5 of Uganda’s most magnificent national parks

5 of Uganda’s most magnificent national parks

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SOURCE: | By Emma Gregg May 03, 2024

Few African nations can match Uganda in terms of the wide variety of parks and reserves to explore. From action-packed 4WD safari adventures to breathtaking mountain hikes, these five national parks offer memorable experiences to set your heart racing.

In Uganda’s national parks, there’s an adventure at every turn. This supremely fertile and biodiverse equatorial nation may be famous for its great apes, but it’s also a prime destination for those looking to spot lions, monkeys and giraffes. Uganda is also home to over 1,000 bird species, from long-faced shoebills and delicate warblers to dazzling turacos and bush-shrikes. With tangled rainforests, steamy papyrus swamps, soaring mountains and layer upon layer of cultural heritage including three world heritage sites (two of which are national parks), this is a nation to explore in detail, one park at a time.

1. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Best for: trekking with mountain gorillas 

Some of Uganda’s most thrilling safari experiences require you to set out on foot. Hiking in Bwindi Forest National Park tops many adventurers’ wish lists, as this is one of the few locations in the world where tourists can track and encounter mountain gorillas. Alongside expert guides, visitors can navigate the steep and abundant rainforest in the hope of spending a precious hour in the company of a family of gorillas. While watching them respectfully from a distance, you can see them forage, groom and go about their daily lives.

While gorilla trekking is utterly unforgettable, it’s not the only way to explore this protected forest. Join a guided birdwatching or plant-spotting walk, and you’ll hear and see a host of fascinating species. Additionally, Batwa cultural performers, whose ancestors lived among the trees, run organised events on the forest fringes to share their rich heritage.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda can be experienced at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located in the southwestern region of the country.
Photograph by George Pachantouris, Getty Images

2. Rwenzori Mountains National Park

Best for: rare, high-altitude flora and fauna

Uganda’s spectacular Rwenzori Mountains National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994 — contains Africa’s third-highest mountain, Margherita Peak on Mount Stanley (5,109m). Ecologically, geologically and culturally, the park is hugely significant, containing the highest and most permanent sources of the River Nile and a bounty of endemic plants, including giant heathers, groundsels, lobelias and medicinal herbs.

Make no mistake, this national park is challenging to explore. But for resilient hikers and climbers, the Rwenzoris’ striking alpine scenery has masses of rugged appeal, with snowy glaciers, fast-flowing rivers, lakes and waterfalls. Birds are plentiful, and with luck, you can also spot forest elephants, L’Hoest’s monkeys and Rwenzori black-fronted duikers.

3. Kidepo Valley National Park

Best for: semi-arid savannah, giraffes and cheetahs 

Is there any creature more graceful than a giraffe in full gallop? They look as if they’re travelling in slow motion, even when they’re topping 34 miles per hour. One of the best places to see these natural athletes is Kidepo Valley National Park: its picturesque savannahs are a stronghold of the rare and endangered Rothschild’s giraffes — a subspecies of the Northern giraffe.

Kidepo is the least known of Uganda’s vast protected grasslands. Named after the seasonal Kidepo River, it’s tucked away in Uganda’s remote northern reaches, over 10 hours by road from the capital Kampala. Make an effort to visit, and you’ll be richly rewarded — in addition to giraffes, you could spot cheetahs, ostriches, bat-eared foxes, and other aridity-adapted species found nowhere else in Uganda.

Murchison Falls National Park is located in northern Uganda and is renowned for having the most powerful waterfall in the world. 
Photograph by Eric Nathan, Alamy

4. Murchison Falls National Park

Best for: the Victoria Nile, hippos and elephants 

The Nile, a river of legends, surges through Uganda with youthful vigour. One of its most spectacular cascades lies at the heart of Uganda’s largest protected area, Murchison Falls National Park. Here, water flowing between Lake Victoria and Lake Albert tumbles through a rocky gorge, just seven to ten metres wide, at around 300 cubic metres per second. For energising views, visit the Top of the Falls Viewpoint or follow the gorge’s hiking trails.

Below the falls, the banks are richly vegetated, and the waters serene. Take a leisurely afternoon boat trip along the Victoria Nile from Paraa, and you’ll see hippos, elephants, crocodiles and dozens of birds among the Borassus palms and papyrus stalks.

5. Mount Elgon National Park

Best for: budget-friendly mountain adventures

Mount Elgon National Park, Africa’s eighth-highest massif, can only be explored on foot. Located on the Ugandan-Kenyan border, it’s far quieter than other major East African mountain destinations such as Kilimanjaro, Mount Kenya and the Rwenzoris. Mount Elgon is an excellent option for hikers and climbers seeking a peaceful, good-value adventure. The three main trailheads are accessible by road, and park entrance and guiding fees are affordably priced.

Uganda is home to over 1,000 bird species. The grey-headed kingfisher is one of 400 bird species found in Murchison Falls National Park. 
Photograph by Robert Muckley, Getty Images

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