Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Home to almost half the world’s surviving mountain gorillas, the World Heritage–listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of East Africa’s most famous national parks. Set over 331 sq km of improbably steep mountain rainforest, the park is home to an estimated 340 gorillas: undoubtedly Uganda’s biggest tourist drawcard.
As well as its famous primates, the park contains 120 other species of mammals – more than any of Uganda’s other national parks – though sightings are less common due to the dense forest. Lucky visitors might see forest elephants, 11 species of primate (including chimpanzees and L’Hoest’s monkeys), duikers, bushbucks, African golden cats, and the rare giant forest hog, as well as a host of bird and insect species.
For birdwatchers, it’s one of the most exciting destinations in the country, with over 350 species, including 23 of the 24 endemics to the Albertine Rift and several endangered species, such as the African green broadbill. With a good guide, sighting daily totals of more than 150 species are possible. On the greener side of the aisle, Bwindi harbors eight endemic plants.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
This fabulous national park is on nearly all itineraries, and while you’ll never be far from other safari groups, you’re guaranteed to see a large range of wildlife, potentially including giraffes, lions, zebras, hippos, crocodiles, buffaloes, and elephants. The famous tree-climbing lions in the remote Ishasha sector of the park are a fascinating highlight, but many people also come specifically to see some of the amazing 611 bird species that can be found here.
Besides the usual wildlife drives, the park is well worth a visit for the wonderful boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and a walk through beautiful Kyambura (Chambura) Gorge, a little Eden brimming with chimpanzees and other primates.
Murchison Falls National Park
Uganda’s largest national park is one of its very best; animals are in plentiful supply and the raging Murchison Falls, where the Victoria Nile crashes through the rock and descends dramatically towards Lake Albert, is an unforgettable sight. Despite a decimation of animal numbers during the war years, numbers have recovered well and you can expect to see elephants, Rothschild giraffes, lions, Ugandan kobs (antelope), waterbucks, buffaloes, hippos, and crocodiles, not to mention some 460 species of bird.
The legendary, mist-covered Rwenzori Mountains were named a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1994 because of both their beauty and biodiversity. It’s the tallest mountain range in Africa and several of the peaks are permanently covered by ice and glaciers. The range, which isn’t volcanic, stretches for about 110km by 50km wide and is a haven for an extraordinary number of rare plants and animals, and new examples of both are still being discovered.
Rwenzori Mountains are presumed to be the Mountains of the Moon, described in AD 350 by Ptolemy, who proclaimed them to be the source of the Nile River. The three highest peaks in the range are Margherita (5109m), Alexandria (5083m) and Albert (5087m), all on Mt Stanley, the third-highest mountain in Africa. Two mammals are endemic to the range, the Rwenzori climbing mouse and the Rwenzori red duiker, as are 19 of the 241 known bird species. There’s thick tropical rainforest on the lower slopes transitioning to the bizarre afro-alpine moorland on higher reaches.
Lake Bunyonyi (‘place of many little birds’) is undoubtedly the loveliest lake in Uganda. Its contorted shore encircles 29 islands, surrounded by steep terraced hillsides reminiscent of parts of Nepal. A magical place, especially with a morning mist rising off the placid waters, it has supplanted the Ssese Islands as the place for travelers to chill out on their way through Uganda and has a selection of gorgeously remote and bucolic places to stay on distant islands, where you’ve only the birds for company. Best of all – unlike many lakes in East Africa – Bunyoni is bilharzia, croc, and hippo free, and so its crystal-clear waters are all yours to swim in. Bliss.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Offering some of the most stunning scenery of any protected area in Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park is hidden away in a lost valley in the extreme northeast of Uganda. The rolling, short-grass savannah of the 1442-sq-km national park is ringed by mountains and cut by rocky ridges. Kidepo is most notable for harboring a number of animals found nowhere else in Uganda, including cheetahs, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves, caracals, and greater and lesser kudus.