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Batwa Trailmarker

Mgahinga National Park

Let's face it - cultural experiences designed specifically for tourists tend to be more than a little kitsch. So the Batwa Trail in Mgahinga National Park is a pleasant surprise, despite the obviously fake outfits (furs with zips?). This is largely because the Batwa guides/instructors seem to enjoy themselves so much during the trail - the hunting reenactment is particularly entertaining - and you do learn a great deal about everything from spirituality and past living conditions to tracking, trapping and water gathering. There are two versions, one long and one short, with the former being a nice way to see a bit more of the park. Only the final group singing-and-dancing session is a bit tacky. Still, the Batwa - displaced by the Ugandan government when the various national parks were designated in the latter part of the 20th century - have a fascinating culture, and this is one of the few ways in which they can share it with the outside world.
 
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Buhomamarker

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Calling Buhoma a town is perhaps a bit of an exaggeration; it's more of a single-street settlement. It's a dirt road, so Buhoma is either dusty or muddy depending on the season, but it's by no means unpleasant. The last hundred metres or so before the park gates are of most interest to visitors, as this stretch is packed with handicraft shops and cafes. There isn't much else in town to keep tourists occupied, although the Bwindi Community Hospital is impressive and worth a visit. Few people are drawn here by the charms of Buhoma itself though, and for its main attraction - gorilla tracking - it is perfect, with most accommodation options within easy reach of the information centre and park head quarters.
 
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Bwindi Impenetrable National Parkmarker

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

For many people Bwindi isn't just the highlight of their visit to Uganda, it is the ONLY place they visit: travel agents often combine a safari in Kenya or Tanzania with a couple of nights here. Bwindi has about half of the world's remaining mountain gorillas, and despite everything else the park has to offer, this is by far its biggest drawcard. It is a beautiful park, but it is also highly varied: this depends largely on where you end up going. Near Buhoma, which is the commercial and administrative hub of the park, you will often be within view of farmed fields, houses or people (even if you have trekked for over an hour) and the hills here are extremely steep. Farther into the park the feeling is far more prehistoric, and you no longer wonder why the forest is referred to as being impenetrable - it's tough going! There are a few other organised activities (nature walks, cultural visits, even multi-day walks into or out of the park), but that's probably not why you'll be coming here. Still, it's worth hanging around for an extra day or two inside the park without the time pressure involved when tracking gorillas.
 
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Dugout canoesmarker

Southwestern Uganda

The lakes of southwestern Uganda are stunning, but seeing them from the shore hardly does them justice. While it is possible to explore some of the lakes by motor boat, a much nicer way to do it is with traditional, dugout canoes. They won't be fast, but this is how most of the locals move themselves and their goods, and it's a far more atmospheric way of getting around. The easiest lake to organise short trips on is Bunyonyi, but Mutanda is another great option, as are the many other small lakes in the region. Canoe trips can range from an hour or two to multi-day affairs, and while some canoes are exceedingly comfortable (reclining seats with cushions), others are less so. Make sure you at least have a stool to sit on - sitting on the floor of the canoe isn't so nice, especially since water has a tendency to seep in...
 
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Echuya Forestmarker

Southwestern Uganda

There are two pretty amazing things concerning Echuya Forest. One is the forest itself - such a beautiful place. The second is the fact that it receives practically no visitors at all. OK, so there aren't any gorillas or chimpanzees here, but this is still a pretty incredible place. You'll find it between lakes Bunyonyi and Kayumbu (walking between the two through the forest is a great hike), on the border to Rwanda, although the easiest access is from the Kabale-Kisoro road. There's not much big wildlife here (you might spot the occasional monkey or deer) but there are plenty of smaller critters around. It's best to go with a guide, as the forest is fairly dense in places, and there are marshes and bogs. If you can, find yourself a knowledgable Batwa to show you around; the Batwa have lived in these forests for thousands of years, and theirs is a fascinating culture.
 
