Uganda’s game parks and reserves possess a rich and unique eco system. They are very accessible and well populated with diverse wildlife and beautiful scenery.
An African safari is never complete without the famous “big five”, that is, the lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and buffalos and Uganda has all them. The lions are better seen resting on the rocky outcrops in Kidepo Valley National Park, hunting antelopes in the vast savanna plains of Murchison Falls National or resting in the fig trees of Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth National Park (tree-climbing lions). The much elusive leopards are easier seen in Murchison Falls National Park. They can also be seen in Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, and Kidepo National Park. The Rhinos had been whipped out by poachers and wars but the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was set up and breads lots of white rhinos. Other African game in abundance include impalas, hyenas, zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, oribis, impalas, elands, kobs, waterbucks, bushbucks, zebras, jackals, cheetahs (only in Kidepo), hogs, hippos, and crocodiles among others.
Uganda has the highest primate density in the world. This is attributed to the vast natural forest cover and the conservation efforts that have been directed to conserving this wildlife. These forests harbor lots of primates including among others chimpanzees, olive baboons, Colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, golden monkeys, blew monkeys, l’Hoest monkeys, and Mangabeys among others. Groups of chimpanzees have been habituated and are available for chimp tracking expeditions.
Uganda is one of the only three countries in the world that have the endangered Mountain Gorillas in their natural habitats. It accounts for 50% of the remaining mountain gorillas. About ten groups of gorillas have been habituated and are available for gorilla tracking.
Accounting for more than half of Africa’s bird species, Uganda is truly a birder’s haven. Uganda’s year-round favorable warm climate and diverse natural habitats attract a number of bird species from around the world in addition to the 1000 indigenous species. Prominent bird species you shall view on the Uganda birding tour include shoebill stork, king fisher, black bee-eater, African green broadbill, green-breasted pitta, crested crane and the African eagles among others.
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest National Game Park, comprised of the Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Reserves and covering about 3,840 square kilometers of protected area. The park gets its name from the sensational Murchison Falls, where the longest river in the world, the Nile, forces through a tiny chasm of about 7 meters wide to explode into a violent tempest in a whirlpool about 43 meters below. It becomes a calm river that attracts lot of wildlife along its banks including many buffalos, waterbucks, elephants, and hogs that throng the river banks to drink fresh water, cool off the scorching heat, and eat fresh grass. The Nile is also home to one of Africa’s densest hippo and crocodile population plus many water birds including the world’s most accessible wild population of the rare shoebill stork.
The Murchison Falls vegetation is comprised of lush Savanna grasslands, riverine forest and woodland. This vast chunk of untamed African savanna is immersed with a lot of wildlife and is the favorite national park in Uganda for wildlife safaris. Some of her wildlife includes lions, baboons, buffalos, giraffes, Uganda kobs, oribis, Jackson’s hartebeests, hippos, elephants, leopards and many bird species including the red throated bee eater, skimmers, African fish eagles, and cattle egrets among other. Rabongo Forest situated southeast of the park is home to several rainforest creatures including chimpanzees, baboons, monkeys and forest birds.
The Nile divides Murchison Falls National Park into two sections, the North and South. The southern section was heavily poached during the 1980s and saw a significant reduction in animals to the extent that some like the rhinos were completely phased out. The northern section experienced less poaching greatly due to the Nile that limited access. It acted as some sort of barrier to the poachers thus preventing them from easily accessing the Northern side. For that reason this section has more wildlife compared to the south and is favored for game viewing and wildlife adventures.
The northern section of the park is favored for game drives due to its significantly more wildlife than the south. When you access the park via the southern section you shall have to get to the ferry crossing at Paraa and cross to the Northern side to start your game drive. The best time to start the game drive is early by 7.00am. Explore the Albert and Queens tracks for a great chance to catch the nocturnal and hunters before they retire to their hideouts including lions, hyenas, leopards, and hippos. Catch the elephants, buffalos, giraffes, and a variety of antelopes feeding in the lush borassus grassland of the northern section. The game drive lasts about four hours.
The afternoon launch trip from Paraa to the base of the Murchison falls is the biggest highlight of any safari to Murchison Falls National Park. A relaxing ride of about three hours, expect to view lots of hippos and crocodiles and an abundance of elephants, waterbucks, hogs, buffalos plus a variety of birds including skimmers, cattle egrets, African fish eagles, red throated bee eaters, cormorants, and luckily the rare shoebill stork.
