Most Beautiful National Parks of Uganda
Uganda is often nicknamed 'the Pearl of Africa' or ‘Africa condensed’, because it has so much of what Africa has to offer in one country. There are 10 National Parks in Uganda. In this blog, we discuss the 6 most visited and beautiful national parks of Uganda, how to get to these parks on your self-drive adventure, and things to see and do.
The most popular national parks in Uganda are Queen Elizabeth, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Murchison Falls, Kibale Forest and Lake Mburo National Park. We added a visit to Kidepo Valley to this list. Not among the most visited parks, but truly an off the beaten track recommendation.
An overview of the entrance fees per park are listed in our Practical Info section, here.
For tips on campsites and lodges in the national parks, check our accomodation page, here.
- 1. Queen Elizabeth National Park
- 2. Murchison Falls National Park
- 3. Lake Mburo National Park
- 4. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
- 5. Kibale Forest National Park
- 6. Kidepo Valley National Park
1. Queen Elizabeth, most visited park in Uganda
From open savannah to verdant rain forest, and from dense papyrus swamps and crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, it is little wonder Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts one of the highest biodiversity rates of any game park in Africa. Ishasha, the remote southern section of the park, is famous for its tree climbing lions.
What to see and do in Queen Elizabeth
There are many activities on offer 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.
- The Kyambura Gorge has habituated chimps and the Maramamgambo Forest is home to many forest monkeys.
- Flamingos can be found in the dozens of crater lakes.
Where to include a visit to Queen Elizabeth in my travel itineary?
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 itineary. A logical sequence is Entebbe, Lake Mburo, Bwindi > Queen Elizabeth, Kibale, Entebbe/ Kampala.
It is recommended to spend 2 to 3 nights at Queen Elizabeth to enjoy the full array of the park.
2.Murchison Falls, Uganda's Largest National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest park and lies in the North, a day's drive from Kampala. It protects a large area of African Savannah intersected by the River Nile. The park is named after the dramatic Murchison Falls, where the Nile river explodes violently through a narrow cleft. The park contains large herds of elephant, buffalo, giraffe and lions. It remains to be seen though, how the game population will behave some time from now, as massive oil explorations have started in the park and animals have already started migrating southwards.
What to see and do in Murchison Falls National Park
- In the park, you can enjoy a boat safari from the Paraa Lodge jetty to the bottom of the Falls
- Choose between hiking to the top of the falls (only if you go with a driver, there is no service that brings you back to you car otherwise) or stay on the boat going back to the starting point and drive to the top of the falls.
- 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 population.
How to get to Murchison Falls on your self-drive safari
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 interesting section of the park straightaway.
An off-the-beaten track alternative is accessing via Lake Albert, one of the most scenic routes in Uganda. Stay in Kikonko Lodge on Lake Albert. They can give you a detailed route description how to get to Murchison Falls.
3.Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo is the closest national park to Kampala, so a great first stop on your safari in Uganda on your way south west to Lake Bunyonyi or Bwindi forest. Lake Mburo is also the smallest of Uganda’s savannah national parks – but don’t let its size fool you. This park is home to nearly 350 bird species as well as zebras, giraffe, impala, eland, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, leopard, hippo, hyenas, and more. Because this park is low in predators, some people often skip over it. However, this makes the park much safer for adventurous walks through the savannah.
What to see and do in Lake Mburo
Lake Mburo National Park is covered with extensive acacia woodlands and dotted with many lakes.
- It is the best places in Uganda to see the giant eland antelope as well as hundreds of zebras.
- You can enjoy guided walking safaris organised by Rwakobo Rock, Mihingo Lodge or by the park rangers.
- Its one of the few parks in Uganda were night game drives are allowed, which are great to spot leopards. We thought the boat trips are not so scenic.
- Its possible to do a horseback safari and get up close and personal with the zebra's. Organised by Mihingo Lodge.
