National Parks in Uganda: Uganda is a landlocked country located across the Equator in East Africa and is one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse countries in Africa thus the title “Pearl of Africa”. Uganda is well-known for being a home to the most sought primates – the endangered mountain gorillas and it has diverse wildlife including over 1500 bird species, 12 primate species including the chimpanzee which can only be found in the 10 protected national parks in Uganda and 13 wildlife reserves of which five of them are savannah national parks and two are world heritage sites recognized by UNESCO.
Each of the 10 national parks in Uganda has its own unique attraction that makes it stand out from other national park within and outside Uganda. These national parks include;
Murchison falls national park which was the first gazetted national park in 1952 and is the largest national park in Uganda with an area size of about 3,840 square kilometers. Murchison falls National Park is located in the north western part of Uganda bisected into the Southern sector and the Northern sector separated by River Nile. The great Murchison falls is the most outstanding attraction about the park; visitors go to this park to mainly see the most interesting and most powerful water falls in Africa. There is another formed waterfalls called the Uhuru falls that formed during Uganda’s independence while at the Murchison falls, you get to see the Nile squeezing through an 8 meters wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron”, usually creating a trademark rainbow. While at Murchison falls national park, you can get disappointed with its attractions, the northern sector of the park contains savannah plains and Borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland which favor the occupancy of some interesting animals thus facilitating game viewing in the park while the southern side is mainly dominated by woodland and forest patches good for nature walks and birdwatching.
Queen Elizabeth national park which is the second largest national with an area size of about 1,978 square kilometers and it was also gazette as a national park in 1952 as Kazinga national park before the visit of Queen Elizabeth the second and after her visit, the park was renamed Queen Elizabeth national park. This park is unique from other national parks because it is the only place to find the tree climbing lions in Uganda. It is also divided into two parts separated by Lake Edward and Lake George that flow inside the park area. It is also home to over other 95 mammal species and about 600 bird species.
Kidepo national park is Uganda’s third largest savannah national park gazeted in 1962 with an area size of about 1,442 square kilometers located in the far north eastern part of Uganda in Karamoja region. Kidepo national park is in the rugged and semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Kenya and Sudan. It is the least visited national park given its far location however the best savannah wildlife national park in Uganda with the highest variety of animals. It is only in Kidepo national park where we find the Ostrich birds and the Cheetahs. This park contains two rivers that is the Narus Valley River and Kidepo Valley River which disappear in the dry season leaving just pools for the wildlife.
Lake Mburo national park is the smallest Uganda national park with a size of about 370 square kilometers located conveniently that connect Kampala capital city to the western part of Uganda. The most unique attraction of Lake Mburo national park is the fact that it is the only park in Uganda where we find the Impala. The park also has a lake that is Lake Mburo where the park gets its name and it is one of the best destinations for bird watching. Thus is a home to about 350 bird species as well as the Zebras, Elands, Buffaloes, Defassa, Leopard, Hippos, Reedbuck, Topi, hyena and Oribi apart from the Impalas.
Semiliki National Park is one of the less visited national parks in Uganda located in the western park of Uganda in Bundibugyo district. Semiliki national park covers an area size of about 220 square kilometers and it was upgraded as a national park from a reserve in 1993. This park hosts about 441 bird species thus it is called the birders haven and has about 53 mammal species. The most unique features of Semiliki national park are the female and male Sempaya Hot springs which can only be found in this park with rich historical and cultural experiences.
Mgahinga national park is Uganda’s smallest national park with an area size of just 33.7 square kilometers located in the south-western part of Uganda in Kisoro district bordering Uganda borders with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This park was gazetted as a national park in 1991. Mgahinga national park is the only place we find the Golden Monkeys in Uganda however, it also has one habituated trans-boundary gorilla group called the Nyakazeri gorilla group. So this park supports 2 main tourist activities that is Gorilla trekking and Golden Monkey trekking.
Bwindi Impenetrable national park is Uganda most visited national park and home of the endangered mountain gorillas. Bwindi national park is one of the three homes of Mountain Gorillas in the whole world along with two other national parks of Volcanoes national park and Virunga national park in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo respectively. Bwindi forest is also located in the southwestern part of Uganda in Kisoro district and it covers an area size of about 32 square kilometers and it was gazetted as a national park in the 1991 and later in 1994 it was declared a UNESCO natural world heritage site. Bwindi impenetrable national park is home to half of the remaining mountain gorillas in the whole world with the other half is shared by the 2 other parks. Mountain Gorillas are the main tourist attractions in this park.
Kibale national park which is Africa’s foremost research site that focuses on the Chimpanzees and other primates in Uganda. Kibale forest national park is located in the western part of Uganda in Kabarole district and is the only park where we find the world endangered Chimpanzees and other primate species. It covers an area size of about 795 square kilometers and with the lowest point of about 1,100 meters on the floor of the Albertine Rift Valley to the south. Kibale national park is also one of the best birding destinations in Uganda with about 375 bird species. Kibale national park is adjacent to Queen Elizabeth national park and it creates a 180 kilometers long corridor between Ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park and Kibale national park. Kibale national park is the only place in Africa with the best sights of the wild Chimpanzees.
Rwenzori Mountains national park is the best mountain climbing destination in Africa thus they were christened the “Mountain of the Moon” by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in the AD 150. Rwenzori mountains national park is located is located in the western part of Uganda in the Kasese district bordering the democratic republic of Congo. Rwenzori Mountains national park covers an area size of about 996 square kilometers and was gazetted as a national park I n 1991 and also recognized as the World Heritage site in 1994 and Ramsar in 2008. Although Mountain Rwenzori is not the highest mountain to hike in Africa, it is the most challenging and interesting mountain with a highest peak point at 5,109 meters above sea level after Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya as the first and second highest mountains in Africa followed by Mount Rwenzori as the third highest. The highest peak on Mount Rwenzori national park is called Margherita peak on Mount Stanley bisected by the border with Cong. While at the peak, it is a snow-capped area and this makes it very unique to other destinations in Uganda and the fact that it has rangers that makes hiking difficult and taking longer days (8 days) to reach at the peak compared to any other mountain in Africa.
Mount Elgon national park was one of Uganda’s oldest physical features that first erupted around in the 24 million years ago. It was also once Africa’s highest mountain exceeding the Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania however, due to Millennia of erosion, the height of Mount Elgon reduces to 4,321 meters making it now the fourth highest mountain in Africa. Mount Elgon national park is located in the Eastern part of Uganda in Mbale district bordering with Kenya. Mount Elgon national park covers an area size of about 1,121 square kilometers. It is also one of the less visited national parks in Uganda even though it has the world’s largest Caldera.
Best of all the Uganda national parks, Bwindi impenetrable national park offers the opportunity for mountain gorilla trekking safaris in the whole world. It also gives access to visitors to trek on one of the greatest ancient tropical rainforests that is Bwindi impenetrable forest national park which is a world heritage site recognized by UNESCO due to its biological diversity including half of the world’s mountain gorilla population. Uganda is also home to the highest concentration of 13 different primate species including the endangered chimpanzees that is the two great apes; the mountain gorilla and chimpanzee, Uganda is one the top primate tracking destination in Africa, so to all visitors, Uganda is the place to visit in Africa. Within Uganda national parks, visitors on Uganda safari can experience beautiful scenery and diverse habitats such as savannah and semi-arid plains, tropical rainforests, wetlands, snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains and volcanoes, lakes and rivers. You can expect to find every environment here from the semi-arid plains of Kidepo valley in the north east to the permanent snowcapped peaks of Rwenzori Mountains in the west.
Due to diverse habitats, an incredible array of wildlife can be found in Uganda national parks such as the game viewing national parks of Uganda for animals such as the southern white rhino in the Ziwa rhino Sanctuary, Cheetah and ostrich in Kidepo national park make Uganda one of East Africa’s popular wildlife safari destinations. Wildlife viewing and game drive safaris can be done in 5 savannah national parks which include Kidepo valley National Parks, Queen Elizabeth national park, Murchison Falls National Park, Lake Mburo national park and Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. Wildlife safaris in the national parks of Uganda offer opportunities for animals including the big five mammals that is White Rhinos, Elephant, Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, as well as Zebra, Giraffe, Hyena, cheetah, Warthogs, Hippos and Crocodiles and a variety of Antelopes like Uganda kob, Eland, Impala, Topi, Oribi and many more.
The ecosystems in Uganda national parks attract unique bird species which also make Uganda Africa’s top bird watching destination with over 2000 species. Birds to look out for on a birding trip include shoebill stork which is the most sought bird in the world, the Ostrich, and some of the 23 birds endemic to the Albertine rift valley and can be sighted in Bwindi impenetrable forest national park and Semuliki national park. Uganda’s tourism opportunities are some of the best in East Africa and this also means that there are lots of activities to on safari. Popular tourism opportunities in Uganda national parks include a variety of activities such as mountain gorilla tracking, chimpanzee tracking, game drives, lion tracking, boat rides, white water rafting, mountain climbing, hiking and nature walks, bird watching, hot air balloon safaris, zip lining, mountain biking and swimming. You will never run out of things to do when you visit equator.
Boat cruise are part of the activities done in Uganda national parks like the Boat cruises on the River Nile in Murchison falls national park, along the Kazinga channel in Queen Elizabeth national park where you can view hippos and Nile crocodiles and water birds, and the boat cruise on Lake Mburo.
For wildlife safaris, the best places to see cheetah in on safari in Uganda are Kidepo valley national park and Pian Upe wildlife reserve. Tree climbing lions are found in Ishasha wilderness south of Queen Elizabeth national park. Rhinos can be tracked on foot at Ziwa rhino sanctuary which is located in Nakasongoro near Murchison falls national park. Walking safaris and horseback riding to view such as Zebras and impalas can be found in Lake Mburo national park which is easiest to access by 2 hour drive from Kampala city. For primate tracking adventures, Kibale forest national park is the best place for chimpanzee tracking. It is home to 13 species of primates including chimpanzees and other primates such as golden monkeys can be tracked in Mgahinga gorilla national park which is located southwestern Uganda.
For the keen hikers and mountain climbers, you can visit Rwenzori Mountains National Park which contains Margherita the highest peak in Uganda at 5,109 meters, Mount Elgon national park has the world’s largest caldera and its peak rises at 4,321 meters and other mountains like Mount Moroto, and Mgahinga gorilla national park which has the 3 of the 8 dormant Virunga volcanoes namely; Mount Sabinyo, Mount Muhavura and Mount Gahinga.