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Uganda's National Parks and Reserves

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Uganda's National Parks and Reserves provide the visitor with a wide variety of attractions, natural wonders, adventure activities and stunning biodiversity.

Adventure activities include tracking the endangered Mountain Gorillas or the wild chimpanzees in their natural habitats, rainforest hikes, white water rafting and climbing the Mountains of the Moon. Attractions include the dramatic plunge of the Victoria Nile over Murchison Falls and the huge diversity of wildlife, including pigmy hippos, tree climbing lions, forest monkeys, superb birding, hot springs and the most amazing scenery.

 

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The National Parks and Reserves of Uganda

 

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi is an ancient rainforest and home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas and is a UNESCO- designated World Heritage Site. Gorilla conservation is top of the list for this Park but also found here are 11 species of primates, 90 mammal species and an array of birds. Birding in Bwindi is considered one of the best in the country.

The small 331 sq km (127 sq mile) Park is found in the southwestern region of the country, south of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

This is a year round destination for visitors; however the rainy season will make conditions challenging and even impossible in places. The rainy season runs from March to May and will often rain again in October and November. The best time to visit is in the drier months of January, February and June through September.

Silverback gorilla, uganda

A Silverback Mountain Gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

How to get there:

Fly to Kampala and then drive from Kampala via Mbarara, 6 to 8 hours by road. It is highly recommended to use a 4x4 during rainy season.

Attractions:

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Katonga Wildlife Reserve

The small 207 sq km (79 sq mile) reserve is primarily used to protect wetlands along the Katonga River. It is located 200km (124 miles) west of Kampala and is a great all year round destination for hikers. This is a one of the best places to search for the secretive Sitatunga antelope. It is found in swamp areas where it is able to wade and feed thanks to its webbed hooves.

How to get there:

By road:
Katonga is about 3 hours from Kampala by road.

Attractions:

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Kibale National Park

This 776 sq km (299 sq mile) is located in the western regions of the country near Fort Portal. It is a great Park to visit any time of the year and is the most accessible of Uganda’s large rainforests. The biggest attraction to the Park are the 13 primate species that include red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys.

How to get there:

By road:
Fort Portal is 320km (198 miles) from Kampala or an hour from Kasese, near Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Attractions:

Wild Chimpanzee - Uganda

A wild chimpanzee in its natural habitat, Uganda

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Kidepo Valley National Park

The Park is quite a bit bigger than Semuliki and Bwindi at 1,442 sq km (556 sq miles). It lies on the Sudanese and Kenyan border in the northeast regions of Uganda. Kidepo is probably best known for its scenery where inselbergs rise up on open savannah offering incredible vantage points to view the landscape of diverse flora, Acacia Geradi Forests along the Lorupei River and a variety of animal species. An inselberg is a single hill or small mountain.

This is a fantastic Park for campers with many camp grounds, bandas and rest camps to choose from. They are managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority and bookings can be made at their headquarters in Kampala. There are no stores in the park and campers must come prepared with plenty of food, a well stocked first aid kit and water.

How to get there:

By road:
For visitors considering self drives, some considerations are crucial. Distances are long and roads are not always easy, a four wheel drive vehicle is recommended. It is highly advisable to first contact the Uganda Wildlife Authority for an update on road conditions before setting out.
Distances:
Kampala via Lira and Kotido to Kidepo -705 km (437 miles)
Kampala via Mbale, Soroti and Moroto to Kidepo -792 km (491 miles)
Kampala via Mbale, Sironko and Kotido to Kideop -740 km (458 miles)
Kampala via Soroti to Kotido via Amuria - 656 km (407 miles)

By air:
Chartered air flights do fly from Entebbe International Airport to Park Headquarters. An airstrip is located at Lomej which is about 3km (just under two miles) south of the Headquarters.
Contact United Airlines for more information: http://www.enteruganda.com/unitedairlines.htm

Activities:

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Lake Mburo National Park

The Park is located near Mbarara in the southern region of Uganda just west of Lake Victoria. It is one of the smaller Parks at 260 sq km (100 sq miles). This is a great park to see antelope such as zebra, large eland, impala, topi and birdlife. It boasts of 5 lakes which allows many opportunities to see hippos, crocodiles, water birds and beautiful lake scenery lined with papyrus.

