Uganda National Parks
Uganda National Parks are some of the unique and stunning locations to visit on safari in Uganda. The country is blessed with a varied selection of them and other attractive places. Uganda National Parks may not be as well-known like some others in East Africa, but they certainly don’t lack abundant wildlife. They have always provided quiet and unrivalled game viewing experiences to the awe of many first-time visitors. It is in Uganda National Parks that game can be viewed without the crowds that sometimes take the edge off the safari experience elsewhere in Africa. The list of Uganda National Parks has; Bwindi Impenetrable, Mgahinga Gorilla Park, Mount Elgon, Semuliki, Rwenzori Mountains, Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest, Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo National Park. All the 10 National Parks are managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Visiting Uganda National Parks on Safari to Uganda – Reasons
A network of 10 national parks and several other protected areas offers wildlife enthusiasts a thrilling opportunity to experience Uganda’s biodiversity. The parks offer something a little bit different and sometimes very different. The mesmerizing tracks of thorn-bush savannah and lush expanse of tropical rain forests team with incredible wildlife some of which is unique to Uganda.
Visit Uganda parks to break the monotony of the savannah safari drives like the case in the so-called world renown parks of Africa. The traditional savannah splendors here are complemented by the shimmering lakes and rivers heaving with aquatic life, the Gorilla parks of Bwindi and Mgahinga as well as the primate rich Kibale forest. Also, not to mention are some of Uganda’s rare reserves like Semuliki, Kidepo Valley, the Volcanic delights of Mount Elgon and the glacial peaks of Africa’s tallest mountain range.
Uganda National Parks
Located in South Western Uganda, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ecologically diverse Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for Gorilla trekking. It is home to a population of over 500 Mountain Gorillas constituting slightly more than half of their total worldwide. The 321 Sq Km Bwindi Forest provides refuge to a further 120 mammals including other primates like Chimpanzees and Colobus monkeys, various small antelopes as well as elephants. Brimming with over 350 bird species, 23 of which are restricted to the Albertine Rift, Bwindi deservingly appears on top of the IBA list.
Besides Gorilla trekking and birding, Bwindi is the only place that offers visitors offering the Gorilla habituation experience. Visitors get a chance to learn the process of training Gorillas to see humans as neutral beings as well as gaining a deeper understanding of the Gorillas’ behavior. Just know, Gorilla trekking would have been a rare success, very difficult or even impossible if Gorillas were not habituated. See more details about Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Tours to Bwindi for Gorilla trekking are usually integrated in the longer Uganda Safaris but travelers with limited time to Uganda can chose from the short trips below:
- 1 day Bwindi Gorilla trekking
- 2 Days Bwindi Gorillas from Kigali
- 3 Days Uganda Gorilla trekking Safari
- 3 Days Uganda Gorilla Safari from Rwanda
- 5 Days Uganda Gorillas and Masai Mara
The country’s largest protected area is Murchison Falls National Park, whose palm-studded grassland supports dense populations of lions, elephants, buffaloes, Uganda Kob together with the localized Nubian Giraffes and Patas monkeys. Immense concentrations of hippos, crocodiles and birds can be observed from morning and afternoon launch trips along the Nile below the spectacular waterfalls for which the park is named. In summary, the 3480Sq Km of Murchison Falls National Park host 76 mammal species, over 450 bird species including the iconic Shoebill Stork and primates (Chimpanzees) in Budongo Forest Reserve.
Tours to Murchison Falls National Park have always mentioned Rhino tracking but Rhinos are however absent in the park. They are protected in the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary located on the way to or from the park. Apart from Rhino tracking, the main activities on a tour to Murchison falls park are game drives, top of the falls excursion, boat safari to the bottom of the falls, birding and Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo forest. Read more about Murchison Falls National Park.
Kibale National Park is a primatologist’s dream. It is the best destination for Chimpanzee tracking. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primates including the Chimpanzees. Being a place with more primates than anywhere else, any one can vouch for ‘Primates Capital of the World’ as its name. It is however not just about primates/chimpanzees, Kibale Forest is also home to 375 bird species including the rare Green Pittas. Kibale is very close to Queen Elizabeth and Semuliki National Parks. The three parks are usually visited simultaneously. Also, the Kibale-Fort portal area is one of the best places to explore in Uganda. Read more about Kibale National Park.
Mgahinga is the second of the two Mountain Gorilla Parks of Uganda. Located in the Virunga Mountains, Mgahinga is less known than Bwindi. Perhaps due to its size and the smaller number of Gorillas compared to Bwindi that has multiple families. Apart from the Gorillas, Mgahinga is an important habitat for the endangered and Charismatic Golden monkey. Away from Primate trekking, Mgahinga is becoming famous for Volcano hiking in Uganda, Birding and not ruling out its cultural significance to the Batwa people. See more about Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular and visited safari destination. Set majestically in the shadow of the Rwenzori, flanking lakes Edward and George, the lush savannah of Uganda’s second largest National Park offers prime grazing to elephants, buffaloes and various antelopes. A checklist of slightly above 600 bird species testifies to the extra ordinary ecological diversity of this park. Mammalian specialties include the (elsewhere exclusive) giant forest hog, primates like the Chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge and the legendary tree climbing lions of the Ishasha sector.
