Watch Our Guide to Uganda
Guide to the Regions of Uganda
Introduction to Uganda
Uganda is a relatively small country. A lot of the action is focused in the southwest as the gorillas and chimpanzees are found in this pocket of the country. Bwindi Impenetrable is the primary destination for gorilla trekking (although Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is another option), and Kibale Forest is the best place to go for the chimpanzees. Most trips will combine these primate safaris with a visit to the nearby Queen Elizabeth National Park or Lake Mburo National Park. These parks offer more 'typical' safari experiences including big cats, large game, and lots of bird life.
The Rwenzori Mountains, renowned for their exceptional climbing routes to snow-capped peaks, are also found in this region. Lakes Mutanda and Bunyonyi are idyllic retreats in the southwest right next to Bwindi and Mgahinga.
Fort Portal is the largest town in the southwest and the springboard into national parks and reserves of the southwest - it is also a useful landmark for differentiating 'the southwest' from wider Uganda.
Not all of Uganda's attractions are found in the southwestern corner of the country. Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda's most popular safari destinations and is reached by road from Fort Portal in about 8 hours, or by light aircraft in 80 minutes. In the northernmost tip of Uganda is the Kidepo Valley, a unique and secluded national park home to the Ik people who will welcome you with open arms. The lakeside town of Jinja is a great place for outdoor activities including white-water rafting, kayaking, and canoeing.
Popular Destinations in Uganda
Contents of our Guide
The simplest way to understand what's on offer in Uganda is to break the country up into its core experiences and destinations.
Uganda can be broken up into 5 core experiences:
Our aim is to help travellers explore much more of Uganda’s attractions than the mountain gorillas for which it is so rightly famous. We want people to consider the whole picture, to stab a finger at the furthest corner of the map and ask - what can I do there?
1. Gorilla trekking in the southwest
There are two main gorilla trekking destinations in Uganda: Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
The most popular choice is Bwindi as the park contains a greater population of Gorillas and is better situated for fly-in safaris. The park you visit will depend on your wider travel plans and the time you have available. There is no difference in permit prices or chances of sightings across the two parks.
The gorillas can be visited at any time of year. Uganda equatorial climate means temperatures remain quite consistent year-round. Rainfall is all that separates the seasons, with March to May is the long rainy season, and October to November is the short rainy season.
Gorilla permits are currently fixed at 600 USD per person. The price will be increasing to 700 USD per person as of 1st July 2020.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
The main gorilla trekking destination, habituated families can be accessed from four trail heads: Buhoma, Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Each trail head has its own characteristics, families and levels of difficulty.
Departing from one of the four trailheads on the perimeters of the Forest, you join a group of a maximum of eight other visitors for a guided trek into the forest in search of one of 11 habituated gorilla families.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Close to the border with Rwanda, Mgahinga is popular option for cross-over itineraries with Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park. Mgahinga is more secluded than Bwindi and the treks are not as challenging.
There are fewer permits available here. Although Gorilla families constantly cross the border from Rwanda to Uganda, there is only one family habituated to make contact in Mgahinga. Called the Nyakagazi group, it has five silverbacks, two adult females and three young gorillas.
2. Chimpanzee trekking in the southwest
By no means a support act to the gorillas, Uganda’s chimps are a draw in their own right. Occupying different habitats to the gorillas and living within distinct social structures, the chimps are close to us - not just in terms of DNA. They have a dark side that enthralls just as much as their more charming characteristics.
Kibale Forest National Park is the primary destination for tracking the chimps, and the chances of successful contact are the highest here, but so are the visitor numbers. Kibale Forest is easily accessible from Kampala or other parks in the southwest via a short drive and operates treks twice a day. In addition to the standard trek with its hour contact with the animals, longer habituation treks are also available.
It is also possible to find chimps in Kyambura Gorge, Semliki Wildlife Reserve, and Budongo Forest Reserve.
Kibale Forest National Park
The chimpanzees have made Kibale one of Uganda’s most famous wildlife destinations. You can join a small group and follow a Uganda Wildlife Authority Ranger into the forest on the trail of the chimpanzees, beginning to understand their environment as you walk.
When contact is made, you stand quietly, slightly unbelieving, and have up to one hour to observe our closest relatives in the animal kingdom from a distance of just a few metres.
