• Evelyn Nakazi

7 Best Places To Visit in Uganda on Safari

7 Best Places To Visit in Uganda on Safari

Uganda is barely known on the African safari scene because of the huge shadow cast by its immediate African safari giants Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia that have been shipping in travelers since William Cornwallis Harris established the safari style of journey in 1836. But Uganda has impressively taken up its place in providing superb African safari journeys in the last decade giving the safari giants a run for the money.

Uganda safaris have one powerful advantage that the traditional destinations will never be able to offer, the mountain gorilla trekking experience. Mountain gorillas are only found in 2 places, the first is only in Uganda and the other (Virunga massif) is shared between Uganda, Rwanda and DR Congo. These endangered creatures survive only in these parts and nowhere else in the world and you’ll most probably find gorilla tracking on every East African safari itinerary because like most travelers have testified: seeing the gorilla is one of the most fulfilling safari activity in East Africa.

Uganda shows off in this regard because currently, it’s the only destination you’ll enjoy seeing the African big game on a classic savanna game drive and without leaving the country, adventure into the misty rainforest jungles to meet the world’s most amazing and endangered primates including the mountain gorilla, chimpanzee, golden monkey and the mangabay.

If you’re preparing for an African Safari trip for your next holiday, Uganda should be your top choice. You’ll save more on overland trips and visas, many international flights make it to Uganda, the facilities are top notch, less safari crowds, more privacy and there’s a great list of destinations to visit that can well compare with Kenya & Tanzania.

In this post, we take a look at the best places to visit in Uganda on Safari. We dive into the ones that travellers have rated highly from internet reviews and surveys to help you make great a choice for your next trip. Let’s dive right into it!

First, here’s the list:

  1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

  2. Murchison Falls National Park

  3. Queen Elizabeth National Park

  4. Kibale National Park

  5. Sipi Falls near Mount Elgon

  6. Lake Mburo National Park

  7. Kidepo Valley National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest NAtional Park

Mist over Bwindi Impenetrable Forest home to over 400 mountain gorillas

1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

An East African safari excluding mountain gorilla trekking on the itinerary is an incomplete safari package. Uganda has two places to see mountain gorillas and the best traveller’s choice is Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is home to over 400 endangered mountain gorillas, which is close to half of the last remaining 1000 mountain gorillas, and the forest is one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site

According to UNESCO, species diversity is a feature of the park. It provides habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns. The northern (low elevation) sector has many species of Guineo-Congolian flora, including two endangered species, the brown mahogany and Brazzeia longipedicellata. In particular, the area shares in the high levels of endemisms of the Albertine Rift. The park is also a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. 

Silverback mountain gorillas in Bwindi

This ancient forest that dates back to the Pleistocene era has 14 habituated mountain gorilla groups that are open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo in the Districts of Kanungu, Kabale and Kisoro respectively all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority.

Bwindi can be accessed by taking a small local flight from Entebbe International Airport to Kihihi Airstrip (1hr 50mins) and then drive another hour by road to the park. The most preferred choice by seasoned travelers is driving 8-9 hours from Entebbe Int. Airport to the park where you enjoy the amenities of the green western Uganda valleys, hills, people and sites. You can also take public transport by bus from Kampala capital to Kisoro Town ($10-$20) and then hire a private driver to the park.

Budget camps, semi luxury and luxury lodges are available in the borders of the park especially close the the trailheads Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo. You can’t fail to find where to crush that fits your style.

Note that you’ll need to have a gorilla permit to be allowed and escorted into the jungle. Iconic Travels processes gorilla permits for their travellers at no cost, book a gorilla trip with them to avoid the bureaucratic hustle of acquiring one especially in high season. A Bwindi Gorilla Permit will cost you US$600 now until July 31st 2020 and it’ll be increase to US$700 by the only authorised issuer, Uganda Wildlife Authority. Make sure you have yours months before your arrival into Uganda because they can get really scarce on the market due to high demand.

murchison falls

The thundering Murchison Falls

2. Murchison Falls National Park

The Albertine Rift Valley ends in the North with a dramatic thundering display of the stunningly beautiful Murchison Falls, a sight that’ll leave your jaw dropping 148 ft down the devil’s coudron where the Nile’s water forcefully squeeze through to form the falls.

Discovered by Sir Samule Baker and his wife Florence on March 14, 1864 and named after Fredrick Murchison, the then Royal Geographic President, Murchison Falls is one of the most visited falls on the continent. Murchison Falls National Park has its name crafted from the existence of the falls on the edge of the park and is part of the greater Murchison Conservation Area.

Seasoned travellers that want to meet the famous Africa “Big Five” game animals chose Murchison route because it’s the only route in Uganda that gives an opportunity to meet the “Big 5” lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo and rhinoceros (only found in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary close to and enroute to Murchison Falls NP).

