Uganda has 10 National Parks plus several games reserves, wildlife reserves and sanctuaries on which its tourism is based. All combined, Uganda’s National Parks define the Country’s Safari and Tour activities. Several safaris in Uganda take place in these parks that are evenly distributed and represented in almost all regions of Uganda.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
The Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is found in the Western Region of Uganda, the park spans the districts of Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi, and Rukungiri. The park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park and named after Queen Elizabeth II in commemoration of her visit of 28th – 30th April 1954. QENP is approximately 400 kilometers (250 miles) by road from Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
The park includes the Maramagambo Forest and borders the Kigezi Game Reserve, the Kyambura Game Reserve, and the Kibale National Park in Uganda, and the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
QENP occupies an estimated 1,978 square kilometers (764 sq mi). The park extends from Lake George in the north-east to Lake Edward in the south-west and includes the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes.
QENP spans the equator line; monuments on either side of the road mark the exact spot where it crosses latitude 00.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is known for its wildlife, including African buffalo, Ugandan kob, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, African bush elephant, African leopard, lion, and chimpanzee. It is home to 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species. The area around Ishasha in Rukungiri District is famous for its tree-climbing lions, whose males sport black manes. The park is also famous for its volcanic features, including volcanic cones and deep craters, many with crater lakes, such as the Katwe craters, from which salt is extracted. The Katwe explosion craters mark the park’s highest point at 1,350m above sea level, while the lowest point is at 910m, at Lake Edward.
Because of the fascinating features, wild game and rich cultural history, Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music and more. The gazetting of the park has ensured the conservation of its ecosystems, which in turn benefits the surrounding communities.
Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is one of Uganda’s National parks measuring about 3,840km2 . It is in north-western Uganda, spreading inland from the shores of Lake Albert, around the Victoria Nile, up to the Karuma Falls.
Together with the adjacent 748 square kilometers (289 sq mi) Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and the 720 square kilometers (280 sq mi) Karuma Wildlife Reserve, the park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA).
The park partly covers the Ugandan districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. The park is about 283 kilometers (176 miles), by road, north-west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
European explorers John Speke and James Grant were the first to visit the present day MFCA in 1862. It was more thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence Baker in 1863-4. Baker named the falls Murchison Falls after the geologist Roderick Murchison, then the president of the Royal Geographical Society.
Between 1907 and 1912, the inhabitants of an area of about 13,000 square kilometers (5,000 sq mi) were evacuated due to sleeping sickness spread by tse-tse flies. In 1910, the Bunyoro Game Reserve was created south of the River Nile. That area roughly corresponds to the part of the MFNP that is in the districts of Buliisa, Masindi, and Kiryandongo. In 1928, the boundaries were extended north of the river into the modern-day Nwoya District.
In 1952, the British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda. The area described above became Murchison Falls National Park.
MFCA and the adjacent Bugondo Forest Reserve have 76 species of mammals as well as Uganda’s largest population of crocodiles, 450 bird species are present ranging from easy variety of waterbirds, including the rare shoe-billed stork, Bugondo’s 59 “restricted range” species, dwarf kingfisher, Goliath heron, white-thighed hornbill and great blue turaco.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (BINP) lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the Rift Valley. The park is part of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is situated along the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) border next to the Virunga National Park and on the edge of the Albertine Rift.
Composed of 331 square kilometers (128 sq mi) of both montane and lowland forest, it is accessible only on foot. BINP is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-designated World Heritage Site.
Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests, which dates back over 25,000 years. Floristically, the park is among the most diverse forests in East Africa, with more than 1,000 flowering plant species, including 163 species of trees and 104 species of ferns, providing habitat for 120 species of mammals, 348 species of birds, 220 species of butterflies, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, and many endangered species.
The park is a sanctuary for colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, and many birds such as hornbills and turacos. It is most notable for the 400 Mountain gorillas, half of the world’s population of the critically endangered mountain gorillas. 14 habituated mountain gorilla groups are open to tourism in four different sectors of Buhoma, Ruhijja, Rushaga and the Nkuringo all under the management of Uganda Wildlife Authority
The neighboring towns of Buhoma 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.
Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is located in Kiruhura District in the Western Region of Uganda. The park is about 30 kilometers (19 mi), by road, east of Mbarara, the largest city in the sub-region and 240 Kilometers (150 mi), by road, west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
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.
