The misted mountains of Uganda, Africa, home to imperial silverback gorillas are quickly becoming the hot — and haute — destination for the ultimate trip of a lifetime.
Blissfully off the beaten path and virtually untouched, the landscape here is nothing short of epic. It includes razorback mountains — the tallest in Africa — lush, terraced hillsides positioned above blue lakes, wide expanses of safari parkland and humid rainforests. Honeymoon here and you’ll sail past hippos on the Nile River, drive by a lioness resting in tall savannah grass and trek into the mountains for a glimpse of the endangered gorillas. And end your days lounging in front of the fire or splashing in your private pool in a luxe banda (villa hut).
The Golden Triangle
Where the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo meet, there’s a collection of ancient volcanoes, emerald hills and sapphire lakes. Terraced slopes are planted with Irish potatoes that sprout with purple flowers, and rising above are the imposing Virunga Mountains where the world's only surviving mountain gorillas roam in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Trekking through bamboo and woodland to spend time with these magnificent creatures is a uniquely otherworldly experience. Watch as a silverback breaks off a 25-foot bamboo stalk as if it were a twig or a playful baby rolls down a slope behind his mom. There are just around 900 left in the world and organizations like the Gorilla doctors and Uganda Wildlife authority spearhead the conservation of the Nyakegezi gorilla family that lives in Mgahinga and the 12 families in nearby Bwindi impenetrable national park.
After a hard day's hike, it's glorious to return to the comfortable Mount Gahinga Lodge, one of Volcanoes Safaris’ four lodges, where you can sip milky, spiced Ugandan tea by the fere. Also do a cultural visit with the Batwa tribe, the indigenous people who have been forced into the lowlands and farms by deforestation. you can try traditional archery and browse handicrafts (room rates start at $180 a night and are all inclusive).
A two-hour flight from Mgahinga, Murchison Falls national park is an entirely different world. Here, rolling savannah stretches along the Nile River to a broad delta on Lake Albert. The packed red dirt of the airstrip at Chobe Safari Lodge is also the local wildlife's gathering place at dawn — warthogs scurry and giraffes stride across. The view from the lodge’s lobby and restaurant terraces especially wows. Perched on a bluff above the wide, rushing river, watch hippos wallow in the shallows and come up onto the bank at dusk. In the morning, book a walking safari and an armed UWA guide takes you into the woods past herds of giraffes cantering slowly through the underbrush. A safari drive takes you close to the delta for sightings of baboons, waterbucks, the awesomely named Jackson's hartebeest (antelopes) and even an elephant or two. if you’re lucky, you'll come across the local lions stretched out for a nap while their cubs cavort under the thorn trees (room rates start at $378 a night and are all inclusive).
Motor down the Nile River like Katharine Hepburn in the romantic classic The African Queen, which was filmed here. Private boat tours from Paraa Safari Lodge go upriver to Murchison Falls, where the Nile surges through a narrow rock cleft with stunning power. The boat ride itself is just as thrilling thanks to all the wildlife sightings in and along the banks of the river. Hippos rise and submerge near the shore, eight-foot-long crocodiles stand with open jaws, lone elephants munch on grass and African skimmer birds dart over the water.
You can either hike to the top of the falls or drive from the ferry crossing, but either way, you will be mesmerized as the full force of the nile river crashes through the gorge and rainbows of mist fill the air (room rates start at $348 a night and are all inclusive).
In the capital city, the Kampala Craft Market is filled with colorful textiles, handmade dolls, carved wooden bowls and utensils. Visit the food market in Entebbe for bananas (Uganda has four types; only one is for eating raw), sacks of peanut our and spices.
- Sunshine Flint