Welcome to Diary of a Muzungu! This is a Guest Post about Ecotourism written by Emma Winter.
Ecotourism might not be a term you’re familiar with and, when coupled with Uganda, possibly less so. When I think of Uganda, it’s hard not to jump to The Last King of Scotland’s portrayal of Dictator Idi Amin’s rule of the country. However that was three decades ago, and the real story now is that Uganda has a rich and varied history and is beginning to front-run the leaps being made in Ecotourism in Africa.
The concept of ‘Ecotourism’, as defined by The International Ecotourism Society is “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improve the well-being of local people.” This is a fast growing sector of the tourist industry, and, in real terms, should mean responsible, community driven care of undisturbed natural areas. Done well, this phenomenon provides ecological conservation to these unspoilt parts of the world whilst fostering an appreciation of the natural habitat. Furthermore, it encourages Ugandan tourists to become part of incredibly important programmes like the Uganda Conservation Foundation.
Although on first glance, you may not have considered Uganda as the ideal holiday destination, the country has moved from being Lonely Planet’s no. 1 destination to visit in 2012, to one of National Geographic’s ‘Must-See Place for 2013.’
Uganda is most definitely on the map now, for all the right reasons; if we take the time to peel back the preconceptions, it becomes abundantly clear why.
Africa Peeled Back
Uganda is beautiful. The country has swathes to offer and not just for the average Ecotourist. If you’re flying in to Entebbe International Airport, you might like to explore that area first. The Botanical Gardens, on the edge of Lake Victoria, are a secret and lush entrance into Uganda, full of ancient trees, tropical birds and primates such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys.
Perhaps one of the rarest things to see in Uganda are the Mountain Gorilla (I love Gorillas so this is particularly interesting for me), most of which are found in the misty rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, on the rim of the Rift Valley. Entebbe to Bwindi is a day’s drive, renting a car can be cost effective (plus, it gives you the option of really getting to know the country). A range of companies organise Gorilla treks.
If chimps are more your thing then Kibale Forest National Park is one of the best places in Uganda to track them. Guided walks and tracks are plentiful, making a potential chimp sighting almost inevitable.
Possibly the most famous Ugandan safari park is Queen Elizabeth National Park. Although large numbers of wildlife were almost wiped out during the civil war, the elephant population is recovering well. A boat trip on the Kazinga Channel is an absolute must if you want to catch a glimpse of the hippos and the Uganda Conservation Foundation is doing their bit to ensure the population grows, despite fear of poaching. Initiatives such as Cobati also offer exciting opportunities for community growth.
If water is your thing (not always mine, being born under a fire sign) then head to Murchison Falls National Park in your hire car (NB: for Hemingway fans, he crashed a plane downriver in 1954). Not only does it house truly great waterfalls but Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to the south of the Park is aiming to re-introduce the extinct White Rhino.
The downside of tourism
As with anything in life, Ecotourism is not without its problems. Although Ecotourism is doing a lot for recovering Ugandan wildlife and developing the tourism industry, it isn’t without threat. East Africa in particular is an area that has experienced the detrimental effects of conservation efforts. Political land rights and usage remain prominent issues alongside the degradation of communities in favour of pursuing Western consumers. Sometimes it can appear that tourists’ needs trump the needs of the locals.
I think the biggest issue with Ecotourism is the commodification of species and wildlife, but also of people. It’s an issue that will perhaps become increasingly more prevalent in Uganda’s future and one that must be controlled so that the landscape and it’s people do not become unknown.
All photos provided by fotopedia.com
Emma Winter is an American Literature and Creative Writing graduate from the University of East Anglia. She spent a year studying and living in San Francisco, and is a former writer for an online fashion magazine. She has also completed several internships in the world of publishing from editorial to publicity and is hoping to secure a permanent job in that field.
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