Gearing up from a trip to Uganda? No Uganda backpack safari is complete without a stopover at least once to a Uganda National Park.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Uganda’s foremost tourist attraction, and indeed one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife encounters, is tracking mountain gorillas across the misty slopes of the remote Bwindi Impenetrable forest of south- western Uganda.
These magnificent apes are both rare and endangered; their total population numbers less than 800 animals divided between the forests of Bwindi Impenetrable and the nearby Virunga volcanoes. With fifteen groups habituated for tourism, the Impenetrable Forest is the world’s primary mountain gorilla tracking destination.
Tracking the rare mountain gorilla in the remote forests of southwestern Uganda is the country’s foremost tourist attraction and one of the world’s most remarkable wildlife encounters. Beyond the gorillas, Bwindi boasts 350 birds, 120 mammals, 310 butterflies, 200 trees, and 51 reptiles. Outside of the forest, community walks provide insight into the lives of the Bakinga and Batwa people who previously inhabited the forest.
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest protected areas. Originally gazetted as the Bunyoro and Gulu Wildlife Reserve in 1926, it was upgraded to form one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952. The 5072km2 expanse of Murchison Falls NP and the contiguous Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves are managed collectively as the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
At Murchison Falls, the Nile explodes through a 6m wide gorge and plunges 45m into the ‘Devil’s Cauldron.’ The river below the Falls provides one of Uganda’s finest wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbank include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
Consequently, most of the tourist accommodations serving MFNP are also located in the vicinity, much of it on the riverbank just outside the park, 5km to the west. Paraa is the starting point for boat trips to the Falls, the delta and the site of the vehicle ferry crossing.
The park’s prime game viewing area lies on the Buligi Peninsula, a triangle of grassland bounded by the Victoria Nile entering Lake Albert, and the Albert Nile flowing out of it. Expect to see elephants, buffalo, antelopes and giraffes and keep your fingers crossed for lions and leopards. Visitors can also take to the air to explore the plains north and west of Paraa in a hot air balloon.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Located in Uganda’s distant northeastern corner, close to Kenya and South Sudan and forming the farthest extremity of the remote, sparsely populated Karamoja region, Kidepo Valley national park represents one of Africa’s most magnificent wildernesses. Big game favourites, including elephant, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, eland, lion, cheetah and ostrich, roam grasslands that extend towards distant mountain ranges in all directions.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most popular and diverse conservation area. It has varied habitats which support a wealth of wildlife with more mammal species (95) than any other Ugandan park and over 600 bird species – a phenomenal number for such a small area.
Expect to see safari favourites such as elephants, buffaloes and hippos while the chances of finding lions on the plains of Kasenyi and Ishasha are good – notably, Ishasha is famous for the climbing lions.
The park was initially named Kaziranga National Park in 1952, but was renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Montes Lunae – the Mountains of the Moon alias Rwenzori Mountain has become established as one of Africa’s great mountaineering adventures, offering the chance to ascend snow peaks and walk on equatorial glaciers that represent the highest and most intriguing features.
It consists of six distinct mountains, Stanley, Speke, Baker, Emin, Gessi and Savioa. Mt Stanley’s 5109 m Margherita Peak, which stands on the Uganda-Congo border, is the third highest point in Africa. home to 18 mammal species, 217 bird species, 9 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians. Large mammals, including elephant, buffalo, giant forest hog, bushbuck, chimpanzee and leopard are present in the forest zone, Rwenzori is also home to 217 recorded bird species.
Lake Mburo National Park
A compact jewel of a park, Lake Mburo is ideally placed for an overnight break between Kampala and the protected areas of western Uganda. Though Lake Mburo’s 370km2 area is small compared to many East African parks, it contains an impressive diversity of wildlife with 69 mammal species and 332 bird species.
Lake Mburo is the only park that contains impalas and the only one in western Uganda with zebra and eland. The species list was expanded in 2015 when a number of Rothschild’s giraffes were relocated to Lake Mburo from Murchison Falls National Park. Leopards and hyenas are also present and, after years of absence, lions are once more sighted. Hippos and crocodiles live in the park’s five lakes, while the fringing swamps hide secretive wetland creatures such as the sitatunga antelope. In Mburo, you can also find the historical Ankole-longhorn cattle.
Mt. Elgon National Park
The 1,145 km2 Mount Elgon National Park is located on the 4321m-high Mount Elgon in eastern Uganda. It’s a home to large mammals, including elephants and buffalo and 300 species of birds.
The local Bagisu people named their candidate – as seen from their side of the mountain – as Masaba after their founding deity.
Trails of varying length explore the forest around the Forest Exploration Centre passing caves, waterfalls and viewpoints and providing the opportunity to observe birds – including African goshawk, Chubb’s cisticola, white-chinned prinia and African blue flycatcher – and primates.
Semuliki National Park
The 220km2 Semuliki National Park and the nearby 545km2 Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve lie on the floor of the Semliki Valley, the 160km-long part of the Albertine Rift Valley, The Semuliki forest boasts a remarkably rich biodiversity. This is partly because it is extremely old, being one of a few patches of forest refugia that predate the arid millennia of the last Ice Age.
The park contains 53 mammal species, including an impressive 11 primates. Dent’s mona monkey, the Central African red colobus, forest buffalo and the water chevrotain, occur nowhere else in East Africa, the park contains evidence of even older processes: hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park covers the Ugandan slopes of three of the Virunga volcanoes. Though small in size, just 33.7km², it adjoins Volcanoes NP in Rwanda and Virunga NP in Congo. Collectively, these three parks form the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area (VCA) which protects half of the world’s 780 mountain gorillas. Mgahinga Gorilla NP is home to 76 mammal species, including the endangered mountain gorilla and golden monkey. Other large mammals include elephant, buffalo, leopard and giant forest hog in the dense forest.
For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa Pygmies, hunter-gatherers and warriors, who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Today, Batwa guides lead visitors through the lower slopes of the forests, introducing them to their old home and demonstrating the skills they used to survive in it. The highlight of the Batwa Trail is the descent into the Garama Cave for a subterranean performance of music and dance.
Kibale National Park
East of the Rwenzori mountain, the landscape is dotted with volcanic crater lakes and carpeted with tea plantations and tropical forest. The park is best known for its primates which include Uganda’s largest population of chimpanzees – an estimated 1450 – the localised red colobus, and L’Hoest’s monkey. Other large mammals, such as elephants, buffalo and giant forest hogs are present. Chimpanzee tracking is the main activity, while birdwatchers are drawn to the park for the community-run Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary which has a bird list of 335 species.