Parks in Uganda.
Sprawling across both sides of the equator, a network of 10 national parks and several other protected areas offers wildlife enthusiasts a thrilling opportunity to experience Uganda’s biodiversity: not only the mesmerising tracts of thorn-bush savannah teeming with antelope, buffalo and elephant one tends to associate with equatorial East Africa, but also lush expanses of tropical rainforest, shimmering lakes and rivers heaving with aquatic life, and the glacial peaks of Africa’s tallest mountain range.
Uganda’s eco-friendliness is attested to by the creation of six new national parks under the present administration, as well as a recent mushrooming of community-based eco-tourism projects at the grassroots level.
The climate, too, is highly agreeable, reflecting the combination of an equatorial location and medium to high altitudes, while amenities such as hotels and game lodges now rank with the very best Africa has to offer.
Ecologically, Uganda is where the East African savannah meets the West African jungle.
Where else but in this impossibly lush country can one observe lions prowling the open plains in the morning and track chimpanzees through the rainforest undergrowth the same afternoon, then the next day navigate tropical channels teeming with hippo and crocs before setting off into the misty mountains to stare deep into the eyes of a mountain gorilla.
Certainly, Uganda is the only safari destination whose range of forest primates is as impressive as its selection of plains antelope. And this verdant biodiversity is further attested to by Uganda’s status as by far the smallest of the four African countries whose bird checklist tops the 1,000 mark!
Yet there is more to the country than wildlife – far more! 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 tantalising 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 traveller, Uganda – with its unique blend of savannah and forest creatures, its rare wealth of montane and lake habitats – is simply dazzling.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Set majestically in the shadow of the Rwenzori, flanking Lakes Edward and George, the lush savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers prime grazing to buffalo, elephant and various antelope.
A checklist of 600-plus bird species testifies to the extraordinary ecological diversity of this park. Mammalian specialities include the (elsewhere elusive) giant forest hog, and the legendary tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha Sector.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the eastern slopes and glacial peaks of the 120km-long Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’, a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination whose significance as a source of the Nile was first alluded to by the geographer Ptolemy circa 150 AD. Rising from the Rift Valley floor to a wintry elevation of 5,109m, the Rwenzori supports large tracts of evergreen and bamboo forest, while the higher moorland zone is known for its other-worldly cover of giant heathers, lobelias and groundsels.
Murchison Falls National Park
The country’s largest protected area is Murchison Falls National Park, whose palm-studded grassland supports dense populations of lion, buffalo, elephant and Uganda kob, together with the localised Rothschild’s giraffe and patas monkey. Immense concentrations of hippos and birds can be observed from morning and afternoon launch trips along the Nile below the spectacular waterfall for which the park is named.
Lake Mburo National Park
The closest savannah reserve to Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park is centred on a series of swamp-fringed lakes known for their rich birdlife, notably the secretive African finfoot. The green acacia woodland surrounding the lake harbours dense populations of zebra, warthog, buffalo, impala and various other grazers, including the last surviving Ugandan population of eland, the largest of African antelope.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Of Uganda’s forested reserves, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for its superb gorilla tracking, but it also provides refuge to elephant, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope, as well as 23 bird species restricted to the Albertine Rift.
Mgahinga National Park
Mountain gorillas also form the main attraction at Mgahinga National Park, which protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, an imposing string of nine freestanding extinct and active volcanoes that runs along the border with Rwanda and the Congo.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park is a primatologist’s dream. It hosts a population of more than 1,000 chimpanzees, of which one 80-strong community has been habituated to tourist visits, as well as half-a-dozen readily observed monkey species, including the acrobatic red colobus and black-and-white colobus, and the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey.