Everything you need to know about where to go on a Uganda Safari
A Uganda safari holiday offers the intrepid traveller the best that an African Safari has to offer. From the lush tropical Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with its last remaining Mountain gorillas, to the stunning views of the longest river in the world, Uganda offers something for everyone. Curate your holiday experience and let our tour experts do the rest for you. It couldn’t be more easy. But first, let take a look at where to go in Uganda.
Uganda has three major tourist regions that we recommend to intrepid travellers, the central region where we find the cities, historical sites and much of the urban population and cultural drama. The eastern region where the source of the mighty Nile river attracts all ayes that come to this tiny country. And the magnificent west where the rainforest and the mountains meet the savannah. The western region is rich with wildlife taking the biggest share of national game reserves and park.
With these three regions, your question of where to go in Uganda is answered. Let’s take a bigger look inside these regions.
Uganda’s central region is where most Uganda bound travellers will begin and end their trips, flying in and out of the country’s only international airport in the peninsular town of Entebbe. The region has practically no game reserve to offer and blockbuster wildlife than Western Uganda, but it is home to the buzzing capital of Kampala, a large expanse of beautiful Lake Victoria (Second largest fresh water lake in the world) and its forested islands and Ngamba Chimpanzee Island where you you can hang with rescued and orphaned chimpanzees.
Highlights of Central Uganda
Lying on the shores of shimmering Lake Victoria, the wonderfully green, laid-back Entebbe is a good place to spend a day or two at the start or end of your journey. There’s a wide range of lodging options and excellent modern and boutique restaurants, as well as a few sights to fill your days: the lush and beautiful Entebbe Botanical Garden is a highlight for its indigenous trees and superb birdlife, while the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre is a sanctuary for rescued animals – rhinos, chimps, lions and shoebill storks are the main attractions – and if you want a more memorable encounter with the wildlife, pay extra to be “keeper for a day”, or for the behind the scenes tour or chimp close up.
Eighty-four thickly forested islands make up the Ssese Archipelago in the northwest of Lake Victoria, 50 kilometres from Entebbe. Buggala Island is the most popular and most developed – and is easily reached by ferry from Entebbe – and has the widest range of lodging options, while Banda and Bukasa Island also have places to stay, and other uninhabited islands can be visited by boat. Activities on the islands include hiking, bird watching (highlights include water species such as pygmy kingfisher, African fish eagles and great cormorants), quad biking, canoeing and sport fishing.
There are only two African island chimpanzee sanctuaries, and Ngamba Island is one of them. Just over 2 0 kilometres away from Entebbe in Lake Victoria, Ngamba Island protects more than 40 rescued and orphaned chimps, which you can see from a platform during the twice-daily feeding times. You can either do a half-day trip to the island or stay overnight at the eco lodge in a cottage or safari tent. Other activities on the island include sunset cruises, fishing and birdwatching.
Practical Central Region Info
A taxi is the best way of getting from Entebbe International Airport to Kampala, and while the distance is short, the traffic is always thick – it can take a few hours to do the journey. If you’re staying in Kampala and are catching a flight home from Entebbe, then leave plenty of time to travel to the airport in the traffic.
Best yet is to stay over in Entebbe ahead of your flight. The town also makes a great base from which to explore the lake’s islands. For nature and bird lovers, you might want to check out Gately Inn Entebbe to refresh before or after your flight at Entebbe International Airport — close to the airport, beautifully designed and affordable.
While Western Uganda has the wildlife, Eastern Uganda sprawls with blood pumping adrenaline adventures. The source of the Nile River lies in the region, and it’s at this powerful stage of the river’s journey that you can experience some of the finest white-water rafting on the planet. Lying on the shores of Lake Victoria, charming Jinja is known as East Africa’s adrenaline capital, and rafting is not the only activity that gets hearts pumping: bungee jumping and paragliding are also in the exciting mix. There are more sedate activities on offer in Jinja too, from stand-up paddle boarding on gentler stretches of the river to boat cruises. Straddling Uganda’s eastern border with Kenya, Mount Elgon National Park is a fantastic trekking destination and offers the chance to climb Africa’s eighth tallest mountain.
Highlights of Eastern Uganda Region
The old colonial city of Jinja is a top destination in Eastern Uganda, and the regional capital makes a perfect place to base yourself for a few days. There’s lots to do here at the source of the Nile River, whether you’re looking for high-paced adrenaline thrills or more laidback fun.
White-water rafting on the Nile’s powerful rapids over a day or on two-day trips is the biggest draw, while other water-based activities will keep you entertained: choose from kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, fishing trips and relaxing boat cruises to islands. On land you can go bungee-jumping off a Nile riverside cliff, quad biking, mountain biking or go on horseback safaris along the banks of the Nile.
Running along the Kenyan border, Mount Elgon National Park is centred around Mount Elgon, a huge extinct volcano which is Uganda’s second highest peak and the eighth tallest in Africa. The appeal of climbing Mount Elgon lies in the ease (you don’t have to have any special experience or equipment to climb the mountain – just a good level of fitness), low numbers of other climbers and budget-friendly cost compared with other peaks in East Africa. The climb is a four- to six-day round trip, and you’ll pass through beautiful scenery of tropical montane forest and bamboo glades and spot blue monkey and black-and-white colobus while trekking.
Lying on the edge of Mount Elgon National Park, Sipi Falls is made up of a series of three beautiful waterfalls and is the starting point for hiking routes that take you up Mount Elgon. It’s a great place to base yourself for a few days if you want to do some gentle day hikes in the scenic foothills of the volcano.
Practical Eastern Region Info
If you’re going to climb Mount Elgon, pack appropriate warm clothing with you as it can get very cold at night. While you can hike year-round, the best months to go trekking are the dry ones – from June to August and December to February.
The Isimba Dam, a controversial hydroelectric power project on the White Nile, is under construction some 60 kilometres downstream from Jinja. It’s unclear when it will be completed, but once finished, the dam will flood some of the rapids on the one-day rafting trips offered by the activity companies in Jinja. If you’re planning to go rafting on the Nile, it’s a good idea to check the status of the dam and what rafting trips are being offered with the adventure companies in Jinja before you travel.
Encompassing the vast majority of the country’s wildlife game parks and reserves, Western Uganda dazzles with its blockbuster wildlife, excellent birding and astonishing landscapes and natural attractions, making it the most popular region with Uganda bound travellers.
In the southwest corner of the region, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is home to almost half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, so it’s usually at the top of any Uganda safari itinerary. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, at Uganda’s most south westerly corner on the border with Rwanda and the DRC, is home to just one habituated gorilla group, which sometimes moves outside of Uganda’s borders, which means that finding the group here isn’t 100% reliable.
Further up the north of the region, Queen Elizabeth National Park, with its open savanna and huge variety of animal and bird species, is the most popular safari destination, and while the less visiting but getting more popular by day, Murchison Falls National Park offers East Africa’s most impressive waterfall and spectacular wildlife in beautiful landscapes.
Chimpanzee trekking is another top activity in Western Uganda: Kibale Forest National Park and Budongo Forest Reserve are two of the best places to go in search of our closest living relatives. Close the capital of Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park is the easiest wilderness area to access in Western Uganda, and while it can’t compete with other parks for scenery and wildlife diversity, it’s worth a visit for its special species not seen elsewhere.
Western Uganda isn’t just about wildlife: it’s also home to some of the country’s most astonishing landscapes, from the dramatic snow-dusted Rwenzori Mountains to the shimmering blue crater lakes.
Highlights of Western Uganda Region
Going gorilla trekking in the mountainous tropical rain forest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is, without a doubt, one of Africa’s best wildlife experiences. It’s a thrilling adventure to hike through the lush, hilly jungle forest to find your assigned gorilla group, but coming face-to-face with these majestic great apes is a moment you’ll never forget.
There are two options for gorilla trekking in Uganda: you can either spend an hour with a habituated group, or pay more to spend four hours with a group that is in the process of being habituated. Aside from gorillas, Bwindi’s other animal life (l’Hoest monkeys, forest duikers, olive baboons, bushbuck and black-and-white colobus monkeys) and 350 bird species can be spotted on guided walks through the forest.
Close by to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi, a popular spot for people to base themselves in for a few days to go gorilla trekking in the park and then relax at the beautiful lake, which is surrounded by green terraced hills and small villages. There’s plenty to fill a few days here, from birdwatching and hiking to canoeing, swimming and mountain biking.
For primates, Kibale Forest National Park is hard to beat, boasting the largest number of primate species of any reserve in East Africa, from the rare red colobus monkeys and olive baboons to l’Hoest and blue monkeys, which you may be able to spot while going on the search for one of five habituated groups of chimpanzees.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most biodiverse wilderness area, playing host to a magnificent array of wildlife – 95 mammals and 20 predators – as well as habituated chimpanzees. The park’s standout highlight is the tree-climbing lions (there’s only one other place in Africa where they do this) so catching this sighting is particularly special, while the birdwatching is spectacular, with more than 600 species.
Wildlife viewing on boat cruises along the Kazinga Channel for magnificent scenery and fantastic wildlife spotting (including Africa’s greatest concentration of hippos) are not to be missed. While you can go chimpanzee trekking in the park’s Kyambura Gorge, you have a better chance of seeing chimps at the nearby Kalinzu Forest.
The largest park in Uganda, the remarkably beautiful Murchison Falls National Park, has a lot to offer: East Africa’s most dramatic waterfall, wildlife and birdwatching from boat cruises along the Victoria Nile, large herds of elephant, giraffe and buffalo, as well as sightings of lion and leopard, and the chance to see one of Africa’s most sought-after birds, the elusive shoebill stork.
The snow-dusted, jagged Rwenzori Mountains – the “Mountains of the Moon” – Africa’s highest mountain range, soar up to 5109 metres high along Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The mountains are protected by Rwenzori National Park, and provide thrilling landscapes for adventurous hikes and mountaineering trips.
Treks can be anything from one day to a multi-day mountaineering expedition to the top of Mount Stanley, Africa’s third highest peak, and along the way you’ll be treated to scenery of cloud forests, tropical rainforest, bamboo glades, dramatic valleys and glacier lakes.
In a remote part of the region on the western side of the Rwenzori Mountains and lying alongside the border with the DRC, Semliki National Park sees few tourists due to its isolated location and undeveloped infrastructure, but those who do make it out to the park are rewarded with one of the best forest birding hotspots in Africa. The park protects one of Africa’s oldest forests, and with it, a remarkable number of bird species – more than 400 – as well as 300 butterfly species. Highlights include Central African birds such as black-wattled hornbill and Congo serpent eagle that aren’t found in any other place in East Africa.
Dozens of crater lakes formed by volcanic activity some 10 000 years ago stud the landscape between Fort Portal and Kibale National Park like blue jewels. These photogenic lakes, which are fringed with tropical forests home to monkeys and an incredible diversity of bird species, offer plenty of hiking and birdwatching opportunities, with trails leading you through small villages and tea plantations, as well as other activities such as canoeing and fishing.
Practical Western Uganda Information
Western Uganda is best visited during the drier months of June to August and December to February, when it’s easiest to go gorilla trekking in hilly Bwindi and the wildlife viewing in the parks is at its prime. Travelling during the rainy low season months of March to May and September to November does have its budget-friendly benefits though – you’ll get cheaper room rates at hotels and lodges and it is possible to get discounted gorilla trekking permits, but be prepared for muddy roads, torrential downpours, challenging hiking and low visibility for wildlife.
If you want to go gorilla trekking, you need to book your permit several months in advance through the Uganda Wildlife Authority or through a tour operator, as there’s a limited number of permits that sold every day and during the most popular months for trekking (June to August) the permits can sell out five months in advance.
For chimpanzee habituation experiences it’s best to book around three months in advance.
With this information on where to go in Uganda, you can clearly see that Uganda is not like any other African country in offering Africa Safaris. In Uganda you get a bit of everything from the Savannah to the rainforest and cultures. One item that stands out if the Mountain Gorillas which you’ll not find anywhere in Africa but the Western Uganda region shared with Rwanda and DR Congo. So get your notes together and ask one of our experts to help you start planning your trip right away.