Referred to by Winston Churchill as the "Pearl of Africa", Uganda is a land of true contrasts and great diversity, where the Eastern savannah meets the Western African rainforests. Covering an area of 236,040 square kilometres, the country comprises a unique eco-system from the source of the White Nile on the northwestern shores of Lake Victoria to the snow-capped Ruwenzori Mountains (''mountains of the moon'') in the west, the forests and volcanoes in the southwest to the deserts in the North.
Uganda offers some of the most varied wildlife experiences and is one of the world's topmost birding hotspots, despite being less well known than its more famous neighbours Kenya and Tanzania.
Uganda is most renown for its most famous residents, the country's national bird, the Crested Crane (also known as Crowned Crane) and the famous but rare Mountain Gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable forest. The Silver backed mountain gorillas at Bwindi are half of the world's remaining groups of mountain gorillas, the other half are found in the Virunga Mountains bordering western Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A total of only 700 of this species are in existence today, with their habitat constantly threatened. Tracking to see the gorillas is thus one of the most rewarding highlights of an East African wildlife holiday. The plight of the mountain gorilla was made famous by the work of Dian Fossey and the 1988 film Gorillas in the Mist, starring Sigourney Weaver.
Uganda also has one of the richest primate habitats in the world.
Apart from the mountain gorillas, the country is home to wild chimpanzees, Red and Black and White colobus, Mangabeys, Blue Monkeys and the elusive L'Hoest's Monkey.
Sprawling across both sides of the equator, the country offers a network of national parks and wildlife reserves where one can experience savannah plains teeming with antelope, buffalo and elephant as well as lush expanses of tropical rainforest, shimmering lakes and rivers heaving with aquatic life, and the glacial peaks of Africa's tallest mountain range.
Uganda's largest protected area is the Murchison Falls National Park, whose with large herds of elephant, buffalo, lion, Rothschild's giraffe and a host of antelope and birdlife.
Immense concentrations of hippos and birds can be observed from morning and afternoon launch trips along the Nile below the spectacular waterfalls which form the main attraction.
This national park, covers an area of 996 square kilometres and lies at the foothills of the 120km-long Ruwenzori Mountains or 'Mountains of the Moon'
The mountain range is a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. Rising from the Western Rift Valley floor to an elevation of 5100 metres, the Ruwenzori supports large tracts of evergreen and bamboo forest, while the higher moorland zone is provides a dense cover of giant heathers, lobelias and groundsels.
Ruwenzori Mountain National Park offers visitors a unique experience of an Afro-Montane rainforest - whether an experienced climber or casual day hiker. The main attraction is the luxuriant vegetation found above 3000m, which includes the giant Lobelias, Heather and Groundsel. Ruwenzori Mountains National Park is also home to the hyrax, blue monkey, chimpanzee, giant forest hog and many unique bird species such as the Rwenzori Touraco, the handsome francolin and the olive pigeon. The best time for mountaineering is during the dry seasons from mid-December to the end of March and from June through mid-August.
Set majestically in the shadow of the Ruwenzori, flanking Lakes Edward and George, the lush savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers prime grazing to buffalo, elephant and various antelope. Over 600 bird species can be found in this park alone, so proving to be an ornithological haven.
Other unique mammalian species include the elusive giant forest hog, and the legendary tree-climbing lions (the other group being found in Tanzania's Lake Manyara national park).
Of all of Uganda's forested reserves, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for its superb gorilla tracking, but it also provides refuge to elephant, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope, as well as 23 bird species unique to the Albertine Rift*. Uganda's star attraction is the endangered mountain gorilla, the bulkiest of living primates, and among the most peaceable. Staring into the pensive brown eyes of these gentle giants, is as humbling as it is thrilling; no less so when one realises that fewer than 700 individuals survive, divided between Bwindi National Park and the Virunga Mountains of Rwanda.
Stretching from the northern end of Lake Albert to the southern end of Lake Tanganyika and extending through 5 African countries - Uganda, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Tanzania, the Albertine Rift is one of Africa's most important sites for the conservation of biodiversity.
Its huge diversity of habitats incorporates the ice fields on top of the Rwenzori mountains at 5,000 metres (16,000 feet), active volcanoes, hot springs, bamboo, alpine vegetation, montane forest, and savannah and down to the lowland forests of Semuliki at 600 metres (1,800 feet). The Albertine Rift has been identified as an Endemic Bird Area by Birdlife International, an Eco-region by the World Wildlife Fund, and a Biodiversity Hotspot by Conservation International.
covering an area of 776 sq kms, is a haven for those seeking a unique experience to track and observe different species of primates.
Kibale's major attraction, however, is the opportunity to track habituated chimpanzees - these delightful apes, more closely related to humans than to any other living creature (sharing about 95% of human genes), are tremendous fun to watch as they squabble and play in fruiting trees. The park is home to a population of more than 1000 chimpanzees, of which one 80-strong community has been habituated to tourist visits.
The park covers 331 square kilometres and provides a network of shady forest trails offering much to delight botanists and butterfly lovers, while birders are in for a treat with nearly 350 species recorded including the endemic Peregrine's ground thrush.
The elusive forest elephant, smaller and hairier than its savannah counterpart, moves seasonally into the developed part of the park, while other terrestrial mammals include buffalo, giant forest hog and a half dozen antelope species. The park also hosts other primate species, including the acrobatic red colobus, the black-and-white colobus, and the handsome albeit elusive L'Hoest's monkey.
Lake Mburo National Park is the closest game reserve to Kampala, comprising a series of swamp-fringed lakes known for their rich birdlife, notably the secretive African finfoot.
The green acacia woodland surrounding the lake harbours dense populations of zebra, warthog, buffalo, impala and various other grazers, including the last surviving Ugandan population of eland, the largest of African antelope.
The emerald green lake of Mutanda, in Uganda, with its distinctive hump-back islands, seen in the distance from Mgahinga, has pristine beauty.
The finger-like lake of Bunyonyi literally "a place of little birds” lies among steeply terraced hillsides near the hill town of Kabale; it is an ideal stopping point on the way to Bwindi and Mgahinga.
Set along the border with Kenya, Mount Elgon National Park encompasses the 4321 metre mountain for which it is named.
Mount Elgon is thought to have the largest base of any extinct volcano in the world. A lush mosaic of Afro-montane forest, grassland and moorland habitats makes this park a highly rewarding destination for hikers and other natural history enthusiasts.