Travellers are flocking to Uganda's beautiful mountains, trekking opportunities and communities of mountain gorillas. Kampala is now the modern, bustling capital of a new Uganda, a country with one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.
Uganda's long string of tragedies since independence has been a staple of the Western media, so most people still regard the country as an unstable place to be avoided. However, it's getting back on its feet and the transformation is little short of astounding.
Before independence, Uganda was a prosperous and cohesive country. Its great beauty led Winston Churchill to refer to it as the 'Pearl of Africa', but by the mid-1980s it lay shattered and bankrupt, broken by tribal animosity, nepotism, insanely corrupt politics, mass murder and military tyranny. Despite the killings and brutality, Ugandans appear to have weathered the storm remarkably well. However, even rose-coloured glasses won't hide the country's huge debt, AIDS crisis and wonky human rights record.
Parts of Uganda should be considered off-limits due to a highly volatile security situation. Rebels in the north are responsible for many crimes against civilians. Ethnic conflict and banditry are common irritants in the northeastern Karamoja region and in neighbouring Katakwi district.
Sections of the country's mountainous west bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo previously considered insecure - including the Ruwenzori mountains and the Bwindi National Park - have been secured by the government, Nebbi district being the exception.
Much of southern and western Uganda is safe. Areas in the north to avoid include Gulu (including Murchison Falls National Park), Kitgum, Pader, Adjumani, Apac and Lira districts. Kidepo National Park should be visited by air, not by road.
Full country name: Republic of Uganda
Area: 237,000 sq km
Population: 24.6 million
Capital City: Kampala
People: Baganda, Lango, Acholi, Pygmy, European, Asian, Arab
Language: Swahili, English, Ganda
Religion: Roman Catholic (33%), Protestant (33%), indigenous beliefs (18%), Muslim (16%)
Head of State: President Yoweri Museveni
Head of Government: Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi
GDP: US$22.7 billion
GDP per capita: US$1,020
Major Industries: Coffee, sugar, brewing, cotton, tea, textiles, tobacco
Major Trading Partners: Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, Italy, Kenya, UK., Japan, India, South Africa
back to top
Uganda celebrates many Christian holidays, including Christmas, Easter and Good Friday. The Muslim population honors Islamic holidays, which follow the Muslim calendar. Hari Raya Puasa, the sighting of the new moon, signifies the first day of the Muslim calendar and the end of Ramadan, the fasting month. Women's Day takes place throughout the country in early March. There are also several holidays associated with independence and events during the civil wars: Liberation Day is 26 January; Martyrs' Day is 3 June; Heroes' Day is 9 June; and Independence Day is 9 October.
back to top
Currency: Ugandan Shilling
Since the elimination of the black market and the introduction of foreign exchange (forex) bureaus, Uganda is one of the most expensive countries in East Africa. Enjoying the finer things in life here requires a minimum of US$75 a day. Moderate food and accommodation take at least US$40 a day. Those on a budget can try to squeak by on US$20 a day. National park entry fees are about US$15 per person per day.
The Ugandan shilling is a stable, fully convertible currency, fluctuating very little from day to day. It doesn't matter too much where you change your money, though the forex bureaus generally offer better rates than the banks. You'll find forex bureaus at most border posts and in all major cities. For maximum flexibility take most of your money in travellers' cheques and the rest in cash, preferably US dollars, British pounds or South African rand. Credit cards are accepted only at larger hotels and restaurants.
You won't be expected to tip in Uganda, though feel free to do so if you've received exceptional service. Bargain when buying things from a market, street stall or craft shop.
back to top
A modern, bustling capital, Kampala suffered a great deal during the years of civil strife. In the decade or so since President Museveni came to power, the city has gone from a looted shell to a thriving city befitting the capital of one of the most rapidly developing countries in Africa.
The electricity works, clean water comes out of the taps, damaged buildings are now habitable, many new ones have gone up, and the shops and markets are once again well stocked. These days, Kampala even has casinos, nightclubs and fancy restaurants. And it's safe.
Bwindi National Park
Bwindi is one of Uganda's most recently created national parks. Formerly known as the Impenetrable Forest, the park covers 330 sq km (128 sq mi) in the southwest of the country, very close to the Congo border. It encompasses one of the last remaining habitats of the mountain gorilla.
The park is home to half of the surviving mountain gorillas in the world - an estimated 320 individuals. It's one of the richest areas in Africa for flora and fauna, containing elephants, the rare giant forest hog and at least 10 species of primate. Head to Buhoma, on the northern edge of the park.
Jinja lies on the shores of Lake Victoria and is chock-a-block with old Asian-style buildings, reflecting the days when the town had a sizeable Asian community. The town was virtually owned by Asians until Idi Amin unceremoniously kicked them out of the country.
Many of the Asian population have started to return and the town is once again becoming prosperous. Jinja is also one of the spots on which Mahatma Gandhi chose to have his ashes scattered. A statue commemorates Gandhi at a Hindu temple near town.
back to top