Uganda has earned a tourism reputation as the “Pearl of Africa.” When planning to travel to Uganda for safari, expect to choose from ten national parks and a dazzling array of landscapes, which range from dry savannas, and snowcapped mountains to dense rainforests harboring endangered primates. Visitors on safari can observe lions prowling the grasslands one day, trekking the mountain gorillas, and in between go white-water rafting down the Nile. Ugandans are also famously friendly, and English is widely spoken. This incredible travel guide will show you how to plan your first safari trip to Uganda.
The Ultimate Uganda Travel Guide
Somewhere in his book, My Africa journey, Winston Churchill describes Uganda as “The Pearl.” Mainstream has taken it a notch higher to call Uganda the “Pearl of Africa,” which accurately represents the name. Using this travel guide, you can book your journey to Uganda and find the pearl yourself.
The Equator strands across its plains, dividing the country into two climates with the colder south and dryer air as you head further into the northern areas. Immediately after the equator, the southwest raises into rugged highlands blanketed with massive patches of rainforest reserves. Within its rainforest reserves are some of the most precious wildlife jewels on the planet, the mountain gorillas, which attract a healthy flow of tourists into the country.
In the center of two rift valley arms, the geographical position of Uganda and the equator combine to control the weather and create a landscape that has none like it in the world. It is Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like a continent’s vital and refined essence.
The Pearl of Africa’s nature views are extensive. Everything that you see makes for greatness and freedom, and unequaled nobility. When in the highlands, travelers wake up in the morning and think: Here I am, where I ought to be. When you breathe in, you are struck by the feeling of having lived in the air for a time.
Uganda Travel Highlights
Uganda is an incredibly unique travel destination: you shouldn’t compare the travel experiences in Uganda to the popular Africa safari destinations. Its uniqueness attracts many first-safari travelers along with these outstanding highlights.
- Coming face-to-face with four hundred pounds of a silverback mountain gorilla in the impenetrable jungle and on the bamboo-clumped slopes of the Virunga mountains.
- Following a narrow rainforest trail awkwardly with the heart-throbbing pant-hoot chorusing of chimpanzees
- Cruising the Kazinga Channel in the shadow of the Ruwenzori mountains while elephants drink from the nearby shore
- Watching a prehistoric shoebill swoop down on a lungfish in the brooding reed-beds of Mabamba Swamp.
- The roaring, spraying sensory overload standing on the tall rocks above Murchison Falls or rafting grade-five rapids on the Nile.
- Walking through native remote villages, speaking one of the 52 native languages, moments with a most generous population, and experiencing evocative traditions.
Top Uganda Travel Experiences
Trekking mountain gorillas
Climb through a 25,000-year-old rainforest via misty tea plantations to encounter the world’s largest living primates on their own turf. Their sheer size and beguiling humanlike interactions will leave you spellbound. Uganda has the largest mountain gorilla population and is cheaper than Rwanda. Primate-lovers can also trek chimpanzees and golden monkeys.
Walking with wild chimpanzees
Trekking chimpanzees through the tall, tangled scrubs and primeval trees that carpet western Uganda’s rainforest in the most dramatic jungle encounters on the African continent. With over 20 primate species and the highest density worldwide, Uganda promises exceptionally thrilling primate adventures than any other destination worldwide.
Guided Nature Walks
Leave the confines of a safari vehicle and venture into the big game country and backcountry trails on foot for hours or days, spending nights under the starlit skies at remote lodges and camps. A guided walking safari holiday gives you the experience of traveling under your power, in a classic explorer’s way, at your own pace, opening up an opportunity to connect more meaningfully with Uganda’s natural wonders.
Culture & Community Tourism
There are ample opportunities for visitors to experience Uganda beyond the gorillas. From watching the traditional dance, visiting hidden forest tribes, learning about bee-keeping, visiting herb gardens, or taking a community cooperative coffee tour, every traveler has a cultural experience.
Guided Game Viewing Safari
Guided wild game viewing in Uganda, like any other destination in Africa, is basically driving through a savannah park in a four-by-four safari vehicle guided by an expert local guide to view wild animals. A game drive highlights any classic Africa safari taking you deep into the natural wilderness and getting you closer to the big and small animals within the protected confines of a 4×4 truck.
