Yesterday, I was a guest on a radio program talking about our recent juvenile justice work in Africa. One of the initial questions was about the “perils” of visiting Africa: Is it safe? Is it a major endeavor?
I think most people want to visit Africa at some point in their lives–if not for some humanitarian purpose, then at least to go on safari or see the mountain gorillas. Africa is indeed an amazing and diverse continent that is not to be missed. Uganda, in particular, is a great country—I just made my fifth trip this. If you’re considering a visit to Africa (or you’ve never desired to visit Africa, but might unexpectedly find yourself there one day), it’s a good place to start any journey. As a matter of fact, Lonely Planet ranked Uganda the #1 travel destination for 2012. Rwanda is also at the top of my list–and I recommend seeing both countries on the same trip. With Rwanda fast-paced development, it’s surpassed some of the “rustic charms” you might expect from Africa. Kigali feels like a European city–an example of the direction much of Africa is heading.
Here are five good reasons to visit Uganda:
- It’s Relatively Safe and Stable – Uganda is relatively. In the 6 years that I’ve been sending large groups to Uganda, the only incident we had was a stolen laptop once. I suspect we would be hard pressed to have the same results in Europe. It’s also relatively stable. I say relatively because there is the occasional protest—we watch things carefully, but no political situation has yet stopped us from going. But, if you look around Uganda, it looks like a safehaven. Congo: basketcase. Sudan: Basketcase. Burundi: basketcase. Kenya: Mixed—as I left Uganda they had terrorism warnings. The only neighboring country with stability is Rwanda—a personal favorite to visit.
- Safaris – Kenya and Tanzania typically get highest marks for safaris in the region. While I haven’t had the chance to go on safari in either country, the gave drives in Uganda have not left me disappointed. When I bring groups, we always make the 5 hour drive north to Murchison Falls National Park. Entering Murchison is like driving into Jurassic Park on red dirt roads through a dense forest. You finally arrive at the Nile where you have to take a ferry to the delta where the animals make their home. No trip to Murchison is complete without a boat ride up the Nile to the base of the falls. If you’ve ever been on Disney’s Jungle Cruise ride, you will feel like what you’re experiencing isn’t real, but some Imagineer’s version of Africa. I recommend staying at Paraa Lodge—everything you would except from a game lodge. Then, early in the morning, you rise to go on a game drive. Elephants, giraffes, water buffalo, and even—this year I finally saw them—lions. The only missing animal in Africa’s big 5 is the rhino—they no longer live in the wild in Uganda, but there is a rhino farm if time permits.
- Diverse Cultures – Uganda has diversity. We learned from our work with kids that there are dozens of actively spoken languages and dozens of self-identifying people groups. Northern Uganda is not like Kampala, and it’s definitely not like Karamoja. Those who live in the south sometimes can’t understand a word spoken by those from the north—they could easily be different countries! With so much in such a small country, it makes for an interesting visit that will keep you on your toes.
- Adventure – Uganda has a growing adventures tourism industry, with a lot of room for more. My favorite thing to do in Uganda is go whitewater rafting on the Nile River—some of the world’s best Class 5 rapids. In addition to rafting, there are the game drives, bungee jumping for those comfortable with local safety inspections, visiting waterfalls, climbing mountains, and, of course, simple travel throughout the country is an adventure in itself. I would bet that the adventure travel industry sector in Uganda is only getting started.
- There’s Even More to Do – Despite visiting five times now, I’ve always got more to do. I want to climb Mount Elgon and the Rwenzori Mountains. They are fairly serious climbs—no day trip from Kampala. I learned of some islands in Lake Victoria that I would like to visit one day. I’ve never been to Queen Elizabeth Park for a safari and I still want to visit Karamoja. I guess I need to go back–several more times.
As Pepperdine Law professor Carol Chase remarked mid-way through our recent trip, “I would have never thought about bringing my family on a vacation Africa, but now I wonder why not.” Try it for yourself–you might be surprised.