3. Safaris in the southwest
Uganda’s savannah safari destinations are beautiful, immensely valuable, and extraordinary wildlife encounters that complement a forest adventure or mountain hike perfectly. Each wilderness area is distinctly different and will bring a unique experience to an itinerary.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda's most visited park and is often paired with gorilla trekking in Bwindi and/or chimp trekking in Kibale forest. The park is famous for its big cats - nowhere else in Uganda will you find tree-climbing lions alongside 2500 elephants, 5000 hippo and 10,000 buffalo.
Lake Mburo breaks up the journey to and from Bwindi and has amazing views and diverse wildlife. It is the perfect place to relax as well as explore.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP) is Ugandas most visited national park and is often paired with Gorilla trekking in Bwindi and/or Chimp trekking in Kibale Forest. The park is famous for its big cats, including tree-climbing lions and leopards. Game drives in will reveal the parks range of big game including elephants, buffalos, antelopes and warthogs.
Boat safaris take you across the Kazinga Channel that links Lakes Edward and George. Here you'll find buffalo and elephant coming down to the shore, pelicans rafting together in the sunshine, and plenty of hippos.
Lake Mburo National Park
Often dropped into an itinerary to break the journey from Bwindi, time and time again the natural beauty and swiftly improving wildlife of Mburo proves to be a wonderful trip highlight.
The landscapes and wildlife can be explored in game drives, by boat, on horseback and by mountain bike in the continuous ranchlands outside of the Park. These options make Mburo a very modern safari destination, attractive to visitors with a wide variety of interests.
Uganda’s first protected area, the Semliki Valley lies on the border with the DRC, south of Lake Albert, below the Kijura Escarpment and the northern foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. It is a wonderfully remote introduction to the habitats of central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
The forests of the National Park are the eastern-most extension of the Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin and is the only true lowland tropical forest in East Africa.
4. Safaris outside the southwestern pocket
There are a handful of wonderful national parks to the north and east of Fort Portal: Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley, and Mount Elgon.
Murchison Falls is one of Uganda's most popular national park. It's a region of epic landscapes, excellent bio-diversity and a staggering range of habitats. Murchison’s signature experience is the boat cruise upriver from Paraa Lodge to the Murchison Falls that give the park its name. Best enjoyed in the afternoon when the western sun illuminates the spray.
Located in the distant north east of Uganda, close by the borders of South Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley is an enthralling place of semi-arid savanna, seasonal rivers and low mountains. It is beautiful - and accessible - at any time of year.
Mount Elgon is found along the eastern border with Kenya. It is most famous for the Sipi Falls - a series of three waterfalls throughout the park - and is a fantastic hiking destination.
Murchison Falls National Park
The natural spectacle of the Murchison Falls gives the park its name and draws visitors to this beautiful part of northern Uganda. But what makes them stay, often drawing them back repeatedly is the epic landscape, enthralling range of habitats and excellent biodiversity. As ever with Uganda, there is much more to discover than initially meets the eye.
Although most visitors spend just two or three nights in Murchison, it is possible to stay for much longer and still leave wanting more.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo is Uganda’s most isolated national park. Cut off for years by conflict of varying forms, it has only recently become accessible by both road and air. Currently, there are only two lodges and a government rest camp available. These two factors, along with relatively high cost of reaching the park, have combined to keep visitor numbers low. But those who do make it are in for a treat, with enjoyment only amplified by the fact you are far from the beaten path.
Of the 77 mammal species present, lion, leopard, spotted hyena, buffalo and elephant are regularly seen; whilst clack-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, cheetah and caracal are found nowhere else in Uganda.
5. Rwenzori Mountains
If you were given the chance to trek through lush jungle, driven on by the thought of snow capped peaks; to pick your way through a lunar landscape coloured by plants seemingly taken from a child’s imagination; or ice climb to see the curvature of the earth as it meets the heart of Africa - would you take it?
The Rwenzori Mountains are one of the most exciting and challenging mountain ranges to trek and climb in the world.
The height of the peaks may not match taller mountains elsewhere in the world, the highest point, Mt Stanley’s Margherita Peak is 5,109 metres, but their remote location, fluctuating weather conditions, startlingly diverse vegetation, and low visitor numbers combine to thrill adventurous trekkers looking for a very special experience.