54 percent of the gorillas.

They are 98 percent genetically identical to humans. The more scientists study the DNA of the two species the closer we seem to be.

READ MORE: 4 Reasons Now is the Time to Go to Africa

Uganda calls its portion of the area Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, and that’s where the gorillas are found. Tracking and encountering gorillas is certainly one of the most mind-blowing bucket list experiences available to travelers today.

Virunga is mountain rainforest, a temperate jungle teeming with robust vegetation. Tracking the gorillas through the dense growth is a challenge, but the reward when you reach the gorillas is well worth it.

Uganda is also home to many chimpanzees, which are even closer to humans than are gorillas, sharing about 99 percent of our DNA. There are tour operators who will arrange safe encounters with chimps as well as gorillas.

The Pearl of Africa

It was Winston Churchill who gave Uganda the title “The Pearl of Africa,” and he had good reason for choosing that metaphor. Uganda is at the heart of Africa. It sits on the equator, but because of its high altitude its temperatures are mild, hovering between 60 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit year round.

With a soil so rich, plenty of rainfall and such a congenial climate, Uganda is hospitable to the widest variety of life forms. Though the country is only the size of Oregon, Uganda has 6 percent of the biodiversity of the entire world.

Stephen Asiimwe, CEO of Tourism Uganda, said that Uganda is home to more species of birds than North America and Europe combined. There are more than a thousand species. Uganda is a breeding ground for many birds that migrate to and from Europe as well as southern Africa. It’s a haven for bird watchers.

Asiimwe said the country also has the largest cultural diversity per square inch in the world, with 64 tribal and language groups.

The lakes and rivers that cover a third of the country add to the beauty and variety of its landscape and to the experiential possibilities for adventurers, who can go hiking, whitewater rafting in warm rapids, bungee jumping, kayaking, horseback safaris and ziplining.

Uganda is the location of the source of the Nile River. The 4,000-mile river begins in Uganda at Lake Victoria, where powerful springs can be seen gushing up to the surface of the lake. From there it streams northward all the way to the Mediterranean.

Historically Uganda was a British protectorate at one time, but not a colony. The country escaped the harsh colonial conditions that affected much of the continent, and as a result the racial tensions between blacks and whites never took hold.

The quotable Churchill himself left perhaps the best endorsement of his favorite African country:

“The scenery, the climate, and especially the people are different from anything elsewhere to be seen in the whole range of Africa.”

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