If you’re just starting to plan your safari, this easy list of parks and reservations is a great place to start. Below, I’ve listed a few fun facts about each place, as well as which animals you are most likely to encounter on safari.
Update. In talking with several people with whom I have shared my site, many of them mentioned that they went to youtube to see what these places looked like. So I included a few here where it made sense to remove a little of the work.
Bwindi National Park—Home to over 400 gorillas, Bwindi National Forest is the best place for mountain gorilla tours in all of Africa. This is the only place where mountain gorillas are found in abundance, and the area has some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. There are some great lodges in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest—the best place to see these gorillas. Alongside gorillas, visitors can find colobus monkeys, green monkeys, Schmidt’s red-tailed monkeys, and duiker. This is also a wonderful place for bird watching.
Kibale National Forest Park—This is known as the best place in all of East Africa to see chimpanzees. A popular trail, a three-hour walk from the Kanyanchu Visitor Center, is the best way to observe both chimpanzees and other wildlife. Kibale National Forest Park also offers the opportunity to see blue- and red-tailed monkeys, red colobus mangabeys, and grey-cheeked mangabeys.
Queen Elizabeth National Park—This National Park comprises several different wildlife-filled habitats: forests, wetlands, savanna grasslands, and a number of lakes. Located on the western side of Uganda, it is only a few hours’ drive southwest of Kampala. Visitors can expect to see lions, elephants, antelopes, buffaloes, and chimpanzees. The best way to experience these Ugandan safaris? Hot air balloon.
Mgahinga National Park—Mgahinga National Park is the best place in the country to track monkeys. Located at the foot of the Virunga Mountains, a visit to this area of the country will almost guarantee monkey sightings. They prefer to hang around the bamboo forests within the protected area, and the monkeys have grown used to people, meaning they can be easily observed. Be on the look-out for golden monkeys and chimpanzees.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary—This sanctuary protects Uganda’s only wild rhinos. Just north of Kampala (close to Murchison Falls), the sanctuary is home to fifteen rhinos and other wildlife, such as more than 250 different species of birds. Rangers guide guests around the reserve to see the most interesting wildlife, which can include rhinos, crocodiles, hippos, and antelopes. Founded by various wildlife and conservation organizations, the sanctuary protects rhinos from both people and Africa’s predators.
Murchison Falls National Park—Murchison Falls is a fantastic natural attraction within Murchison Falls National Park. The protected area is home to hippopotamus, crocodiles, lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, antelopes, chimpanzees, and dozens of species of birds. Murchison Falls is a massive, narrow waterfall cascading down thirty meters into the Nile River. Former visitors have included everyone from Winston Churchill to Ernest Hemingway.
Ndere Centre—If you want an immersive cultural experience, the Ndere Centre is the place to visit. For several days each week, you can enjoy a dinner and theater performance of Ugandan culture. The center fosters a sense of pride for Ugandan culture while promoting it to visitors to the area. Though not a safari, this is an experience you do not want to skip.
Lake Victoria—The largest freshwater tropical lake in the world, Lake Victoria sits at the borders of Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. This is where the Nile River begins—one of the world’s most historically significant rivers. When you visit, prepare to see several different islands and reefs, as well as around 200 species of fish and over 350 birds. Want more animals? Ngamba Island, situated within the lake, is home to a private chimpanzee sanctuary.
Lake Bunyonyi—Close to Kisoro and Kabale, as well as neighboring Rwanda, Lake Bunuonyi is one of Africa’s largest and deepest lakes, containing 29 different islands. This is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. The lake’s beautiful scenery, its proximity to Bwindi Forest for gorilla trekking, and the lakeside culture make it a must-see stop along your safari Uganda exploration.
Lake Mburo National Park—Lake Mburo is home to several types of wildlife, including antelopes, hyena, hippopotamus, buffalo, zebra, and birds. The lake itself is part of the protected areas wetland system, making it a wonderful destination for bird-watchers. Visitors can enjoy wildlife safari tours and more relaxing activities, such as boat cruises and hikes. The true stars of the park? Zebra and Impala. Guided walks will help you experience the beautiful scenery and wildlife.
Kasubi Tombs—While you’re in Kampala, don’t miss out on the famous Kasubi Tombs—a UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site. This is the burial grounds of four Ugandan kinds and royal family. Build in 1882 as the palace of Kabaka Mutesa, it was converted into a tomb directly after his death.
Lake Mutanda—Affectionately known as “Little Switzerland,” this lake exists at the foot of the Virunga Mountains. It is drained by the Rutshuru River and contains several islands. Both the forests and lake provide a home to hundreds of species of wildlife, including the elusive mountain gorilla. You may also find golden monkeys and several types of birds, including cranes, ibis, weaver birds, and kingfishers. Those with a keen eye may also see chameleons, monitors, and a variety of frogs.
Ssese Islands—The Ssese Islands are an archipelago within Lake Victoria. Located on the northwest corner of the lake, these islands are home to the Bantu people and serves as a spiritual site for locals. Around half of the archipelago is inhabited by humans, and fishing Nile perch and tourism are their main industries. If you visit, you should expect to see monkeys. However, this is primarily a place for relaxing and having a “proper” vacation.
Stand at the Equator—Standing at the equator is something everyone should experience. One of the most famous landmarks in Uganda, this mark represents the part of the Earth that receives the most sunlight. The main landmark is around 70km away from Kampala, heading southwest. However, other markers exist within Queen Elizabeth National Park.
A Note about Guides–For nearly all of these places, if not all, you MUST hire a guide. It is part of the culture and the experience. Certainly, you could do things cheaper without a guide and if things were different, but they aren’t and this is just the way it is. Like you can’t pump your own gas in New Jersey. If you do these a la carte, then often you will need separate guides.
A Note on Safari Outfitters–I do not want to get in the habit of endorsing one company over the other. In my time I worked with a lot of them and know many of the owners, guides, and outfitters very well and we are still in touch. Know that everyone is reputable these days. You aren’t going to get ripped off or show up and no one is there. Some safaris are super luxurious and some are more rugged. Sometimes those experiences cost the same. Sometimes they are wildly different. So I don’t want to get in the practice of recommending outfitters to people and groups without knowing all the details, and frankly, I’m a bit over all of the details.
For some help, Travel & Leisure and their opinions are pretty well respected in the travel circles. I would recommend anyone on this list as a trustworthy and accommodating outfitter. And for some direct opinions, I’m not surprised that Rothschild Safaris is still in the Top 5 after being ranked first in previous years. I’ve known Leora for years and she has run this company since 1998. The just go to the next level to make sure they have used and approve of every game drive, camp, tour, or hotel they set up for you. They get high marks from me. Same with Micato and Zicasso.