Uganda: A must-visit destination of wonder and beauty
Lonely Planet has rated Uganda the world’s must-visit destination. Those already familiar with Uganda will no doubt concur with the wisdom of this rating, while those who have not yet been to the ‘Pearl of Africa’ may well be persuaded by the Lonely Planet’s description.
What they will find is an increasingly self-confident nation that is celebrating its 50th anniversary of independence. It is also a nation with a buoyant economy, an improving infrastructure and a tourism sector that continues to go from strength to strength as Uganda’s national parks, spectacular waterfalls and unbeatable biodiversity become better known and more imaginatively packaged.
Uganda has not always been at the top of everyone’s visit list as neighbouring countries with much bigger tourism marketing budgets have stolen the show. This is changing, however, as the uniqueness and sheer variety of the destination become more and more apparent.
Like most African cities, Kampala is no beauty spot. But it’s a pleasant enough place with an agreeable climate and the city is comparatively clean and trouble-free, if a bit congested at times. Kampala has a number of spectacularly good five-star properties at one end of the spectrum as well as a selection of smartly run business hotels and a whole bunch of reasonably priced places to stay.
Kampala’s success is due mainly to its role as a business and conference centre. But the city is also a major base for NGOs, charities and other similar agencies working to improve the everyday life of ordinary Ugandans. These organisations all seem to run seminars and workshops for local people. Most of these events are held in the city’s hotels, providing a sizeable slice of their income.
The nation’s capital has been experiencing a huge boom in hotel construction with still more new properties in the pipeline, although the pace of hotel openings has slowed in the past couple of years. Many of these properties are independently owned and run, providing a mixed bag in terms of quality and service.
Kampala has an 18-hole golf course right in the middle of town and a reasonably good selection of restaurants, although there is still some room for improvement here. The nightlife of Kampala is the envy of East Africa and, what’s more, Ugandan beer is generally agreed to be the best in Africa.
Beyond Kampala, and in opposite directions, there are the two lakeside towns of Jinja and Entebbe. Jinja was once Uganda’s industrial powerhouse, but today it is more of a centre for adventure tourism, while Entebbe provides most visitors with their first glimpse of Uganda after arriving at the international airport.
Other towns of note include Fort Portal (close to the Rwenzoris), Mbarara and Mbale, where visitors will find accommodation of reasonable quality. But the real beauty of Uganda is to be found in its landscape and national parks, of which there are 10 in total.
Out in the national parks there is still work to be done in providing more upmarket and intimate camps and high-quality lodges of the kind which are so popular elsewhere in East Africa and which command top-dollar rates from well heeled visitors.
Even where Uganda does score in providing a near-unique African product, such as in gorilla trekking and hill walking, the potential has yet to be fully exploited. Many will find this an attraction.
So, despite the swift rise in the number of hotels and other types of accommodation, there is still much to be done – especially outside Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja – to ensure that Uganda matches the quality on offer elsewhere. But at least the country is moving in the right direction. In the past, owing to a long and unpleasant period, Uganda was held back in its development as a tourism destination. One thing is certain, however: Uganda is catching up fast.