Viewing wildlife game from the water on a houseboat, the boat safari, is a unique experience providing a different perspective on wildlife behavior. Uganda offers incredible opportunities to enjoy watching wildlife from a boat. You two arms-length-close to animals like hippos, buffalo, antelope, giraffes, occasional lions, and many waterbird species.
Active Adventure Abounds
Thrill-seekers can’t get enough of Uganda’s kayaking the Nile waters, white water rafting the five-grade Nile rapids, hiking across the Bwindi Impenetrable forest via the oldest trails in the country, climbing the scenic Rwenzori mountains summits and the volcanic mountains in the southwest.
Birding in Uganda puts any birdwatching enthusiast in the center of an excessive number of bird species, making Uganda a fabulous destination for keen bird-watchers and wildlife enthusiasts. The Pearl of Africa is home to more than 1,030 bird species. That’s 49% of Africa’s total bird population!
BFrom hiking the most challenging Rwenzori Mountain summits to the stunning peak chain of the Virungas, mountaineering in Uganda promises climbing alpine wonderlands and trekking adventures in places where vegetation morphs into cloud-covered peaks.
What is the cost of safari in Uganda?
|Vacation Camps & Lodges||under $150||$150 – $400||over $400|
|Restaurants (per meal)||under $15||$15 – $30||over $30|
|Safari Vehicle (per day)||under $100||$100 – $250||over $250|
|Local Guide (per day)||under $50||$50 – $150||over $150|
Most Uganda safaris refer to an all-inclusive (full-board) per person rate, including taxes, and assuming double occupancy. A few lodges operate on a half-board rate, and rare ones offer bed & breakfast except city hotels.
Tailored Uganda Safari Packages
Trekking Uganda’s Mountain Gorillas
In the southwestern corner of the Pearl of Africa are the Virunga mountains and the rugged rift valley slopes where half of the last remaining mountain gorillas repopulate. One can trek and, within meters, spend at least an hour with the great apes of the misty mountain. Gorilla trekking is arguably the most stimulating wild animal encounter Uganda travel and tourism have to offer — though tracking chimps in the Kibale Forest may trample the gorilla experience for some tourists. Your first safari to Uganda should definitely include wading in the steep impenetrable jungles of the mountainous southwestern region.
Things to do, see, and places you must visit
The rugged rift valley region and the Virunga slopes in Uganda’s southwestern corner are where more than half of the last mountain gorillas repopulate. One can trek and, within meters, spend at least an hour with the majestic silverbacks and their primitive family structures. Gorilla trekking is understatedly the most electrifying intrepid experience in Africa. It is the biggest selling item on Uganda travel packages — though tracking chimps in the Kibale Forest trample the gorilla experience for some tourists.
During safari game drives and lunch trips in Uganda‘s premier savanna parks, one can be almost certain of encountering lions, giraffes, leopards, elephants, buffaloes, and many savannah dwellers. The big five are present.
Four of Africa’s highest peaks stick out the Ruwenzori Mountains, Mount Elgon in the East, and the Virunga Volcanoes sandwiched at the southwestern frontier, making for heavenly hiking for mountaineering buffs. Many trekkers travel to Uganda just to hike up there and explore the bizarre montane vegetation without the goal-oriented approach associated with Mount Kenya or Kilimanjaro’s ascents.
And there is Bujagali Falls on the Nile River, which — with its white-water rafting, kayaking, and bungee jump — is revered as East Africa’s ‘Adrenalin capital.’ The Pearl of Africa’s natural attractions far exceeds the trek to see mountain gorillas and the ‘BIG 5’ game drives that are a safari craze.
Travel to Uganda for your first safari if you want privacy away from the Serengeti crowd, out of the 4×4 truck and under your feet, watching wild primates and colorful birds and spending healing hours in gorgeous landscapes with vast shades of green.
Uganda is the greenest, fertile, and overwhelmingly tropical of all of Africa’s reasonably established safari destinations! The Pearl of Africa is where the eastern savanna meets the west African jungle — and it does offer visitors the best of both these fantastic worlds.
In no other African destination can one see a comparable variety of primates with so little effort — not just the great apes, but also more than ten monkey species, as well as the tiny, wide-eyed bushbaby and peculiar potto. If Uganda has primate enthusiasts wandering around with ear-to-ear grins, it will have birdwatchers doing cartwheels.