How to get there:

By road:
If driving on the Mbarara Kampala highway from Kampala, the trip should not take more than 3.5 hours.

Activities:

Open-water birds, Uganda

Open-water birds around a young crocodile, Uganda

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Mgahinga Gorilla National Park  

This is a tiny little reserve in the far southern regions of Uganda, south of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. It is a mere 33 sq km (13 sq mile) in size and lies 14km (8 miles) from the town of Kisoro. It is also located on the northern slopes of the three northernmost extinct Virunga Volcanoes: Mt. Muhavura (4,127 m or 13,540 feet), Mt. Gahinga (3,474 m or 11,397 feet), and Mt. Sabinyo (3,645 m or 11,958 feet). Mgahinga shares its borders with Rwanda and DRC Congo both of which protect their own piece of the Virunga Volcanoes, in the Parc National des Volcans and Parc National des Virunga respectively. Collectively this creates the 434 sq km (167 sq mile) Virunga Conservation Area.

The size of the Park is very deceptive because it is packed with adventure attractions. There's the amazing scenery, camping, fauna, flora and mountain gorillas, just some of the draw cards. The Park caters to all travel budgets providing accommodation from rugged camping in the Park to full service hotels just outside in the town of Kisoro.

How to get there:

By road:
Kampala via Kabale to Kisoro just outside the Park gate - 540km (335 miles), at lease 8 hours of driving time.
Public buses depart Kampala at 7pm arriving in Kisoro the following morning.

Activities:

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Mount Elgon National Park

Times have changed quite a bit for Mount Elgon, which is a 4,321m (14,176 feet) high extinct volcano. Prehistorically it was higher than Mount Kilimanjaro but today it is only the 8th highest mountain in Africa. However, its Wagagai summit is the second highest peak in Uganda. It can however claim to having one of the largest calderas in the world, stretching across 8km (5 miles).

It is located near Mbale on the eastern border that Uganda shares with Kenya. The park is a descent size for Uganda at 1,145 sq km (442 sq miles). One of the biggest attractions to the Park and the Mountain is the hiking, mountain climbing and incredible scenery. It is an important watershed that supports a myriad of flora from montane forest to giant lobelia. The mountain actually lies across both Uganda and Kenya.

How to get there:

Fly to Kampala and then drive to Mbale which will take about 3 to 4 hours.

Activites:

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Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls NP is located 90km (56 miles) from Masindi, on the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley.

This is Uganda’s largest national park, one of the oldest and bisected by the Victoria Nile. It was first named in 1864 by Samuel Baker, an explorer who saw the falls as one of the most important features of the Nile River. It is named for the mighty Murchison Falls that is the showpiece of the Park. The Victoria Nile rushes down 80km (49 miles) of exhilarating white water and then plummets 40m (131 feet) over the Murchison Valley wall into the rift valley below. The waterfall exhausts some the river’s energy as it drains across the rift valley as a ‘quieter’ river all the way to Lake Albert, 55km downstream.

Murchison Falls, Uganda

A section of Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

This is an enormous park that covers 3,893 sq km (1,503 sq miles). In fact it is even larger as it is part of the Murchison Falls Protected Area (5,072 sq km; 1,958 sq miles) including the adjacent Karuma and Bugungu wildlife reserves.

Wildlife viewing is exceptional in the Park. Visitors can expect to see elephant, buffalo, giraffe, lion and a variety of antelope and several species of birds. A visit is made increasingly exciting with chimps and other critters found in Rabongo Forest in the southeast. Not to forget the Nile is home to crocodile, waterfowl and pods of hippos.

How to get there:

By road:
To reach the Park visitors often drive from Kampala. This will take a day. Most will overnight in Masindi before proceeding to the Park.

Activities:

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Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP)

QENP is found in the southwestern regions of Uganda near Kasese and it is a great destination year round. It is one of the larger parks at 1,978 sq km (763 sq miles).

The Park boasts of biodiversity at its best. There are so many different attractions here, from savannah to rainforest and lakes to swamps. Attractions include over 100 mammal species, over 600 bird species and an inviting small waterfront at the Mweya Peninsula tourist village.

