Uganda is one of the most picturesque countries in Africa and one of the most popular safari vacation destinations, earning it the nickname “The Pearl of Africa” from travelers. It features amazing scenery, abundant animals, and special safari opportunities. Since each national park in Uganda has a distinct flavor that sets it apart from the others, visiting all 10 won’t give you the same experience including the most visited national parks in uganda.
Even if some national parks are less popular than the others, they have distinctive characteristics that set them apart, so even a quick glance at one of them will change your perspective and make you want to return often. The best experiences will really come from these locations because you never know what to anticipate. For this reason, I advise planning a safari to one of Uganda’s less well-known and frequently visited national parks.
Mount Rwenzori National Park
Mt Rwenzori national park is the famed “mountains of the moon” lie in western Uganda along the Congolese border where the snow-covered equatorial peaks rise approximately 5,109m while the lower slopes are over lied in montane forest. Most of the park is only accessible to hikers although the magnificent scenery and Albertine rift valley would be ample reward for birders. Hence the park is a world-class mountaineering and hiking destination.
Mount Rwenzori stands as the third tallest mountain range in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro and MT Kenya, it also features six main peaks that are kept apart by very many deep gorges including the highest Mount Stanley, mounts Speke, Mount Baker, and others.
Mount Rwenzori Park is comprised of metamorphic rocks and the gorges that were titled upwards by the tectonic plate movements. The park is a magical destination for hikers and bird seekers worth exploring. The park has many indigenous species in the Albertine valleys and there are several intimidating species following a high diversity of tree species.
it has an estimate of 89 species of birds, 15 species of butterfly, and four primate species, and these include the forest elephant, chimpanzee, hyrax, black-and-white colobus, Lhotse monkeys, Ruwenzori duiker birds include; white starred robin, slender-billed starling, sunbirds, Rwenzori Turaco, bee-eaters, and others.
Mount Rwenzori favors the trekkers as soon as they enter the bamboo-mimulopsis zone which is a steep climb with many high steep slopes, in the wet season the bamboo area is rather muddy and slippery making the trekking slow, however, the atmosphere is beautiful as you climb 551 meters altitude and a distance of 1.8km to kalalama camp which is in Rapannea zone where you can take a rest and catch a cup of tea before you resume to the next hike
The trail meanders over small humps along the ridge top then drops down on the side of the valley before climbing again crossing several streams and passing close to the waterfalls
The park has a variety of tree species the more you climb up the more plants and flowers, the valley is unique with a mixture of enormous trees and plant species creating a beautiful atmosphere wrapped within trees like lobelia, bamboo, groundsels, and others.
A number of activities can be carried out within the park including hiking the Rwenzori Mountain which most visitors are attracted to, conducting tours around the park communities, bird watching due to different species of birds found in the park, nature walks within the mountain trails while observing wild animals and beautiful vegetation.
Rwenzori mountain offers a wide range of accommodations according to your wallet capacity, they vary from the budget, mid-range standard, and luxury service facilities providing the best services to visitors, these include, Ruboni community camp providing beautiful wooden cottages that support climate weather around the snow-capped mountain, Rwenzori international hotel, Rwenzori trekkers hotel, creature comfort lodge, Geology equator snow-lodge, Margherita hotel for luxury comfort stay, and many others.
Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is shared between Uganda and Kenya and it covers an area of 1,279 sq. km which is bisected into two parts that are Uganda and Kenya borders. The Uganda part covers 1110 sq. km and Kenya covers 169sq.km though they were gazetted differently in Uganda in 1992 and Kenya in 1968.
Mount Elgon is the largest caldera mountain in the world located in the eastern part of Uganda and it has the largest volcano base. It was once the highest mountain in the world with a height of 5,895 meters some few years back but due to high erosion on the mountain, its height has been reduced to 4,321meters.
Visiting Mount Elgon, you will drive from Kampala towards the east about 235kilometers on a good road passing through the town of Jinja to Mbale where you proceed to kapchorwa road reaching the town passing through dirt roads leading to different trailheads
Mount Elgon consists of five major peaks and that is; Sudek, Koitobos, Mubiyi, Wagagai and Masaba. On hiking this mountain, you come across moorlands that display a beautiful wilderness, it’s inhabited by the national park (Mount Elgon) and everyone would like to hike and ascent to the highest peak of the mountain called Wagagai with 4,321 meters. It is the oldest volcanic mountain in East Africa surrounded by forests including mammals and birds inhabited by it
Mount Elgon National Park can be visited at any time of the year for different activities, however, the best period to visit is during the dry seasons which occur in January, February, June, and October although the wet season is there, it cannot hinder you to enjoy hiking the trails of the mountain although it keeps on changing,
The park has a lot of activities that do happen like; bird watching about 300bird species, spot fishing at the falls, nature walk, mount climbing, biking, and more, this is where the Bagisu culture believes in male circumcision is found. The Bagisu tribe is known for performing the rituals of circumcision dancing from one place to another in the villages for a specific period of time on the day of circumcising, from there you were considered a man and free to marry a woman.
