How to Plan a Guided Game Drive in Uganda

A guided safari game drive in Uganda and 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, viewing 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 4x4 truck.

Getting Up Close to The Magnificent Wildlife on Game Drive Safaris in Uganda.

The sun barely peeks over the horizon as your sturdy 4×4 safari vehicle kicks up a cloud of dust. Your knowledgeable Ugandan guide scans the golden grasslands, searching for the first signs of wildlife. The crisp morning air carries the scent of acacia blossoms and the distant rumble of a lion’s call. Your heart quickens with anticipation as you tootle down a dirty path on a guided game drive in Uganda’s wilderness. This thrilling adventure unfolds across sweeping savannas, where a knowledgeable local guide will help you uncover hidden wonders of the wild.

From the safety of your 4×4, a game drive brings you close wild dramas of the African bush, coming face-to-face with the fearsome African lions, lumbering elephants, and the dazzling diversity of the animal kingdom.

In this guide, we’ll give you an overview of what you can expect on these wildlife drives, highlight the best parks for wildlife viewing game drives, and offer tips for making the most of your wilderness experience in the back of a safari truck.

What You Should Expect on Uganda Safari Game Drives

A Uganda game drive isn’t just about seeing animals – it’s a full sensory adventure! Expect to venture out during the best wildlife viewing times – the magical mists of sunrise, the cooler hours of late afternoon, or even the thrill of a nighttime drive. Each journey promises a unique set of surprises, tailored by both the terrain and your expert guide.

Typically, your drive will last 3-4 hours, but some may extend longer depending on wildlife activity. Don’t worry about getting restless – your safari guide will include scenic breaks where you can stretch, take in the views, and enjoy snacks or even a special bush breakfast or sunset drinks.

Your safari guide is your key to unlocking the secrets of the savanna. They’ll expertly spot camouflaged creatures, navigate the best trails, and offer a running commentary filled with animal facts and local lore. In Uganda, the focus is on quality over quantity. Fewer tourist vehicles mean more intimate wildlife encounters, whether you’re observing a pride of lions, a grazing herd of elephants, or a stealthy leopard on the hunt.

Expect to see iconic African animals, such as the tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha sector, elephants, buffalo, leopards, playful giraffes, and a mesmerizing array of antelope and birdlife.

Most game drives use closed 4×4 Land Cruisers with large windows and pop-up roofs customized for the wildlife experience. This means both protection from the elements and unobstructed views for photos that will make you the envy of everyone back home.

Early morning safari game drives - Number of guided safari game drives per day
Sunrise safari drives are more rewarding, especially viewing predators at their best games.

Number of Safari Drives to Expect per Day

Maximize your wildlife encounters with a typical Uganda safari schedule. Expect at least two game drives per day – one in the morning’s golden light and another as the afternoon heat softens. Each drive lasts around three to five hours, allowing you to immerse yourself in the rhythms of the savanna.

You won’t miss a beat! Your adventure often begins with a game drive the afternoon you arrive at your lodge. On your last park day, squeeze in another drive as you travel to your next destination. And, if your itinerary includes gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a drive through Queen Elizabeth National Park’s Ishasha sector might offer a glimpse of its famous tree-climbing lions!

A three-night stay at a safari park or lodge typically includes around six game drives. Dedicated photographers might opt for a single, extended drive (lasting 6-10 hours) with a packed picnic lunch. If you prefer a leisurely pace, request one drive per day, leaving afternoons free for relaxation, nature walks, swimming, or experiencing the local culture.

With an all-inclusive Uganda safari, your knowledgeable driver-guide is there to personalize your experience. Discuss your preferences each morning or evening to plan your daily drives.

Viewing lions is the highlight of guided safari game drives in Uganda
Viewing lions is the highlight of guided safari game drives in Uganda

Which destinations in Uganda offer good game drives?

With ten national parks to explore, Uganda offers thrilling wildlife adventures. However, four parks stand out for their exceptional game drive experiences. Queen Elizabeth National Park and Lake Mburo National Park, both in the southwest, boast classic safaris that are easily combined with gorilla trekking in Bwindi rainforest and chimpanzee treks in Kibale Forest.

If the wild northwest calls to you, Murchison Falls National Park delivers breathtaking scenery along the Nile and diverse game drives. For the ultimate immersion in untouched wilderness, venture to remote Kidepo National Park in the far northeast. This is where extended safaris of a week or more are truly rewarded.

Each park holds unique treasures. Let’s unpack what to expect on a game drive in each of Uganda’s National Parks.

1. Queen Elizabeth National Park

If your dream safari includes spotting lions, Queen Elizabeth National Park is a must! This park boasts Uganda’s highest lion population, but remember – a safari is a real-world adventure, not a nature documentary! Sightings take patience, skill, and a bit of luck. Your expert guide will be key on game drives through the lion-rich Kasenyi Plains or the central Mweya trail.

