Uganda may be lesser known than some of its more ubiquitous neighbours when it comes to safaris, but this provides a great deal of authenticity across its attractions and smaller crowds. Searching for the mountain gorillas in Bwindi and Mgahinga National Parks is a huge motivation for visitors to Uganda and you can also track habituated chimpanzees in Kibali. However, some of her other attractions include more traditional African safari experiences, such as the mighty Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park, where if you are lucky you will see other incredible fauna such as elephants, giraffes and possibly lions and leopards.
Supporting nearly half of the world’s estimated 820 mountain gorilla population, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is situated along the Great Rift Valley. As the name suggests, it is an area of almost impassable dense rainforest spread over a network of valleys and ridges, carving a silhouette of undulating peaks into the skyline. Dating back over 25,000 years, this is one of Africa’s oldest and most captivating parklands; its bamboo and swamp forests provide the ideal environment for the gorilla population that call it home. There are currently four families of habituated gorillas in Bwindi that can be tracked in the Buhoma area; Habinyanja, Rushegura, Mubare and Orozugo. There are another six families, making ten in total, that are habituated in the Bwindi area, some requiring overnight stays in Buhoma or Nkuringo if you wish to track them. In addition to the 340 habituated gorillas in the park there are 120 other mammals that you can see, including a range of other primates such as chimpanzees, red-tailed monkey, black and white colobus and blue monkey. Read more about Bwindi here.
Where to Stay: Bwindi Lodge
As Uganda’s second largest National Park, after Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth National Park is a place of outstanding beauty and extreme biodiversity. About 1,978 square kilometres in area, it straddles the equator in South Uganda at the base of the rift Valley, bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the West. Stretching from the crater foothills of the Rwenzori Range, down to the remote Ishasha in the south, wildlife changes as you travel. A birder’s paradise, there are hundreds and hundreds (over 600) bird species, some rare, others endemic and many odd, including the pouting shoebill which stands at a huge 4ft tall. In Kyamburu Gorge you will find, among the hanging vines and dense treetops, social chimpanzees and in Ishasha, the famous tree-climbing lions, sultry leopards and migratory elephants which cross over from the DRC. Flamingos loiter round the crater lakes in the north, and you will find what is said to be the largest concentration of hippos lounging in the Kazinga channel. Other wildlife you may encounter includes warthog, giant forest hog, rare aquatic sitatunga and waterbuck.
Where to Stay: Kyambura Gorge Lodge
Comprising what are widely considered to be Uganda’s most pristine tropical rainforests, Kibale Forest National Park covers an area of 795 kilometres over varied altitudes. Its unique location, at the crossroads between the dry terrains of East Africa and the wetter forests of the West, means it can support a variety of exciting flora and fauna. The park is home to the largest of Uganda’s chimpanzee populations which stands at around 1,450, so this combined with the ease of access makes it a perfect place to spot this loveable, endangered primate and it is popular for this alone, despite its many other attractions. The park has the greatest density of primates in East Africa, so makes a wonderful addition to any wildlife itinerary, especially if you are visiting the mountain gorillas too. There are a total of 13 species to be found here which, aside from our close relatives the chimpanzees, includes the grey cheeked mangabey, endangered red colobus, black-and-white colobus, blue monkey, olive baboon, potto, bush baby, red-tailed monkey and the, rarely seen, Hoest’s monkey.
Where to Stay: Kyaninga Lodge
One of the continent’s great wildernesses, Kidepo National Park is set deep in the north of the country in a delightfully remote area of savannah landscape which stretches as far as the eye can see, with a distant outline of mountain ranges. Contrasting heavily with the luscious bamboo and swamp forests of Bwindi, this mainly semi-arid park is a great place to enjoy typical African game viewing in Uganda and may be combined with other destinations and parks for a truly varied itinerary. There are many carnivorous species that are unique to the Kidepo and Karamoja regions within Uganda, including the bat-eared fox, aardwolf, striped hyena, caracal, cheetah and hunting dog. The Narus Valley in the southwest is the area with the highest concentration of animals and birds due to the water source and you may see buffalo, lion, cheetah, zebra, giraffe (it is the only of Uganda’s parks where giraffe and zebra can be seen), hartebeest, waterbuck and bushbuck. During the dry season, the plains can be quite arid and animals tend to head to the woodland of Narus valley between March and April.
Where to Stay: Apoko Safari Lodge
An area also known as Kabarega Falls, this national park covers 3,893 kilometres, making it Uganda’s largest overall protected area. The safe-guarded savannah within the reserve constitutes some of Uganda’s oldest conservation zones and was described by Winston Churchill in 1907 as 'Kew Gardens and the zoo combined on an unlimited scale'. Whilst the 40-metre falls remain the centre piece of the park, the rivers and forests of the surrounding area offer some wonderful wildlife experiences for the visitor and some of the country’s most unspoilt scenery.
Where to Stay: Nile Safari Lodge - Spectacularly sat and secluded on the southern banks of the Nile amongst a wonderfully fertile landscape. The luxury camp has been kept simple and has a relaxed atmosphere, reflected in the calm waters of this part of the Nile. Here, guests can experience the bush naturally, as it is, with nothing changing the temperature or obstructing your views – the real Wild Africa.
Despite being the smallest of Uganda’s National Parks, with a surface area of just 34 square kilometres, some would say Mgahinga and its landscapes are amongst the most scenic and enchanting. Protecting an imposing cluster of nine volcanoes that straddle the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda within the Virunga Conservation Area.
Where to Stay: Mt Gahinga Lodge - Nestling in the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes Mt Gahinga Lodge provides the perfect base from which to track gorillas in Mgahinga, Nkuringo (southern Bwindi) and in the future, Djomba in DRC. Accommodation is in nine thatched bandas and also offers the opportunity to track the golden monkeys or climb one of the dramatic Virunga peaks.