The top attraction in the park is a boat ride up the Victoria Nile to the foot of the falls. The ride reveals stunning wildlife drama along the shores of the Nile, especially in the dry seasons when hundreds of wildlife species come to take a sip on the Nile’s fresh water. The boat anchors at the foot of the falls, giving stunning views and sounds of the Murchison falls. Many travellers chose to hike up the falls from the boat to get an aerial view of the falls, the hike up the waterfall reflection rainbow is another great experience for nature lovers that don’t mind dropping a sweat.

Murchison Falls game drive safari

Take a game drive game through Uganda’s largest National Park and meet Africa’s icons. A great classic African safari game drive is during the early mornings before the sun gets too hot and evenings when the heat is cooling down. You see huge herds of elephant and buffalo are which are very common in the park and lions that are quite easily spotted. Antelope include Jackson’s hartebeest, waterbuck and Uganda kob. Large herds of Rothschild’s giraffe are a specialty. Chimpanzee and several other primates can be tracked in Budongo forest in the south of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area.

Notable world class safari camps and lodges in Murchison include Paraa Safari Lodge, Chobe Safari Lodge, Baker’s Lodge and Murchison River Lodge. You cannot fail to get accommodation that fits your style near or inside the park. 

Check out Iconic’s Murchison Falls Safari packages that could arouse your interest. Murchison Falls National Park can be a single destination on your Family Safari or easily added to Queen Elizabeth National park or the nearby Kibale Forest National Park and the rich savanna Kidepo Valley National Park.

Ishasha Tree Lions in QENP

Ishasha Tree Lions in QENP

3. Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to the most interesting species to watch on an African Safari, the Ishasha lions, famous for their unique behavior of climbing trees and have been branded the “Ishasha tree-climbing lions” by tourists. Lions, after mountain gorillas, are the most sought-after species by tourists visiting Uganda. A WCS assessment in 2006 showed that each individual lion in Queen Elizabeth National Park generated about $13,500 USD per year for the national economy in terms of the revenue it brought into the country. Now that, is an attraction you shouldn’t skip while in Uganda.

Considered to be Uganda’s most visited safari park, the 1,978 square kilometres (764 sq mi) Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) provides the setting for an extensive range of large mammals, primates and has the widest variety of wildlife of any Ugandan park. 

QENP is the most reliable savanna park in Uganda for lion, which is particularly common on the grassy Kasenyi Plains. Huge herds of buffalo and elephant are found in the savannah areas of the park, which are surprisingly very easy to spot, and an amazing number of hippo and crocodile inhabit the Kazinga channel on which daily boat trips are conducted. Many interesting antelope species such as Uganda kob, topi and bushbuck to see on game drives but don’t expect to see the giraffe and zebra, they’re nonexistent in the park. 

A troop of chimpanzees has been habituated for tracking in the Kyambura Gorge forest jungle trail and nine other primate species can bee seen, including the black-and-white colobus monkey.

Getting to QENP is easy for luxury travelers: daily scheduled flights from Entebbe to Kasese Airstrip near the park  (45 minutes away) are available. You can also take public transport by Bus that will drop about a mile from the Park for US$10.

Safari Camps and lodges around the park are some of Uganda’s best. From luxury camps to backpack lodging, you can’t fail to get where to stay in and around QENP.

QENP is easily added to chimpanzee tracking in Kibale forest and Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest because it’s enroute to the two destinations and is a great classic African safari destination.

Kibale Forest National Park Chimpanzee tracking

Kibale Forest Chimpanzee Mother and Baby

4. Kibale National Park

Considered the primate capital of the World, Kibale National Park is the best place in the world to watch Chimpanzee in their natural environment.

The 766 square kilometres (296 sq mi) moist evergreen rain forest sustains the last significant expanse of pre-montane forest in the entire eastern Africa region. The park forms a continuous forest with Queen Elizabeth National Park which creates an impressive 180 kilometres (110 mi) wildlife corridor. A great ecotourism and safari destination, with the highest  population of habituated chimpanzees in Africa and twelve other species of primates found inside the park’s foliage.

Hike inside Kibale and you’ll probably spot the rare I’Hoest’s monkey; endangered red colobus monkey, bush baby, and potto. You may stumble upon elusive mammals like the forest elephant, buffalo, leopard, bush pig, and duiker. The park is a birdwatcher’s haven with 325 recorder bird species from the dusky crimsonwing to the blue-headed sunbird. 

One of the easiest Uganda national parks to access. You can fly from Ebb to Kasese airstrip (near Queen Elizabeth NP) and then drive 1hr 30 mins to Kibale National Park or drive 4-5 hours from Entebbe (334 km/207 mi). Public bus transport is available from Kampala to Fort Portal Town ($10-$20) and then hire a private drive in town to take you to Kibale.

Fabulous lodges and safari camps are available around Fort Portal town (46 min (36.8 km)) and around Kibale Forest, you won’t fail to get somewhere decent to stay. 

Talk to a consultant at Iconic Travel to help you plan your trip to Kibale Forest, they also include Kibale National Park on the top Uganda destination.

Sipi Falls Uganda near mount Elgon

Sipi Falls from afar

5. Sipi Falls

Sipi Falls, in the foothills of Mt Elgon, is a stunner – arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Uganda next to Murchison Falls. There are three falls separated by steep hillsides. Though the upper two are beautiful, it’s the 95m main drop that attracts the crowds, and most nearby lodges look out on to it. 

