Recording his visit to Uganda in 1907 in a book titled 'My African Journey', Winston Churchill wrote "For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life - plant, bird, insect, reptile, beast - for vast scale. Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa".
Uganda 's most alluring features are its forests, lakes and mountains. Most of the country is 1,000 m above sea level and there are three mountainous areas - the Rwenzoris, Mount Elgon and the Virunga volcanoes.
Uganda stands apart from its neighbours in several/many respects - it offers more bird species (over a thousand) than anywhere on earth, abundant forests and the only major tropical rainforest - Bwindi Impenetrable Forest - a true storybook jungle with trees festooned with creepers and parasitic plants, lush vegetation and the sanctuary for almost half of the worlds remaining mountain gorillas'. It boasts the richest collection of apes in Africa, including the gorilla, chimpanzee, black and white and red colobus monkeys, vervet and red-tailed monkeys, blue and golden monkey, baboon and L'heost's monkey. Also on offer is world-class sport fishing and some of the most resilient and cheerful people you could ever hope to meet!
Although it lies on the Equator, the climate is tempered by its altitude. The Nile starts its long journey to the Mediterranean from Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, and traverses Murchison Falls National Park . The western arm of the Great Rift Valley follows its western boundary and encapsulates Lake Edward, Lake George and Queen Elizabeth National Park . Chimpanzees can still be found here too but it is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with its endangered Mountain Gorillas that captures most visitors attention... start planning your trip today...
This is the largest National Park in Uganda with an area of 3840 sq. kms. The River Nile divides the park into the north and south sectors and forms the Murchison Falls where the Nile flows over the western rift valley escarpment. Here, the river is forced through a 3-metre gap in the rocks and cascades into a boiling pot 30 metres below. The Falls themselves are famous not so much for their size but for the immense power generated by the 50m wide river forcing its course through a narrow cleft in the rocks before cascading down in a thunderous torrent. A boat cruise up-stream to the falls provides an unforgettable experience. The falls can also be viewed from the top, which gives a completely different impression. The visitor is able to watch a variety of animals. These include elephant, buffalo, giraffe, lion, hippo, crocodile, several antelope species and a lot of bird life along the Nile.
In the southern sector of the park, the Rabongo Forest is home to chimpanzees. One of the greatest attractions in the Chobe sector is sport fishing for Nile Perch, which can weigh up to 100 kg. Both the Victoria Nile and Albert Nile flow through this Park with the Murchison Falls themselves cascading through an eight metre gap to an breathtaking 40m drop.
The QE National Park spreads over an area of 1978 sq. kms in the western arm of the Great East Rift Valley. It is a home to a variety of wildlife including elephant, lion, hippo, buffalo, and Uganda kob, baboon, and birds, all typical of riverine and savannah habitats. In the southern part of the park is the Ishasha are with tree climbing lions and the Maramagambo, one of the largest surviving natural forests in Uganda. The northern part of the park is traversed by the equator and is dominated by the scenery of crater lakes with lots of flamingos on some of them. A launch trip from Mweya along the Kazinga channel, which joins Lake Edward and Lake George, provides one of the most memorable experiences of the park.
The QE NP is centred around Lake Edward and Lake George, which are themselves linked by the Kazinga Channel, and bordered by the mist-capped "Mountains of the Moon" - the Rwenzori Mountains. With its great variety of habitats, from tropical forest (including the Maramagambo Forest, home of chimpanzees and colombus monkeys), green meadows, savannah, and swamps to crater lakes - the QE NP is a quite extraordinary sight to behold. Nearby crater lakes are home to spectacular flocks of flamingoses, and the surrounding semi-deciduous tropical forest is a haven for birds (over 500 species) and primates.
