Compared to its East African counterparts, Uganda is relatively good for safari. Although Uganda’s savannah parks may not match the sheer numbers of wildlife in pioneer safari destinations like Kenya and Tanzania, Uganda offers a more varied safari experience than them.
From the savannah plains to the rainforest jungles to mountain summits, a Uganda safari combines a savannah game drive with mountain climbing, birding, and primate viewing in a single trip, which no other safari destination may be able to pull off.
The first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions safari is viewing wildlife on a classic game drive. Like other safari destinations, Uganda offers relatively good game drives and also gives opportunities to view wildlife from a boat. And because it’s relatively still unknown to swarms of travelers, Uganda’s savannah parks offer a more private experience than the eastern parks.
Four of Uganda’s ten national parks offer good classic game drive experiences: Queen Elizabeth National Park, Murchison Falls, Lake Mburo, and Kideppo Valley National Park. They may not match the wildlife numbers in Masai Mara or Serengeti but indeed take a savvy and patient traveler to the heights of the natural wild.
Your best classic game drive experience on a safari in Uganda will happen at three destinations: the most famous Queen Elizabeth National Park, the extensive Murchison Falls National Park in the northeastern region, and the remotest rugged wilderness of Kidepo Valley National Park in the northeastern tip. The three destinations offer excellent wildlife viewing opportunities with smaller Lake Mburo National Park usually complimenting a safari in Queen or gorilla adventure in Bwindi.
Most safari travelers will have seeing lions on their top animals to see on safari. The most reliable park to see lions on safari in Uganda is Queen Elizabeth National Park. However, you should note that finding lions on the African savannah plains is always challenging anywhere in the world and requires a good spotting guide, luck, and perseverance. It’s not as easy as what the nature television channels depict out to be.
With that said, Queen Elizabeth National Park’s primary conservation focus is on lions, which means that lions remain among the greatest of the parklands’ most fantastic attractions. This nature reserve protects more than 250 lions, mostly found within the grassy Kasenyi Plains in the northern and southern Ishasha sectors.
Besides the typical lions that grace the park’s savannah plains, QENP has gained an outstanding global reputation for counting the biggest population of tree-climbing felines on the planet. These tree-climbing lions live in the Ishasha quadrant of the park. The sector is within the bounds of the park’s southern sector. On a typical afternoon Uganda safari ride through Ishasha, visitors can see the lions contentedly lazing in the enormous fig trees.
Head out early or on a late evening classic game drive to catch the most dramatic predator drama on the plains, especially around the Kasenyi Plains game tracks. It’s at that time predators are most active. Other times, like in any other savannah park, animals will be hard to spot after the sun rises overhead.
The savannah areas of the park also show off vast herds of buffalo and elephants, and you’ll also see an incredible number of hippo around the Kazinga channel, where UWA and other private companies conduct daily boat safari trips of about 2-4 hours per trip. A boat safari on Kazinga Channel will be your highlight of a Uganda safari in QENP.
Giant forest hog, buffalo, Uganda kob, topi, bushbuck, elephant, hippo, and crocodile are easy to spot. There are no zebra and giraffe. You can track a troop of habituated chimpanzees and nine other primate species, including the black-and-white colobus monkey in the godown Kyambura Gorge forest.
A typical safari in Uganda will join the QENP route to a Kibale Forest chimpanzee trekking expedition that heads north from the park or the exhilarating mountain gorilla trekking experience north of the park via Ishasha Sector in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Another savannah park in Uganda good for safari is Murchison Falls National Park. The park is also relatively good for lion tracking. The big cats are active very early in the morning, during the sunrise, and in the evening. If you want to see the lions roaming the open plains, both times are ideal classic safari game drive moments in Murchison.
The Paraa boat safari trip on Victoria Nile is undoubtedly the park’s most enduring and famous classic safari attraction. The launch trip that heads out twice daily (0800 and 1400) takes about three hours to the bottom of the Murchison Falls, where the Nile river squeezes through a gorge to form one of the most spectacular scene on the African continent.
On a Nile boat trip in Murchison Falls National Park, you’ll see the Crocodile lounging on the river banks, Lion, Elephant, Hippos, Hartebeest, Buffalo, Rothschild Giraffe, Oribi, and Monitor Lizards as they come to sip on the Nile waters. Biding is also spectacular along the river.
Murchison’s exciting but more placid safari experience is the boat safari trip through the extensive papyrus delta through which the Victoria Nile flows into Lake Albert. Here are also plenty of animals and birds to see with an excellent chance of seeing the prehistoric Shoebill stork.
Next to Queen Elizabeth NP, Murchison Falls NP in Uganda is good for safari. The best classic game viewing safaris occur north of the Nile in the Buligi plains. The stunning grassland wilderness is sandwiched between the Victoria and Albert-Niles.
On an early morning safari game drive in Murchison, you can spot four of the Big Five, but rhinos are absent. Huge herds of elephants and buffalo are common, and lions are pretty easily spotted. Antelope include Jackson’s hartebeest, waterbuck, and Uganda kob. Large herds of Rothschild’s giraffe are a specialty. You can track chimpanzees and several other primates in Budongo forest in the south of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
Your travel manager can easily add an all-inclusive Uganda safari in MFNP to a primate safari excursion in Kibale Forest National Park. Because it’s far-flung, it’s challenging to include on a gorilla trekking adventure in Bwindi. Still, you can connect the two destinations with a local scheduled flight or include buffer destinations like Kibale or QENP between Bwindi and Murchison.