Yet, Uganda is the smallest of the four African counties in which specialists have recorded more than 1,000 bird species. It is particularly rich in western rainforest specialists — in practical terms, undoubtedly the finest birdwatching destination in Africa.
And yet, after well representing its position as the Pearl, Uganda does feel like a more intimate, unspoiled, and low-key destination than its safari peers.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest
Home of the mountain gorilla
Regarded as one of Africa’s most biologically diverse and oldest forests, dating as far back as the Pleistocene era (2.5 million years), Bwindi Impenetrable is an untamed rainforest spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys that form a protective habitat for the mountain gorillas. Until 500 years ago, the national park was part of a much larger forest stretching south to the slopes of the Virunga Mountains but later separated due to human settlement.
With half of the world’s gorilla population, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is by far the best place to see mountain gorillas in the wild. With a gorilla permit at USD 700 per person per visit, gorilla trekking in Bwindi is worth the money that any other gorilla destination.
Also, Bwindi is the only place where visitors can spend more time with the gorillas (4 hours) on a gorilla habituation experience. Other experiences in Bwindi worth checking out are birding, nature hiking, forest tribal cultures, and community visits.
Kibale National Park
Chimpanzee tracking, primates & nature hikes
Kibale Forest and the nearby crater lakes are a nature lover’s dream destination. Kibale National Park is blessed with a beautiful combination of incredible scenery, and a remarkable variety of activities to engage your lazy vacation in the Pearl of Africa, a great range of accommodation choices and it is the easiest to access of all Uganda parks. The scenic appeal of Kibale remains an alluring diamond to nature lovers that hope to catch a view of some of its wide range of forest birds, hike the backcountry trails, track chimpanzees and view a wide range of other primates within the emerald forest canopies.
Although an impressive number of large mammals are roaming its forest floor (e.g., lion, elephant, buffalo, hippo, etc.) Kibale remains the best place for primate viewing in Africa. Half-day chimpanzee tracking excursions in Kibale cost USD 200 per person, per trek. You can also join the experts on a full-day chimpanzee habituation experience for a permit of USD 250 per person.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Family Game Drives & Boat Safari
Queen Elizabeth National Park is the best park in Uganda for a family safari and big game viewing, boasting the highest number of mammals and reptiles bird species in the Pearl of Africa. 95 Mammal species, including ten primates, live in the park. A boat safari on the Kazinga channel will bring you the closest you can get to the big game with countless animals and birds by the channel’s shores. Kasenyi Plains in the north of the park claims to have the largest lion population in the country.
The park is en route to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (480 kilometers southwest), a great addition to the gorilla experience down south. It is also a great safari destination combined with chimpanzee tracking in Kibale. On its own, the park is the best destination in Uganda for big game viewing in the park’s northern and southern circuits.
Lake Mburo National Park
Low-key game drives, vacation hideaway
You know how insanely tiring the route to gorilla highlands in southwestern Uganda can be. Then you must want to break the journey equally between Entebbe International Airport and Bwindi with a boat cruise safari at Lake Mburo and a quintessential night in Uganda’s tiniest national park.
Lake Mburo National Park, located about 240 kilometers from Uganda’s capital, is the smallest of Uganda’s 10 National Parks, one of the only three with Bachelle’s Zebra, and the only one with that hosts impala slender mongoose and giant bush rats.
This underrated gem is dominated by five lakes (Lake Mburo is the largest), wetlands, an undulating landscape, open savannah, and acacia woodland exploring before or after your southwestern Uganda safari adventure.
Big Five Game, Boat Safaris & Landscape Viewing
Away from the hooves, canines, and claws, Murchison Falls National Park is home to the most powerful waterfall in the world. The park is located in the northwestern region, a bit far from the popular western safari circuit but worth the addition to a Uganda safari.
Within this magnificent gem’s boundaries are the savannah animals, some small and some of the best savannah scenes on the African continent. Most popular is the boat ride on the Nile that showcases a plethora of animal species on the Nile river banks.
The park supports four of the Big Five; only rhinos are absent. Buffalo, lion, antelope, and elephant are particularly common on safari game drives. The Victoria Nile teems with dense crocodiles and hippo populations.
Big Game Safari, Culture
Kidepo Valley National Park, a classic Africa wilderness, is Uganda’s remotest safari destination, sitting in the extreme northeastern corner, contingent with Kidepo Game Reserve in South Sudan.