Lake Mburo National Park is a compact gem, located conveniently close to the highway that connects Kampala to the parks of western Uganda. At 260 square kilometers (100 sq mi), the park is the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks and underlain by ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back more than 500 million years. It is home to 350 bird species and a variety of animals such as zebra, hippopotami, impala, warthogs, elands, buffaloes, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, leopard, hyena, topi and reedbuck.
Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-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 park has camp grounds and permanent tent facilities for visitors.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park is a national park in southern Uganda, protecting moist evergreen rain forest. It is 776 square kilometers (300 sq mi) in size and is located between 1,100 meters (3,600 ft) to 1,600 metres (5,200 ft) in elevation. Despite encompassing primarily moist evergreen forest, it contains a diverse array of landscapes. Kibale is one of the last remaining expanses to contain both lowland and montane forests. In eastern Africa, it sustains the last significant expanse of pre-montane forest.
351 tree species have been recorded in the park, some rise to over 55m and are over 200 years old, Kibale’s varied altitude supports different types of habitat, ranging from wet tropical forest on the Fort Portal plateau to woodland and savanna on the rift valley floor.
The Park was gazetted in 1932 and formally established in 1993 to protect a large area of forest previously managed as a logged forest reserve, KNP is famously known for Chimpanzee tracking. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primate including the chimpanzee, contains over 375 species of birds. Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale National Park.
The Kibale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda’s most rewarding destinations to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and within half a day’s drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semuliki National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
KNP is also one of Africa’s foremost research sites, while many researchers focus on the chimpanzees and other primates found in the park, others are investigating Kibale’s ecosystems, wild pigs and fish species, among other topics.
Kibale National Park contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. Forest cover, interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp, dominates the northern and central parts of the park on an elevated plateau.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (MGNP) is in the Kisoro District of far south-western Uganda. It is 33.7km2, making it Uganda’s smallest National Park. The park is about 15 kilometres (9.3 mi), by road, south of the town of Kisoro and approximately 55 kilometres (34 mi), by road, west of Kabale
MGNP takes its name from “Gahinga” – the local word for the piles of volcanic stones cleared from farmland at the foot of the volcanoes. The area was declared a game sanctuary in 1930, and gazetted as a National Park in 1991.
MGNP includes three of the eight Virunga Mountains volcanoes: Mount Muhabura, Mount Gahinga, and Mount Sabyinyo. These dormant volcanoes are international mountains, with Muhabura and Gahinga on the Uganda/Rwanda border, and Sabyinyo a tripoint on the Uganda/Rwanda/Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) borders.
Though unpopular, MGNP is the second habitat of the mountain gorilla in Uganda after Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Mgahinga has only one habituated gorilla family, Nyakagezi group. A maximum of 8 people are allowed to see the great apes in a day. Gorilla tourism in Mgahinga is developing steadily over the past five years especially with additions of new tourist activities such as the Batwa Trail and Golden Monkey trekking.
Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is located in Bwamba County, western Uganda. It was gazetted a national park in October 1993 and is one of Uganda’s newest national parks. It measures about 220 sq. Kilometers and is one of the richest areas of floral and faunal diversity in Africa, with bird species being especially diverse.
The park is located at the junction of several climatic and ecological zones, and as a result has a high diversity of plant and animal species and many microhabitats. Most of the plant and animal species in the park are also found in the Congo Basin forests, with many of these species reaching the eastern limit of their range in Semuliki National Park.
The park has more than 441 recorded bird species, for example the lyre-tailed honey guide. 216 of these species (66 percent of the country’s total bird species) are true forest birds, including the rare Forest Ground Thrush (Turdus oberlaenderi) and Sassi’s Olive Greenbul (Phyllastrephus lorenzi). Nine species of hornbills have been recorded in the park.
The park has over 60 mammal species, including forest buffalos, leopards, hippos, mona monkeys, water chevrotains, bush babies, civets, elephants, and the pygmy flying squirrel (Idiuus zenkeri). Nine species of duikers are found in the park, including the bay duiker (Cephalophus dorsalis). The park has eight primate species and almost 300 butterfly species.
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 on the open plains and Batwa pygmies, traditionally hunter gathers, live on the edge of the forest.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is a Ugandan national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the Rwenzori Mountains. Measuring about 1,000 km2 (386 sq mi) in size, the park has Africa‘s third highest mountain peak at 5,109m above sea level and many waterfalls, lakes, and glaciers. The park is known for its beautiful plant life. at a Glance
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the highest parts of the 120km-long and 65km-wide Rwenzori mountain range. 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.