Albertine Rift Valley
Formed by teutonic forces about 15 million years ago, the Albertine Rift Valley is Uganda’s primary tourist destination. Along it’s 500km long trench, lakes and lush plains contrast with towering mountains, Central African forests merge with East African grasslands to support a fabulous array of wildlife. Beyond the Albertine Rift’s 60m high cliff top, the 160km lake Albert is a spectacular sight as far as the eye can see to the north and south, and across the lake towards Congo, are huge blue mountains and in clear weather six waterfalls can be seen. It’s impossible to imagine what western Uganda would have looked like before rifting, but it’s justified to say western Uganda is the rift, for it shaped it’s landscape, and it consequently owes it’s incredible beauty to it. At the Albertine Rift Valley, the awesome powers and wonders of nature are truly felt and appreciated.
The Virunga is a region of great extremes and contrasts. The volcanoes are rugged, cold wet and set against the rift valley, are truly a spectacular sight. The volcanoes are divided up between three countries of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Combined, they cover an area of 434km. There are eight volcanoes in all but six of these comprise the virunga chain; Muhavura (4127m) and Mgahinga (3474m) are shared between Uganda and Rwanda. Together with Sabinyo (3669m) they form a jagged frontier horizon. Beyond Sabinyo is Mt Mikeno (4437). Mts Visoke, the highest at3711m, and Karisimbi (4507) straddle the Congo- Rwanda border and Nyiragongo (3470m) Nyamuragira (3056m) are not much further in Congo. Climbing the volcanoes is possible.
Dozens of extinct volcanoes of a particularly violent type known as ‘explosion craters’ dot western Uganda. Explosion craters they are called because in their hey days eruptions were so violent that rather than piling debris around their vents like some volcanoes, they spewed ash and rock far and wide. Today, they are mostly crater (extinct) although some still emit sulphurous smells. There are three main concentrations; the Katwe Explosion Craters in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the nearby Bunyaraguru Crater Field on the Kichwamba escarpment and the lovely Ndali-Kasenda Crater Field near Kibale National Park. Of the Katwe Explosion Craters the huge Kyemengo Crater is decidedly the most enthralling.
Ndali-Kasienda Crater Field
This deserves mention of it’s own. The Ndali-Kasienda area lies 20-30km south of Fort Portal. Formed about 10,000 years ago by teutonic forces that ripped the earth and consequently shaped most of her landscape. It has 60 crater freshwater lakes which are permanent and seasonal and which no doubt, have lent credence to Ndali’s sang beauty. It is arguably the loveliest and lushest parts of western Uganda, and the most rewarding to explore in every way.
Western Uganda has an incredible collection of crater lakes that are in the estimate of a hundred or so. Formed by teutonic forces that ripped through the earth millions of years ago, crater lakes are distinctly beautiful. Among these are the stunning Lake Nkuruba located 25km south of Fort Portal, the beautiful Lake Nyinambuga located south of Nkuruba and ringed by forest, Lake Nyantonde located west of Lake Nyinambuga, the tranquil Lake Nyabikere which lies just off the road to Kibale Forest National Park and the lovely kitagata and Kyaninga. All of these offer great sightseeing, rambling and exploration opportunities. Besides these, at the lakes’ shorelines, bird and animal life is never absent.
Katwe Crater Salt Lakes
There are two saline lakes but Lake Katwe is the better known. It is 3,265 feet deep and is highly saline. In pre-colonial times, salt was quite as valuable as gold. Although it’s former value has diminished, salt extraction has triumphed over time and technology for salt is still traditionally extracted this day. A system of pans have been built around the edge of the lake. Water is then let into these compartments and allowed to evaporate leaving the essential salt. Although impure at 85% sodium chloride, it’s still sought after. It’s interesting to observe the salt extraction process, and also birdlife can be spectacular with large flocks of flamingo that converge at the crater lakes because they sift the algae in the, and an assortment of wabers. Being enclosed by the park boundaries, hippos and warthogs and elephants can be seen.
Hot springs are formed by cracks extending down towards the exceedingly hot temperatures of the mantle, and water seeping downwards is heated and forced back up under pressure to bubble. The hot water has sulphurous additives from salts dissolved beneath. Hot springs are found at several locations in the rift valley but the most dramatic are found at Sempaya in the Semiliki National Park.
Sempaya Hot Springs
The Sempaya Hot Springs are in two sites and are each distinct from the other. There’s the Female Spring and the Male Spring. The female spring’s water boils at 103 degrees, and spurts hot water up to 2m above the ground. The male spring is more distant from the female spring and is reached by following a trail. Historically, the local Bamaga clan allowed only men to visit it to make offerings to the spirits of the dead with hope of blessings with good fortune in life and success in their endeavours. Then, human sacrifices of individuals lacking in good fortune were made but today, goats are used. The female spring was visited by women who hoped for cure for infertility and other problems. However, both springs are now visited by both sexes to offer sacrifices and healing for the sulphur in the water propagates healing of skin diseases.
Uganda has some truly captivating Gorges. At Mt Elgon in Mt Elgon National Park, there are several, whereas Mpanga and Kyambura are others. Of all her gorges, Mpanga and Kyambura are undoubtedly the more stunning. Mpanga Gorge is draped in exotic-looking spray forest and commands marvellous views from the rim of the gorge. It is home to a large colony of the rare Encephalartos whitelockii a species of cycad that lives only in Mpanga and is classified as critically endangered. Kyambura gorge too is uniquely attractive. Apart from the sights, it contains animal and bird life. Visible residents include chimpanzees which can be easily tracked, baboons, black and white colobus and others. It’s bird list certainly won’t disappoint, for Kyambura is one of the best places for birding.
There are three escarpments that form the Bunyoro escarpments and consequently the Rift Escarpment. They are Kabwoya, Kijura and Kichwamba Escarpments all in western Uganda, and are beautiful legacies of the teutonic events that happened millions of years ago. At Kabwoya lovely waterfalls cascade into the Rift Escarpment. Equally captivating is the Kichwamba and the Kijura .
The Amabere Caves, whose full name is “ Amabere ga Nyinamwiru” meaning breasts of Nyinamwiru are actually a live stalactite formation distinctly shaped like saggy breasts. It is the only of it’s kind in Uganda and very interesting to see as well as learn the story behind it. According to local Chwezi folklore, Nyinamwiru was a daughter of Bukuku a local king, and was so beautiful that many suitors sought her hand in marriage. However her father had been warned by soothsayers to be very wary for her male offspring would be the downfall of his Kingdom. Consequently Bukuku cut off Nyinamwiru’s breasts in the hope that it will make her undesirable and hid her away in the caves. As fate would have it Isaza a Batembuzi King impregnated her and she gave birth to a son Ndahura who fulfilled the prophecy. There are many caves spread all over the country- legacies from a teutonic past, that make for execellent exploration opportunities.