The one thousand two hundred square kilometers attraction is covered in intriguing semi-arid wilderness, rugged mountain landscapes with seasonal rivers creating an enchanting sanctuary for exceptional safari game viewing and birdwatching.
Historically, it was a bit complicated for safaris to access Kidepo Valley. The park is too remote that most travel planners don’t even consider including it on Uganda safari packages. Now, it’s increasingly becoming a top Uganda safari destination due to the newly paved access roads, local airport, and great accommodation options.
Uganda Travel Essentials
Uganda is still a low-key travel destination with literally no tourist crowds. Group tours seldom exceed six in number, and even the most popular wildlife game-viewing circuits retain a relatively unconstrained atmosphere. The pearl’s plethora of forested and game reserves remain highly accessible to independent travelers and relatively affordable to those on a limited budget, such as off-the-beaten-track gems, the Ssese Islands, Katonga Wildlife Reserve, Sipi Falls, and Kasenda Crater Lakes.
Uganda travel enjoys one of the healthiest reputations of any African country regarding crime directed at tourists. The level of day-to-day hassle faced by independent travelers is negligible. And Ugandans as a whole — both those working within the tourist industry and the ordinary man or woman on the street — genuinely come across as the warmest, friendly, and most relaxed hosts imaginable.
Phone & Internet Connection
Entebbe, Kampala, large towns, and tourist areas are covered by numerous phone networks, although signals may be on and off. Local SIM cards are cheap, and international calling bundles make calling home easy. Ideally, have your mobile phone unlocked before you arrive. Phone unlocking is possible in Kampala but may delay your safari. Wi-Fi, of variable quality, is available free in almost all lodges in the countryside.
Health & Vaccines
Visitors to Uganda must present proof of yellow fever vaccination and Covid-19 PCR test certificate done not more than 72 hours upon arrival at the airport. MoH recommends Hepatitis A and B vaccinations. Adventurous eaters and travelers to rural areas should also consider the typhoid vaccine. Malaria is a risk in Uganda, so consult with your doctor on antimalarial tablet options. At the very least, sleep under a mosquito net at night and wear insect repellent during the day. Drink bottled or filtered water.
Security & Traditions
Uganda is a very secure destination for tourists. Although petty theft and muggings do occur, don’t wander around alone at night, particularly in urban areas. Ugandans are generally tolerant people, but most hold traditional beliefs, so Ugandan frown upon public displays of affection (even between a man and a woman). LGBTQ+ travelers can easily travel through the country without instance if they keep their desire to demand their rights bagged during their vacation: Ugandans don’t police for sexuality.
Uganda’s shilling (UGX) has an exchange rate of Ush3,500 to US$1. Although larger hotels and tour companies may accept U.S. dollars and credit cards, expect to pay in shillings at local shops and restaurants. You can withdraw local currency at ATMs, in large towns, or exchange your U.S. dollars at the airport, foreign exchange branch (known locally as forex), and local banks. US$50 and US$100 bills fetch better exchange rates. Bills printed before 2006 may not be accepted. Later bills get better exchange rates.
A single-entry, three-month tourist visa costs US$50. All visa applications should be made via the Uganda immigration online system at visas.immigration.go.ug. You’ll need a completed application form, two passport-size photos, and the correct visa fee two months before travel. You can no longer secure at Entebbe International Airport. Your passport must be valid for six months from the intended travel date and contain at least one blank page.
Best Time To Go
Uganda sits squarely on the equator with an average altitude of around 1,000m, which tempers the heat and means this is a year-round destination. March-May and Oct-Nov see the highest rainfall, but gorillas are still lurking in the mist – although trekking to find them will be slippery and slower. However, accommodation and even gorilla permits can be much cheaper at this time. The best time to visit Uganda is June-Sep, the peak season – but Uganda remains happily oblivious to mass tourism, and you won’t need to worry about crowds.
Uganda Travel Q&As for planning your first trip
Uganda is a very safe country to travel to, but like most destinations, opportunistic crimes such as petty theft, credit card fraud, and home robbery do occur. Chances of being a victim are rare, and incidences would most probably be in crowded cities like Kampala. When in public places, please be vigilant and cautious by avoiding drawing too much attention to yourself and being less susceptible to pick-pockets.