African Superb Starling, found throughout East Africa

A perfect specimen of an African Superb Starling, found throughout East Africa

There are ‘characters’ who help to make the Park a must see on the Ugandan safari circuit. These definitely include the tree climbing lions of the remote Ishasha Sector and the habituated chimps of the Kyambura Gorge. Forest monkeys and crater lake flamingos add additional color and fun to a Park visit.

How to get there:

By road:
As with many of the parks, visitors can fly to Kampala and then drive. The road to QENP is surfaced and the trip will take about 5 to 6 hours via Mbarara.

A dirt road runs from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to QENP.

Activities:

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Rwenzori Mountain National Park

Rwenzori Mountain National Park is a World Heritage Site declared to protect the unique fauna and flora on its slopes. Mount Kenya in Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania are two of the highest free standing mountains in Africa - but Rwenzori Mountains is the tallest range of mountains in Africa at 5,109 m 16,761 feet in altitude. The Park is 998 sq km (385 sq miles) in size and located on the Congo border near the town of Kasese. The range is 120km (74 miles) long and 43km (28 miles) wide. The range includes Africa’s third highest mountain peak, Mount Stanley which rises to a height of 5,109m (16,761 feet). The peaks of Rwenzori mountains are permanently covered in snow and the range is home to glaciers. The peaks are not always visible due to permanent mists high up in the range.

Rwenzori Mountain Range

Rwenzori Mountain Range - this view is from Virunga NP, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Attribution: Cai Tjeenk Willink [Virunga National Park, DRC]

Peaks in the range include:
Mt. Speke at 4,890 m (16,043 feet)
Mount Emin at 4,727 m (15,508 feet)
Mount Gessi at 4,715 m (15,469 feet)
Mount Luigi da Savoia at 4,627 m (15,180 feet)

The name Rwenzori means ‘rain maker’ - the range receives 5 m (16 feet) of rain annually. The mountains are also often referred to as the Mountains of the Moon.

This is hiker’s paradise and the slopes of the range are considered some of the most challenging in Africa. The trails vary as hikers move higher up the slopes. The landscape changes from rainforest to bamboo forest to moorland and then on to black rock and snow. There is never a boring moment on a Rwenzori hike. Hikers should look out for blue monkeys, colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, elephant, giant forest hogs, giant Lobelias plants, heather and groundsels. Leopard are found in the Park as well. Birding is good and visitors should look out for species such as francolin, malachite sunbird, olive pigeon and Rwenzori Touraco.

It is always a good time to visit the Park but conditions are more favorable during the drier seasons of December through February and June through August.

How to get there:

By road:
The Park is accessed via the Nyakalengija trailhead which is 22km from Kasese just off the road between Fort Portal and Kampala. 
By air:
It is possible to fly here with chartered aircraft from Entebbe and Kampala.

Attractions:

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Semuliki National Park

The small 220 sq km (84 sq mile) Park is located approximately 50km (31 miles) from Fort Portal in western Uganda. It extends east from the enormous Ituri Forest and to the southeast lie the Rwenzori Mountains. Access is by road from Kampala via Fort Portal.

Many streams and rivers from surrounding areas drain into the Park and it floods in the rainy season. High rainfall is experienced March through May and September through December but the Park itself has annual rainfall of 1,250mm (49 inches).

How to get there:

By road:
There are two main roads to the Park:
Kampala to Fort Portal via Mubende will take about 4 to 5 hours – distance 180km (111 miles).
Kampala to Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara, Kasese will take about 7 to 8 hours – distance 465km (288 miles). The first route is shorter but this one allows the visitor to stop over in Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Rwenzori Mountains National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Naturally this will require a bit more planning and some overnights.

Activities

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Semliki Wildlife Reserve

This is a small 500 sq km (193 sq mile) reserve lies in the western regions of Uganda near Fort Portal. Previously known as Toro Game Reserve it lies adjacent to Lake Albert and the northern base of the Rwenzori Mountain Range.

The reserve has a number of different landscapes from grassland to forest to the wetlands and supports over 400 bird species. Also found in the reserve are forest elephant, chimpanzees, monkeys, buffalo and leopard.

How to get there:

By road:
Travel in the same direction as if going to Semuliki National Park. The reserve is adjacent to the Park.

Attractions:
Many of the same attractions as Semuliki N.P.

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