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Uganda Parks & Reserves
From closed canopy mountain rainforest to classic East African open savannah and from huge lakes and wetlands to semi-desert habitats, Uganda’s diverse habitats make for a fantastically varied range of national parks, reserves and conservancies with an array of wildlife to match. Which other African countries can boast gorillas, chimps, elephants, lions and hippos?
Not all parks are easily accessible and some of Uganda’s parks are far better developed than others in terms of infrastructure and conservation programmes - but with good reason. These prioritised parks are fast on track to regaining their former glory as some of Africa’s most wildlife-prolific and exciting conservation areas.
Think Bwindi, think gorillas. The alarmingly named Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a genuine slice of mountain rainforest - tangled, damp, muddy on the one hand, but alive with birds and butterflies on the other. And of course it’s one of Africa’s best places to go gorilla trekking - visitors have a 90% chance of seeing mountain gorillas on an organised trek in Bwindi.
Apart from gorilla tracking, there are a number of other hikes and trails within the park, all accompanied by an experienced guide. It’s a great way to fill time while you wait for your prearranged date with a gorilla and to learn about the other animals, birds, butterflies, trees and plants.
Uganda’s other gorilla trekking destination is a small pocket of pristine mountain rainforest on the northern flanks of the Virunga Volcano Mountains. Gorillas roam into Mgahinga from neighbouring Rwanda but don’t live permanently in the park.
Remember that as a rainforest, the park is always wet and the going is tough: muddy, slippery paths and near constant dampness and humidity. On the plus side, besides the gorillas there is a good range of birds, butterflies and small forest mammals to keep an eye out for..
Fast developing a reputation amongst ‘those who know’, Kibale Forest National Park is one of Africa’s best places to track chimpanzees - and more. The beautiful and surprisingly accessible forest setting is home to East Africa’s greatest variety and concentration of primates as well as a huge range of birds and small forest mammals.
Chimpanzee tracking lasts 2 - 4 hours and is restricted to four groups of four people twice a day. If you are fortunate enough to find them, keeping up with them can be quite a challenge once they decide to move on at high speed through the branches.
If you’ve got half a day to spare in Kampala then you could do worse than head out to Ngamba Island on Lake Victoria. Besides kayaking and bird watching, visitors to this forested 50 hectare island are in for a treat: Ngamba is home to a chimpanzee sanctuary and apart from the sterling conservation work done there, provides an opportunity to interact with our closest related cousins.
After a briefing on chimpanzee etiquette, three people at a time can go on an hour’s stroll through the forest with some of the partially habituated chimps, closely supervised by a keeper. Remember you need an up-to-date vaccination certificate to get this close to the chimps - ask your travel consultant for more details.
Uganda’s largest park is the country’s best ‘all-rounder’ park: great swathes of wooded savannah and grassland lie on either side of the Victoria Nile and wildlife is prolific. Visitors can enjoy both game drives and river cruises, and with the thundering Murchison Falls providing a unique spectacle, you’ll not want to miss out on the latter.
The best way to see the falls is from the river - a three-hour boat trip departs from park headquarters at Paraa going upstream to the foot of the falls. The game viewing from the river is superb, and the boat is steered from shore to shore through hippo pods and past sandbanks where huge and contented crocodiles bask in the sun.
Uganda’s flagship national park is home to the country’s largest populations of classic African mammals and is considered one of the world’s best bird watching destinations (600+ species!). Other highlights here include chimpanzees, tree-climbing lions and boat cruises on the Kazinga Channel.
Astonishingly, QENP has 610 of Uganda’s 1 000+ species of birds - that’s over a quarter of Africa’s bird species and more than any other park in Africa. Have your binoculars handy.
The ‘Mountains of the Moon’ run along the DRC border and comprise a range of extremely rugged and isolated peaks, often snow-capped, and provide some of Africa’s most challenging but fascinating hiking and climbing. Habitats are determined by altitude and conspire to produce a great range of vegetation and wildlife.