Queen Elizabeth offers a unique twist: its tree-climbing lions! Imagine the thrill of a game drive where you might see these iconic predators lounging high in the branches of giant fig trees – a sight few places on Earth can offer.

Game drives here are about more than lions. Expect encounters with elephants, buffalo, and diverse antelope like the Uganda kob. Leopards are masters of disguise, making your guide’s knowledge invaluable. Night game drives offer your best chance to find these elusive creatures.

A typical Uganda safari usually includes a few safari drives and a boat safari, with two nights in Queen Elizabeth National Park before or after the gorilla adventure in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Most gorilla tour operators offer two nights in Bwindi, two nights in Queen Elizabeth, and ending the journey with two nights in the Kibale chimpanzee jungle.

Tailored Uganda Safaris

2. Lake Mburo National Park

If chasing the Big Five isn’t your top priority, Lake Mburo National Park delivers a delightful and unique Ugandan safari experience. Game drives here reveal plentiful zebras, elands, impalas, waterbuck, and buffalo roaming its open landscapes.

Mburo is the perfect addition to a longer itinerary. Its convenient location makes it a relaxing stop on the way to the wildlife hotspots of southwestern Uganda. The park’s compact size makes for shorter, enjoyable game drives, leaving time for other adventures:

Get Closer to Nature: Experience the thrill of a guided walking safari or explore on horseback for an intimate wildlife encounter.

Sunset Magic: Lake Mburo’s sunsets are breathtaking – the perfect way to end a day of discovery.

A typical Lake Mburo visit includes a night or two to soak in the atmosphere, followed by a deeper dive into the wilder parks of Bwindi or Queen Elizabeth.

Tailor-made Uganda Safaris

Lions in Murhison Falls
Lions in Murchison Falls National Park, can easily be spotted on a safari game drive.

3. Murchison Falls National Park

Experience thrilling game drives in Uganda’s largest savanna park, a dramatic landscape carved by the mighty Nile River. Murchison Falls offers the chance to see four of Africa’s Big Five (only the rhino is in the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary).

Expect encounters with vast elephant and buffalo herds, along with the lions that prey on the abundant Uganda kob. Diverse antelope species abound, and keep your eyes peeled for Rothschild’s giraffes, elusive leopards, and playful Patas monkeys—a unique sight in Uganda’s parks!

Murchison’s remote location adds a sense of adventure to your game drives. It’s a perfect ‘first’ or ‘last’ stop on extended Uganda itineraries, especially when combined with Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for a guaranteed Big Five experience.

For the ultimate immersive safari, spend at least two nights in Murchison and go on at least four game drives. Then, venture even further off the beaten path to Kidepo Valley National Park, a true wilderness experience!

Tailored Murchison Falls Safaris

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Uganda Safari Highlights

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Best of Uganda Safari

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Kidepo Valley National Park, Pearl of Africa Uganda
One of the biggest Rothchild’s giraffe populations lives in Kidepo

4. Kidepo Valley National Park

For a truly immersive safari experience, venture to remote Kidepo Valley National Park. This predator haven boasts species found nowhere else in Uganda, including cheetahs and black-backed jackals. Game drives here reveal thrilling wildlife dramas: hunting dogs, the elusive bat-eared fox, caracals, aardwolves, and diverse antelope like the Beisa Oryx and Lesser Kudu.

You’ll share the vast savanna with elephants, zebras, buffaloes, and more. Expert guides are key to spotting stealthy lions, leopards, and smaller predators like the side-striped jackal. Kidepo’s remoteness offers an unparalleled sense of wildness and privacy.

To fully embrace this unique park, plan on three or four nights at Apoka Safari Camp, Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp, or Kidepo Safari Lodge. Experience the thrill of game drives in an untouched African landscape – a true safari enthusiast’s dream!

Tailored Kidepo Safaris

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Sunset viewing on the safari plains after the safari drive
Sunset viewing on the safari plains after the safari drive

How to get the best out of your safari game drive in Uganda

Realistic expectations

Ugandan game reserves offer incredible wildlife encounters, but it’s important to remember: this is the real wild, not a staged show! Animals roam freely across vast landscapes, and sightings, especially of rarer creatures, require patience and a bit of luck.

Your expert guide is crucial. They’ll be honest about what you’ll likely see in each park and can help manage your expectations. Doing a bit of research about your chosen park and Ugandan tour operator beforehand will also help you understand its unique wildlife offerings.

Remember, the best game drives are often full of surprises! Embrace the unpredictable nature of the safari. Instead of fixating on specific animals, let yourself be amazed by the unexpected – the herds grazing peacefully, a colorful bird taking flight, or the thrill of tracking a predator on the hunt.