From the boat landing at the bottom of the Murchison falls you hike around to the top and get close to the narrow gorge to watch the entire Nile force through a narrow gorge of 7 meters wide to explode into these magnificent waterfalls. It is a 45 minutes to 1 hour hiking to the top with great sights of the violent smoky-looking falls and the rainbow cutting through the falls, while feeling cool drops from the waterfalls landing on your skin. While at the top you can picnic and camp. Endeavor to apply an insect repellant before the hike to ward off the tsetse flies.
Kaniyo Pabidi is an undisturbed area of natural forest within Budongo Forest Reserve. This area is popular for chimpanzees and chimpanzee tracking is the main activity. To track the chimps you require a chimp permit issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The area is also a great birding spot with a number of forest birds that may not be see anywhere else in East Africa including chocolate-backed kingfisher, the white-thighed hornbill, and Puvel’s illadiposis. Kaniyo Pabidi is located on the Masindi-Paraa road 8 kilometers from Kichwamba Road.
Nature walks are a great way to explore the beautiful wildlife of Murchison Falls National Park on foot. You get to track and quietly and closely observe a number of animals, birds and other features. Nature walks can be done in a number of areas some of which include Rabongo Forest, Kaniyo Padi, Chobe around Chobe Safari Lodge and the hike to the top of the falls.
Sport fishing can be done in river Nile below the Murchison falls and at Chobe Safari Lodge. The river is rich in Nile perch and tiger fish. To do sport fishing one requires a spot fishing permit issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The park is located approximately 300 km, by road, northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital and one can get there through three different routes.
– Kampala through the historical Luwero triangle to Masindi to the park
– Kampala through Hoima road to Masindi to the park
– Kampala – Karuma – Pakwach – to Porong gate to the park
One can also access the park via a private air charter from Entebbe airport to airstrips north of the Nile at Pakuba (19km from Paraa) and south at Bugungu or at Chobe airstrip.
Measuring about 795 square kilometers, Kibale National Park is located in southwestern Uganda, spanning Kibale and Kabarole Districts. Its elevation varies between 1,100 meters to the south and 1,590 meters to the north. The varied altitude supports different types of habitats, ranging from moist ever green forest to the north and semi-deciduous forest to the south to make up for up to 77% of the forested portion of the park. The remaining 23% accounts for the grassland, swamps and other plantations. Over 351 species of trees have been recorded in Kibale Forest with some rising as high as 55m over 200 years old.
Kibale is popular for the high diversity and remarkable concentration of primates, believed to be the highest in Africa. Of the 13 primate species, most attention is given to Chimpanzees, some of which have been habituated and attract hundreds of tourists each year for chimp tracking adventures.
Kibale National Park is home to about 70 mammal species, the most popular being the 13 species of primates. Of the 13 primates the most popular are man’s closest relatives, the chimpanzees. The park has Uganda’s largest population of chimpanzees, estimated at about 1,450 individuals. It also has East Africa’s largest population of the red Colobus and the rare l’Hoest monkey. Other primates in Kibale National Park include grey-cheeked Mangabey, olive baboon, bush baby, black-and-white Colobus, potto and red-tailed and blue monkeys. Other mammals that have been recorded in Kibale include leopards, branded and marsh mongoose, swamp otter, warthogs, giant hogs, about 500 elephants, buffalos, bush pigs, gold pigs and duiker, lions, hippos, Ichneumon, serval, and the rare sitatungas. These are mostly ground dwelling animals which are not easily seen in the dense forest cover.
Kibale Forest National Park hosts more than 375 species of birds. Some of those recorded include African Grey Parrot, Crowned Eagle, White-napped pigeon, Afep pigeon, African Pitta, Red-chested Owlet, Green-breasted pitta, Black bee-eater, Black-capped Apalis, Western Nicator, Yellow-spootted Nicator, Blue-headed Sunbird, Blue-headed sunbird, Brown-chested Alethe, and Little green bul among others.
With more chimpanzees than anywhere else in Uganda, Kibale National Park is the best place for chimpanzee tracking adventures. A number of these delightful apes have been habituated and offer exciting encounters, watching them grapple about in the fruiting trees, doing their trademark pant-hoots, and making several human-like gestures. Chimpanzee tracking is done daily with two sessions available, the first commencing at 8.00am and the second one at 3.00pm. It is done in a group not exceeding 8 members and lasts for about three hours. You require a chimpanzee permit issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in order to join in the tracking. Due to the limited permits issued for a particular date it is recommended you book your chimp tracking safari way in advance.
A habituation program is also available for even a better experience with the chimps. You get to feed the chimps and engage in several activities with the chimps as part of their habituation process.
Home to over 375 species of birds, Kibale Forest is a delight for birders. Explore the park’s shady network of forest trails to catch a number of forest birds, lots of butterflies and other wildlife.
