Uganda returns from the abyss – Once the place for a safari, Uganda fell victim to violence and political turmoil. It has now rid itself of warlords and experienced an economic revival. The recovery is visible at Aero Beach Club, one of several popular weekend hangouts that sprawl along Entebbe’s lakeshore.

Return of Dr Gladys – Returning from university in the United States in the early 1990s, Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka spearheaded a movement to save Uganda’s mountain gorillas which caused gorilla tracking leading  to gorilla safaris and improve the lives of people living around the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Gorilla growth – More than 400 mountain gorillas — nearly half the world’s total — roam the valleys and hillside of Bwindi. After two decades, conservation authorities have been able to almost completely eliminate poaching and ensure their survival in Uganda.

Idi Amin’s torture chamber – Originally built as an underground armory, this bunker on the grounds of Kampala’s Lubiri Palace was turned into a torture chamber by the notorious dictator Idi Amin. It’s estimated that more than 9,000 political prisoners died in captivity here

Guide at the torture chamber – Once the home of the country’s Buganda monarchs, Lubiri Palace and its expansive grounds were appropriated by Idi Amin in the early 1970s. The royal guards and their families still live in the compound, but the current king resides elsewhere.

Lion tracking – Researcher James Kalyewa raises a telemetry antenna as he tracks the whereabouts of collared lions in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Tree-climbing lions – In addition to roaming savannah areas, the lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park also climb trees for a nap or to get a better look across the landscape — a behavior much more common with leopards.

Beach Boeing – Contrary to local legend, the rusting Boeing 707 on the grounds of Aero Beach Club is not the famous “Raid on Entebbe” plane. Air France reclaimed the hijacked aircraft months after the 1975 Israeli hostage rescue operation. The beach plane once flew for British Airtours but was abandoned at Entebbe Airport in the 1980s.

Fifty years ago Uganda was the “Pearl of Africa,” a newly independent republic with a thriving economy, a functioning democracy and splendid national parks.

It was the place to take a safari holiday — floating down the crocodile-flanked Nile, fishing on Lake Victoria, wandering among the elephant herds of Queen Elizabeth National Park or listening to the roar of mighty Murchison Falls.

With films like “African Queen” shot on location there, Uganda was also a Hollywood darling.

Then all hell broke loose.

Four decades of violence, political turmoil and economic collapse that started with the bloodthirsty reign of Idi Amin (the self-proclaimed President for Life, Conqueror of the British Empire and Last King of Scotland) and ended with the religious psychopath Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

And it wasn’t just the people who suffered: Uganda’s animal populations declined precipitously during the troubles as the various ragtag guerrilla groups feasted on wild game.Yet Uganda is bouncing back.

Having banished the last of the warlords and kick started its economy, the country is drawing tourists again, a rising star in the safari world.

It’s a trickle at present — the high-end travelers and backpackers who are always the early adopters — and there are very real concerns about the country’s recently imposed anti-gay laws, which threaten life imprisonment for “violators.”

But safari operators say they’re already gearing up for more visitors in years to come.

According to the tourist board, almost 1.2 million tourists came to Uganda last year [2013], an increase of 50% over five years.

“Uganda sadly underwent much turmoil and upheaval from the 1970s onwards

Idi Amin’s former torture chamber is now a tourist attraction.Expelled from the country as a child during Idi Amin’s purge of Asian-Ugandans, Madhvani and his family had to rebuild their business from the ground up when they returned in the 1980s.

“We have had peace and stability for over a decade and the country has indeed emerged from this past void in terms of tourism to become an interesting and discerning destination.

“The offering compared to the neighboring countries is unique, individual and nebulous — and that in itself is perhaps part of the explanation of the recent increasing interest.”

Incredible variety

What Uganda lacks in volume (it’s about the same size as Oregon or Cambodia) it more than makes up with variety, an incredible array of landscapes that range from the snowcapped Mountains of the Moon and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to the semi-desert northeast and water-spangled lake district.With more than 1.6 million people, Kampala is one of the fastest growing cities on the continent.Nearby Entebbe, set on a peninsula stretching into Lake Victoria, is about as laid back as it gets in Africa.

Despite 40 years as a food source for rebel groups, Uganda’s wildlife has made a miraculous recovery.

Queen Elizabeth National Park nurtures healthy populations of elephant, lion, hippo and other large mammals, and is a major stop on the migratory bird route up the Great Rift Valley. In Queen Elizabeth National Park, tourists can spend the day tracking lions with a researcher from the Uganda Carnivore Program, learning how telemetry works and venturing off road into parts of the park vehicles are normally verboten

Home to 13 different primate species, Kibale National Park is one of the best places in Africa to see chimpanzees in the wild.

Murchison Falls National Park is flush with hippo, crocodile and other animals that live in or near the water.

The holy grail of Uganda wildlife watching is Bwindi Forest, where roughly half of the world’s mountain gorillas reside.Living up to its “impenetrable” tag, the forest can only be accessed on foot, often up and over steep mountain ranges.

“Bwindi’s gorilla population is around 400 and growing.

Urban Uganda has its own attractions.

Entebbe is renowned for its popular weekend beach clubs, like a little slice of the Caribbean on the shores of Lake Victoria.

Kampala’s sights range from the recently rebuilt royal tombs to a humungous mosque built by Libyan strongman Moammer Gadhafi and the ghoulish torture chamber of Idi Amin on the grounds of Lubiri Palace.

The capital is also known for its vibrant nightlife, which runs a gamut from down and dirty dance clubs to sophisticated jazz venues.

Uganda has also become an adventure sports hub.

Several outfitters offer whitewater rafting and kayaking trips down the Nile, past snoozing crocodiles and snorting hippos.

Nile High Bungee in Jinja offers an adrenalin-packed plunge (44 meters) into the world’s longest river.You can also board surf down rapids, whoosh down rivers on jet boats and organize sports fishing trips to catch the river monster of central Africa — Nile perch that can grow up to 200 kilograms.



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