Patience, waiting, and more patience.

The best wildlife encounters aren’t always about rushing from sighting to sighting. Embrace the slower pace of the savanna – carry a generous dose of patience! Whether you’re watching a watering hole, hoping for a predator to appear, or scanning the bush for a well-camouflaged creature, patience is your ally.

Trust your guide’s instincts. They want your game drives to be as rewarding as possible. Sometimes, lingering at a seemingly quiet spot pays off. By staying a while, you might witness fascinating animal behavior—playful interactions, a stealthy hunt, or a tender moment between a mother and her young.

Remember, a safari is a journey of discovery. Let the rhythm of the wild wash over you, and you’ll be amazed at what you might see!

Lose the Lens, Find the Moment

Of course, capturing safari memories with photos is wonderful, but don’t let your camera become a barrier. Put it down for a while! Immerse yourself fully in the sights, sounds, and even the smells of the African bush – experiences a photo can never fully replicate.

Uganda’s game drives offer endless chances for incredible wildlife photos. But those precious moments shared with your guide—the stories, the laughter, the insights into the wild world around you—are what will truly stay with you long after your trip. Seek a balance. Be present. Those magical memories (and often, the best photos!)—happen when you least expect them.

Information gathering

Your Safari Guide: Your safari guide isn’t just there to find animals – they’re a fountain of knowledge! They can explain fascinating animal behaviors, local lore, and the interconnectedness of the savanna ecosystem. Engage with them, ask questions, and let their stories enrich your safari experience. Don’t be afraid to ask for the best viewing position or to have them clarify something you don’t understand. (And don’t hesitate to remind them to turn their radio back on if they get caught up in the excitement of a sighting!)

Beyond the Big Game: It’s true the Big 5 are safari stars, but don’t let them overshadow the incredible diversity around you. Small creatures and vibrant birds offer endless fascination. A photo of a colorful lizard or a dung beetle at work can be just as evocative as a lion sighting. Requesting a slower pace on game drives allows you to appreciate these often-overlooked wonders and creates unique photographic opportunities.

Best Time To Go

For the best wildlife viewing game drives in Uganda’s western savanna parks, go in the dry seasons (June to August and December to February). Animals congregate around water sources, making sightings easier.

Kidepo Valley National Park is stunning year-round! Visit immediately after the rainy season (September to November) for lush landscapes and excellent game drives. The long dry season (December to April) offers reliable wildlife viewing as well.

Don’t discount the ‘shoulder’ seasons. The start of the wet seasons brings vibrant scenery and fewer crowds, creating a unique safari atmosphere.

Recommended reading: What is the Best Time for Visiting Uganda and Best Time For Gorilla Trekking in Uganda & Rwanda

What to Pack for Unforgettable Game Drives

Comfort is key on Ugandan game drives! Here’s how to prepare for changing temperatures, sun protection, and those special moments beyond the vehicle:

Clothing

  • Layers: Start with a light base layer; add a warm fleece and a waterproof outer layer if needed. Mornings are chilly, but it warms up quickly.
  • Neutral Colors: Choose earth tones like browns, greens, and khaki to blend in with the environment.
  • Sun Protection: A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and lightweight, long-sleeved shirts and pants.
  • Comfortable Footwear: Sturdy walking shoes or sneakers are perfect for those quick stops outside the vehicle.

Essentials

  • Binoculars: Don’t miss a thing! At least 8×30 magnification is ideal.
  • Camera Gear: If you’re a photographer, pack your lenses, extra batteries, and protective covers.
  • Refillable Water Bottle: Stay hydrated and help protect the environment.
  • Snacks: Nuts, energy bars, or dried fruit will keep your energy up.
  • Small First-Aid Kit: Include basics like painkillers, bandages, and antihistamine cream.
  • Hand Sanitizer, Facemask, Insect Repellent: Especially for evening drives.

Optional (but great!)

  • Animal Guidebook: Bradt Uganda Guide
  • Lightweight Scarf: Can double as dust protection if needed.

Remember:  Your safari company will likely provide some binoculars, but having your own ensures the perfect fit for your eyes.

Book your Uganda safari today.

Ready to experience the unforgettable thrill of a Uganda game drives? Whether you’re dreaming of lions, herds of elephants, or the elusive leopard, Uganda’s wild landscapes offer exceptional vacations!

Let Nkuringo Safaris, a trusted tour operator with experts in both game drives and unforgettable gorilla treks, tailor your perfect safari adventure. From the classic savannas of Queen Elizabeth National Park to the remote wilderness of Kidepo, we’ll create an itinerary that brings your safari dreams to life. Contact us today to start planning – the wild wonders of Uganda are calling!

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