Covid-19 is still a threat in Uganda, so be cautious in crowded places. Uganda is open for travel with relaxed COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Most importantly, it’s compulsory for all incoming travelers who are not fully vaccinated to carry a Negative PCR Test certificate with samples taken 72 hours before your flight. If you received your vaccine jabs, you won’t need to take the test.
There are no mandatory tests but there is random scanning at all entry points for temperature spikes, coughing or sneezing.
Before you travel to Uganda on safari holiday, make sure all your routine vaccinations are up to date. The risk of malaria is low in the higher altitudes (like Bwindi) but high in lower altitudes especially near Lake Victoria. It is higher if you are going into rural areas and villages outside the parks and reserves. Check with your travel doctor if you need vaccinations, and be sure to get them timeously.
A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required for travelers aged one year or over arriving from countries with risk of yellow fever transmission. WHO vaccination recommendation: yes
Malaria risk due predominantly to P. falciparum exists throughout the year in all parts of the country except the high altitudes where mountain gorillas live.
Entebbe Airport (IATA: EBB, ICAO: HUEN), also known as Entebbe International Airport, is the largest airport in Uganda. It is Uganda’s main international airport and serves the area of Entebbe. Entebbe Airport has non-stop passenger flights scheduled to 27 destinations in 15 countries. At present, there are 5 domestic flights from Entebbe.
There are no direct flights to Uganda from the United States, Canada, Southern America, Central America, the Caribbean, Southern Asia, China, Japan, Eastern Asia, South-Eastern Asia, Central Asia, or Oceania. The only intercontinental flights operating from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) are between Entebbe and Europe and between Entebbe and the Middle-East.
But there are connecting flights from major cities across the world and the cheapest ones are Kenya Airways through Nairobi, Rwandair through Kigali, Ethiopia Airlines through Addis Ababa, South African Airways through Johannesburg.
The newly launched Uganda Airlines will be launching direct flights between Entebbe and London in November 2022 and others soon to come. For now, the national carrier operates direct regional flights.
Non-stop flights from Entebbe to Europe
- Brussels AirlinesBrussels Airlines (Star Alliance): year-round to Brussels (BRU).
- KLMKLM (SkyTeam): year-round to Amsterdam (AMS).
Non-stop flights from Entebbe to the Middle East / Western Asia
- Ugandairlines: year-round to Johannesburg (JNB)
- Ugandairlines: year-round to Dubai (DBX)
- Emirates: year-round to Dubai (DXB).
- Flydubai: year-round to Dubai (DXB).
- Qatar Airways (Oneworld): year-round to Doha (DOH).
- Turkish Airlines (Star Alliance): year-round to Istanbul (IST).
Foreigners travelling to Uganda do not have to go through the hassle of applying for visas. With US$50 and a couple of questions, you get a visa online at visas.immigration.go.ug.
Essential Uganda travel requirements for getting the visa include a passport copy, yellow fever card copy, and dynamic COVID-19 travel restrictions. Here are links to help you get started: visas.immigration.go.ug
Generally, a Uganda travel vacation is good all year round. Travelers use many factors to tell when the best time is for a safari travel to Uganda is. Basically, your available budget, which places you will be visiting, how much time you have for a vacation and the weather seasons will determine the best time to travel to Uganda.
Game viewing in Uganda’s savannah parks is best at the end of the dry seasons – February and March and September/early October – when wildlife is concentrated around water sources.
Bird watching is fantastic all year round but is at its peak between November and April when migrant species are present. Even when considered, the rainy season of April to May is a great time for a trip to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas. The views are stunning during this time and it rains mostly in the afternoon for 1 hr and not tempering with activities.
However, most travellers will avoid planning a Uganda trip during mid-March’s downpour through May and September through November, the rainy season. But we would urge you to travel during this time if you want to avoid the crowds and take advantage of off-season discounts.
Although gorilla trekking is a year-round activity, the best time for a gorilla trekking trip is during the region’s two dry seasons: January and February and June to September. There are fewer rains during the dry season, the roads are more comfortable to navigate, and you’re sure your itinerary will not be interrupted by a downpour. During this time, everyone else will be thinking of traveling to see mountain gorillas, which makes permits very scarce, accommodation is expensive, and privacy hard to secure.