Near to the small town of Fort Portal, centre of the local tea growing area, is the Kibale Forest National Park which plays host to eleven species of primates and is thought to have the highest density of chimpanzees anywhere in the world. Other than the chimps, which you have a reasonable chance of seeing, there are also baboons, red colobus, black and white colobus and grey-cheeked mangabeys. Larger mammals such as duiker, bushbuck, civet and buffalo also live here as do a remarkable number of birds. This is a stunning area, teeming with life, and it is a real treat to walk here and learn its secrets with some of the best guides in the country.
Semliki Game Reserve - 375km west of Kampala (6 hour drive) Bordering the southern end of Lake Albert lies Semliki GR. Previously known as the Toro Game Reserve, Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve is the oldest protected area in Uganda. Here is where East Africa meets West. Open savannah and tropical lowland forest provide a startling contrast to the rugged Ruwenzori Mountains (Mountains of the Moon) which acts as a spectacular backdrop. It is unique, gifted with geographic barriers that have formed a natural haven for wildlife. Where the savannah is criss-crossed by shining river valleys, and the escarpment, the edge of the Western Rift Valley, plunges into Lake Albert. The habitat diversity (riverine forest, woodland and savannah) within the 558 sq. kms area of the reserve supports a huge array of fauna including lion, leopard, elephant (both savannah and forest species) buffalo, and many species of antelope. The forest contains chimpanzees and several species of monkey, including de Brazza's, colobus and grey-cheeked mangebey, together with olive baboons and around 400 species of bird. Also on offer is superb fishing on Lake Albert where you can also encounter one of Africa's rarest birds, the shoebill stork.
The park is located in south-western Uganda, covering parts of Rukungiri, Kisoro, and Kabale Districts. It is situated in a hilly countryside, which, together with some remnant lowland forest outside the boundary, constitutes an important water catchment area for many rivers, supplying the agricultural land of the surrounding region. This is the richest forest in Uganda, in terms of the number of plant species, as the area is one of the few large expanses of forest in East Africa where lowland and montane communities merge. The valley bottoms contain a dense ground cover of herbs, vines, and shrubs with only a few trees hence its name, the impenetrable forest. This is one of the richest faunal communities in East Africa. Here you can find about one half of the world's population of endangered mountain gorillas (gorilla trekking began here in April 1993). It is advisable to make reservations at least 3-6 months ahead of your intended visit.
With a varying landscape of open plains, acacia grasslands and marshes Lake Mburo National Park park is home to a huge array of flora and fauna. About 68 different species of mammals can be found within its 260 sq. kms2. The park also has approx. 313 different species of birds including Uganda's national emblem, the crested crane. You can also horse ride in this Park.
In the north of the country, situated in a tranquil valley surrounded by spectacular mountains, lies Uganda's most remote national park. Kidepo, with an area of 1344 sq. kms, is one of the most spectacular parks in Uganda. In the vast panorama from the veranda of the park's Apoke safari Camp, you can watch a constant parade of wildlife: elephant, cheetah, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, countless antelope and over 200 species of bird. As Kidepo is the most remote park in Uganda, it is easily the most tranquil, tucked into the corner of Uganda's border with Sudan and Kenya. The park has spectacular mountains and savannah landscape. The Napore Nyangea Range is located to the west of the camp and the Natera Hills to the east. In the north you can see the 236-meter high peak of Mt.Lotukei. Two game viewing loops connect the Rest Camp with prime wildlife areas near the Winwing River and with the rock escarpment to the south west into which Grand Kataru Lodge is being built. Further tracks take you to the Lokadul Palm Tree Forest, at Kananorok Hot Springs on the Park's Northern border with Sudan. Kidepo is an extremely worthy addition to any safari itinerary.
Uganda does not offer mobile tented safaris or walking safaris. It is however a great destination for family safaris, horse riding (Lake Mburo NP), birding, fishing (Lake Victoria & Murchison Falls) and hiking/climbing (the Ruwenzoris). Most safaris are conducted using a 4x4 vehicle and driver (see sample itinerary under Itinerary Planning tab). Visits to Murchison Falls, QE National Park and gorilla and chimpanzee tracking are the most sought after.
