Uganda’s places to visit.
Uganda’s places to visit- Uganda’s destinations great for safari include two rainforest jungles popular for primates viewing, three shoreline destinations on two massive lakes, and five savannah game parks—an impressive collection no other Africa safari destination, that size, can dream of having.
From the savannah plains, rainforest jungles to hidden cultural cities, Uganda has many obscure and diverse destinations great for a private or group African safari holiday. In this little country, the size of Britain, there are 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, a multi culture mix, and a bucket-load of breathtaking landscapes; it’s challenging to decide which places deserve the distinction of the best destinations to visit in Uganda.
The following are Uganda’s best places to visit;
1. Queen Elizabeth National Park
Few reserves in the world have such high biodiversity, landscapes, savannah plains, bushland, wetlands, and lush forests like this park. Covering 1978 sq km, scenic Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most popular of all Uganda destinations with animals and tourists.
Uganda’s most famous safari destinations protect the highest number of animals. Some of the best to see on safari include hippos cooling off their massive bodies in the Kazinga channel, elephant parades, lion prides, leopards, hyenas, Uganda kobs, and the chimpanzee troop in the Kyambura Gorge forest.
The park is easy to reach and enjoys a stunning location on the rift valley floor between Lakes Edward and George. Varied habitats epitomize the rift valley vegetative mosaic that tempted our hominid ancestors to migrate from forest to grasslands and are home to 95 mammal and 612 bird species.
Scenically, Queen Elizabeth National Park has everything: thirty miles to the north of the park, the blue Rwenzori Mountains explode from the plains—a composite, jagged mass of mountains, sixty miles long and forty wide. Looking in a certain ever-changing park atmosphere, the mountains seem like you can reach out and touch them.
Across Lake Edward to the west, the Mitumba hills stand sentinel on the Congo border, blue in the long sight, but the closer you get, the green, wooded, steep, and unfriendly epitomize dark Africa.
Mweya Peninsula is the park’s primary tourist hub. Reached by a narrow portage separating Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel. The peninsula enjoys marvelous views in all directions.
The Kazinga Channel
The Kazinga Channel shores provide year-round water for large numbers of birds, reptiles, and mammals. A boat safari (or launch trip) to view this wildlife spectacle is Queen Elizabeth National Park’s most famous and enduring activity. Boat safaris make a 2-hour round trip between the Mweya jetty and Lake Edward, providing marvelous opportunities to view up-close crocodiles, elephants, hippo, buffalo, and a wide variety of waterbirds.
A network of safari game tracks allows game drives to explore the plains north of the Kazinga Channel. Large numbers of animals live here but a patchwork of grassland and scrubby thickets can make game viewing challenging especially after the long rains; you will need more time on your safari drive tocarefully spot them.
The Channel track and the Leopard Loop are probably the most likely of all Uganda destinations to find Leopard and Giant Forest Hog. The area is also memorable for its distinctive candelabra trees (Euphorbia candelabrum) and the African Fish Eagles perch.
At the foot of the rift’s Kichwamba escarpment, the Kyambura River flows through the deep, cliff-lined Kyambura Gorge towards the Kazinga Channel. The Fig Tree Camp at the gorge’s edge provides a giddy view down into the 100m-deep chasm.
The canyon contains a beautiful riverine forest in which travelers can track one habituated chimpanzee troot with gorge’s forest. Chimpanzee trekking excursions head out twice daily at 8:00am and at 14:00.
Although chimp sightings are not guaranteed, the ravine offers a remarkable nature hike that’s a great compliment to savannah game drives on the plains above.
The magnificent and remote Ishasha sector lies in the extreme south of Queen Elizabeth NP, adjoining the Virunga National Park, which lies on the opposite side of the Ishasha River in the D.R. Congo. Few tourists make the long drive from the famous Mweya sector in the north. It is their loss, for the sector enjoys a wilderness character unrivaled elsewhere in the park.
Ishasha is home to a superb variety of animal variety. Hippos are common in the Ishasha River that forms the border between DRC and Uganda. Buffalo, Topi, and Kob roam the Ishasha plains, some of which become prey for Leopard and the sector’s most famous residents, the tree-climbing lions.
These docile felines can be easily spotted draped over the branches of large fig trees and acacia trees. Their motive for tree climbing remains unclear to researchers. Still, whether it is to enjoy the shade, watch for approaching meals, or avoid irritating bugs, Ishasha lions look incredibly comfortable on their high perches.
