On June 3, 1886 in the town of Namugongo just northeast of Kampala, 26 young men were burned to death for their refusal to their Anglican and Catholic faiths. The Uganda Martyrs' Shrine, also called the Namugongo Martyrs' Shrine, was built on the site to commemorate the lives lost and was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
The church, built in the shape of a typical Baganda hut, features 22 copper pillars representing each of the 22 Catholic men, all of whom were formally canonized in 1964, a first in modern Africa. On June 3 each year, Catholic pilgrims from throughout Uganda visit the Uganda Martyrs' Shrine to pay their respects and attend mass.
You can reach the Uganda Martyrs' Shrine via public transportation along the road from Kampala to Jinja.
This massive park in the countryside of Uganda is home to the famed Rabonga Forest, the Nile River and plenty of wildlife. Travelers will find hippos, chimps and plenty of crocodiles on a visit to this stunning natural wonderland.
Travelers can take a boat cruise along the Nile and get up close to bathing elephants, water buffalo and massive hippos. Game drives through the vast savannah showcase the best of this country’s wildlife, including giraffes, warthogs, baboons, honey badgers and even an occasional lion! Some tour outfits offer birding adventures for those who want to check winged creatures off their Life List and chimp walks through the landscapes give visitors once-in-a-lifetime access to these incredible primates. Travelers can purchase handmade items and unique souvenirs at nearby Boomu Women’s Group and support this unique female-run collective.
The park is beautiful to visit anytime of year, but travelers should be advised that rains occur most often between April and May and October and November. Visitors must hire their own car or driver to enter the park, as there is no public transportation. A one-day permit costs US$30, which is included in most tour prices.
Nearly half the planet’s remaining mountain gorillas live within Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda. It’s one of only three places in the world where travelers can see this critically endangered animals in the wild. Located in Southwestern Uganda, Bwindi covers 124 square miles (320 square kilometers) of plains and mountain forest famous for its biodiversity. Besides the iconic gentle giants, some 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds and 202 species of butterflies live amid the 200 tree and 100 fern species.
While the park is a birdwatcher’s paradise (sighting 150 species in a single day isn’t uncommon) and has more mammal species than any of Uganda’s other national parks, visitors come to this UNESCO World Heritage site to track mountain gorillas. Each morning, trekkers head out into the forest in search of one of about a dozen gorilla families (between 300 and 400 individuals).
The best time to track gorillas is during the dry months from December to March and June to September, but permits are easier to get ahold of during rainier months.
Located in the Kisoro District of southwestern Uganda, scenic Lake Mutanda sits in the shadows of a string of misty volcanoes and is a popular base camp for gorilla trackers, bird watchers and volcano trekkers taking excursions into Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga National Park.
Due to its remote location and limited accommodation options, Lake Mutanda remains pristine and tranquil. Located in a region aptly nicknamed “Little Switzerland,” the freshwater lake attracts a wide variety of birds to its shores, including Uganda’s national bird, the grey-crowned crane. Birdwatching boat trips often encounter pelicans, Hadada ibis, African spoonbill, sacred ibis, kites, hawks and buzzards. The unique African clawless otter also calls the lake home.
Lake Mutanda is also one of only a few lakes in Uganda safe for swimming (no bilharzia, hippos or crocodiles to worry about), as well as canoeing or paddling in a traditional dug-out canoe.
You can reach Lake Mutanda by hiring a local taxi, called a boda-boda, in Kisoro.
The Uganda National Mosque, formerly called the Gaddafi National Mosque, is to the city of Kampala what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris and the Statue of Liberty to New York. Located in the old city on Kampala Hill, the giant 12-acre facility serves as the headquarters of Islam in Uganda.
Construction of the mosque began in 2004, after the unfinished Old Kampala National Mosque from the 1970s was demolished. Completed in 2008, the mosque can accommodate some 35,000 worshippers, but double the number pack in during Ramadan and other Islamic holidays.
Foreign visitors—even non-Muslims—are welcome to visit the inside of the mosque, but they’re required to pay a small fee. The mosque maintains a staff of guides who offer tours of the interior.
When visiting the Uganda National Mosque, women should wear loose-fitting clothing that covers the arms and legs, as well as a scarf to cover the head. Men must wear pants and a sleeved shirt.
Address: Plot 23/25 Old Kampala Road, Kampala, Uganda
Since 1952 this incredible park has been attracting host country nationals and foreign travelers alike, thanks to diverse wildlife, stunning landscapes and volcanic craters. Widely-recognized for having the largest concentration of hippos in the world, Queen Elizabeth National Park is also home to chimpanzees and a variety of antelope species. Visitors who venture to the Ishasha River Camp will find dozens of elephants living in the surrounding grasslands and a lucky few may even spot the King of the Jungle relaxing in the branches of African shade trees. In addition to game drives, visitors will find navigating the landscapes of this vast park truly memorable, thanks to diverse terrain, which includes winding rivers, crater lakes, volcanic peaks, thick forests and vast savannahs.
The park is located between Lake Edward and Lake George. A day pass costs $40 per person and Chimpanzee tracking in Kyamura Gorge is about $50 per person. Most travelers hire their own cars, since well-marked paths are usually easy to maneuver even in 2-wheel-drive vehicles, but tour outfits offer options for those who want to avoid going it on their own.
One of the richest areas of biodiversity in all of Uganda is Kibale National Park, known primarily for its chimpanzees but equally for its tropical forest. Kibale National Park covers just under 300 square miles in southwestern Uganda, with the much larger Queen Elizabeth National Park just to the south of it. These adjacent parks give wildlife lots of room, which makes this part of Uganda particularly popular for safaris.
Chimpanzees are the most sought-after sight in Kibale, but they're not the only wildlife to see. Other animals in the area include elephants, buffalo, warthogs, bushbucks, leopards, mongoose, and more than 375 species of birds. There are also other primates, such as the Uganda mangabey, red colobus monkey, and L'Hoest's monkey.
Chimpanzee tracking is available year-round in Kibale National Park, though it's more difficult (and less comfortable) during the rainy season (usually October-December and March-May). These safari trips are done on foot, not in vehicles.
Address: Kabarole, Uganda
Admission: Permits required for chimpanzee tracking
Founded in 1908, the Uganda Museum in Kampala is considered one of the best museums in all East Africa. The museum’s extensive collection is divided among exhibits on Ugandan history, culture, science, natural history and archeology, making it a great first stop for first time visitors to get a thorough introduction to the country.
Highlights of the Uganda Museum collection include an exhibit on traditional musical instruments (some of which visitors can play), fossilized remains of an 8 million years-extinct Napak rhino and a cultural village filled with recreated traditional homes from various Ugandan tribes.
With a fairly cheap admission price, a visit to the Uganda Museum is well worth a couple hours of your Kampala itinerary.