Being a relatively small country by African standards, Uganda is most frequently travelled by road using the services of a private vehicle and driver/guide. The main attractions lend themselves perfectly for a circular route around the country with a mix of wildlife, landscapes and cultural interactions along the route. Ask for details.
Uganda is very welcoming of families, and with the predominance of private vehicle safaris, makes for an ideal family safari destination. Ask for details.
We know a lovely lodge that undertakes horse riding into Lake Mburo NP. The best ride in the park is a 4 to 5 hour ride onto the 4 km long grassy Warukiri Range situated in the middle of the park with stunning 360 degree views of the surrounding hills and valleys in the Park. At the end of this range there is a waterhole, which often attracts buffalo's and other animals combined with a magnificent view onto 9 of the 12 lakes surrounding Lake Mburo National Park. This ride changes the whole feeling of the park, making it absolutely spectacular.
Horseback safaris are an exciting way to see the wildlife around the lodge too. Without any engine sound and fumes you feel part of nature and often get the chance to see the more timid animals. It is an exhilarating experience not to be missed. Guests sometimes see eland and buffalo and nearly always warthog, topi, impala, duiker, bushbuck, waterbuck and zebra on the horseback safaris, although this depends very much on the time of year and the rain fall in the area. Experiencing game from horseback is very special; zebra come towards you to check out the strange relative without stripes. Even the normally very shy eland curiously look at the horses without running away, just keeping their distance.
Rides are carefully adjusted according to the riding skills of each group; for beginners and inexperienced riders we only walk the horses. In fact a walk on a horse is the best way to view game. It is peaceful and relaxing and you get very close to the animals. For advanced riders there are also lovely stretches for trotting and cantering. There are 7 horses between 14.2 and 17 hands and 4 tough Ethiopian ponies which are about 13 hands.
Uganda is not really a guided walking destination per se BUT has some fabulous hiking (and trekking - for gorialls and chimpazees). Ask for details..
Uganda has 17% of its surface covered by fresh water lakes, rivers and swamps. The outstanding water bodies are Lake Victoria which is the largest in Africa but second largest in the world, L. Kyoga, L. Albert, L. Edward, L. George, L. Bunyonyi, the mighty River Nile and the likes of L. Mutanda, L. Nabugabo, L. Wamala etc. However, the most fascinating and popular fish to catch is Nile Perch which weighs as much as 60 -100kgs. Tilapia seldom go below 2 - 4kgs. While Tiger Fish are ferocious and exciting, offering an opportunity rare in fresh water angling.
With over 1,000 birds already recorded, Uganda has almost half the species known on the African continent and over 10% of those on record throughout the entire world! There can be few destinations on earth where one can expect to find almost 550 avian species in one park alone - Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park is one. 350 species have been recorded in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest. These two parks alone are among the richest protected areas to be found anywhere on Earth. Accolades for Uganda's birding delights are rarely understated. Nigel Wheatley, for instance, in Where to Watch Birds in Africa (1995) said: "In terms of its size, Uganda is the richest country for birds in Africa. " And this immense volume and diversity occurs miraculously in a space which keen birders can cover in a relatively short visit. Uganda's equatorial location, combined with the altitude and the great variety of terrain types provide an overwhelming array of opportunities for keen birders. Noted author Philip Briggs writes: "Uganda is arguably the best country in Africa for birds, with about 1000 species recorded in an area the size of great Britain."
Hiking / Climbing the Ruwenzoris
The Rwenzoris, or the Mountains of the Moon, so named by the Hellenic astronomer Ptolemy, have a legendary beauty. They were explored and mapped out by Henry Morton Stanley, Emin Pasha and Prince Luigi Amedeo di Savoia. At the centre of the range are six peaks capped with ice and snow and three glaciers. With their massive ice-rime sculptures and unique vegetation, perpetually shrouded in mist, they are reminiscent of Rider Haggard's Land of Mist. The mountains - about 120 km long - were forced up during the creation of the Great Rift Valley. The highest peak of Mount Stanley is Margherita, which rises to 5,109m, the third highest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya.