Activities for a safari to Queen Elizabeth Park include Game drives, Lion tracking and boat cruising safari on Kazinga Channel. Others are Chimpanzee trekking at Kyambura Gorge, crater lakes tour, cycling, bird watching, nature walks, fascinating cultural experiences and tree lions observing. Queen Elizabeth National Park can be accessed by both road and air from Kampala capital city and Entebbe airport. Read more about Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Kidepo Valley National Park is as large as 1442 sq km located in the northeast Karamoja region near the border with South Sudan. The remote Kidepo Valley National Park ranks highly among African finest wildernesses. It is Uganda’s most isolated national park but those who make the long journey there have always been awestruck by its profusion of big game included among its 77 mammal species and about 475 bird species. It hosts some of the wildlife not found elsewhere in the country, like the Cheetah and greater Kudu.
Kidepo Valley National Park can be accessed by both road and air from Kampala and Entebbe airport. Scheduled flights operating certain days of the week are available with domestic flight companies like Aerolink. Accommodation is available at Apoka Safari Lodge, Adere Safari Lodge, Savanna Safari Lodge, Ngamoru Wilderness Camp and Apoka Bandas for UWA. Also, in Moroto and other small towns, not far the park, are some hotels, lodges and homestay centers.
Mount Elgon, after which the park is named, was once Africa’s highest mountain far exceeding Kilimanjaro’s current 5895m. Millenia of erosion have reduced its height to 4321m, relegating it to the 4th highest peak in East Africa and the 8th on the continent. Set on the Kenya border near Mbale city, Mount Elgon National Park recently joined UNESCO’s latest list of approved Biosphere Reserves. The park holds bragging rights for not only the transboundary Biosphere Reserve on the UNESCO list but also the host for the largest base of any extinct volcano in the world.
The major activity is hiking and (interestingly) the ultimate goal on reaching the top is usually not the final ascent to its highest peak (Wagagai) but the descent into the vast 40kms caldera. In terms of wildlife, the park is home to over 300 bird species including the near-threatened Lammergeyer (bearded vulture). Also on the mountain side are small antelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffaloes. Leopards and hyenas are occasionally spotted. On the slopes of Mount Elgon are multiple waterfalls spreading beautifully on its protruding cliffs. The commonest among them are the Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa.
Lake Mburo National Park is the country’s smallest savannah reserve and the closest to Kampala capital city and Entebbe airport. Visitors on a short stay in Uganda ought not to miss a glimpse in to the country’s diverse wildlife when a day trip to Lake Mburo Park is a possibility. Lake Mburo National Park is centered on a series of swamp-fringed lakes known for their rich bird life, notably the secretive African finfoot. The green acacia woodland surrounding the lake harbors dense populations of Zebras, warthogs, buffaloes, impalas, Giraffes and various other grazers, including the last surviving Ugandan population of the Eland. Read more about Lake Mburo National Park.
Established in 1993, Semuliki National Park is one of Uganda’s newest national parks and which is in many ways unique to this part of East Africa. Mainly comprising tropical lowland forest, the 220 sq km Semuliki Park is of special interest to ornithologists for some 40 Congolese bird species not recorded anywhere in the country. Nearby, the bigger 542 Sq km Semuliki Wildlife Reserve is the perfect place to view herds of buffalo, Uganda Kob as well as Chimpanzees. Abutting Lake Albert positions the reserve as one of the best localities for sighting the enigmatic swamp-dwelling Shoebill.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the eastern slopes and glacial peaks of the 120km-long Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a world class hiking and mountaineering destination. Rwenzori Mountains Park is totally different from any other protected area in Uganda with its combination of glaciers, waterfalls, lakes and even snow fields. While its main attraction is the mountain range with 70% of land located above 2500 meters ASL, at lower levels the park is host to 70 mammal species, including the elephants, duikers, hyrax, over 200 bird species and the black and white colobus monkey.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is located close to Queen Elizabeth National Park, Kibale Forest and Semuliki. It is also not very far from the Gorillas’ Park of Bwindi Impenetrable. There are numerous hiking trails offering day excursions and longer treks to the summit that usually take between 7 and 9 days.
Other places to visit in Uganda
Jinja is recognized as Uganda’s adventure capital, a sobriquet that’s well deserved. It is a popular destination and one best known for thrills and plenty of spills. Jinja is one of the excellent places to chill before and after a longer Uganda Safari. It however never runs out of options for tours and activities for all kinds of adventure seekers. Located on the shores of Lake Victoria, just 85 km from Kampala, Jinja is a popular destination that is best known as the home to the Source of River Nile. Numerous adventure sports and activities synonymous with Jinja are White water rafting, Water tubing, horseback riding, bungee jumping, quad biking, boat cruises, among others.
Uganda is also home to man’s closest relative, the Chimpanzee. Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary near Entebbe is one of the places to spot Chimpanzees. A community of orphaned chimps most of which were confiscated from poachers can be visited at Ngamba Island. Unlike in Kibale forest, Kyambura gorge, Budongo forest and other places where viewing Chimpanzees is by tracking in the forest, it is a different experience at Ngamba Island. Check the half day experience with Chimpanzees.
Mabamba Shoebill wetland
Mabamba Swamp near Entebbe is one of the few excellent locations to spot the Shoebill. The search for the elusive Shoebill is a thrilling birding experience and the success rates at Mabamba wetland are higher than elsewhere. Bird life is prolific throughout Uganda but key sites like Mabamba should be included on an ornithological itinerary. If you don’t go for a longer Uganda Safari to spot the Shoebill in the national parks, a day trip to Mabamba Shoebill Wetland is equally rewarding.
Some of the recommended Uganda Safaris
- 12 Days Uganda Safari
- 15 Days Uganda Jungle Escape
- 10 Days Uganda Primates and Wildlife.