altitude: 1,567 m/ 5,141 ft
estimated population: 1,200,000
Rwanda’s Kigali is a sparklingly-clean and highly organised city that few international visitors expect to find in the centre of the African continent. Smooth tarmac with countdown traffic lights connects brand-new buildings here.
The must-see attraction is the beautiful memorial museum that bears witness to the genocide against the Tutsis that shook the country in 1994. While it also features similar crimes against humanity elsewhere in the world, its primary message is the power of Rwanda’s reconciliation, resilience and potential.
red line = Kigali Walking Tour (see the details here)
altitude: 1,190 m/ 3,900 ft
estimated population: 1,500,000
The city also known as “crazy crazy” Kampala is the party capital of East Africa. An urban sprawl touching Lake Victoria, Uganda’s capital is a bustling, freedom-loving city.
Be it a weekend, a holiday or the middle of the night, enterprising Kampalans are ready to feed your stomach with cheap roadside food and your soul with bumping Afrobeat. Mushrooming shopping centres and second-hand markets are two dimensions of a place that sells anything from anywhere, at any price.
But not so far from the organised chaos of the Old Taxi Park — an actual attraction — there is serenity in Kampala’s green areas and religious sites. The only Baha’i temple in Africa, the Kampala Central Mosque and the Makerere University campus are three sites you should definitely consider visiting.
Uganda’s international airport lies 40km/26mi from Kampala, next to Entebbe.
red line = Kampala Walking Tour (see the details here)
Bukavu /DR Congo/
altitude: 1,498 m/ 4,915 ft
estimated population: 900,000
Bukavu is the intellectual and cultural capital of Easten Congo. Architecture buffs can admire over 100 buildings of the Art Deco style here. Today, a different building style prevails, colourful and with elaborate soaring rooflines.
Just like Goma , Bukavu has a sister city on the other side of the Rwandan border and a national park, Kahuzi-Biega, nearby. The Lwiro primate sanctuary and scientific research centre is another highlight in the Bukavu neighbourhood.
red dotted line = Congo Nile Trail
Goma /DR Congo/ & Gisenyi /Rwanda/
altitude: 1,481 m/4,859 ft
estimated population: 2,000,000 (Goma); 90,000 (Gisenyi)
Goma and Gisenyi (also known as Rubavu) on the northern shore of Lake Kivu are practically one city, the former on the Congolese and the latter on the Rwandan side of the boundary. They are the springboard to Virunga National Park.
Beach life is more pronounced in Gisenyi while Goma is louder, bigger and more expensive.
altitude: 1,850 m/6,070 ft
estimated population: 90,000
If you are visiting Volcanoes National Park and prefer urban environments, Musanze (formerly known as Ruhengeri) is your choice. This is the capital city of the Gorilla Highlands region, a tidy town surrounded by volcanoes and blessed with Musanze Caves.
It offers accommodation solutions for all budgets, good eating and international banks. Kinigi village (northwest of the town, 12km/7.5mi) features the park HQ, and many more lodges.
red line = town walking tour (see the details here)
altitude: 1,890 m/6,200 ft
estimated population: 15,000
Kisoro, the region’s prettiest town, is in an idyllic setting below the Virunga volcanoes. It hosts colourful cross-border markets on Mondays and Thursdays and has a strong beekeeping community.
It is a handy base for adventures in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and can be a useful point for gorilla permit purchases for Bwindi Impenetrable National Park due to the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in town.
There is an airport at an entrance to Kisoro, with regular internal flights.
red line = Coffee Walking Tour (see the details here)
altitude: 1,863 m/ 6,115 ft
estimated population: 50,000
Kabale Town is the biggest urban centre of the Ugandan Gorilla Highlands, nestled in impressive green hills at 1,863m (6,115ft) above sea level, close to Lake Bunyonyi. Among the people from other parts of Uganda, Kabale has a reputation as a very cold place. Elders can tell you how they couldn’t write at school in winter (June–July) since their hands were shaking too much. The temperatures today are higher, but not much above 20°C (68°F) during the day or 10°C (50°F) at night.
Tarmac has covered most of its roads and single-story buildings are being replaced by high-rises but its rural soul remains untouched. Tradition and modernity bump into each other constantly, most remarkably in the Bakiga Museum (expected to reopen in 2021), the heritage centre of the biggest ethnic group of southwestern Uganda. It is an astonishing replica of a traditional grass-thatched homestead — but hidden in a brick building.
A challenging 9-hole golf course can be found above the town. Eager golfers are advised to check beforehand at White Horse Inn as the grass might need to cut the first.
About 8km/5mi from Kabale in a small muddy grove on the road to Rwanda are some hot springs. Do not expect too much—but it can be fun to share with local people, especially for them.
red line = Kabale Walking Tour (see the details here)