Lake Mburo National Park
In the middle of an extensive rich acacia woodland lies one of Uganda’s most spectacular and breathtaking game parks in Uganda; Lake Mburo National Park. It is a gem of a park, conveniently located close to the western high way that connects Kampala to the parks of western Uganda. It is a very special place with a medley of habitats ranging from dry hillsides, rocky outcrops, bushy thickets, open and wooded savannas to forest, lakes and swamps. Its sculptured landscape, rolling hills and idyllic lake shores, forest galleries, seasonal and permanent swamps and grassy valleys all support a wealth of wildlife in a tropical setting.
The park is remarkably different from other parks. It’s the best park to view the gigantic eland, impala, zebras and acacia associated birds. Common mammal species include Warthogs, Buffalos, Oribi, Defassa, Water bucks, reed bucks and the eland antelopes.
Leopards and Hyenas are also present and Lions have also returned to the park after years of poaching and near extinction. The five lakes within the park attract hippos and crocodiles while fringing swamps hide secretive papyrus specialists such as the sitatunga antelope and red, black and yellow papyrus gonalek. The park also has an impressive bird list with 332 species recorded including Shoebill, Papyrus, Yellow warbler, African fin foot, Saddle billed stork, Brown chested wattled plover, Carrutter’s
cisticola, Tabora cisticola, Great snipe, Abyssinian ground horn bill and white winged warbler.Acacia woodland bird species are especially well represented.
Though just 371sq km in size, Lake Mburo has a varied landscape full of interest and color. The park is refreshing and full of life given its strategic location near the Kampala- Mbarara highway.
Lake Mburo National Park lies between the towns of Masaka and Mbarara in western Uganda. It’s 228kms from Kampala about 4hrs drive. There are two gateways to the park from Mbarara road. Approaching from Kampala then turning to Nshara gate is 13kms past Lyantonde. The junction for Sanga gate is at Sanga trading centre, 27kms past Lyantonde.
Several activities can be conducted while in Lake Mburo National Park, like, nature walks, game drives. Nature walk is conducted on foot with the help of an armed guide who explains to the visitors about the various flora and fauna. Game drive is done while in the visitors own vehicle.
The boat is another interesting activity in Lake Mburo, a visitor gets a chance to see a variety of wildlife .e.g. crocodiles, hippos and birds like African fish eagle, African finfoot, cormorants, kingfishers, herons etc.Horse riding is conducted by Mihingo lodge inside the park while quad bikes riding are conducted by African All Terrain Vehicles (ATV Safaris). It gives a spectacular view of the park’s terrain and wildlife. Visitors can ride closer without the animals getting scared.
ATTRACTIONS RWONYO REST CAMP
Rwonyo is the center of tourism activities in the park. The rest camp is the starting point for nature walks and game drives.
The eastern shores of Lake Mburo can be explored by boat, departing from a Jetty at the Lakeside campsite near Rwonyo. Watch out for crocodiles and hippopotamus during the two hour voyage. You can also sight a variety of birds including Pelicans, Heron, the Cormorant fish eagle and perhaps the rare Fin foot and Shoe bill storks. Fishermen with their own equipment may fish in the Lake from the campsite by arrangement.
Guided walks explore the park around Rwonyo, culminating in a visit to a natural salt lick frequented by the wildlife. Viewing is facilitated by a timber observation plat form.
The eastern hinterland of Lake Mburo is served by a network of game tracks along which a variety of savannah animals and birds can be sighted. Impalas are the most commonly seen along the Impala track while Zebras frequent the grassy valley floors traversed by the Zebra track. This connects to the Ruroko track which passes rock kopjes, home to the elusive Klip Springer.
In the south of the park, the lakeside track passes through dense woodland that is home to bushbuck and bush duiker, to Kigarama hill which provides a panoramic view of Lake Mburo. This lake and seven more can also be seen from the Kazuma lookout, close to Kazuma track.
Though small, this tract of forest on the western side of Lake Mburo provides a taste of the tropical high forest with closed canopy and is home to a variety of forest bird species. Rubanga can be explored with a ranger guide.