2. Murchison Falls National Park
Adjacent to Murchison is Uhuru Falls, taking the excess of Murchison Falls water to create a spectacle that has become a Uganda tourism magnet.
Together with the adjacent Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Wildlife Reserve, the park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA), the largest of all Uganda destinations at 3,893 square kilometres (1,503 sq mi).
Murchison Falls National Park is endowed with big game, including elephants and hippos, and you could catch sight of the chimpanzee in the Kanyiyo Padidi mahogany forest. The Lake Albert Delta is home to rare shoebill storks. There is game fishing in the cascades of Karuma Falls.
MFNP lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift, where the valley’s bounding escarpments fade into north Uganda’s anonymous expanses. The Victoria Nile bisects the park for 100 kilometers as it flows west from Karuma Falls to the Albert Nile. Created in 1952, today, it forms the core of the even larger Murchison Falls Conservation Area (5,072 sq km), including the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu wildlife reserves.
The River Nile through that park with its teeming hippo and serried ranks of crocodiles on the sandbanks, coupled with large numbers of other species coming down to drink and bathe, in the highlight of a visit to this magnificent park.
The most dramatic view of the waterfall is at the top of the falls, where the sight and sounds of the Nile crashing through the 6-meter wide chasm makes an unforgettable assault on your neural senses.
The Falls site may be reached either by vehicle or a hot half-hour climb on foot after leaving the Paraa launch in Fajao Gorge. The latter route passes Baker’s point, a peninsula that faces Murchison Falls and a secondary cataract named Uhuru Falls.
Murchison Falls wildlife collection lucks the Rhino to complete Africa’s famous Big 5 game animals list (Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and Rhino). Unfortunately for safari enthusiasts, the fifth of them, the White Rhino, lives in the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, is closed off for tourism due to misunderstandings between the private sanctuary’s owners.
However, the Buffalo and elephant are ubiquitous among Murchison Falls NP wildlife. A very healthy lion population likes to prey on the abundant Uganda kob on the expansive park’s savannah plains. Several antelope species roam the plains, including oribi, Jackson’s hartebeest, Defassa waterbuck, grey duiker, and bushbuck.
On the Victoria Nile banks, which bisect the park, are crocodiles and hippos busking under the savannah heat. You’re also most likely to see large herds of the localized Rothschild’s giraffe in the park, but the leopard is far from showing up randomly. The most likely place to see the leopard is in the vicinity of Pakuba Lodge.
Troops of the rare Pata’s monkey sometimes hand around the grassy plains and are easy to spot on a Uganda safari game drive. The neighboring Budongo Forest offers chimpanzee tracking excursions to compliment your game drive. It’s fun watching these distant habituated cousins showcase their native behaviors.
Other notable areas north of the river are a parkland-like expanse of Borassus Palms near Tangi and the Nyamsika Cliffs viewpoint, overlooking a river valley used by wildlife as a corridor to reach the Nile. Game is more scarce in the bushier habitats south of the river. However, you can find forest species, notably Chimpanzee, in the Kanyiyo Padidi Forest in the southern part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
3. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi would have taken the number one spot on the top 10 Uganda destinations because it protects the world’s most precious jungle jewels, the mountain gorillas. Alternatively, it took the third because it’s only popular with international tourists and not the locals. And this is mostly because it’s the most expensive of all places to visit in Uganda.
The name Bwindi comes from the local word “Mubwindi” meaning place of darkness. The thick forest canopy blankets the forest floors creating an environment for plants to highly compete for light and an impenetrable jungle for humans. Thus the name Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
This swath of steep ridges covered in the thick, steamy jungle is just as magnificent as it sounds. The 32,092 ha (320 sq km) UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s prehistoric habitats that scientists date back to have survived the last Ice Age as most of the continent’s other forests disappeared. The tropical forest is one of the largest areas in East Africa, which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt.
Located in a mountainous area in southwest Uganda (near the border with Rwanda in the south), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is most famous for its giant primate inhabitants, the mountain gorillas.
Gorilla Trekking Experiences
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest protects about half of all the mountain gorillas globally, with four sectors well positioned on the park boundaries to make sure you don’t miss any opportunity to see the mountain giants.
You’re guaranteed 98% to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi because it has more habituated gorillas than Rwanda or DR Congo and with the most affordable gorilla permit (USD 700/400). The Southern Section (Nkuringo & Rushaga Sectors) offers the best trekking and habituation experiences.
Although the low season offers the best lodging prices, the best time to see gorillas is between June to August and December to February. At these times, the forest trails are drier and therefore less slippery. Also, your chance of a dry gorilla viewing experience is higher during these months. This might result in a better experience, and photography will be easier.
