From dense forests hiding mountain gorillas to savannas where lions climb trees, Uganda’s National Parks reveal why this country is known as the “Pearl of Africa.”
While Kenya and Tanzania worked for decades to build a reputation as the top safari destinations globally, Uganda became often overlooked. Travelers come to Uganda searching for the mountain gorillas at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Still, they tend to forget that Uganda has nine more national parks offering adventurous experiences. Gigantic waterfalls at Murchison Falls, thousands of chimpanzees at Kibale National Park, or climbing lions at Queen Elizabeth National Park. No matter what kind of wild encounter you are looking for, there is a big chance Uganda has it.
With so many options, and only one or two national parks promoting themselves as property, it is difficult to find a hidden gem or get off the beaten path. Here are the best national parks in Uganda and what makes them special.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
With half of the world’s mountain gorilla population (around 480 according to the last census), and several endangered species coexisting in Bwindi, this national park is the perfect biodiversity hotspot for wildlife lovers, researchers, and photographers.
It is known as one of the richest ecosystems in Africa, and a visit to Uganda has to include a visit here. At the multiple treks inside the park (always with a ranger), expect to see over 200 different species of trees, countless butterflies and birds, and cute little reptiles such as the gecko or the chameleon.
Best activity to do – Tracking mountain gorillas
This is probably the highlight of most travelers visiting Uganda. Tracking mountain gorillas at the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an experience of a lifetime and a hike to never forget. During one of these treks, you, and a small group of a maximum of 8 people, will hike through the dense forests of the national park and search for a habituated family of gorillas living in the park.
Treks can last anything between 20 minutes to 2 hours (you can decide that with your group and ranger). Once you encounter the mountain gorillas in the wild, you will have the chance to observe their behavior for precisely 60 minutes.
Price for tracking mountain gorillas at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – a permit of 700 USD (entrance fee & ranger costs to the national park are included)
What makes Bwindi so special
Bwindi is the reason why most people visit Uganda. This national park is one of the most beautiful and magical places on earth. It is the home of one of the most endangered mammals globally and one of the last places where people can get in touch with wild mountain gorillas. Permits are quite expensive. However, this is the price we have to pay for proper conservation.
Kibale National Park
This is undoubtedly the best place to see chimpanzees in the world. Kibale National Park is the spot that inspired Jane Goodall to start his research on these beautiful primates, and today travelers can enter its forest and track these animals for observation.
Visiting Kibale National Park feels like becoming a wildlife researcher for a day. Groups tracking the animals inside the park are tiny, and the whole experience feels very private and personal. Travelers learn a lot about habituation and primate behavior and the different fauna and flora inhabiting the forest.
Read more: What to bring and wear for gorilla trekking
Best activity to do – Chimpanzee habituation tour
Chimpanzee tracking is fun. However, spending just one hour with these fascinating animals is never enough. Fortunately, chimpanzee habituation tours allow travelers to learn more about these primates while spending more time with them.
During this activity, travelers will move for up to 4 hours with the chimpanzees at the Kibale National Park. First, you will observe how they behave when new people enter their territory. Later, and once they get used to you, you will be able to join them in their morning activities and observe how they relax, search for food, play with the other family members, and move around the forest.
Price for chimpanzee habituation at Kibale National Park – a permit of 250 USD (entrance fee & ranger costs to the national park are included)
What makes Kibale so special
This national park has probably Uganda’s most beautiful tropical forest. There are trees and plants everywhere you go, and I felt like an explorer in the 1950s while hiking inside the park. Even though Kibale is known for its constant rain, this is a national park where travelers feel how wild nature can be – something you rarely experience in the currently connected world.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Probably the best place in Uganda for game drives, Queen Elizabeth National Park is THE safari park in Central-East Africa. Queen Elizabeth will not disappoint; whether you go for birdwatching, traditional game viewing, or hiking, Queen Elizabeth will not disappoint.
As one of the largest national parks in the country, Queen Elizabeth can be divided into different sections. You will find savannas and swamps in the center, volcanic forest hills in the east, and large and deep lakes in the west.