An impressive 132 individual lions are roaming through Kidepo Valley National Park. What makes this park reasonably unique (at least as far as the lions are concerned) is that the lion population is steadily increasing here compared to Uganda’s other two primary lion safari destinations. It means that this will become a more and more critical habitat in which to witness the lions over time.
Kidepo has recently risen as a top destination in Uganda, good for safari because of the newly paved route to the park. It usually not included on most Uganda safari packages because the park is isolated in the far northwestern corner, making it challenging to combine a Kidepo trip with other varied safari destinations.
If you’re planning to stay longer in a single savannah park destination in Uganda, chose Kidepo National Park and book in at Apoka Safari Camp, Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp, or Kidepo Safari Lodge.
Among the twenty resident predator species endemic to Kideop Valley are cheetah and black-backed jackal.
On a good safari game drive in Kidepo, you may see the hunting dog, bat-eared fox, cheetah, striped hyena, caracal, aardwolf, Beisa Oryx, Lesser Kudu plus Grant’s gazelle, elephant, Orbis, Burchell’s zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, bush pigs, cape buffaloes, bohor reedbucks, warthogs, defassa waterbucks, Rothschild giraffes, bush duskier and elands, bushbucks and zebra. In addition to lions, leopards, and several small cats, a good safari guide will spot out the side-striped jackal, Kongoni, black-backed jackal, and spotted hyena.
Kidepo National park has five primate species, including the endemic Kavirondo bush baby, numerous Orbis within the Narus Valley, Guenther’s Dik Dik, the Senegal Galago, and the White-tailed Mongoose. However, they comfortably come out for a good show on a night game drive.
Kidepo also offers one of the best cultural encounters in the country to compliment your Uganda safari on the savannah plains. Hike into the Morungole Mountains within the park to engage with the enchanting Ik people. This remote community of subsistence farmers has kept to their traditional way of life, with villagers only traveling to the lowlands to trade grain.
Not far from the Ik are the interesting Karamojong pastoralists. Initially, it isn’t easy to distinguish between IK people and Karamojong due to their similar lively jump dancing, specific hut building, and unique dressing. The difference between these two tribes is that the Ik people speak the Teuso language and practice subsistence farming and are not nomadic pastoralism, like the Karamojong.
Kidepo Valley National Park is good for safari in Uganda, and you’ll only enjoy its vastness if you have 3-7 days to explore its wilderness riches.
The quality of safari game viewing along the Lake Mburo National park’s tracks is inconsistent, but, particularly during the wet season, a good safari game drive will spot substantial concentrations of impala, zebra, waterbuck, topi, and buffalo.
Lake Mburo is the only safari park in Uganda where travelers can view wild game on foot, the only one with a healthy impala population, and one of the two places to see Burchell’s zebra. Mburo’s lake and lush fringing vegetation support buffalo, warthog, bushpig, and hippopotamus.
Although Lake Mburo National Park is not highly rated for the safari experience, it’s a great buffer for the long drives to Queen Elizabeth National Park and the far southeastern Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Safari itineraries usually stop here for a night or two to relax, take a walking safari among the meager animal display.
A safari in Uganda cannot be compared to one in Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana. Those destinations have swarms of animals roaming the savannah plains and have been in safari business longer than Uganda. However, Uganda beats them in other aspects of the varied safari activities it offers.
A good safari in Uganda, of at least a week, will combine primate viewing in any of the three primate destinations (Bwindi for gorillas, Mgahinga for gorillas, & Kibale for chimps and monkeys), a classic game drive safari, and a boat safari in Queen Elizabeth or Lake Mburo. An extensive 2-weeks all-inclusive Uganda safari will add a birding experience, an adventure at the source of the Nile, and a nature hike in the stunning rainforest jungles.
A good active adventure safari in Uganda will combine climbing one of the summits on Rwenzori Mountains, Virungas, or Mount Elgon with a game drive safari, boat safari, and a gorilla trekking challenge in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The main attraction in Uganda is the primates. Any good safari in Uganda will include either gorilla trekking or chimpanzee tacking, or both experiences on an itinerary.
Uganda is good for safari because it gives a varied mix of potential priority activities compared to Kenya or Tanzania. The possibility of seeing chimpanzees and mountain gorillas combined with a savannah game viewing experience and highly sought-after birds is quite an eclectic African safari mix.
Most fulfilling is that a licensed and skillful Uganda safari operator can successfully pull off such an all-inclusive journey in about two weeks. And Uganda, unlike Kenya and Tanzania, offers a more private affair with very few tourists flooding its destinations.
Finding wild game on the African savannah plains is always challenging anywhere in the world and requires good spotting, luck, and perseverance. It’s not what the nature television channels depict out to be. A television filming crew can spend hours and days staking out for the perfect shot, and just a few of the shots make it to the final cut just to get the viewer jittery and excited. Being on the savannah plains with just a few hours on your itinerary before the next bucket list tick-off is far different from watching it on TV.
There will always be some species you’ll see well and others not at all in any single visit, so it is just about impossible to “mop up” all wanted species on your bucket list. It can be frustrating if you don’t take a more conscious approach and count on the positive side of the unique, localized, and exclusive safari experience on a single journey.
Uganda’s national parks are good for lion and leopard safari. However, if the big cats are your critical interests for an East Africa safari, Kenya and Tanzania are better destinations than Uganda.
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