4. Entebbe – Kampala
Entebbe town and Kampala City make the top 10 destinations in Uganda list mainly because one is the nation’s cultural and business hub (Kampala) while the other (Entebbe) is the only hub connecting Uganda to other international cities.
Established on rolling hills some 10km off northern Lake Victoria shores, Kampala is the conventional African capital. More verdant than many of its regional counterparts, not relatively so populous or chaotic as others —but practically the familiar contrast of a bustling compact high-rise city center rising from a leafy suburban sprawl, increasingly organic as one reaches its rustic periphery. It has a contrasting atmosphere of modern urban bustle and time-warped tropical languor.
Kampala is linked to Entebbe’s international airport by a smooth-surfaced highway passing through a lush cover of broad-leaved plantains that make for a fascinating introduction to Uganda.
Coming by air, you’ll land at Entebbe International Airport (EBB, 3km from the town center, and if your main interest is natural history, then you’d be well advised to stay over in Entebbe rather than heading on to the capital.
Kampala is the pulsating heart of Uganda’s cultural and intellectual life, nightlife. It also lies at the international and domestic long-haul bus network hub, making it an attractive base for independent travelers seeking a taste of urban African cultures.
Because Kampala is extensive to cover in the top destinations in Uganda list, please read a great piece we wrote on Exploring Kampala City, Uganda’s Economic and Social Hub.
Entebbe’s attractions to see include Uganda Wildlife Edication Center, commonly known as the Zoo, which will give you a great introduction to most of Uganda’s wildlife you’ll find in the countryside.
Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the continent is a good place to start your visit to Uganda. Birders will find the shores rich with unique bird species in places like Botanical Gardens and Mabamba Swamps (for the Shoebill Storks). Ngamba Islands on Lake Victoria protects orphaned chimpanzees and tourists can visit via a speed boat and even spend a night or two on the island.
Near the airport are a great many places to stay that are a walking distance to shopping malls, local open markets, golf courses, and quaint suburbs for sunset walks and biking experiences
5. Kibale National Park
Stepping into Kibale Forest, you will immediately be welcomed by the dew freshness, endemic flowers’ fragrance, and primates’ musty scents. The alien sounds that bounce off your eardrums echo from distant red colobus hoots and exotic birds’ tweets.
In the distance, the sound of forest elephants felling branches along its path gives you an image of what surprise inhabitants you could encounter in this ancient tropical forest. Unexpected visitors leave trails around your forest camp or cottage to inform you that someone is watching when you’re not.
Guttural belches from warthogs remind you of the clumsy Pumba and Timon escapades of the ‘Hakuna Matata’ juggles. Gaze up, and a single scene might capture the iconic and unique as an olive long-tailed cuckoo flies above a small buffalo herd. The spirit of this jungle will make you feel more alive than ever before.
This 795-sq-km national park just outside Fort Portal comprises dense tropical rainforests, within which dwell enormous numbers of primates. If you can’t afford the lavish cost of mountain-gorilla tracking, then visiting one of the five habituated troops of chimpanzees here is a very worthy substitute, not to mention a far less financially draining one. Also regularly seen here are the rare red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys.
Beaming with an alluring combination of exquisite landscape scenery and various remarkable tourist activities, Kibale Forest National Park, together with the nearby Ndali-Kasenda Crater Lakes, is close to being an independent traveler’s dream.
Kibale Forest is highly powerfully and mysteriously attractive to nature lovers who come to view a wide range of forest birds and track chimpanzees and other twelve primate species (the highest concentration on the continent) that find refuge within the park.
Kibale National Park’s scenic appeal, chimp tracking cost, and the rising number of safari lodges make it one of the top destinations in Uganda and a great alternative to the southern gorilla destination Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The most popular activity in Kibale National Park is the guided chimpanzee tracking excursion out of Kanyanchu almost as popular is the guided walking trail through the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, which is probably better for general monkey viewing and one of the finest birding trails in the country.
There is also plenty of potential for unguided exploration in the area, both along the main road through the forest and around Bigodi trading center and Kanyanchu Camp. If time is limited, it’s advisable to do the activity that most interests you in the morning — this is the best time to see chimpanzees and when birds are most active.
6. Lake Mburo National Park
With exciting African wildlife watching in arm’s reach of the capital, the 370-sq-km Lake Mburo National Park is an increasingly common stop on the southwestern Uganda safari circuit. It’s the only one of the top 10 Uganda destinations in the southern region where you’ll see zebras, giraffe, and the only park in the country with impalas, slender mongoose, and giant bush rats.