Expect to see crocodiles, hippos, buffalos, elephants, a lot of antelopes, and the unique tree-climbing lions that only inhabit the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Read more: How to plan a gorilla trekking in Uganda
Best activity to do – Kazinga Channel Boat Cruise
While leopard tracking or tree-climbing lion tracking are excellent activities, they might take a full day of driving and a chance of not finding anything. We tried to track a leopard for a whole afternoon and couldn’t find it. However, a boat cruise at the Kazinga Channel is relaxing, peaceful, and simply majestic.
The calm waters of the channel make it perfect for those who simply want to relax, while a large amount of wildlife drinking water from the channel is ideal for nature lovers. During my boat cruise at the Kazinga Channel, I spotted dozens of hippos, over a hundred buffalos, and countless elephants.
Price for a boat cruise at the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park: 30 USD with scheduled departures at 11 AM and 2 PM.
What makes Queen Elizabeth National Park so special
This national park is one of the most diverse safari parks I’ve ever been to. Here I was able not just to do game drives but also boat rides, hikes, chimpanzee tracking, or simply relaxation. Queen Elizabeth offers what some countries provide in their whole land in a small area.
I visited Queen Elizabeth National Park for three nights. However, I feel I could spend weeks exploring each corner of it.
Lake Mburo National Park
Named after the largest of the five lakes of Uganda, Lake Mburo, this national park is one of the smallest in the country. It is almost six times smaller than Queen Elizabeth, and travelers can easily explore most of it in a couple of days.
Besides the large variety of wildlife, Lake Mburo is mainly known for its unique landscape and cultural importance. It is the home of the Ankole longhorn cows, one of the oldest indigenous cattle breeds in Uganda, and a paradise for geologists.
Best activity to do – Safari walk with a ranger
There is nothing like a walking safari. This activity is by far one of my favorite experiences in a safari national park and one of the most exciting. Lake Mburo is also one of the most affordable places globally for doing it, which is also an excellent appeal to try it for the first time.
During this activity, you will walk with a ranger and learn more about flora and fauna of the park. You will learn about animal behavior, tracking of big mammals, and species that are simply not easy to spot from a car.
To make your walking safari experience even more memorable, ask your ranger if you can go on the vehicle and stop deep inside the park to start the walk from there.
Price for a safari walk at Lake Mburo National Park – 30 USD + 40 USD NP entrance fee
What makes Lake Mburo so special
Lake Mburo is far away from Queen Elizabeth National Park regarding game viewing and tourism development. However, this is also what makes Lake Mburo so special. Days are slow and relaxed in this national park. There are probably only two or three safari cars during a game drive, and once you spot a lion, you will probably be the only one observing it for hours.
Murchison Falls National Park
If there is a national park with a bit of everything, Murchison Falls National Park is it. Open grassland, savannah, forest, hilly landscapes, and swamps are packed in a single national park. Murchison Falls is also the biggest national park in Uganda and home to countless species of flora and fauna.
However, this diversity of ecosystems is not Murchison Falls’ highlight. This is the home of the Murchison waterfall, the strongest waterfall in the world and a place where the whole force of the Nile river plunges into one single spot.
Best activity to do – Hiking to the top of the falls
Observing the strongest waterfall in the world is one thing. However, stepping just meters away from it and getting a glimpse of its force is an adventure itself. Travelers visiting Murchison Falls National Park can book one of the several hiking tours to the top of the falls. Here, you will hear the waterfall dropping next to you, and in some sections of the trek, you can even feel the ground shaking or the mist on your face.
Price for a waterfall hike in Murchison Falls National Park – 15 USD
What makes Murchison Falls so special
This national park might not be the best for game viewing, animal tracking, or sightseeing. However, Murchison Falls offers a bit of everything Uganda has in one place. Additionally, the waterfalls inside the national park are simply magnificent to watch. Even though the park is a bit distant from some of the other highlights Uganda has, it might be worth a visit for those who have some extra days.
Read more: Which are the best national parks in Zambia
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They have the largest database of tour operators in Africa and you can simply send a request and negotiate a tour and a price directly with the operator. You don’t have to pay any additional fees.
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