CONSERVATION EDUCATION CENTRE
The park has a Conservation Education Center, 1km west of Sanga gate. This provides accommodation and an education hall for school groups, visitors, seminars and workshops.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga is part of a larger ecosystem, the Virunga Conservation Area (434km2) which includes two adjacent parks in Rwanda and Congo. Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. It was formed to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey. Its most striking features are its three conical, extinct volcanoes, part of the spectacular Virunga range that lies along the border region of Uganda, Congo and Rwanda. Mgahinga forms part of the much larger Virunga Conservation Area which includes adjacent parks in these countries The park offers a soothing aura of majesty with cool temperatures owing to the
mountainous nature of the park. Its home to part of the 300 gorillas located in the Virunga massif. It is indeed where gold meets silver where gorillas are house with the same habitat of the golden monkeys. The cultural heritage featuring folklore and traditional healing practices for local people covers the north slopes of the three northern Virunga volcanoes – Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo. The park derives its name from “Gahinga” a Kinyarwanda word for a pile of volcanic lava stone heaps around which cultivation is carried out. On the other hand, Muhavura means guide and Sabinyo means the Old man’s teeth. It is bordered to the south by Rwanda and to the west by DR Congo.
While Sabinyo is deeply eroded with jagged crown and deep gorges and ravines, Gahinga has a swamp filled –crater about 180m wide and Muhavura has a small crater lake about 36m wide at its summit. While at the top of the Sabinyo, you get to be set foot in all the three countries of Uganda, DRC and Rwanda at the same time. Its view of the volcanoes and gorges with the cool breeze of freshness is unrivaled. On some of the steep mountain slopes are caves formed by lava tubes, one of them being the famous Garama cave located near Ntebeko, the park headquarters.
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 510km from Kampala; the most commonly used route passes through Kabale and Kisoro. The 434km journey from Kampala to Kabale can be completed in 8 hours on good tarmac. It is then a further 76km to Kisoro town on a mountainous tarmac road with steep ascents and descents. An attractive, alternative route leaves the main road at Kabale and follows the shoreline of the superbly scenic Lake Bunyonyi to rejoin the Kabale-Kisoro main road at its halfway point at Muko. Ntebeko, the main entrance to Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is 14km from Kisoro at the end of a dirt road with some steep and rocky sections.
Mgahinga can also be reached by air using the daily flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisoro airfield.
The best birding in Mgahinga also takes in some of its most beautiful scenery in the gorge between Mts Gahinga and Sabinyo, through the bamboo forest, and in the montane forest, where the beautiful Rwenzori Turaco may be observed.
For generations, Mgahinga’s dense forests were home to the indigenous Batwa-hunter-gatherers and fierce warriors who depended on the forest for shelter, food and medicine. Now they lead visitors through the forests and introduce them to their old home and the techniques they used to survive in it.
The guide leads you through the gorillas’ world, surrounded by wild forest and impressive birdlife, explaining the gorillas’ behavior along the way. Tracking excursions leave from Ntebeko Entrance Gate at 8am daily and last between two and four hours.
HIKING & NATURE WALKS
Hiking around the foothills of the Virunga Volcanoes gives visitors the chance to spot forest birds, the Rugezi Swamp, wild vegetation, bamboo forests and glorious views of the surrounding lakes and agricultural villages.
All three volcanoes in this park can be summited, taking a full day each. Views from the peaks are well worth the efforttaking in Rwanda, DR Congo, the Virungas, the Rwenzoris, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Lake Edward.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
At 331Km2 it is home to half of the world’s mountain gorillas, whose encounter and consequent eye contact is the most exciting and poignant wildlife encounter in the whole of Africa. With mist covered hillsides, this impenetrable forest is the oldest and most biologically diverse rainforest, with over 400 species of plants.
It lies on the edge of the rift valley in southwestern Uganda, and protects at least 120 species of mammals, 346 species of birds, 202 species of butterflies, 163 species of trees, 100 species of ferns, 27 species of frogs, chameleons, geckos, among many endangered species. It is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site popular for mountain gorillas and chimpanzees, the two great
African apes listed as endangered animals in the IUCN Red Data Book. Bwindi National Park has gorilla tracking as the major tourist attraction with 4 gorilla tracking trailheads. Also, 9 groups of mountain gorilla families have been habituated and only 8 tourists booked per group per day. Forest trails in the park lead to various attractions including rivers, waterfalls, swamps and high level of wildlife concentration.
Birding is another attraction that provides great opportunities to see various Albertine rift endemics such as the short-tailed warbler. A 6 hour bamboo trail leads to Rwamunyonyi peak, at 2607m, is the highest peak and notable spot for birding. While a 3 hour descend to Mubwindi swamp could lead a visitor to endemic and localized African green broadbill.
