Gorilla Trekking Experience
Discover the Pearl of Africa
Discover the Pearl of Africa
Encounter The Wilderness
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
dormant volcanic mountain located in the DRC
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest protected areas. Originally gazetted as the Lake George and Lake Edward game reserves in 1925, it was upgraded to create one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952. Queen Elizabeth lies directly on the equator. A pair of concrete hoops marks the spot where the 0O line crosses the Kasese road.
The park is home to over 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species. The park’s highest point, 1,350m above sea level, is found in the Katwe Explosion Craters while the lowest point is 910m on the shore of Lake Edward. Scenic and biodiverse, Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is Uganda’s most popular protected area. Diverse ecosystems, including sprawling savanna, shady forests, sparkling lakes and lush wetlands, provide ideal habitats for classic big game, forest primates, and birds.
An abundance of magnificent vistas include the jagged backdrop of the Rwenzori Mountains; rolling hills pocked with extinct volcanic craters; open, rift valley grasslands at Kasenyi and Ishasha; the hippo-lined Kazinga Channel; and the Mitumbe mountains in Congo rising above the distant, western shore of Lake Edward Queen Elizabeth National Park and its surroundings are also of cultural and historical interest. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music and more. The park was initially named Kazinga National Park in 1952, but was renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.
QENP’s various habitats support a wealth of wildlife with more mammal species (95) than any other Ugandan park and over 600 bird species – a phenomenal number for such a small area. Expect to see safari favourites such as elephants, buffaloes and hippos. The chances of finding lions on the plains of Kasenyi and Ishasha are good, especially with a ranger guide, while leopard sightings are frequent, though unpredictable, around Mweya and the nearby Channel Track.
Classified as an Important Birding Area by Birding International, QENP is a superbly varied destination for birdwatchers with species representing the park’s varied habitats. Its location at the overlap of East African savanna and Congo forest also means that species from both biomes are present.
Bunyaruguru people live on the Kichwamba Escarpment to the southeast of QENP. The area to the north of the park is the home of Basongora pastoralists while Bakonzo farmers cultivate the slopes of the Rwenzori mountain beyond. ACCESS Roads Two routes run from Kampala to Mweya, the primary tourism hub in QENP. The most scenic route passes through Fort Portal (410km) and offers detours to Kibale, Semuliki and Rwenzori Mountains national parks. The alternative (420km) runs through Mbarara and Bushenyi and passes Lake Mburo National Park. QENP’s southerly Ishasha sector is directly on the main route to/from from Buhoma, the main mountain gorilla tracking trailhead in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which lies 62km south. Air Charter flights can be arranged to airstrips at Kasese, Mweya and Ishasha.
Daytime temperatures average 18-280C. Nights can be cool.
When to Visit
All year round
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest protected areas. Originally gazetted as the Bunyoro and Gulu Wildlife Reserve in 1926, it was upgraded to form one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952. The 5072km2 expanse of Murchison Falls NP and the contiguous Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves are managed collectively as the Murchison Falls Conservation Area. At Murchison Falls, the Nile explodes through an 6m wide gorge and plunges 45m into the ‘Devil’s Cauldron.’ The boat trip along the Nile to Murchison Falls is one of East Africa’s top wildlife spectacles.
The northern section of the park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by bush and forest. Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment merges into a vast, palm-dotted savannah. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 it is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and over 451 birds. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile which races west through the park for 80km, descending a series of rapids before exploding through a narrow (6m) gap in the remnant rift valley cliffs. This 45m plunge drains the last of the river’s energy transforming the torrent into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor towards Lake Albert.
The river below the fall provides one of Uganda’s finest wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbank include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents. The 1951 film “The African Queen” starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile below Murchison Falls. Other notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals.
A number of routes can be used to reach the Nile at Paraa, the parks’ main tourism hub. The river is crossed using a ferry that runs at intervals throughout the day. Southern Entrance Gates Two routes lead to Paraa lead from Masindi town, which is 305km from Kampala (a 4 hour drive). The most direct is the 86km approach which enters the park through Kichumbanyobo Gate, 16km from Masindi. Diversions along the way include the Kaniyo Pabidi section of Budongo Forest, the Heart of Murchison game viewing area and Murchison Falls. A longer but more scenic alternative route from Masindi runs to Paraa via Bulisa (136km). The route passes through Budongo Forest before a memorable descent of the rift valley escarpment with views across Lake Albert towards the Blue Mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park can be entered through Bugungu or Mubako gate. The latter is convenient for visitors staying in the cluster of lodges just outside the park’s western boundary.
Northern Entrance Gates Murchison Falls National Park can also be reached on the north side of the Nile via the Chobe, Wankwar and Tangi gates. These are all accessed from the Kampala-Pakwach road which crosses the Nile at Karuma Falls in the northeastern corner of the park, 260kms from Kampala. These gates are convenient for visitors travelling to/from Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park. AIR Pakuba Airfield, 19km from North Paraa, can be reached using chartered aircraft from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airfield near Kampala. Other airfields in the park include Chobe to the east and Bugungu to the south of Paraa.
