Uganda is often nicknamed 'the Pearl of Africa' or ‘Africa condensed’ because it offers so much African beauty. The country is home to 10 stunning National Parks. In this blog, we'll cover the six most visited and beautiful national parks of Uganda.
Curious about the entrance fees? An overview per park is listed in our Practical Info section, here.
Need to plan your trip? Consult our Uganda Roadtrip Planner, for a clear overview of the driving times and distances between the most visited parks and towns in Uganda.
1. Queen Elizabeth | The most visited national park in Uganda
From open savannah to beautiful rain forest, dense papyrus swamps and the vastness of Lake Edward, it is no wonder that Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts one of the highest biodiversity rates of any game park in Africa.
What to see and do in Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Boat safaris on the Kazinga Channel offer great game viewing, as do game drives around Mweya and the Northern Circuit.
- Further southwest, the remote Ishasha plains are famous for their tree-climbing lions. Do note that spotting tree-climbing lions is rare, and there is no guarantee that you will encounter them in Ishaha.
- The Kyambura Gorge has habituated chimps, and the Maramamgambo Forest is home to many forest monkeys.
- Flamingos can be found in the park's dozens of crater lakes.
Where should I include a visit to Queen Elizabeth in my Uganda safari?
The national park is strategically placed between Kibale Rainforest in the north and Bwindi National Park to the southwest. Most first-time visitors to Uganda include Queen Elizabeth in their roadtrip itinerary. A logical sequence is Entebbe, Lake Mburo, Bwindi > Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Entebbe/ Kampala.
When visiting Uganda, it is recommended to spend 2 nights in Queen Elizabeth and, if you have enough time, 1 night in Ishaha.
2. Murchison Falls | Uganda's Largest National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest park in the North, a day's drive from Kampala. The park protects a large area of African Savannah intersected by the River Nile. It is named after the dramatic Murchison Falls, where the Nile River explodes violently through a narrow cleft. The park contains large herds of elephants, buffalo, giraffes and lions. It is uncertain how the game population will behave in the coming future because of oil explorations in the park. Many animals have already started migrating southwards.
What to see and do in Murchison Falls National Park
- Enjoy a boat safari from the Paraa Lodge jetty to the bottom of the Falls.
- Choose between hiking or driving to the top of the falls (only if you go with a driver, no service brings you back to your car otherwise).
- Game drives are the most rewarding in the Northern section of the park. In the southeast, Budongo Forest is home to chimps. The banks of the Nile host one of Africa’s densest hippo and crocodile populations.
How to get to Murchison Falls on your self-drive safari
When travelling from Entebbe/ Kampala to Murchison Falls, you pass the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the only place in Uganda to track rhinos.
Murchison Falls can be reached via different routes. Many people enter the Park via the southern Masindi gate, as it is the closest to Kampala (in distance), and you pass Budongo Forest, where you can go chimp trekking.
An alternative route is entering the park via the Northern gate (either Purongo or Takigate-Pakwach), passing Karuma Falls. The distance is longer, but the road is in better condition, and you enter the most exciting section of the park straightaway. When taking this route, you'll pass the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which creates a nice stopover
An off-the-beaten-track alternative is accessing via Lake Albert. Stay in Kikonko Lodge on Lake Albert. They can give you a detailed route description on how to get to Murchison Falls.
3. Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is the nearest park to Kampala, making it an ideal first stop on a roadtrip towards Lake Bunyonyi or Bwindi Forest. The landscape is covered with extensive acacia woodlands and dotted with many lakes. Lake Mburo is also the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks – but don’t let its size fool you. The park is home to nearly 350 bird species, including zebras, giraffes, impala, eland, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, leopards, hippos and hyenas.
Why visit Lake Mburo National Park on your safari in Uganda
- It is the best place in Uganda to see the giant eland antelope and hundreds of zebras.
- You can do guided nature walks or explore the park on a mountain bike.
- It's one of the few parks in Uganda where night game drives are allowed, which are great for spotting leopards.
- It's possible to do a horseback safari and get up close and personal with zebras. Organised by Mihingo Lodge.
How to get to Lake Mburo
When starting your road trip from Kampala, Lake Mburo can be reached within 5-6 hours. Good stops on the way are at the Equator (you cross from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere) where you find some cafes and Masaka town to fuel up your car, buy some refreshments or have a relaxing break at Villa Katwe.
Although Lake Mburo National Park is suitable to explore with a Toyota RAV4, some stretches towards the park entrance can get very swampy and washed away after rains. But getting stuck in the mud from time to time, is part of the adventure, isn't it?
4. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a national park located in Southwestern Uganda, bordering Rwanda and Congo. The park is 321 km2 and the closest larger towns are Kabale and Kisoro, a scruffy highland town. The name ‘Bwindi’ means Impenetrable - its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Africa’s oldest and most biologically diverse rainforests.
What to see and do in Bwindi Forest
Gorilla trekking is the main attraction at Bwindi and permits must be booked well in advance. Roadtrip Africa can assist with arranging your trekking permits. We have written a blog about gorilla and chimp trekking in Uganda, you can check it out here.
Bwindi Forest also is a fantastic birding destination. Are you into birding? Check our article on the best birding destinations in Uganda, here.
The area is also great for hikes and walks - Nkuringo Walking Safaris offers wonderful guided nature walks.
Mutanda Lake Resort also offers a great number of interesting activities, such as sailing, standup paddling on the lake, a sunset boat ride and great birding walks. There's a good chance of spotting Uganda's crested crane.
The different gorilla trekking locations in Bwindi
Bwindi protects an estimated number of 320 mountain gorillas (roughly half of the global population). Gorilla trekking is an exclusive experience and limited to only 8 people per gorilla group, per day.
5. Kibale Forest National Park
Are you a primate and chimpanzee lover? Eh, the answer is probably yes, because, who isn't right? But perhaps you also like birding and walks in lush tropical rainforests? And appreciate stays in good luxury lodges? Then a visit to Kibale Forest should be included in your Uganda travel itinerary!
What to see and do in Kibale Forest
Kibale is a tropical rainforest of 795 square km and home to 13 primate species.
Kibale’s main attraction is trekking the habituated chimps. Permits must be booked in advance. Check out this article on the costs and how to arrange your chimpanzee trekking permits.
Besides the opportunity to spot chimpanzees, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen. The forest is a beautiful lush area where monkeys, birds, forest elephants, small antelopes and butterflies roam around. It's a unique experience to walk in a rainforest and sense that you are surrounded by life.
Birders should not miss a guided nature walk through Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, a nice community development project. The activities offered at the Bigodi Visitors Centre are a great example of conservation and tourism benefiting the local community. For more information on the top bird-watching spots in Uganda, check out our article here.
A field of beautiful crater lakes lies between Fort Portal and Kibale Forest. It's good to know there are many nice and good value-for-money places to stay in and around Kibale and the Crater Lakes area, from campsites and guesthouses to luxury lodges.
Where should I include Kibale Forest in my Uganda travel itinerary?
Kibale Forest National Park is located in Western Uganda, near the pleasant town of Fort Portal. It's about a 5-6 hours' drive from Kampala. A logical next stop after your visit to Kibale is to continue your road trip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is a 2 hours drive away.
6. Kidepo Valley National Park | A remote wilderness area in Uganda
Kidepo Valley National Park is Uganda's most remote safari park and one of Africa’s last great wilderness areas. It is situated in the far northeast of Uganda, bordering South Sudan. Kidepo has much to offer and is home to 500 bird species and 77 different mammals.
While the game viewing is excellent, it is the thrilling sense of supreme isolation that many roadtrippers enjoy most. Please note that a Landcruiser is required if you want to travel to Kidepo National Park on your roadtrip in Uganda.
How to get to Kidepo Valley
Kidepo is too far out to visit as a single destination and is best combined as part of the Grand Circuit or the Wild North East. There are two main routes to Kidepo Valley: Gulu (the west) and Moroto (the east).
The western route is best combined with a first stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and a visit to Murchison Falls National Park. From Murchison, Kidepo could be reached in one, long travel day. But we recommend breaking up the long travel day by either spending the night in the village of Gulu or Kitgum. These are also the last places to stock up on food, drinks, airtime and fuel. The drive from Kitgum to Katurum gate via Orom is 140 km and takes around 3,5 hours.
The eastern route is best combined with a first stop in Jinja, followed by the Sipi Falls and then continuing northeast through the land of the Karamajong. You pass the villages of Moroto, Kotido and Kaabong, where you visit a traditional manyatta, learn about the pastoral culture, and climb the spiritual Mount Moroto.
We hope you find this article about the National Parks in Uganda useful and that it sparked your interest to hit the road and explore this beautiful country yourself. Are you ready to design your own Uganda adventure? Get in touch with our team at Roadtrip Africa for rental cars, itineraries and travel advice!