While in East Africa, it is very easy to get away and find solitude in any of the five EAC members countries.
The region is blessed with national parks and game reserves, some so far away from anything that they are totally off grid.
And there is a wide selection to choose from. From beach to safari, from Kenya to Burundi...
Pearl of Africa
- Kidepo Valley National Park
If you are in Uganda, try the Kidepo Valley National Park, a confluence of wild nature and wildlife sandwiched between the Kenyan and South Sudan borders in northeast Uganda.
Kidepo’s beauty is rugged — a wilderness of mostly savannah, acacia, borassus palms and lots of sausage trees, whose alcoholic fruit is a delicacy for elephants.
The park is the farthest holidaying destination from Kampala, contrasting sharply with the endless din of crowds, traffic and music blaring from loudspeakers.
Depending on the route you pick, it is a 418km-drive northeast of Kampala.
Charter flights to Kidepo may be arranged from Kampala, Kampala Aeroclub, or Entebbe with Eagle Aviation. Flights take about two hours.
Accommodation — guest house and bandas — gets fully booked during the festive period but there is always the option of camping, which is more adventurous anyway.
For high-end tourists, the fancy Apoka Lodge is ideal and will meet your expectations, although officials advise pre-booking ahead of planning your safari.
Access to Kidepo has improved with tarmac up to Kitgum to the west of the park, before tourists hit gravel road for the rest of the drive; meanwhile, upgrading to tarmac of the Soroti-Katakwi-Moroto road – the other main access from eastern side – will be completed in 2019.
Travel reviews in the past have given Kidepo some mileage, with CNN Travel in 2012 voting the park Africa’s third best safari destination after Kenya’s Masai Mara and the Central Kalahari Game Reserve of Botswana. Kidepo won an award for its scenery.
The main tourist activities are game drives, guided nature walks, bird watching and community tourism that involves visiting the local Karimojong people.
For adrenaline junkies, there is the gruelling hike to the top of Mt Morungole, which rises to 2,750 metres above sea level.
At the summit of this mountain, hikers get to meet and mingle with the Ik – a minority ethnic group of only about 10,000 people, who live on top of Mt Morungole.
- Source of the Nile
Jinja claims the honour of being the source of the River Nile, and a trip here means enjoying boat rides, white water rafting and bungee jumping.
There are several resorts here offering world class comfort.
- The Batwa trail
For culture lovers, the Batwa trail presents a pleasant experience. It is a trip into a series of caves where the Batwa live and it includes a traditional theatre music performance.
- Mabira forest
Take advantage of the vast natural richness and opt for a serene holiday in the Mabira forest. You can go for nature walks, swim, do some bird watching and crown the day with a night at the forest cottage.
- Visit the Queen Elizabeth National Park
This is one of Uganda’s most visited national parks.
It is home to flora and fauna and home to some 100 mammal species and more than 600 species of birds.
Some of the notable wildlife you can see are the Uganda Kob, a national symbol in Uganda, lion, cape buffalo, warthog, topis and more.
One recommended place is the Mweya Peninsula, which has been described as the heart of sightseeing activities.
It overlooks the Katwe Bay of Lake Edward. You can take a boat cruise along the 40-metre Kazinga Channel that joins Lake George to Lake Edward.
The Equator passes through the park and there is a beautiful viewpoint and photography area with curio shops and the Queen’s Pavilion for a quick snack and drink.
The Queen’s Pavilion is the site where in 1954 Queen Elizabeth found temporary shelter.
It was not until 1959 when a permanent pavilion was constructed for the visit of the Queen.
Renovations were made for a visit by the of Duke of Edinburgh in 2007, and it now has a coffee shop and Internet cafe.
The park is easily accessible by road on a five-to-six hour drive either through Mbarara (420km) or Fort Portal via Kasese, 410km.
- Interact with chimpanzees at Ngamba Island
For water lovers who happen to love chimpanzees too, a boat to Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria is an ideal outing.
The island has a chimpanzee sanctuary, and you can choose to take a day off at the island to appreciate them. The tour includes transport to and from the island and lunch.
The other option is spending a night on the island, which includes full board accommodation, transport, a walk in the forest and viewing of chimpanzees.
For an overnight stay, it costs $166 inclusive of meals. Transportation is $125, sharing a boat, and $250 for exclusive travellers.
To track the chimpanzees costs $100, the fee including monitoring the primates, taking a sunset cruise on Lake Victoria and visiting the communities on Ngamba island.
- Take a trip to Kalangala, Brovad Sands Lodge
The lodge is tucked away at the far end of Bugala Island with an open view of Lake Victoria.
In the evening, you can sit by the lake and enjoy a sundowner at the campfire and after nightfall, you can continue drinking while overlooking the shimmering lake.
The lodge has a stretch of beach with warm, white sand, and is nestled in greenery, where birds offer soothing chirping.
At sunset, the staff offer massage right at the beach on request. The lake has created natural, clean, crystal blue pools for swimming nestled between the lodge’s lawns.
Adrenaline junkies can do quad biking while the calmer visitor has boat rides, guided forest walks, cycling around the villages, photography, beach volley ball and sport fishing.
It gets cool in the night, so some warm wear is recommended to keep the chill at bay.
- Feed giraffes at the Giraffe Centre
With its towering stature, the giraffe remains a graceful giant.
The most wildlife lovers ever get close to them is through photographs.
The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi lets you get up-close with the Rothschild giraffe in feeding sessions.
The giraffes reach out with their long tongues for some crunchy snacks, making for excellent photographic moments.
The experience is next to none and you may find yourself spending three hours or so there.
The centre is open every day from 9am to 5pm.
Non-resident adults pay Kshs1,000 ($10), non-resident children Ksh500 ($5), resident adults Ksh250, resident children Ksh50 and free for school groups are allowed in free if they book one week in advance.
- Take it slow in Naivasha town
The festive season is about slowing things down as you relax and appreciate nature.
Head to Naivasha in Nakuru County just 100km west of Nairobi, for a countryside feel and experience.
A road trip from Nairobi will take you about two hours.
Naivasha is home to Hell’s Gate National Park where you can go on a guided cycling tour through ancient beautiful landscapes with deep gorges and hanging cliffs. Rock climbers have a field day here.
The park is also home to wildlife such as zebras and giraffes. You can go sailing on Lake Naivasha and the best part is that the lake is home to a large variety of birds, making it a birders’ paradise.
It is estimated that the lake is home to some 400 different bird species.
Take a walk in the Crescent Island Game Park located off the lake. This is a guided walking safari because of the population of hippos.
At the end of the day, you can choose to kick off your safari shoes and relax at a spa at one of many luxury resorts and camping sites.
One option to try out is the Enashipai Resort & Spa’s Siyara’s.
If Uganda is the Pearl of Africa, Tanzania is the jewel in the crown.
- Experience Stone Town’s authentic heritage
If you are looking for East Africa’s heritage, Stone Town is the place to go. The town has preserved its slave trade and slavery past, with the historical market and church still standing.
The full tour includes the spice market and Taarab music centres.
The town front, aptly named Forodhani (where import and export taxes are paid) is located right at the ocean front.
It is also the best place for authentic street food. The stalls are open from late afternoon into late night.
The Stone Town speciality pizza which you can wash down with a ginger fused pineapple juice, is a must have.
Although Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim, there are a couple of nightclubs for tourists.
Zanzibar beaches are some of the best in the world, and an option is to travel to the north of the island to Nungwi beach, the so called Ibiza of Africa.
- Kilimanjaro circuit
Northern Tanzania attracts thousands of tourists who come to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and the nearby wildlife sanctuaries.
For regional travellers, Arusha and Moshi offer the perfect laidback getaways in a temperate climate.
Mt Kilimanjaro offers day hikes and once in a lifetime climbing adventures. It is among the leading tourist destinations of the world.
The Kilemakyaro Mountain Lodge in Arusha, once a colonial German homestead, has been refurbished and expanded into a luxury lodge.
It sits on a 40-acre coffee and banana farm at Uru-Kifumbu Estate in Uru-Mawella village, on the foothills of the mountain.
The lodge can accommodate over 40 visitors at a time.
Joachim Minde, the owner, said that investors in the tourism sector now prefer to put in their money at the village level, yet still provide the same luxury for tourists and mountain climbers as that offered by big hotels and resorts in the cities.
Also located in the village is Mountain Inn Lodge, with a 37 double-room capacity, about five kilometres from Moshi Municipality.
Arusha and Moshi are accessible by public transport from all neighbouring countries. From Kenya, you can drive via the Tarakea and Loitoktok border points in the east or Namanga in the west, just a four-hour drive from Nairobi.
The Kilimanjaro International Airport, and airstrips in Moshi and Taveta (in Kenya) offer the fastest arrivals.
Farther south are the Pare Mountains circuit, offering picturesque views of Mt Kilimanjaro and Meru peaks and excellent views of the plains in Kenya and Tanzania.
Hikers and climbers enjoy day hiking trips through chilly mountain forests, coffee plantations and cultural villages that give a fascinating narrative about the history and traditions of the Pare people.
Reported by Julius Barigaba, Edgar Batte, Apolinari Tairo and Halima Abdalla.