Uganda named a top travel destination for 2016

A curious gorilla assesses photographer Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.
A curious gorilla assesses photographer Petra Kilian-Gehring, who took this picture in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park while on an Ujuzi safari to Uganda.

CNN has named Uganda as one of the top 16 up-and-coming travel destinations for 2016. CNN travel reporter Anisha Shah writes:

Rich in nature, it’s an outdoor sanctuary of crater lakes, white-sand beaches on lake islands, thundering waterfalls and national parks.

A top highlight is Ngamba Island Chimp Sanctuary, where rescued and orphaned chimpanzees live out their days on an island in Lake Victoria. Visitors can cross the equator by boat there, slicing through Africa’s largest lake.

It also noted that Uganda is one of the few places in the world to see mountain gorillas in their native environment, along with Rwanda and Congo. Seeing these close cousins of humans up close is truly the experience of a lifetime. Ujuzi traveler El Nault calls it “a profound spiritual engagement.”

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Taking Kids on Safari

Surveying the savanna. Photo taken by Susan Thurston on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.
Surveying the savanna. Photo taken by Susan Thurston on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania.

In 2016 and 2017, Kenya is waiving visa fees for children. What a great time to introduce your kids or grandkids to the joys of exploration! The country offers a range of fun safari activities for kids of all ages, a few of which include:

  • Feeding endangered Rothschild giraffes by hand at the Giraffe Centre in Karen
  • Petting baby elephants at the Daphne Sheldrick Animal Orphanage and David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
  • Visiting  chimpanzees at the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Ol Pejeta Conservancy.  This sanctuary offers a safe haven for abused and orphaned chimpanzees from West  and Central Africa. (Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya.) After being nursed back to health, chimpanzees spend their days exploring, climbing, socializing, and learning to be chimpanzees all over again. This is an amazing project supported by the Jane Goodall Institute.

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Featured Lodge: Azura Benguerra, Mozambique

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Mozambique is an incredible destination,  with miles of pristine  beaches and coastal islands that offer access to ocean explorations as well as land safaris. Azura Benguerra is a boutique hotel that represents many of its wonders – the people, history, culture, food, hospitality all wrapped up in the stunning villas dotted along the edge of the Indian Ocean.

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Environmental Successes on Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

The Namaqua chameleon is found only in the Namibian desert and in southern Angola. Photo by Terry Feuerborn. Used through a Creative Commons license.
The Namaqua chameleon is found only in the Namibian desert and in southern Angola. Photo by Terry Feuerborn. Used through a Creative Commons license.

The Skeleton Coast is still one of Namibia’s lesser-traveled gems, despite recent global attention for its stark beauty. Australia’s Daily Telegraph recently ran a story about viewing the amazing desert-adapted lions and elephants who survive in the inhospitable habitat of this raw, windswept coast. Dr. Flip Strander and his Desert Lion Conservation project have helped to increase the desert-adapted lion population from 20 animals to over 150 in the last 17 years, in part due to the role of tourism.

Namibia is a land with many environmental success stories. It was the first country in Africa to incorporate protection of the environment into its constitution and now almost 45% of Namibia’s land is protected by the government and local communities.

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Adenium boehmianum flower in Kaokoland, Namibia. Photo by Petr Kosina. Used through a Creative Commons license.

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Meet Habibu Muhereza, one of Ujuzi’s Ugandan guides

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Habibu Muhereza was born in the Bushenyi district of Uganda, which borders Queen Elizabeth National Park. After working as a teacher, he started his conservation career as a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ranger and interpretive tourist guide. This work gave him the opportunity to get to know all  the parks in Uganda. Impressed with his excellent work and dedication, the UWA appointed him as its head guide for Queen Elizabeth National Park, where he managed wildlife and educated his local community about living alongside the many important species in the park.

Habibu has completed the Uganda Safari Guide Association tourist and guiding course, as well as guiding and birding courses in Queen Elizabeth, Kibale Forest and Bwindi Forest National Parks. He consistently gets rave reviews from travelers, such as this one from a safari-goer in 2011:

“Habibu Muhereza was the best guide Iʹve ever had on any safari, ever — and this was my fifth trip to the African continent! There arenʹt enough superlatives — he was exceptional!!!!”