During the day, the temperature is around 25-32oC, making this one of the hottest regions in Uganda. Nights are cooler, dropping to around 18oC. Rainfall is low, though when it arrives it falls in torrential storms.
When to Visit
The best time to visit is during the dry seasons from December to late February and from June to September when animals are concentrated around water points. The prime time for bird watching is January-March when tourist numbers are lowest.
A range of privately operated accommodation facilities in and around the park caters for up-market, medium range and budget visitors. UWA operates a campsite and a students’ centre dormitory style with 60 beds at North Paraa. Camping is also possible at the Top of the falls. Other concessionaires include Chobe Safari Lodge, which is undoubtedly the gem in Uganda’s crown of tourism destinations. Offers breathtaking panoramic views, coupled with the sounds of the River Nile’s magnificent rapids, sets the scene for an adventure that will impress even the most discerning of visitors Paraa Safari Lodge; Gives you the unforgettable experience and memories of Uganda’s hospitality Pakuba Safari Lodge; Strategically located along the River Nile offering breathtaking views and spectacular scenery that enhances an excellent wild experience. Red Chilli Rest Camp; Offers affordable accommodation in the heart of Murchison Falls National Park Sambiya River lodge; not just a place to sleep, but a great African wilderness experience.
Outside the Park
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The 70km2 Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is home to Uganda’s only wild rhinos. Track them on foot and support this important step towards the eventual reintroduction of rhinos to protected areas. Ziwa lies close to the Kampala-Gulu road, 5km before the turning to Masindi. Visit www.rhinofund.org for more information.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Uganda’s smallest park (33.7km²) protects mountain gorillas and other fauna on the Ugandan slopes of the Virunga volcanoes. Though small in size, Mgahinga contains a dramatic, panoramic backdrop formed by three volcanoes Mgahinga has one habituated gorilla group. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park covers the slopes of Muhuvura, Gahinga and Sabinyo at an altitude of between 2,227m near Ntebeko Park HQ and 4,127m on the summit of Mt. Muhuvura. Though small in size, just 33.7km², it adjoins Volcanoes NP in Rwanda and Virunga NP in Congo. Collectively, these three parks form the transboundary Virunga Conservation Area (VCA). The most famous inhabitant of Mgahinga and the VCA is the endangered mountain gorilla. Gorilla conservation on the Virungas dates back to 1925 when the Belgians gazetted the portion of the range in present day Congo and Rwanda as a national park to protect mountain gorillas. The British administration declared the
Ugandan section as a game sanctuary in 1930. This was upgraded to national park status in 1991. Mgahinga’s three volcanoes provide a dramatic and distinctive backdrop to regional scenery and each has been named descriptively in the local language. Gahinga is the smallest of the Virunga peaks and its name means ‘small pile of stones;’ a comparison with the cairns piled by local farmers when clearing boulderstrewn land. The lofty Muhuvura is an important landmark and its name means ‘the guide,’ while that of the distinctive Mt. Sabinyo, with its rough, jagged crown, translates as ‘old man’s teeth.’
Mgahinga Gorilla NP is home to 76 mammal species, of which the best known is the mountain gorilla. Roughly half of the total population (780) of this endangered ape lives on the Virungas and half in nearby Bwindi Impenetrable NP. The bamboo zone in Mgahinga is also home to another endangered primate, the golden monkey which occurs only in the bamboo forests of the Virungas. Other large mammals include elephant, buffalo, leopard and giant forest hog though these are rarely encountered in the dense forest. Though the park’s birdlist currently stands at just 115 species, this includes many localized forest birds and Albertine Rift endemics, including the striking Rwenzori turaco.
Historically, the forests of Mgahinga were home to Batwa Pygmies whose hunter-gatherer lifestyle predates all other human activities in the region. In recent centuries, the area has been cleared and settled by Bafumbira farmers who cultivate up to the edge of the remnant forest protected within the national park.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 524km from Kampala. A surfaced highway runs via Mbarara and Kabale to Kisoro. The 80km road between Kabale and Kisoro is a winding drive through mountainous terrain with steep ascents and descents. Beyond Kisoro, a rough, 14km road with steep, rocky sections ascends to the park headquarters at Ntebeko.
Mgahinga can also be reached by daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield.
Daytime temperatures average around 150C, with nights dropping to a cool 100C. There are two dry seasons, December-February and May-August, with June and July being the driest months. The wettest months are March-April and September-November. During the rains, the park is often covered in mist and the air is always damp.
When to Visit
All year round.
OUTSIDE THE PARK
When volcanic craters blocked the Ruhuma Valley west of Kabale town, the result was Lake Bunyonyi, Africa’s second deepest lake. Crammed with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, it is unforgettably pretty and is a perfect spot to break the journey on the way to Mgahinga.
Another consequence of a volcanic dam, Lake Mutanda lies 15km north of Mgahinga. A cluster of resorts on the northern shore, 16km from Kisoro enjoy a fabulous view across the island-dotted waters towards the Virunga volcanoes.