Ecologically, Uganda is where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle. In this prowling lions, chimpazees, hippos, crocodiles, gorillas, antelopes etc. plus over 1000 species of birds can be tracked.
In addition to the wildlife, there is the mighty Nile, punctuated by the spectacular Murchison Falls, and the setting for some of the world¡¯s most thrilling commercial white-water rafting. There are the snow- capped peaks of the Rwenzori, which provide a tantalizing challenge to dedicated mountaineers, as well as the Virunga Volcanoes and Mount Elgon, both of which offer highly rewarding hiking opportunities through scintillating highland scenery. More sedately, the myriad islands of Lake Victoria and Bunyonyi are idyllic venues, as are the myriad forest-fringed crater lakes that stud the rift valley floor and escarpment around Fort Portal. Whether you¡¯re a first time safari-goer or a seasoned African travelers, Uganda – with its unique blend of savannah and forest creatures, its rare wealth of montane and lake habitats – is simply dazzling
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
A magnificent verdant swathe across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, this ancient rainforest – one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age – is home to roughly half of the world¡¯s mountain gorillas.
Looking deep into the expressive brown eyes of these gentle giants is surely the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter that Africa has to offer – but we should not let distract from Bwindi¡¯s broader biodiversity, a result of its immense antiquity and an altitude span from 1,160 to 2,607m. The national park has 90 mammal species, including 11 primates, of which the black-and-white colobus, with its lovely flowing white tail, is prominent. The forest birding ranks with the best in Uganda, with 23 highly localized Albertine Rift endemics present.
Mount Elgon National Park
Elgon is a 4,321m high extinct volcano which in prehistoric times stood taller than Kilimanjaro does today. Although the mountain straddles the Kenya border, its loftiest peak Wagagai, lies within Uganda and is best ascended from the Uganda side. Elgon is an important watershed, and its slopes support a rich variety of altitudinal vegetation zones ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the other-worldly giant lobelia and groundsel plants.
Spectacular scenery is the main attraction for hikers on this oft-neglected and relatively undemanding mountain, but there is also a variety of forest monkeys and small antelope, along with elephant and buffalo. A checklist topping 300 birds includes many species not recorded elsewhere in Uganda. Other attractions include ancient cave paintings close to the trailhead at Budadiri, and spectacular caves and hot springs within the crater.
Kibale National Park
The most accessible of Uganda¡¯s major rainforests, Kibale is home to a remarkable 13 primate species, including the much localized red colobus and L¡¯Hoest¡¯s monkey. Kibale¡¯s major attraction, however, is the opportunity to track habituated chimps – these delightful apes, more closely related to humans than to any other living creature, are tremendous fun to watch as they squabble and play in fruiting trees.
A network of shady forest trails provides much to delight botanists and butterfly lovers, while birders are in for a treat with 335 species recorded including the endemic Prirogrine¡¯s ground thrush. The elusive forest elephant, smaller and hairier than its savannah counterpart, moves seasonally into the developed part of the park, while other terrestrial mammals include buffalo, giant forest hog and a half dozen antelope species.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Isolated from the Ugandan mainstream by the harsh plains north of Mount Elgon, Kedepo is one of Africa¡¯s last great wilderness areas, a tract of rugged savannah dominated by the 2,750m Mount Morungole and transected by the Kidepo and Narus Rivers. Perennial water makes Kidepo an oasis in the semi-desert, reflected in its 86 mammal species (28 occurring nowhere else in Uganda) and almost 500 birds
Predators are well-represented – not only lion, cheetah and leopard, but also the delightful bat-eared fox and insectivorous hyena-like aardwolf – while a long list of dry-country antelopes include the regal greater kudu and Beisa oryx. While the game viewing can be excellent, it is the thrilling sense of supreme isolation that distinguishes this rare slice of wild Africa, as yet undiscovered by the mass safari market.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
This small national park protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, a chain of six extinct and three sporadically active volcanoes which follows the borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Mgahinga was proclaimed with the primary aim of providing sanctuary to the rare mountain gorilla, some 300 of which live in the Virungas, and gorilla tracking remains the most popular activity here, though it is dependent on the seasonal movements of the habituated groups.