Other rewarding activities are mountain biking and nature walks to waterfalls and parts of the forest. A short drive north to Buhoma, which sits on the Congo border, offers wonderful hikes along the hill crests and rivers to discover waterfalls, glorious views and the traditional lifestyle and folklore of the Kigezi people.
The National Park is located in south–western Uganda about 530km from Kampala, the capital city. The park can be reached by road from several directions that include: Through Queen Elizabeth National Park (Mweya)-Kihihi-Buhoma. This route passes through Queen Elizabeth National Park’s southerly Ishasha sector, providing a chance for the tourists to stopover and search for the famous tree-climbing lions. BINP is 160km from Mweya and 64km from Ishasha. You can also access the park through:
- Kampala-Kabale-Kanungu-Buhoma (5-6 hours journey);
- Kampala-Ntungamo-Rukungiri-Kihihi-Buhoma (5 hours journey)
- The Kabale-Ruhija-Buhoma. (5-6 hours journey)
- Kampala-Kabale-Nkuringo (6-7 hours journey)
Travellers can fly from Entebbe Air port or Kampala (Kajjansi airfield) to the modern tarmac airstrip at Kisoro town. Visitors to Buhoma can also charter planes to Kayonza (near Butogota) or Savannah (Kihihi) airstrips.
ACTIVITIES GORILLA TRACKING
Tracking is a captivation and unforgettable experience which more than repays the effort needed to reach Bwindi and to trek through the forest. Gorilla tracking can be challenging and one needs to be reasonably fit before undertaking to venture into the activity. Registration and briefing at Buhoma , Ruhija, Nkuringo and Rushaga visitor receptions commences at 0730 hours with general briefings conducted at 0800 hours. Gorilla tracking starts at 8:30am and can last from a few hours to a whole day depending on where the gorillas were left the previous day.
OTHER ACTIVITIES AROUND THE PARK
Though gorilla tracking is the main attraction, a range of other walks provide more relaxed opportunities to spot birds and monkeys while exploring one of Uganda’s loveliest rainforests. Mountain biking is also a good activity around Bwindi, this is usually done through a well maintained trail 13km trail of Ivi River from the park office.
The following walks can be arranged to depart in the morning at 9:00am and in the afternoon at 1415hours;
- Munyanga River Trail in the valley below Buhoma (park office) provides an ideal short walk to view birds and primates along the forest edge.
- Waterfall Trail leads through one of Uganda’s most pristine tracts of rainforest, passing beneath tree ferns, epiphytic ferns and orchids to visit three sparking waterfalls.
- Rushura Hill Trail provides expansive views across the plains of the western rift valley to the west and (on clear days) Lake Edward and the Rwenzori Mountains to the north.
- Muzabajiro Loop Trail climbs to the summit of Rukubira Hill for breathtaking views of Bwindi forest, the western Rift Valley and the Virunga volcanoes.
- River Ivi Trail follows an old road through beautiful forest emerging near Nkuringo on the southern edge of the forest. It is highly recommended for bird watchers.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, ten primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds.
Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalos and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kob.
As well as its outstanding wildlife attractions, Queen Elizabeth National Park has a fascinating cultural history. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music and more. The park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, and renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth National Park can be accessed most easily from Kampala. The tarmac road from Kampala via Mbarara town and Bushenyi leads to the center of the park, passing just 22 km from Mweya Peninsula, the main tourism hub. Approaching the park from the south via Mbarara covers a distance of 420km while the north through Fort Portal covers a total of 410 km.
En-route to the park, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy short detours to Lake Mburo National Park, Rwenzori Mountains and Kibale National Park, renowned for its chimpanzee tracking. The park can also be accessed from the south from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Charter flights can be arranged to existing airstrips of Kasese, Mweya and Ishasha.
Classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International, Queen’s great variety of habitats mean it is home to over 600 species. This is the greatest of any East African national park, and a phenomenal number for such a small area. The park’s confluence of savanna and forest, linking to the expansive forests of the DR Congo allow visitors to spot East as well as Central African species.
Tucked beneath the shady canopy of the Maramagambo Forest is the “Bat Cave”. The cave has a viewing room from which visitors can observe the resident bats and pythons.
The Kyambura Gorge experience is more than discovering chimpanzees in their natural environment: it teaches visitors about the ecosystems of Kyambura Gorge’s atmospheric “underground” rainforest, including vegetation types; bird identification and behavior; and chimp and monkey ecology.
