Uganda is not somewhere that most would associate with a relaxing holiday. Many people see it purely as a destination for adventure travel whether tracking mountain gorillas, taming grade 5 rapids on the Nile or trekking knee-deep through mud for weeks in the Rwenzoris. But until you’ve lazed in a hammock on a perfect white-sand beach in Lake Victoria or hung out at Lake Bunyonyi with its astonishing fairytale-esque islands, you won’t realise just how chilled out Uganda can be. So once your nerves have been frazzled by one too many bus trips, here are some great spots to slow it right down.
1. Ssese Islands
One of Uganda’s legendary chillout spots, the Sseses are all about powdery white-sand beaches, celestial sunsets, bonfires on the beach and a remote location in the middle of Lake Victoria. Comprising an archipelago of 84 islands, most travellers head straight to Bugala Island, which has the nicest beaches as well as a great choice of accommodation – from old-school backpacker digs reminiscent of Goa to more upmarket choices – all of which boast prime beachfront positions. As elsewhere in Lake Victoria, swimming is not recommended but its beaches are magical and likely to keep you blissfully marooned much longer than you expected.
2. Lake Bunyonyi
Straight out of a Tolkien novel, the sweeping panoramic views from atop Lake Bunyonyi are dotted with perfectly formed islands and an enchanting backdrop of misty terraced hills. You could easily be forgiven for thinking you’d arrived in Nepal. Of the 29 islands, many have accommodation ranging from backpacker hangouts to rustic bungalows set deep among the sounds of nature. And it’s one of the few places in Uganda that’s perfect for swimming: no bilharzia, no crocs and no hippos. It’s best explored by a leisurely paddle in a dugout canoe; go at sunset for a sublime experience.
While most visitors to the Victoria Nile are here to be thrown around rafting hardcore rapids, not nearly enough hang around to soak up its calming waters. Just a few kilometres downstream are some of the most tranquil river-side lodges you’ll ever encounter. Hairy Lemon or the Haven are both well-known for their laidback charms, while the new luxury Wildwaters Lodge is simply stunning, with rooms featuring outdoor claw-foot baths on the balconies overlooking the Nile.
4. National parks
When it’s time to visit one of Uganda’s top-notch national parks, why not spoil yourself and make the experience more memorable with a night or two in one of its luxury lodges. Hanging out here could easily be one of the most relaxing times of your trip. And while they’re not cheap, it’s hard to put a price on the experience of soaking in an outdoor bubblebath metres from grazing buffalo and zebra at Apoka Safari Lodge in Kidepo National Park or spying elephants from your poolside hammock at Kyambura Game Lodge in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
In addition to its many other attractions, Africa offers incredible linguistic diversity. Most African languages belong to one of the following four language families: Afro- Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo (with the Bantu languages as the major branch) and Khoisan.
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5. Around Kampala
Even Uganda’s hectic capital can easily be escaped. While most airport locations don’t offer a great first impression to a country, Entebbe is an exception to the rule. Only an hour’s drive from Kampala, Entebbe can be a more appealing alternative with its relaxed vibe, leafy guesthouses and attractive beaches that skirt Lake Victoria. Otherwise, there’s Wavimenya Bay – only a 25-minute boat ride from Kampala but feels a million miles away. Its bucolic setting is the perfect antidote to traffic jams and inhaling fumes. Take your pick between lovely stilted thatched huts in a tropical garden or a quaint English farmhouse. Both are on the lake and as stunning as each other.