Lake Mburo is an underrated Uganda safari destination, dominated by the eponymous lake, which — with its forest-fringed shores hemmed in by rolling green hills — is scenically reminiscent of the more celebrated Lake Naivasha in the Kenyan Rift Valley.
Despite its relative accessibility, Lake Mburo National Park is historically bypassed by most Uganda safari trips and independent travelers, presumably due to the low ‘big five’ count, particularly the lack of elephants and lions.
Even in the absence of wildlife heavyweights, however, Lake Mburo offers some excellent safari game viewing. Stay for two or more nights, and you’re as likely to see as many different large mammal species over a day as you would in any Ugandan national park. Some recent developments have raised the profile of the park.
With some desperation, safari operators have promoted Lake Mburo National Park as an ideal overnight stop along the long drive between Kampala and the other top destinations in southwestern Uganda. Amazingly, the number of travelers accepting the invitation has risen sharply since exemplary lodges opened up in the park, like the luxury Mihingo Lodge.
Wild Game in Lake Mburo
Lake Mburo is also the only protected area of the top 10 destinations in Uganda where visitors can view game animals on foot and horseback. The park harbors several species you may not see easily elsewhere in Uganda.
It is the only reserve in Uganda to support a large population of impala, and one of only three protected areas countrywide where Burchell’s zebra occurs—the other two being the far less accessible Kidepo Valley and Pian Upe.
Other antelope species casual visitors can spot are topi, bushbuck, common duiker, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, and Bohor reedbuck. At the same time, the lake and lush fringing vegetation support healthy populations of buffalo, warthog, bushpig, and hippopotamus
7. Jinja, Source of The Nile.
One of Uganda’s largest towns, Jinja, just about 80km east of Kampala, overlooking the point where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria (the Source of The Nile), makes it to our top 10 destinations in Uganda because of its overwhelming popularity with local and international travelers. And it is the source of the mighty river rather than the moderately interesting town that attracts visitors to Jinja.
The thrilling series of grade-five rapids below Bujagali Falls, a magnet for adrenaline tourists, has emerged as perhaps the single most popular tourist activity in Uganda, arguably surpassing even the mountain gorillas of the southwest. The rapids attract several adrenaline adventures concentrated in a small radius. It is one of the most spectacular white-water rafting destinations in the world.
There is also a certain poignancy attached to standing on the slopes from where Speke first identified that geographical Holy Grail which, less than a decade earlier, had lured an obsessed (and hopelessly misdirected) Livingstone to a feverish death near Lake Bangweulu in Zambia.
No less impressive is the knowledge that the water flowing past these green slopes will eventually drain into the Mediterranean, following a 6,500km journey through the desert wastes of Sudan and Egypt.
Jinja has an attractively lush location on the northern shore of Lake Victoria above the Ripon Falls, identified by Speke in 1862 as the source of the Nile, but submerged following the construction of the Owen Falls Dam in the 1950s. The colonial town was formerly the industrial heartland of Uganda, with a current population of 300,000 people.
Although its population makes it one of the largest urban centers in Uganda, Jinja is far from a metropolis that straddles the source of the Nile.
8. Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi’s exotic landscapes that are a magnet for local and international travelers place it on this list of top 10 destinations in Uganda. Dotted with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, Bunyonyi is a magical spot. It has been a popular day trip out of Kabale for decades. Over the past few years, the lake has further gained popularity thanks to a proliferation of budget and other campsites and resorts around the small fishing village of Rutinda (also known as Kyabahinga) and nearby islands.
Bunyonyi is a local name translating to “little birds,” which references the prolific weaver colonies along its shore. Larger birds are also represented by grey-crowned cranes, African harrier hawks, and various herons and egrets. Other common sightings include the levillant cuckoo, white-tailed monad, slender-billed baglafetch, cardinal woodpecker, and the African kingfisher.
The lake is large and irregularly shaped with numerous islands and the surrounding hillsides, which locals have beautifully cultivated like parts of Nepal. The area is vibrant with activities like canoeing, cycling, or hiking.
Also in its favor is the high-altitude location, which ensures a moderate climate (often becoming quite chilly at night) and a relatively low incidence of malaria. Health authorities have reliably reported the absence of Bilharzia and crocodiles and hippos, which means the lake is very safe for swimming adventures.
Active travelers will be excited that the easy availability of canoes, kayaks, and mountain bikes for hire, and enough potential excursions to keep one busy for days.