South African Airways has great legroom

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Bo-Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Barry Haynes. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Flights to Africa can be long, but they don’t have to be uncomfortable. Condé Nast Traveller reports that South African Airways provides the second most legroom in the world at an average of 33.5 inches.

South African Airways flies not only to its namesake but also to Namibia and Zimbabwe. It’s a great choice when you’re planning a safari to southern Africa.

Cape Town is among South African Airways’ most popular destinations, and for good reason. On the coast, it’s a great place to start a land-and-sea safari, introducing you to penguins, seals, and other creatures you wouldn’t see inland. Spending a day or two there can also help you adjust to the time difference before you embark to the wilds, and also introduce you to the country’s diverse and vibrant cultures.

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Featured Organization: Giraffe Centre, Kenya

Photo courtesy of the Giraffe Centre
Photo courtesy of the Giraffe Centre


Though giraffes aren’t considered endangered, their numbers have decreased in recent years and some subspecies—like the Rothschild giraffe in Kenya and Uganda—have only a few hundred members.

To help the endangered Rothschild giraffe, African Fund for Endangered Wildlife Kenya was founded in 1979 by the late Jock and Betty Leslie-Melvile. A Kenyan citizen, Jock wanted to create an educational institution in conjunction while also actively increasing the Rothschild’s population.

To that end, the new organization opened the Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. Still going strong, the center educates thousands of local school children each year about their nation’s natural heritage, raising a new generation of Kenyan conservationists. It also breeds, rehabilitates and releases Rothschilds to protected wildlife areas in various parts of Kenya.

When AFEW started, only 120 Rothschild giraffes lived in the wild. Through breeding and conservation, the Giraffe Centre has helped raise this number to 300 giraffes in five groups across Kenya.

Read moreFeatured Organization: Giraffe Centre, Kenya

Explore humanity’s roots in South Africa

Maropeng Visitor Centre. Image (c) Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site
Maropeng Visitor Centre. Image (c) Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site

In the world of archaeology, one of the most exciting spots on the planet is the Cradle of Humankind. Less than an hour’s drive outside Johannesburg, South Africa, this 180-square-mile complex of limestone caves that is one of the most prolific sources of human fossils in the world. Archaeologists have found the remains of numerous hominins, early humans who are close relatives of modern humans, with some fossils dating back as far as 3.5 million years.

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Conservation Success Stories from Tanzania and Mozambique

Cyligramma fluctuosa by Tapio Kaisla
Cyligramma fluctuosa moth at Amani Nature Preserve. Photo by Tapio Kaisla. Used with permission through a Creative Commons License.

While sad stories about poaching often dominate the conversation about African wildlife, there’s been wonderful news coming lately from Tanzania and Mozambique.

Tanzania’s authorities recently arrested crime boss Boniface Matthew Mariango, who allegedly manages 15 poaching and ivory-trafficking syndicates. They also arrested a large-scale ivory smuggler based in Dar Es Salaam. Catching such high-level criminals is much more effective than arresting individual poachers at the local level, helping to staunch the demand for ivory and other poached products.

For more good news, you can read or watch this CNN segment on Tanzanians who transformed a gold mine into a biodiversity hotspot. Amani Nature Reserve opened in 1997 as the country’s first nature reserve. It’s a lesser-known safari destination with relatively few visitors. It rewards those who go off the beaten path with a chance to see many rare butterflies, birds, reptiles, flora and fauna that haven’t been found elsewhere in the world.

Mozambique has a similar success story.

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Watch elephants on Google Street View

Elephants at samburu screenshot from Google
Elephants at Samburu. Screenshot from Google Street View.

Samburu National Reserve in Kenya is among my favorite wildlife areas, thanks to its rebounding population of elephants. And now I can revisit it every day thanks to a joint project among Google Maps, Save the Elephants, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya Wildlife Service, Samburu County Government, and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

The project adds photographic maps of Samburu to Google Street View. You can get a bird’s eye view or watch elephants at ground level. Visit the links below to explore Samburu and learn more about the project! And if you’d like to see Samburu in person, please contact me to plan your safari.

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