Guided nature walks are quite an adventure in Kibale Forest with lots of wildlife to encounter including a number of monkeys, olive baboons, elephants, buffalos, and several birds. Bigodi swamp area is the most popular spot for nature walks due to its endowment with lots of wildlife.
Nocturnal walks are also available to catch a number of nocturnal including African civet, Potto, mongoose, common genet, and Thomas’ Galagos among others. They start at about 7.00am but endeavor to carry along lighting equipment like torches.
– Kampala – Fortportal – Kibale National Park
Semliki National Park is situated in western Uganda in Bundibugyo district, sitting across the base of the Semuliki Valley. It is bordered by the Rwenzori Mountains to the south east, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and to the north by the Semuliki flats and Lake Albert. Semuliki National Park is largely covered by a dense forest which is an eastern extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo basin. It is one of Africa’s most bio-diverse forests, immersed with lots of species of flora and fauna that have accumulated over very long period of time. It is one of Africa’s oldest and most ancient forests that survived the last ice age of about 12 – 18000 years ago. The last ice age saw most of Africa’s forest shrink and disappear during the dry conditions – the arid apocalypse. Only a few survived like Uganda’s Bwindi and Semuliki protecting a number of forest species. Today the Semuliki Valley is a hothouse of vegetation growth. Temperatures rise to a humid 30oc doused by an annual rainfall of 1250ml of rain, mostly between March-May and September-December.
Semuliki is a tropical lowland rainforest, classified as moist – deciduous. It contains about 336 species of trees, some of which are specific to Semuliki and a few neighboring forests while some like Lovoa swynnertonii and Cordia millenii are considered to be endangered in Semuliki National Park. The center is dominated by Cynometra trees while the edges are beautifully varied with the riverine swamp forests along the Semuliki River and a beautiful mix of several tree species around Sempaya.
The age of the forest, its transition of location between the central and eastern Africa and the variety of habitats notably forest, savanna woodland and swamp accounts for the exceptional diversity of animals, birds and butterflies. The park has an amazing birdlife of about 441 recorded species, accounting for about 40% of Uganda’s total bird species (1,007) and 66% (216) of forest bird species. Some of the birds include Nkulengu Rail, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Piping Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, African Piculet, Whited-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Nicator, and Leaf-love.
Semuliki National Park is home to 53 species of mammals 27 of which are large mammals. 11 species have been identified to be endemic to Semuliki including the pygmy antelope and 2 species of the flying squirrel. Other animals are forest elephants, forest buffalos, hippos and crocodiles found in the Semuliki River, blue duiker, and the water chevrotain, known as the “fanged deer”. The forest is home to a number of primates that include Chimpanzees, grey-cheeked Mangabey, baboon, black-and-white Colobus, central African red Colobus, vervet monkeys, and Dent mona monkeys. Pottos, and bushbabies are nocturnal primates.
The Sempaya Hot Springs are an iconic feature of Semuliki National Park and the park’s most popular feature. The two main springs are set in a lush swampy clearing close to the southern corner of the forest. The outer spring known as Nyasimbi meaning the “female ancestors” is a few minutes reach from the Sempuya park office. It is dominated by a boiling geyser which spurs up to 2m high. Steam from the boiling geyser can be seen from as far as 2 kilometers. The inner spring, Bintente (“Male”) is a 30 minutes walk from the Sempaya park office through a trail that leads through a beautiful palm forest. It is a broad, steaming pool measuring 12meters in diameter. The locals hold a belief that these springs possess healing powers. On your visit you should see many of them locals in the springs who want to be healed of various ailments.
The are four distinct tribes living close to the park, they are, the Bwamba and Bakonzo who are are both farmers, with the former living along the base of the Rwenzori Mountains while the latter cultivate the slopes of the Rwenzori mountains. The Batuku are cattle keepers and these inhibit the on the open plains. The most interesting and most popular group is the Batwa pygmies living close to the forest. These are traditionally hunters and gatherers that depend on the forest for their livelihoods. They formerly occupied the Ituri forest but were forced out when the park was gazetted for tourism activities. Their small/short physical appearance, history, culture and ways of life are not to be missed.
Semuliki National Park is located 27km from the region capital of Fort Portal. There are two major routes (roads) from the capital Kampala to Fortportal:
– Kampala – Mubende – Fort Portal, which is 300km and about 4-5 hours drive
– Kampala – Masaka – Mbarara – Kasese – Fort Portal, which is about 510km and about 7-8 hours drive.
From Fort Portal, it is about 52km to the Sempaya gate, which is about 2 hours of drive on a dirt road through the fringes of the Rwenzori Mountains with great views of the rift valley floor, and a verdant country side.