9. Kidepo National Park
Nestled in the extreme northeastern corner of Uganda among rugged hills and valleys and off the beaten track, Kidepo National Park is a destination hidden so far away that its beauty has mostly gone unnoticed. Sprawling with expansive savannah plains, soaring mountains, spectacular landscapes, and great buffalo herds, Kidepo Valley offers one of Africa’s most attractive picturesque safaris. It sits on a massive 557 sq mile (1,442 sq km) rocky semi-arid Karamoja province.
Of all the top ten destinations in Uganda, Kidepo Valley is the most remote and unusual. It is crammed in the northwestern corner of Uganda’s border with Kenya and South Sudan, which would take approximately 10 hours to drive 292 mi from Kampala to Kidepo on the newly paved road.
Kidepo National Park offers breathtaking savannah scenery that ends on a rocky horizon. The park harbors outstanding landscape scenery unrivaled by any other national park in the whole of East Africa, and it features a wide latitudinal array that offers a variety of climatic conditions which support remarkably different vegetation.
The diverse vegetation facilitates the different assortment of animal species within the park which are equally plentiful, among which are not seen in other parts of this country. The wildlife and vegetation in the park are rather more characteristic of Kenya than Uganda.
Over 77 animals inhabit Kidepo National Park. Among the resident Carnivore species only endemic to Kidepo are the hunting dog, bat-eared fox, cheetah, striped hyena, caracal, aardwolf, Beisa Oryx, Lesser Kudu plus Grant’s gazelle, elephant, Orbis, Burchell’s zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, bush pigs, cape buffaloes, bohor reedbucks, warthogs, defassa waterbucks, Rothschild giraffes, bush duskier and elands, bushbucks, in addition to lions, common zebras, leopards, plus several small cats such as the side-striped jackal, Kongoni, black-backed jackal spotted hyena, lions are seen to rest on the rocks.
The park has five primate species, including the endemic Kavirondo bush baby, numerous Orbis within the Narus Valley, Guenther’s Dik Dik, the Senegal Galago, and the White-tailed Mongoose. However, they comfortably come out for a good show on a night game drive.
Kidepo Valley has the second-highest population of birds than any of the top destinations in Uganda, led only by Queen Elizabeth National Park, showcasing an impressive bird list of over 470 species. Sixty of the bird species on its list haven’t been recorded anywhere else in Uganda. Kidepo is especially good for spotting raptors, with 56 species on record. You can spot migratory birds in Kidepo from November to April.
10. Rwenzori National Park
Rwenzori Mountains National Park encompasses the legendary Rwenzori mountains dubbed the mountains of the Moon, where the highest snow-peak in the country (third-highest on the continent) pervades the East African clouds. The ranges are a combination of beautiful peaks, glaciers, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, and various species of flora and fauna, making the Rwenzori scenic. The stratified vegetation is one of the main attractions for visitors.
The Rwenzori is the highest mountain range in Africa. Its loftiest peaks, Margherita (5,109m) and Alexandra (5,083m) on Mount Stanley are exceeded in altitude elsewhere in Africa only by Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. Both of which are extinct volcanoes standing in isolation above the surrounding plains. In addition to Mount Stanley, there are four other glacial peaks in the Rwenzori: Mount Speke (4,890m), Mount Emin (4,791m), Mount Gessi (4,715m), and Mount Luigi da Savoia (4,627m).
The Rwenzori Mountains are unique among east Africa’s major peaks in that they are not volcanic in origin. Still, they do rise directly from the Rift Valley floor, and their formation, like that of Kilimanjaro and Kenya, was linked to the geological upheaval that created the Rift.
The Rwenzori makes our top 10 destinations in Uganda because they hold three of the continent’s five highest peaks. The summits are spectacular, the routes are uncrowded, and the high-altitude forest teems with life. The ranges contain six of Africa’s ten highest mountains, most of them more elevated than the tallest Alps. Yet, to most bucket-list hikers, they are largely unknown, overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, Africa’s two highest mountains.
The fabled ‘Mountains of the Moon’ are now a protected World Heritage Site within the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and considered to be the source of the White Nile.
Rwenzori Mountains range also supports a diversity of animals, including 70 mammal and 177 bird species, several of the latter being Albertine Rift endemics. It is the only national park in Uganda where you’ll find the Angola colobus, though sighting it will require careful search. Nevertheless, you can easily spot the similar and more widespread black-and-white colobus monkey, small antelope such as bushbucks, and unusual reptiles such as the three-horned chameleon.