The view of the wide plains disappearing into the distance below is also spectacular. It’s well worth spending a night or two in this peacefully magnificent place, which also allows you time to enjoy some of the excellent walks in the area, including the show-stopping descent to the bottom of the falls.

Sipi Falls is a popular spot for hikers to Mount Elgon’s Wagagai (4,321 metres (14,177 ft)0, Sudek (4,302 metres (14,114 ft)), Mubiyi (4,211 metres (13,816 ft)), and Masaba (4,161 metres (13,652 ft)) peaks. 

Mount Elgon is an extinct shield volcano (24 million years) on the border of Uganda and Kenya, north of Kisumu and west of Kitale. The mountain’s highest point, named “Wagagai”, is located entirely within Uganda and a popular hikker’s choice.

Most travellers visiting the Jinja, source of the mighty Nile River, will add Sipi Falls to the itinerary. Which is a drive time of about 3 hours (195.4 km) via Mbale Town. There are a great many decent places to stay facing the falls and a night nearby watching the blue sky, the falls and the unmatched sound of the falls is a soul enriching African safari option.

lake mburo national park zebras

Zebras are mostly found in Lake Mburo NP

6. Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is the smallest and easiest to access National Park located close to the highway that takes you through to the major western Uganda safari parks.

The main feature of the park is Lake Mburo and four other lakes, which form part of a 50km-long wetland area. To clearly see the formation of all the five lakes, head over to the the impressive Kazuma Lookout. The open savannah forms most of the park’s vegetation but the savannah is interspersed with patches of forest and rocky outcrops. The banks of the lakes are surrounded by papyrus swamp and woodland which make a great sanctuary for hundreds of birds including the spectacular papyrus gonolek and the blue-headed coucal.

This scenic savannah gem is home to several wildlife not easily seen anywhere else in Uganda like the Burchell’s zebra and impala. Several antelope species can be seen, including topi, duiker, oribi, Bohor reedbuck and klipspringer. Elephants are absent, but herds of buffalo are quite common, and Rothschild’s giraffe have been reintroduced. A healthy population of leopard is present, although mostly seen at night. Hippo and crocodile can be found in the lake.

The best time to visit Uganda to check out the best places to visit on a safari in Uganda is during the dry months from June to August and December to February, these are the best for wildlife viewing in Uganda and there’s also plentiful sunshine at this time. In the wetter months, there’s the possibility that rain will cut off roads and mess up your primate trekking safari adventure. Iconic Travel Consultants know the best time for you to come, have valuable information about accommodation facilities and could help you design a custom African Safari Holiday in Uganda with everything on ground take care of for you including meals, transportation, where to stay, entry fees and the most daunting process, the permits. Talk to one of the consultants to help you get started with planning.

Kidepo Valley National Park

7. Kidepo Valley National Park.

Kidepo Valley National Park is a Kidepo is rugged savanna 1,442 square kilometres safari destination located in the Karamoja region in the far northeastern corner of Uganda.  It is dominated by the 2,750 metres Mount Morungole and transected by the Kidepo and Narus rivers.

This safari park is ignored by most travellers because of its location is highly rated by those that visit. CNN travel named it one of the top African parks to visit and we trust the fellas at CNN to have a great sense of travel judgement.

Kidepo Valley has a true wilderness feel and is a great destination recommended for the adventurous seasoned traveller. It has excellent wildlife viewing during the Dry season, featuring several species not encountered anywhere else in the country. 

The park is home to a very impressive mammals list. Twenty species of predator are resident, and several don’t exist in any other Ugandan park (including cheetah and black-backed jackal). Lion is common and leopard also occurs. Elephant, Burchell’s zebra, buffalo and Rothschild’s giraffe are all regularly seen, but black rhino has recently become extinct. Twelve antelope species are present – some of which don’t occur anywhere else in the country.

The park has arguably the most diverse savannah fauna of any park in the country. It is particularly rich in predators, including lion, leopard, cheetah and bat-eared fox. Black-backed and side-striped jackal are both present. There are large herds of buffalo. Twelve antelope species occur in the park, including Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, eland, Uganda kob and klipspringer.

Kidepo Valley has the second-highest population of birds (first is Queen Elizabeth NP) compared to any Uganda reserve, a very impressive bird list of over 470 species. Sixty birds on its list haven’t been recorded in any other Ugandan park. Kidepo is especially good for spotting raptors, with 56 species on record. Watch out for migratory birds that show up in the months of November to April.

The best way to get to Kidepo Valley NP is by a scheduled or chartered flight. There are also several routes to drive to Kidepo, the most direct route from Kampala, through Gulu to Lokumoit Gate, takes about 10 hours. The trip can be broken up with an overnight stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Chobe Safari Lodge with a visit in Murchison Falls NP, Gulu or Kitgum. Two longer routes pass through the remote Karamoja subregion, arriving at Nataba Gate.

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