The heavy rain makes the mountain flora luxuriant, growing to absurd proportions, with giant lobelia and groundsel shooting up to 10 metres. The wild flowers - blackberry, cuckoo flower and everlasting flower - are enchanting. Rwenzori touraco, handsome francolin and olive pigeon can be seen. Above the forest zone, watch for the alpine swift and the scarlet-tufted malachite sunbird. A hike through the lower reaches of the central Rwenzori needs about five days; ascent of the peaks requires a further two days and is only for the really fit, and needs proper equipment. The best time to climb the mountain is from June through to August and from December to February. Climbing is organised by Rwenzori Mountaineering services together with a local safari operator; maximum group number is 8.
These fabled, mist-covered "Mountains of the Moon" 120 km in length and 48 km in width, were formed from a block, which was thrust up during the creation of the western area of the Great East African Rift Valley. At the centre of the range, there are 6 peaks carrying permanent snow, three with glaciers. The highest peak is Mt Margherita rising 5100 metre above sea level. The Ruwenzori Mountains were gazetted as a Notional Park in 1991. The Park covers 996 km2 of rugged mountain terrain. Whether an experienced climber or casual day hiker, Ruwenzori Mountain National Park offers the visitor a unique experience of an Afro-Montane rainforest. The main attraction is the luxuriant vegetation found above 3000m, which includes the giant forms Lobelias, Heather and Groundsel. Ruwenzori Mountains National Park is also home to the hyrax, blue monkey, chimpanzee, giant forest hog and many unique bird species such as the Rwenzori Touraco, the handsome francolin and the olive pigeon. The best time for mountaineering is during the dry seasons from mid-December to the end of March and from June through mid-August. See more under Safari Styles.
Some points to note when planning your Ugandan itinerary:
Whilst Uganda is probably best done as a single destination holiday it combines well with Kenya and Tanzania.
Most safaris start and end in Kampala, Uganda's capital. This is a relatively small country, by African standards, and distances between attractions are not onerous (other than the drive back to Kampala from Bwindi).
Scheduled chater flights within the country are now available but can be more expensive and as a result most safaris are conducted by road with a driver. If all you are wanting to do is see the Mountain Gorillas then you are possibly better off going to Rwanda - the access is easier (and cheaper). But if you plan to make Uganda your safari destination there is a great deal to see and a circuit of all the main attractions, including the gorillas, makes a wonderful African safari (at a reasonable price).
SAMPLE PRIVATE ITINERARY (12 DAYS)
1 night Speke Hotel, Kampala 2 nights Murchison Falls, staying at Para Safari Lodge 2 nights Kibale Forest, staying at Ndali Lodge 2 nights Queen Elizabeth NP, staying at Mweya Lodge 2 nights Bwindi Impenetrable NP, staying at Gorilla Resort 2 nights Speke Hotel with visit to Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary Includes private vehicle and guide, accommodation, meals, park fees and one gorilla permit.
PRICE GUIDE: US$4,500 per person based on 2 people (less for 4 or 6)
Comment: For many years there has been a dearth of suitable (or acceptable) accommodation in Uganda. The tourist infrastructure was poor and few African guides had the necessary knowledge or experience to lead safaris. But in recent times, several good quality lodges have been built and other venerable establishments painstakingly restored. Small family-owned businesses are emerging to provide that special Ugandan safari experience that so many of us have been waiting for. Uganda's renaissance. This is slowly changing..in recent years there has been much work done by the Ministry of Tourism, through its associated agencies the Uganda Tourism Board and Ugandan Wildlife Authority, to sow the seeds of a brand new conservation-based form of sustainable tourism. This innovative program has benefited greatly from support of the EU, USAID and the World Bank. Mutually beneficial relationships have been struck, between communities and protected areas, donors and government, wildlife and people. Such dialogue is helping to reconcile economics with ecology, visitor impact with sustainability, pragmatism with vision.