Uganda, also known as the Pearl of Africa, has 10 national parks that are home to some of the continent’s most exotic wildlife: the African Big Five, chimpanzees and the prized mountain gorillas.
If you plan to travel to Uganda, here is what you should expect from the 10 Uganda national parks, eight of which are located in the western part of the country.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Located in Kasese, about 410 kilometres west of the capital Kampala, Queen Elizabeth is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination.
Established in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park to commemorate a visit by England’s Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.
The park is home to 95 and over 600 animal and bird species respectively – including elephants, hippos, lions, buffalos, cheetahs, leopards, monkeys, warthogs, baboons, antelopes and chimpanzees – but its star attraction remains the tree-climbing lions, which are currently numbering over 200 individuals.
Spanning 300 square kilometres, Queen Elizabeth offers an ideal habitat for a variety of wildlife because of its diverse ecosystems: a sprawling savanna, wetlands, humid forests and effervescent lakes.
Lake Mburo National Park
What makes a visit to Lake Mburo National Park ideal is its proximity to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. The park is located in Isingiro district, 228 kilometres west of Kampala.
But even though a variety of leopards, hippos, zebras, lions, warthogs, buffalos, crocodiles, hyenas, impalas and others animals are all resident in this 371 square-kilometer park, Lake Mburo is mostly popular with bird and geology enthusiasts as its home to 332 recorded bird species and ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks that are said to be over 500 million years old.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Spanning 331 kilometres, this is another of Uganda’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, named after the ecologically diverse Bwindi rainforest. Home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is Uganda’s most prized national park as gorillas are the country’s star attraction.
A tourist enjoying the morning sun with gorillas in Bwindi
18 mountain gorilla families have been habituated and only eight tourists are allowed to see each family per day, and for only one hour. However, aside from the gorillas, this rainforest also harbours 348 bird species, 400 plant species, 100 fern species, 120 animal species, 27 species of frogs, geckos and chameleons and 220 butterfly species.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park can be found in Kanungu district, southwestern Uganda, about 530 kilometres from Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
It is said that in 150 AD, Alexandrine photographer Ptolemy wrote about his fascination with a snow-capped mountain range deep in Africa, which he christened “Mountains of the Moon”.
Over several centuries, Ptolemy’s “Mountains of the Moon” have continued to fascinate many due to their high glaciers, hot springs, a valley of nine lakes, snowfields, breath-taking waterfalls and a variety of flora and fauna. Known locally as the Rwenzori Mountains, they were gazetted in 1991 and named Rwenzori Mountains National Park.
Today, the Rwenzori Mountains National Park is considered to be one of the most beautiful mountain parks in the world – and it’s this imposing natural beauty that earned the 1,000 square-kilometre park the UNESCO World Heritage Site and RAMSAR Site titles.
Located in Bundibugyo district, 375 kilometres west of Kampala, the Rwenzori is Africa’s tallest mountain range (reaching an elevation of 5,109m). The range boasts the continent’s third, fourth and fifth highest peaks, which are exceeded in altitude by Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro and Kenya’s Mount Kenya.
Semuliki National Park
One of Uganda’s oldest nature reserves, Semuliki National Park was created in 1932 as Semuliki Forest Reserve and upgraded to a national park in 1993.
Located on the western side of the Rwenzori Mountains in Bundibugyo district, 180 kilometres from Kampala, Semuliki is one of the least visited national parks in Uganda, which makes it a perfect destination for those interested in a less touristy park.
The park’s main claim to fame is the Sempaya Hot Springs, whose water temperature is over 1,000C. But wildlife enthusiasts will also be rewarded with sightings of primate species such as the grey-checked mangabey, red-tailed monkeys, elephants, chimpanzees, De Brazza’s monkey, pygmy antelope, as well as bird species like the white-crested hornbill, red-billed dwarf hornbill, piping hornbill, yellow-throated nicator, Great blue and Ross’s turacos and the shoebill stork.
Murchison Falls National Park
This is one of Uganda’s oldest conservation areas, having been gazetted in 1926. Nestled at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, Murchison Falls National Park is home to 76 animal species and 451 species of birds.
The Murchison Falls are the most important feature of the park and visitors to this park always enjoy sightings of big game, including elephants, lions, leopards, giraffes, crocodiles, hippos and buffalos in a leisurely ramble above the Nile.
The 3,893 km2 Murchison Falls National Park is 305 kilometres northwest of Kampala.
Mount Elgon National Park
What makes Mount Elgon stand out is the fact that it has the largest volcanic base on earth. Located about 235 kilometres east of Kampala on Uganda’s border with Kenya, the 1,110 square kilometers park was gazetted in 1992. At an elevation of 4,321, Mount Elgon’s highest point, Wagagai, is entirely within Uganda.
The higher slopes of Mount Elgon are protected by Uganda and Kenya, which makes it a transboundary conservation area.
Even though Mount Elgon National Park is not popular with tourists to Uganda, it’s a birder’s paradise, playing host to over 300 bird species, including the endangered lammergeyer. Mammals such as small antelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffalos are also resident in the park.
Kibale National Park
Established more than 200 years ago, Kibale National Park harbours the highest number of primate species in the world, including more than 5,000 chimpanzees.
Apart from chimpanzee tracking, you can also choose to take a two-hour walk through the swamp, which will reward you with views of the beautiful scenery and views of about four other primate species, though the highlight is usually a chance glimpse of the great blue turaco, a chicken-sized bird with garish blue, green and yellow feathers.
Located in Kabarole district, western Uganda, Kibale National Park spans 795 square kilometres is about 300 kilometres from Kampala.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Nestled between Uganda’s borders with Kenya and South Sudan, this is the hottest and most isolated national park in the country. Here, a total of 77 animal species and 500 species of birds live one-on-one with dry mountain forests and rugged savanna. Some of the common and occasional sightings include zebras, lions, leopards, cheetahs, striped hyenas and rothschild’s giraffes.
Kidepo Valley National Park spans 1,442 square kilometres and is the only park in Uganda where game viewing is ideal all year round. The park is in Kaabong district, 705 kilometres from Kampala.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is located in Kisoro district in southwestern Uganda, about 510 kilometres from Kampala. The park is part of the wider Virunga Conservation Area, which includes Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park and DR Congo’s Virunga National Park. The three parks are home to about 500 mountain gorillas – half of the world’s remaining iconic species which also reside in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.
Travellers to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park are also rewarded with sightings of the rare golden monkeys and cultural encounters with Uganda’s Batwa, a tribe of hunter-gatherers, the indigenous people of this area.