Uganda’s national parks are all uniquely endowed with wildlife, bird species, landscapes, lakes, rivers and faunas of different kinds.

While Uganda is technically home to the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino), the rhino actually went extinct in Uganda in the 1980s. A small population of southern white rhinos has been reintroduced to the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, but there are no reserves where you can see the Big Five.

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Giraffes next to the Nile River, Murchinson Falls National Park

There are two parks where you can see the Big Four. Murchison Falls National Park in the northwest is home to elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, waterbucks, buffaloes, hippos and crocodiles. Game drives take place on the tracks in the northern section of the park, which you reach by taking a ferry across the Victoria Nile river. The park’s eponymous falls (also known as Kabalega Falls) sends 300 cubic metres of water a second down a 43m slit in the rock. The spray and rainbows they create offer visitors some mesmerising photo opportunities.

Uganda’s other Big Four reserve is Kidepo Valley National Park in the northeast. It’s at least a full day’s drive from Kampala, or you can take a charter flight from Entebbe. However, the travel is worth it. Kidepo’s vast savannah is lined with mountain ranges, and its remote location means that it is sparsely touristed. Here, you can see giraffes, wildebeest, ostriches and more than 500 bird species, many of which congregate around the Naru wetland in the heart of the park. Kidepo is also home to one of the smallest ethnic groups in Africa — the Ik, who are believed to have migrated to the valley from Ethiopia several hundred years ago.

Uganda’s most famous national park is the Queen Elizabeth National Park. More formally known as Kazinga National Park, it was renamed after the visit of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth in 1954 and is best-known for its climbing lions in the Ishasha sector. One of only two lion populations in the world (the other is in Tanzania) known to climb trees, the park’s lions can be seen lazily lying up in the branches of huge fig trees, staring down at the Uganda kobs (antelope) that are graze in the open plains.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is also known for the Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake Edward and Lake George and is prime territory for viewing hippos, elephants, buffaloes and more wildlife.

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Murchison Falls, Victoria Nile River National Park

Hiking and climbing

For those wanting to hike and go mountaineering, Uganda is an excellent destination. If you are fit and prepared, you can walk to the Margherita summit, the highest peak of the Rwenzori Mountains on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. Standing 5,109m tall, Margherita Peak is the third-highest summit in Africa, with fewer trekkers than either Kilimanjaro or Toubkal. In fact, official figures from 2017 show that only 693 people trekked the mountain’s higher regions.

That’s not to say this is an easy climb. Rwenzori means ‘rainmaker’, and the mountain can be muddy and slippery, so it’s best to tackle it during the relatively dry season between December and February. The trek itself takes a minimum of seven days and requires a high degree of endurance and physical fitness.

Mount Elgon National Park, is home to an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24million years ago. Situated on Uganda’s border with Kenya, this national park offers two main trekking routes to the peak. The salsa trail is the most accessible from nearby Mbale and is the most direct route to the peaks, passing through bamboo forest. Alternatively, take the easier pisa trail which gives a better chance to see the park’s abundant wildlife, including buffalo, hyena and even leopards.

Further east, climbers can come face-to-face with the towering Tororo Rock, a prominent outcrop that rises 300m above the surrounding plains. Rock climbing is possible on request.

In Mbale, one of the towns near Tororo, lie the Sipi Falls, where tourists can cool off under the tumbling water.

Both Mount Elgon and Mount Rwenzori are popular destinations for nature lovers, providing numerous bird species and a rich variety of vegetation and wildlife.

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National parks of Uganda

By Edgar R Batte

Edgar is an award-winning journalist, writer and editor. His work has been published by The East African, African Review, Music in Africa, Marimba Media and many more.

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