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Golden Monkey Trackingmarker

Mgahinga National Park

While most people come to Mgahinga to hike one of its volcanoes or track mountain gorillas, golden monkeys are a great alternative if you have a day to spare. They are very rare, and this is one of only two places to see them (the other being in Rwanda). You have two options. The first is not dissimilar to gorilla tracking: a guide will take you to the only fully habituated troop, and you will spend one hour watching them go about their business in the bamboo forest. The second is a more wholesome experience, and your guide in this case is zoologist Sandra Grey, the world's foremost expert on these primates. The troop she works with is not fully habituated, and there is no guarantee that you will actually see the monkeys, but Sandra will not only teach you about the forest in general, you will also get a fascinating insight into the day-to-day work of a field zoologist in Africa. And if you do find the monkeys, you won't be limited to the single hour. A word of warning though - the bamboo forest is surprisingly dark, the monkeys are fairly small, and they move quickly, so don't expect to walk away with fabulous photographs.
 
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Gorilla tracking, Bwindimarker

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

People often baulk at the high cost of gorilla tracking, especially since you only get a single hour in the company of the animals, but it's so, so worth it. Gorillas are among our closest relatives, and that connection is undeniable when you end up face-to-face with one of them. Gorilla tracking is a fantastic experience, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Bwindi is very hilly and slippery, with plenty of nettles and thorns, so be sure to dress appropriately - and be prepared to walk for several hours if the gorillas happen to be far away. They are very susceptible to human disease, so try to respect the 7m minimum distance even if the rangers urge you to get closer. And stay calm - gorillas are gentle, but enormously strong, so surprising them with sudden movements isn't a great idea. All gorilla encounters are memorable, but if you want a bit of fun, try to arrange to visit a family with several youngsters, as they tend to be both more active and more curious than their adult counterparts. There are numerous habituated families in Bwindi, each different from the next, but all equally captivating. Absolutely unforgettable.
 
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Gorilla tracking, Mgahingamarker

Mgahinga National Park

It is difficult to describe the incredible feeling of getting up close and personal with gorillas. Their intelligence is undeniable, and their close relation to humans (second only to chimpanzees and bonobos) apparent at every moment. Mgahinga National Park is one of only two parks in Uganda home to the highly endangered mountain gorillas, but unlike Bwindi, Mgahinga has only a single habituated family - and sometimes not even that, as they regularly cross into Rwanda. But when they're around, the Nyakagezi family is a great one to visit. While currently consisting of only ten members, five of these are silverbacks, so if you want an adrenaline-filled gorilla encounter this might be the family for you. Furthermore, this park is much more off the beaten track than Bwindi, so chances are you'll have the gorillas all to yourself. Trekking here is also (usually) less strenuous than at Bwindi, where the steep hills can be quite daunting.
 
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Kabalemarker

Kabale

It's hard to know what to make of Kabale. Like many African urban areas it's a rather sprawling, dusty affair, and the town itself offers few incentives to hang around. But it is the gateway to the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, and its location on the road from Kampala makes it an almost essential stop-over spot for independent travellers. That's not to say that it's a total waste of time, however. It's an interesting place to take in a bit of Bakiga culture, food and accommodation is very cheap, and you're likely to bump into plenty of other travellers. The green hills just south of the town (within walking distance from most backpacker accommodation options) provide very nice views of it, especially in the early morning, and on the fields below you can join a local soccer game or simply watch people begin their days.
 
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Lake Bunyonyimarker

Lake Bunyonyi

The lakes of southwestern Uganda are famously beautiful, and Lake Bunyonyi is by far the best known - and easily one of the prettiest. It's fairly easy to get to from nearby Kabale, and the drive over has a few stunning viewpoints. This is the most touristy of the region's lakes, meaning that there are plenty of places to stay and organise canoe trips. Most resorts and restaurants are at the lake's eastern side - the rest of it doesn't really see many visitors, although there are plenty of small local communities living there. Bunyonyi is fairly free from hazards such as bilharzia, hippos and crocodiles - making swimming about as safe as it can get - and it has a lot of interesting places to visit. Punishment Island, for example, where pregnant, unmarried women were left to die. But more than that, it's a great place to just chill, particularly if for those on long, grueling overland trips.
 
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Flag of Uganda

Name: Republic of Uganda
Population: 34,500,000
Capital: Kampala
Currency: Ugandan shilling
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