Mgahinga supports a diverse forest and moorland fauna, notably the localized golden monkey and at least 12 bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift, but also small populations of elephant, leopard, buffalo and black-and-white colobus monkey. The spectacular setting at the base of the volcanoes, the tallest of which reaches an elevation of 4,507m, is among the most stirring in East Africa.
Murchison Falls National Park
Uganda¡¯s largest national park protects a chunk of untamed African savannah bisected by the mighty river Nile. It is named for the dramatic Murchison Falls where the world¡¯s longest river explodes violently through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below.
Wildlife populations have largely recovered from the poaching of the 1980s; in the lush borassus grassland to the north of the Nile, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and a variety of antelope are regularly encountered on game drives, while lion are seen with increasing frequency. In the southeast, Rabongo Forest is home to chimps and other rainforest creatures. The Nile itself hosts one of Africa¡¯s densest hippo and crocodile populations, and a dazzling variety of waterbirds including the world¡¯s most accessible wild population of the rare shoebill stork.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
From open savannah to rainforest, from dense papyrus swamps and brooding crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, it is little wonder that QENP boasts one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game park or reserve in the world.
Almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 606 bird species makes this superb safari territory, with elephant, a profusion of hippos, the elusive giant forest hog and handsome Uganda kob all regularly sighted around the tourist village on the Mweya Peninsula – which also boasts a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains. Elsewhere, the remote Ishasha Sector is famed for its tree-climbing lions, the Kyambura Gorge harbours habituated chimps, the Maramagambo Forest is home to an alluring selection of forest monkeys and birds, and flocks of flamingo are resident on the crater lakes.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
The 120km Rwenzori chain is regarded to be the legendary snow-capped Mountains of the Moon, described by Ptolemy in AD150. Reaching an elevation of 5,109m it is also Africa¡¯s tallest mountain range, exceeded in altitude only by the free-standing Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro. The distinctive glacial peaks are visible for miles around, but the slopes above 1,600 m are the preserve of hikers, who rate the Rwenzoris to be the most challenging of all African mountains.
A variety of large mammals inhabits the lower slopes, but the Rwenzoris are notable more for their majestic scenery and varied vegetation. The trails lead through rainforest rattling with monkeys and birds, then tall bamboo forest, before emerging on the high-altitude moorland zone, a landscape of bizarre giant lobelias, towered over by black rock and white snow, looking for all the world like the set of a science fiction film.
Semiliki National Park
Situated within the remote Semliki Valley, site of the Sempaya Hot Springs and named for the river which forms the Congolese borders, Semliki National Park protects an extension of the Congo¡¯s vast Ituri Rainforest, and is of particular interest to birders with 40 essentially Congolese species found nowhere else in Uganda. A 4,321m high extinct volcano which in prehistoric times stood taller
The forest harbours many mammals, ranging from widespread forest dwellers such as elephant and chimp, to the rather more localized De Brazza¡¯s monkey and pygmy antelope.
Semiliki Wildlife Reserve
Formerly called the Toro Game Reserve, this large reserve abutting Lake Albert and the northern base of the Rwenzoris is a rich mosaic of grassland, savannah, forest and wetland habitats. The fauna is correspondingly diverse: Uganda kob is the commonest large mammal, but there are also forest elephant, chimpanzees, buffalo, leopard and various monkeys and antelope.
Of the 400 bird species recorded, the shoebill stork is regularly seen at close quarters on Lake Albert.
Lake Mburo National Park
Lying in the one part of Uganda covered in extensive acacia woodland, Mburo has markedly different fauna to other parks and reserves. Lake Mburo is the best place in the country to see the gigantic eland antelope, as well as zebra, topi, impala, and several acacia-associated birds.
The five lakes within the park attract hippos, crocodiles and a variety of waterbirds, while fringing swamps hide secretive papyrus specialists such as the sitatunga antelope and red, black and yellow papyrus gonalek. Mburo is the closest national park to Kampala and offers a refreshing stopover when traveling to or from the western parks and reserves.
Katonga Wildlife Reserve
Only recently developed for tourism, the reserve protects a network of forest-fringed wetlands along the Katonga River. Best explored on foot and by canoe, Katonga supports some 40 mammal and at least 150 bird species, many specific to wetland habitats. Most visible are elephant, waterbuck, reedbuck, colobus monkeys and river otter. This is one of the best places in Africa to look for the elusive sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope with webbed hooves that forages almost exclusively in swamps