Exploring Uganda, the Pearl of Africa

04-13-2017 10:52 am

“Jambo!” travel journalists said to one another, upon the encouragement of Tourism Uganda, yesterday (April 12) at a media breakfast held at Colette Grand Café in Toronto.

Jambo – a traditional Swahili greeting of saying “hello” in Uganda – marked a warm start to the info session hosted by Uganda’s tourism board, held to highlight the many adventures one can pursue when visiting the East African country.

Often called the “Pearl of Africa” as a result of Winston Churchill's reference to Uganda in his 1908 book, "My African Journey,” the landscape and animal-rich destination considers tourism "one of its five primary growth sectors," according to Doreen Katusiime, ministry of tourism, wildlife and antiquities with the Republic of Uganda.

“It has great potential for employment,” Katusiime said at the event, noting that 50 per cent of Uganda’s population are youth.

IMG_2623.jpgDoreen Katusiime, ministry of tourism, wildlife and antiquities with the Republic of Uganda

The number of Canadians touring Uganda has grown considerably over the past decade, with 2014 standing out as a record year with 10,425 Canadian visitors, according to stats provided by PHG Consulting.

A population close to 40 million, Uganda is rich in culture and diversity, being home to 50 different indigenous languages belonging to two distinct linguistic groups.

From a tourism standpoint, Uganda ranks high in ensuring visitors see animals that fall under “The Big Five,” but it also offers rare glimpses into the lives of zebras, giraffes, hippopotamuses and warthogs, too, spread across 10 unique National Parks.

“When you look at the map of Uganda, you see a lot of blue. When you see a lot of blue (a lot water) it means there’s a lot of animals,” Paul Cohen, vice-president of PHG Consulting, said in a presentation outlining some of Uganda’s top attractions.

Of all the animals that live in Uganda, the biggest draw, arguably, is the gorillas.

About half of the world’s endangered mountain gorillas (more than 400) live in the Virguna Mountains in southwestern Uganda, where visitors can track habitude groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

Gorilla tracking happens in small groups (no more than eight at a time) and treks can take anywhere between two to five hours depending on one’s physical ability, and depending on what kind of excursion you’re looking for, Cohen said. When a gorilla family is found, groups spend an hour getting close to the animals. “But not too close,” Cohen said.

The difference between seeing gorillas in Uganda as opposed to places such as Rwanda and the Congo is that there’s more gorilla families, therefore more permits available, making the experience less expensive, Cohen said.

IMG_3595 (1).jpgPaul Cohen, vice-president of PHG Consulting

One point that differentiates Uganda from other African destinations, especially when visiting the National Parks, is that “you don’t see a lot of other vehicles,” Cohen said. “We’re not crowded.”

Chimp tracking is a big tourist draw, too, with Murchison Falls National Park housing nearly 700 chimpanzees, including six groups habituated to humans. (In the Canadian market, G Adventures offers a collection of Jane Goodall-branded tours for chimp-tracking in Uganda).

And bird watchers take note – Uganda is home to more than 1,000 species of avifauna.

The top markets for travel to Uganda is multigenerational family travel, Cohen said, noting that the country’s various animal excursions are very accessible. “If you’re older or handicapped, you can arrange for porters to carry you,” he said.

Uganda is serviced by Entebbe International Airport (EBB) with connecting flights to EBB available in Amsterdam, Istanbul, Dubai, Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Brussels, Doha and Abu Dhabi.

For more info, go to visituganda.com.