Developing Uganda

By | Category: Travel destinations

Uganda isn’t one of the first countries that you might think of when deciding on a holiday.

A mountain gorilla feeding. Image © Bwindi Forest National Park

Those in the know have been travelling there for years. Many have only fleetingly looked at holidaying there but ended up preferring Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana or Malawi. At present only about 15,000 Britons travel there each year.

But in the last month a number of events have taken place in Uganda which is likely to make Uganda a more attractive holiday destination.

Perhaps the most important happened this week when the government decided that it would not allow a hydropower project to be constructed in the Murchison Falls National Park. The contentious proposal which was announced in June raised the ire of the tourism industry which thought such a development would seriously affect those wanting to go to Uganda and to visit the Murchison Falls area.

Speaking for the government, tourism minister, Ephraim Kamuntu, said had the project gone ahead it would “affect the scenery, ecosystem and subsequently tourism.”

As an all-year round destination, the Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda’s biggest attractions. Over 3,900 square kilometres in size it, is one of the best places for game viewing and has a healthy population of lions, leopards, hippos, elephants and buffalos. The river Nile  surges through a seven-metre gap cascading 45 metres down to create the dramatic falls and   boat trips to the bottom of the falls are a popular visitor attraction.

The second initiative is that the country’s tourist board is going to provide enhanced training for nearly 6,000 guides all of whom will be licenced. In the past the quality of guides has varied. The new training which is being provided free to all guides should enhance the experience that visitors demand these days. Once the guides have completed the training they will display their registration number and uniform badges for easy identification so visitors should be able to easily tell the legitimate guides from those who are out to fleece visitors.

A few years ago, there were a number of Ugandan based tour operators who existed just to fleece tourists. This has been cracked down on and now they are few and far between (although one was arrested this month after leaving a German tour party stranded) and the visitors should only contact those that have been approved by the tourist authority.

Thirdly, tourism is vital to the Ugandan economy and is therefore being nurtured by the government. It is now the top foreign exchange earner in a country where copper, coffee and cotton were once the three biggest earners. That has partially come about because of the tourism appeal of mountain gorillas and the support by both the government and international bodies to protect them. Uganda has 54% of the population of mountain gorillas most living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga in southwestern Uganda.

The revival of Ugandan Airlines – it made its maiden flight on Tuesday this week -will also help reduce air fares in a country where air fares have been expensive. Starting with links to neighbouring countries, it will enable international visitors to move more easily around the country and at a cheaper price.

All-in-all, Uganda is likely to feature on any visitor’s radar who is thinking of holidaying in East Africa.

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