The National Parks Of Uganda

The National Parks Of Uganda

March 28, 2022
News Journeys Uganda

Uganda is blessed with 10 National Parks found in different habitats and with unique attractions, of the 10, 7 are found in the west and south western part of the country, 1 is isolated and further in the very North Eastern corner, 1 in the East and the other not much far north west of Uganda and interlinking them makes one of the best African Safari experiences to have on the continent. All these 10 park have something new and unique to its environs that you will experience on you safari to Uganda with Journeys Uganda. Let us take you into a close look at what makes these parks special and worth visiting once you choose Africa as Uganda is almost the beginning and end of an African Safari.

Mount Elgon National Park – ‘The World’s largest Mountain Caldera’

Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda-Kenya border it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa. Its vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000 m above the surrounding plains. The park actually covers an area of about 1,121 km2.

This extinct volcano is one of Uganda’s oldest physical features, first erupting around 24 million years ago. Mt Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain, far exceeding Kilimanjaro’s current 5,895m. Millennia of erosion have reduced its height to 4,321m, relegating it to the 4th highest mountain in East Africa and 8th on the continent. Mt Elgon is home to two tribes, the Bagisu and the Sabiny. The Bagisu, also known as the Bamasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba and refer to the mountain by this name.

Mount Elgon is one of the best national parks in Uganda and a home to a variety of forest birds including many endemics to East Africa’s montane moorlands. 12 of the species listed for Mount Elgon occur in no other National Park of Uganda, in many instances because Elgon lies at the most westerly extent of its array and some of the bird species include; the large Rufous-brown Jackson’s Francolin, the uncommon Moorland Francolin, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, the camouflaging Spotted Creeper, Black-collared Apalis, the dull brown Hunter’s Cisticola, Golden-winged and Tacazze Sunbird among others make this park the Eastern Uganda herb. The endangered bearded vulture or lammergeyer is regularly observed soaring at higher altitudes in the opening while on a walk in the forest.

The higher slopes are protected by National Park Authority in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.

A climb on Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains: the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321 meter Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40 km² caldera.

Kidepo Valley National Park – ‘The true African Wilderness’

This is the 3rd largest National Park in Uganda, ‘where on a game drive you could find the Ostriches running further north, the Cheetahs South and the lions wondering why’. It covers an area of about 1442 km2 and is located in the semi-arid valleys of Uganda in the North-Eastern point, bordered by South Sudan in the North and Kenya in the East. The park contains two rivers – Kidepo and Narus – which disappear in the dry season, leaving stretches of sand. The local communities around the park include pastoral Karamojong people, similar to the Maasai of Kenya, and the IK, a tribe that basically relies on hunting and fruit gathering and its survival is threatened.

The area was gazetted as a national park in 1962 and has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammal species as well as around 475 bird species. The iconic “lion on the rock” photos that have circulated social media worldwide were taken from this area.

Kidepo is the most isolated national park in Uganda, but the few who make the long journey north would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses. From Apoka, in the heart of the park, a savannah landscape extends far beyond the gazetted area, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges.

During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka. These seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location.

Murchison falls National Park – ‘The World’s most powerful Falls’

This is the largest conservation area in and became one of the first National Parks in in Uganda, formed in 1952. Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savannahs and whistling acacias. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, covering an area of about 3840 km2 with two wildlife Reserves Bungungu to the South and Karuma to the North which together host 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds which made it the most compelling Park in East Africa around the 1960s. It was particularly renowned for its inexhaustible elephant population herds of over 500 or greater were a common sighting of the days, and the total count of 14,500 was probably the densest on the whole African continent, the park also supported around 26,500 Cape Buffalo, 14,000 Hippo, 16000 Jackson’s Hartebeest, 30,000 Uganda Kob and 11,000 Warthogs, as well as substantial populations of Rothschild’s giraffe and both black and white rhinoceros, which other protected area in Africa could be better than this?

At Murchison Falls, the Nile River squeezes through an 8m wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron”, creating a trademark rainbow. The northern section of the park contains savanna and Borassus palms, acacia trees, and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by woodland and forest patches.

The 1951 film “The African Queen” starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park.

The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles, and aquatic birds are permanent residents.

Kibale National Park- -The World’s Primate Capital’

This one of the most visited national parks in Uganda, covering 766 km2 and extends southward from the city of Fortportal to form an adjoining block with the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Interspersed with patches of swamp and grassland savannahs, the dominant vegetation type is rainforest all lying in an altitude of 1,100-1,590 m above sea level and with a floral composition transitional to typical eastern afro-montane and western lowland forests. Kibale National Park’s most popular activity is the Kanyanchu Primate Walk. Thirteen species can be sought, and a good variety of diurnal monkeys invariably encountered, but the stars of this trail are the chimpanzees. Kanyanchu’s chimpanzees have been tracked since 1993 and the chances of locating them are excellent. Guided nature and primate walks start at 8 am and 2 pm and last an average of three hours, depending on various success factors.

The perennially popular primate walk provides the chance to observe chimpanzees in their natural habitat. Kanyanchu’s groups are accustomed to human presence – some have been observed for over 25 years – and the chance of locating them is over 90%. Early arrival to allow for registration and briefing is recommended. Contact time with chimpanzees is limited to one hour; group size is limited to six visitors the these primates living in communities, groups at times end up together as they call the rangers who help you track to almost the same feeding area; participants must be aged 12 or over. Advance booking is essential to secure you chimpanzee tracking permit, do not hesitate to get in touch with Journeys Uganda for your ultimate chimpanzee safari to Uganda.

Semliki National Park – ‘The birders Haven’

Semliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to a National Park status in 1993. It is the only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, hosting 441 recorded bird species and 53 mammals and covering an area of about 220 km2.Large areas of this low-lying park may flood during the wet season, a brief reminder of the time when the entire valley lay at the bottom of a lake for seven million years. Four distinct ethnic groups live near the park – Bwamba farmers live along the base of the Rwenzori while the Bakonjo cultivate the mountain slopes. Batuku cattle keepers inhabit the open plains and Batwa, pygmies, traditionally hunter gathers, live on the edge of the forest.

Semliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The Park is dominated by the eastern-most extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.

The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. The Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.

While Semliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years. These hot springs are a popular tourist attraction, both local and international, and one gets to boil eggs in the hot high temperature waters.

Rwenzori Mountain National Park ‘The Mystical Challenge’

The park was gazetted in 1991 and was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1994 and a Ramsar site in 2008. It covers an area of about 996 km2 and protects the upper slopes of the high Rwenzori Mountains, which run for almost 120 km along the Congolese border west to the famous Bakonjo towm of Kasese and Bataro City of Fortportal. Its highest point is about 5109 meter above sea level on Mount Stanley’s Margherita peak, only exceeded in altitude elsewhere in Africa only by the Kilimanjaro of Tanzania and Mount Kenya. The explorer Henry Merton Stanley placed the Rwenzori on the map on 24th May 1888 by referring to it as the “Mountain of the moon”.

The Rwenzoris lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa, while the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland, bamboo and rich, moist montane forest. Huge tree-heathers and colourful mosses are draped across the mountainside with giant lobelias and “everlasting flowers”, creating an enchanting, fairy-tale scene.

Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori Mountain range and like other large East African mountains, the Rwenzori range can be divided into several altitudinal zones, each with its own distinct microclimate characterized with exceptional Flora and Fauna. The National Park hosts 70 mammals and 217 bird species including 19 Albertine Rift endemics, as well as some of the world’s rarest vegetation.

The Rwenzoris are a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine- to twelve-day trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita – the highest peak – though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peaks.

For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.

Queen Elizabeth National Park ‘A Medley of Wonders’

The park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park and renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II. The park is home to over 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species, covering an area of about 1,978 km² minus the 2 wildlife reserves; Kigezi and Kyambura.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination with a variety of natural and artificial barriers amending Queen Elizabeth National Park into a patchwork of isolated sectors. The most important of these natural barriers being the Kazinga channel and Lake Edward, which divides the park into the northern and southern constituents, linked only by the artificial Katunguru bridge across the channel on the main Mbarara – Kasese highway. The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game. It is also famous for having the equator crossing and two of Uganda’s major lakes, Edward and George, connected by the Kazinga channel.

Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo, and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda Kob and Topi or Bushbuck not sparing the Cape Buffalo.

As well as its outstanding wildlife attractions, Queen Elizabeth National Park has a fascinating cultural history. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music, drama and more. The gazetting of the park has ensured the conservation of its ecosystems, which in turn benefits the surrounding communities through revenue sharing un the Uganda Wildlife Authority program.

Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly a Medley of Wonders!

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park ‘The Ultimate Gorilla Experience’

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley, covering an area of about 321 km2 and one of the national parks most most tourist receipts.  Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rain forests, which dates way back over 25,000 years and contains almost 400 species of plants. More famously, this “impenetrable forest” also protects an estimated 600 mountain gorillas – roughly more than half of the world’s population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked in the different sections of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo respectively. The Mubare gorilla group was the first to become available for tourism in Uganda in April 1993. About 19 groups are now habituated for tourism, and 2 for research and gorilla habituation experiences. Bwindi was gazetted as a National Park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site in 1994.

This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and shy forest antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics of those that live in Uganda.

The neighboring towns of Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic Bandas, and budget campsites, as well as restaurants, craft stalls, and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa Pygmy cultures through performances, workshops, and village walks.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park ‘Where Silver meets Gold’

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m above sea level. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests on the side of Uganda, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey. Mgahinga has one habituated trans-boundary gorilla group called Nyakigezi. The park takes its name from “Gahinga” – the local word for the piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes. The British administration declared the area a game sanctuary in 1930; it was gazetted as a National Park in 1991. It covers an area of about 33.7 km2, making it Uganda’s smallest National Park.

As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter-gatherers was the forest’s “first people”, and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled.

Mgahinga’s most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga Range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries. The volcanoes’ slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous scenery.

Lake Mburo National Park ‘Whispers of the Wild’

Wetland habitats comprise 20% of the park’s surface

Lake Mburo National Park is a compact gem, located conveniently close to the highway that connects Kampala to the parks of western Uganda. It is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks, covering an area of about 370 km2 and underlain by ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back more than 500 million years. It is home to 350 bird species as well as Zebra, Impala, the Giant Eland, Cape Buffalo, Oribi, Defassa Waterbuck, Leopard, Hippo, Hyena, Topi, Rothschild’s Giraffe and reedbuck.

Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50 km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park’s borders. Once covered by open savanna, Lake Mburo National Park now contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line many lakes.

The parks’ precarious past has seen wildlife virtually eliminated several times: firstly, in various attempts to rid the region of tsetse flies, then to make way for ranches, and finally as a result of subsistence poaching. The park now has a relationship with the surrounding communities as a way of combating this poaching. Part of the park’s entrance fee is used to fund local community projects such as building clinics and schools. The community is also allowed access to some of the lakes within the park to practice fishing and take their livestock have water in the dry seasons. Lake Mburo is also ideally positioned to break up the long drive between Kampala and the National Parks in the far South West and Western border not leaving our Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park.