It has beautiful species like caves, and waterfalls such as sipi falls that allow you to enjoy hiking up to the highest peak. Although mount Elgon and sipi falls are major attractions this park also has a diversity of wildlife ranging from vegetation cover, animals, and birds some include; elephants, squirrels, hyenas, buffalos, Oribis duikers, and some primates like the blue monkey and white colobus monkeys can be spotted on this park.
The most attractive feature of this park is the sipi falls which is a place to enjoy the challenges of the mountain and also to relax and in unwind a peaceful cool climate. Sipi falls also offers a variety of activities including Mount Elgon expeditions, hiking, climbing, biking, and fishing on Lake Kyoga.
It covers three wide waterfalls which are located in east Uganda at the hills of Mount Elgon the home of incredible bird species as well as the largest volcanic base in the world. The three waterfalls covers75m,85m, and 100m respectively that’s why the hike gets strenuous with upgrading viewpoints of the beautiful scenery of the mountain also watch the cool breeze of the attractive moments as you watch the sunsets in the evening.
Mount Elgon national park also supports various activities and attractions besides the above including the Arabic coffee plantation that covers a wide area, cave paintings near the trails of Budadiri, and a hot spring in the volcanos.
The park has numerous accommodations within and around the park stretching from budget to luxury facilities and these include, Mbale Resort Hotel, Mount Elgon Hotel, Lacam Lodge, Kapkwai Forest Cottages, Noah’s Ark Resort, Kapwata Guest House, Roses Last Chance, Sasa River Camp, and others all deliver best and comfortable sleeping and leisure Services to visitors.
Semuliki National Park
This is the best park ever known suitable for bird watching, if you are a bird watcher and looking where to experience most of the birds in Uganda and some parts of the world just look nowhere because this is the only destination for birders that’s why it’s called “The True Birders Haven.
It is located in the western part of Uganda, in Bundibugyo district close to Fort-portal city. It was designed as a forest reserve in 1932 and later after turned into a national park in 1993 covering 220 sq. km and most of the area is covered with tropical rainforests. it is shared between two countries that are Uganda and DR Congo lying on the floor of Semuliki valleys.
Semuliki national park lies on a gentle landscape extending from 670-760 m above sea level within Albertine rift valley and Lake Albert in the north under a protected area network including Kibale national park, and mountain Rwenzori Park.
The park occupies over 435 bird species and a birder is guaranteed to view almost every bird species including the rift valley birds and Congo species, some of them include; the black dwarf hornbill, dwarf honey guide, purple-breasted sunbirds, Congo serpent eagle, Gabon woodpecker, capuchin babbler, orange weaver, white-tailed hornbill, and others.
The other attraction of the park the hot springs that bubble up from depth to show the powerful forces that have been forming the rift valley for many years, they are divided into a pair (a male hot spring called Bintente and a female one called Nyansimbi spring), people can cook their plantains on the pools that surround the spout.
Sempaya trail that allows access to Sempaya hot springs and through the forest were likely to meet with black and white colobus monkeys, and grey-cheeked mangabeys. Secondly, the red monkey trail that leads you to Semuliki River through park ridges and here there is a chance of crossing with rare debrazza monkeys and lastly, the kirumia trail which is about 13 km is suitable for bird-watchers, it crosses the forest and ends in the river.
Activities to do at Semuliki national park
The park allows different activities that can take place deep in the forest with a guided ranger through different trails that allow access to the park such as;
During your game drive on the park, you will encounter various wildlife almost 60 species of animals like the Uganda kobs, waterbucks, elephants, buffalos, and crocodiles inhabited, 8 primate species, and over 460 species of butterflies. In addition to those animals, you may spot lions, leopards, and bush babies as they also exist in this park though they are very scarce and tend to hide in the forests
Community and cultural experiences are carried out in this park, there is the Batwa tribe who lives within the park boundaries but tend to visit the forest often for food and medicine, they have a serenity performance in music, and their way of living is amazing, and their beautiful handmade crafts.
