Thinking of a Uganda safari? With the big five and some of the world’s best gorilla and chimpanzee trekking on offer Uganda is a safari destination that has it all. Now is a good time to go, as Uganda has yet to take off as a tourist destination in as large a way as many of it’s neighbours. This means safaris in Uganda can prove good value, with less crowds around when you get to the wildlife. It also has something of ‘the road less travelled’ feel about it.
Uganda is small by African standards at ‘just’ 236,000 km sq, around the same size as Great Britain. The country is lush and a verdant green, with one third of its borders made up of three of Africa’s Great Lakes, and the Victoria Nile running through the center. The East African tropical heat is tempered by an average altitude of 1,000 meters, with the east and west borders featuring significant mountains.
Self drive safaris are an option in some national parks in Uganda, though you will need access to a 4WD to get the most out the parks due to the clay tracks. (Read some tips on driving in Uganda.) If this sounds a little too much effort for you check out our guide to safari tour companies in Uganda to research a driver and guide or full-on tour.
The wildlife in Uganda doesn’t compare favourably in terms of density with it’s East African neighbours Kenya and Tanzania, but it is extremely diverse with over 500 mammal species alone. There are pockets with strong wildlife density – such as Murchison Falls National Park, which is relatively small with exceptional wildlife viewing – but the big safari draw in Uganda is the primate life. Uganda is probably the prime destination in the world for trekking opportunities to see habituated chimpanzee and gorilla families in the wild – a truly memorable experience, and one of the best walking safaris to be found anywhere.
Poaching and deforestation continue to be a problem in Uganda – as in much of the rest of Africa – and a recent oil discovery in Lake Albert has led to encroachment into a small area of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Despite this the general standard of national parks in Uganda is excellent, with good facilities, public transport access and range of lodgings, though infrastructure is not particularly developed. Tourist numbers in Uganda are much smaller than neighboring Kenya or Tanzania, meaning national parks are generally less crowded and offer a more enjoyable and intimate visiting experience.
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Uganda safari highlights
See gorillas in the wild
Trek through Uganda’s pristine, dense jungles in either the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park or Mgahinga National Park to come face to face with a silverback mountain gorilla and his family. Possibly Africa’s #1 wildlife highlight.
Kick back lakeside
Take time out of your safari in Uganda to relax lakeside and soak up the ambiance on one of the many Great Lakes of Africa situated in Uganda – Lake Kyoga, Lake Victoria, Lake Edward or Lake Albert. Expect beaches, fresh fish and some local wildlfe appearances.
Big five spotting
Head up country to try and spot the big five animals, though you’ll need to mix your safari up and visit more than one national park. Rhinos are found only in Ziwa National Park, which is very close to the jewel of the Ugandan safari industry, Murchison Falls National Park, which is home to lion, leopard, buffalo and elephant.
See the power of the Nile
Murchison Falls is one of Uganda’s top tourist sites, where over 300 cubic meters of water each second passes through a narrow gap in the rocks to keep the Victoria Nile flowing between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert. The park surrounding the falls and river is one of Uganda’s top wildlife destinations.
Best time to safari in Uganda
As a relatively small country with a consistent altitude, the majority of the country enjoys the same topical climate. In the higher mountainous areas to the east and west of the country it can get surprisingly cold at night times. If you’re planning a game drive.January and February are the hottest months when wildlife viewing is at it’s best.
As with the rest of East Africa there’s a ‘long rain’ and a ‘short rains’ season – March to May and October to November respectively. During the short rains it generally rains only for short periods at a time, meaning your wildlife viewing will not be too disrupted. Travel to most destinations during rainy season is possible, though you should leave yourself more time to get around.
Gorilla trekking is possible year-round, and you’re virtually guaranteed to see gorillas on any planned gorilla trek. However, bear in mind that the trekking terrain is tough going with dense forest and steep hills, so ensure you dress appropriately. See more hints and tips on gorilla trekking.
National parks in Uganda
Though Uganda doesn’t have as high a safari profile as neighbours Kenya or Tanzania, there’s still plenty to see and do… and often with far smaller crowds. As well as the big five, Uganda is home to more than half the world’s remaining mountain gorilla, and plenty of chimps. It’s also recognized as one of the best places for bird spotting in the world. Most national parks in Uganda have a good range of accommodation, and the parks are easily accessible, making Uganda a great place for a safari.
Top Uganda national park picks
Murchison Falls National Park
Uganda’s first national park, and it’s largest, Murchison Falls is home to 80 mammal species and over 450 bird species, and is the jewel in the crown of the country’s safari industry. The park is predominantly open savannah grasslands, which makes for top game viewing.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park’s evergreen forest in Western Uganda contains an array of landscapes and is home to 12 species of primates. Aside from the stunning vistas and virgin forest, the big draw here is the chance to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat, with both chimpanzee tacking and habituation experiences on offer year round.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Meaning ‘darkness’, Bwindi’s magnificent forest is certainly dense, and has hundreds of diverse mammal species (and 200 hundred species of butterflies!) alongside the population of around 320 mountain gorillas. There are four different areas with accommodation in the park to track habituated gorillas – Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo.
Mgahinga National Park
Uganda’s smallest national park – just 34 km sq – in the south west of the country is part of the larger Virunga Conservation area that also spreads across Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. Gorilla trekking is the main activity here, though spending a few days in the park will also allow you to hike the Virunga Volcanoes for unparalleled views of central Africa, and track the endangered golden monkey.
Bwindi Impenatrable Forest National Park
331 km sq. Steep mountain rain forest with wide altitude span.
Kibale Forest National Park
795 km sq. Lush tropical rain forest.
Kidepo Valley National Park
1,442 km sq. Rolling savanna ringed by mountains.
Lake Mburo National Park
370 km sq. Savanna and wetlands surrounding Lake Mburo.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
34 km sq. Tropical rain forest covered extinct volcano.
Mount Elgon National Park
Home to vast caves where elephants and buffaloes go by night to lick the natural salt found on the cave walls.
Murchison Falls National Park
3,893 km sq. The Murchison Falls and Nile river running through thick forest and savanna.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
1,978 km sq. Savanna and gorges bordering Lake Edward.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Established in 1991 Rwenzori was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 due to its outstanding natural beauty.
Other Uganda safari resources
Uganda safari companies
Uganda is still an up and coming safari destination for main-stream tourists. At the moment visitors tend to be either high end package tourists there to see the gorillas or overland backpackers. As such the types of safari your companies in Uganda reflects this. Read our reviews of safari tour companies in Uganda.
Uganda safari lodges
Budget safari accommodation in Uganda is centered around a few small towns and villages on the fringes of national parks. If you’re willing to splurge then Uganda does offer some truly luxurious safari in and around the parks. Mid-range safari accommodation is a little harder to find. Search and book accommodation in Uganda or use the map below.
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