How to get to Lake Mburo
When you start your roadtrip in Uganda from Kampala, Lake Mburo is reached in 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 cafe's and Masaka town to fuel up your car, buy some refreshments or have a relaxing break at Villa Katwe, Plot 99.
Although Lake Mburo National Park is suitable to explore with a Toyota RAV4, some stretches along the main entrance road (where Rwakobo Rock is located) 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 with Rwanda and Congo. The park is 321 km2 and the closest larger towns are Kabale, the gateway to pretty Lake Bunyonyi and Kisoro, a scruffy highland town. The name ‘Bwindi’ means Impenetrable - it's 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 here and permits must be booked well in advance through the Uganda Wildlife Authority office in Kampala. This can't be done online. You need to visit their office in person. The whole application takes a few hours. A trekking permit costs US$ 700 per person. For all road trippers that hire a 4x4 with us in Uganda, we offer the service of obtaining gorilla permits on your behalf. Contact us for more details.
Bwindi Forest 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 hiking. Nkuringo Walking Safaris offers excellent guided nature walks including dugout canoe trips on Mutanda Lake. All of the proceeds go to the local community. Also Mutanda Lake Resort 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 change of spotting Uganda's crested crane.
4 Different gorilla trekking locations in Bwindi
This park protects an estimated 320 mountain gorillas, roughly half of the global population, including 11 habituated groups which can be trekked. Going on gorilla trekking is an exclusive experience. Gorilla trekking is limited to only 8 people per gorilla group, per day.
Once a habituated gorilla family has been found by your ranger-guide, you can settle down for an hour to observe them as they feed and groom while their babies play about in the trees and bushes, all under the supervision of the great silverback male.....
Interested to see the mountain gorilla's in Uganda? Reserve a car and Roadtrip Africa is happy to assist in arranging your permits.
5.Kibale Forest National Park
Are you a primate and chimpanzee lover? Eh the answer is probably yes, as, who isn't? But perhaps you also like birding and walks in lush tropical rainforest? And appreciate a stay in a good luxury lodge? Than a visit to Kibale Forest should be included in your Uganda travel itineary!
What to see and do in Kibale Forest
Kibale is a tropical rainforest of 795 km squared and home to 13 primate species.
Kibale’s main attraction is the opportunity to trek the habituated chimps. Permits must be booked in advance through the UWA head office in Kampala. This can't be done online. You need to visit their office in person. For all road trippers that hire a 4x4 with us in Uganda, we offer the service of obtaining chimpanzee trekking permits on your behalf. Contact us for more details.
Besides the opportunity to spot chimpanzees, there is plenty of other wildlife to be seen. The forest itself 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 very nice community development project, fringing the park. Activities on offer from the Bigodi Visitors Centre is a good example of conservation and tourism benefiting the local community. Read more in our article covering the best birding destinations in Uganda, here.
A field of beautiful crater lakes lies between Fort Portal and Kibale Forest. A great places for a swim, walks, or to discover by mountain bike. 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 to luxury lodges. Check our accomodation page for the full list.
Where to include a visit to Kibale Forest in my Uganda travel itineary?
Kibale Forest National Park is located in Western Uganda, near the pleasant town of Fort Portal. It's about 5-6 hours drive from Kampala. A logical next stop after your visit to Kibale is to continue your roadtrip to Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is a 2 hours drive away.
6. Kidepo Valley National Park
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 north east, bordering South Sudan. Kidepo has much to offer, you come across rocky mountain ranges and vast savannah plains, its 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, a Landcruiser is required if you want to travel to Kidepo National Park on your road trip 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 get to Kidepo Valley:via Gulu (the west) and via 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 to break 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. From Kitgum to Katurum gate via Orom is 140 kms and takes around 3,5 hours.
The eastern route is best combined with a first stop in Jinja, followed by Sipi Falls and than continuing north east through the land of the Karamajong. You pass the villages of Moroto, Kotido and Kaabong, where you can visit a traditional manyatta, learn about the traditional pastoral culture, and climb 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. Get in touch in case you like to check car availability and start designing your own adventure.