Visiting the Sempaya hot springs during the nature walks in the park. These are the famous attractions in the park that captivate visitors, during a nature walk to these hot springs, visitors encounter several species of birds including small primates in the trees. There is a tower and boardwalk constructed for visitors to observe the hot springs at a safe distance.
There is chimpanzee trekking in Semuliki national park that visitors engage in during a safari to Uganda although the activity is not common as that of Kibale national park. Chimpanzees in Semuliki Park tend to move quickly in tree branches and spotting them can be difficult and it is mostly done together with the researchers using their trails.
Semuliki National Park contains beautiful lodges and hotels suitable for accommodation for visitors that you never worry about where to spend the night, these include; Kyaninga Lodge, Rwenzori View Guesthouse, and Mountains of the moon Hotel. Accessing Semuliki national park from Kampala drive via Fort portal takes 4 hours with a stopover.
Accessing Semuliki National Park
The experience from Kampala to Fort Portal is 300 km by road. There are two routes to use from Kampala heading to the park. you can use the shorter Kampala to Fort Portal with the aid of Mubende which takes between 4 to five hours or take the longer route from Kampala via the towns of Kasese, Mbarara, and Masaka which takes about 7 to 8 hours and offers possibilities to see some of Uganda’s extremely good national parks like Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains, and Lake Mburo. Once one reaches Fort Portal town it takes about 52 kilometers to reach the park.
Kidepo National Park
The park is located in the northern part of Uganda and is the furthest protected park, tagged “the true African wilderness” due to its lonely and far from cities and urban life, still enjoys the beauty of what a true wilderness in Uganda is.
The park originated from a far distance place than the rest of the national parks for someone traveling by road spend almost the entire day on the road trip since their routes are far about 795 km, and they cover almost 10-12 hours’ drive distance.
Kidepo national park is a semi-arid region with average temperature and goes extreme during day time, this follows only one rainy season received in a year although this season may seem to be long but is inconsistent. The soil in this region is sandy that cannot hold water for so long in the ground resulting in grasslands and shrubs being vibrant during the rainy season and withering immediately in the dry season.
Following its wilderness, the park has quite a big number of wildlife including the buffalos, leopards, antelopes, elephants, and some unique ones like the cheetah which can be spotted only in this park in the whole Uganda.
The attractions of the park
Kidepo National Park has quite a number of attractions such as the Kanangorok hot spring where you can see various animal species like the ostrich, buffalos, Jackson’s hartebeest, klipspringer, and other animals its panorama landscape gives a clear view of the park’s wilderness. The Narus valley offers a wonderful nature walk, and cultural encounters with the Karamojong and the IK people are one of the best cultural encounters to experience
While in this park you will be able to view almost every wildlife species like over 77animal species including approximately 20 predators like leopards, spotted hyenas, lions, wild dogs, and other animals such as the buffalos, African elephants, giraffes, zebras, and Oribis, elands, Topis, gazelles, and other animals.
Kidepo National Park has more than 400 bird species and 50 birds of prey including the rare Ostrich bird found only in this park, Kori bustard, Little bee-eater, Red-and-yellow barbet, Dark chanting goshawk next to Queen Elizabeth national park, this makes the park to be the second place to hold the largest number of bird species. It has a number of game rangers that are professional in guiding through identifying different species of birds in their nests and identifying various characteristics of different animal species to visitors.
Activities carried out at the park
There are activities spotted that give you an amazing natural experience, the beautiful view of the sloping savannah grasslands, and a cultural walk to Karamojong homes commonly known as the “Manyattas”. The Karamojong live a nomadic pastoralist life moving from one place to another with no permanent settlements perhaps they are famous as cattle keepers who love their cattle and culture.
Cultural encounters with the nearby communities the Karamojong, nature walks through different park trails studying the environment, birding for those who enjoy watching birds, and game drives in the park’s wilderness.
Accessing kidepo national park
The easiest way to access this park is using a charter flight from either Entebbe airport or Kajjansi airstrip which can be organized by your safari operator, whereas by using road transport there is only one long route from Kampala-Gulu-Kitgum stretching through Karamojong region passing different gates.
Accommodations include; Kidepo Safari Lodge, Adele Safari Lodge, Apoka Safari Lodge, Apoka Rest Camp, and Proland Inn all ranging from budget to luxury favoring your wallet. They provide standard services according to their different amenities