For a classic African safari experience, the tracksthrough Kasenyi, the North Kazinga Plains and the Ishasha Sector offer virtually guaranteed buffalo, antelope and elephant sightings, along with warthogs and baboons. Taking an experienced guide in the early morning or at dusk is the most successful way to track down a pride of lions, and maybe even the odd leopard.
Nature treks are one of the more active ways to explore the landscapes and wildlife of Queen Elizabeth. Locations include the shady Maramagambo forest; Mweya Peninsula with its scenic views; and Ishasha River, where you may spot a variety of forest and savanna species as well as having a unique opportunity to get extremely close to hippos – on foot!
The Kazinga Channel is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park, and taking a boat tour along it gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffalos while elephants linger on the shoreline.
CULTURAL HERITAGE AND NATURE TRAIL
See the energetic dances of the Kikorongo Equator Cultural Performers; workers harvesting salt on Katwe Salt Lake; a traditional Banyaraguru hut; or an agricultural village – all guided by those who know them best – local community members.
WILDLIFE RESEARCH TOUR
For visitors who yearn to get up close to wild African fauna, a research trip is a rewarding adventure. This new and unique experience allows visitors to actively participate in monitoring some of the exotic birds and mammals that fill the park, using locator devices and learn habituation calls, as well as monitoring weather, surroundings and behavior.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park
As early as 150 AD, Alexandrine photographer, Ptolemy wrote of a snow capped mountain range deep in the heart of Africa, which he claimed was the source of the world’s longest river, The Nile. He called it “Mountains of the Moon.” Indeed, over the centuries, mountaineers who later explored Ptolemy’s mountains found the high Rwenzori glaciers and snow peaks whose melt waters certainly represent the highest springs of the Nile. The alpine highland of glaciers, snowfields, hot springs and blue cirque lakes make Rwenzori one of Africa’s most beautiful mountain parks. Reaching an elevation of 5,109m, Rwenzori is Africa’s tallest mountain range exceeded in altitude by Mt Kilimajaro and Mt Kenya, carrying Africa’s third, fourth and fifth highest peaks that are visible for miles around.
Some of its peaks incomparable, beautiful and mist-shrouded carry permanent snow and glaciers, while the lower slopes are covered with dense forest. The Mountain’s slopes above 1,600m are the preserve of hikers who rate the Rwenzoris to be the most challenging of all African mountains. A variety of large mammals inhibit the lower slopes but the Rwenzori are notable more for their majestic scenery and varied vegetation. Its five distinct vegetation zones montane forest, bamboo forest, tree heathbog, Hagenia-Rapanea scrub and afro-alpine moorland provide a unique backdrop to one of the most magnificent national parks in the world. Several endangered species and very unusual cloud forest flora like giant heathers, groundsels and lobelias, characterize the ranges as ‘Africa’s botanic big game’. In 1991, Rwenzori Mountains were gazette as a National Park and is both a World Heritage and RAMSAR site.
The park is located near Kasese, western Uganda, bordering Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in the West. The Nyakalengija trailhead which is 22km off the Kasese-Fort Portal road and 25km north of Kasese town can be reached from Kampala via Fort Portal road (375km) or via Mbarara and Queen Elizabeth National park (450km).
Transport can also be arranged on chartered flights from Kampala at either Kajjansi or Entebbe International airport.
Mountain climbing is the most attractive activity on the legendary “Mountains of the moon” that lies between altitudes 0˚ 06’ South and 0˚ 46’ North and longitudes 29˚ 47’ West and 30˚ 11’ East. Its diverse heavily snow capped peaks are one of the few pristine and spectacular landscapes of the world. Although a variety of large mammals inhibit the lower slopes, the Rwenzori’s are notable more for their majestic scenery and varied vegetation. The ranges are scenic with pristine and spectacular landscape that comprise of waterfalls, hot springs, blue cirque lakes, snow clad peaks and stratified vegetation which is an attraction not only for visitors, but also creates potential for research as well as resources for the nearby communities.
The park is also home to 18 species of mammals, 217 species of birds, 9 species of reptiles and 6 species of amphibians. Elephants, buffalos, giant forest hogs, bush bucks, chimpanzees and leopards are present but rarely seen. However primates such as the black and white colobus and the blue monkey may be seen. In the Rwenzori’s are also some unique and rare animal species like the three horned chameleon, the Rwenzori colobus, Rwenzori Turaco and the Rwenzori double collared sunbird. The park is also a cultural heritage for the neighboring communities. Eighteen sacred sites have been identified, mapped and protected as worship areas.
Aesthetic values of the Rwenzori’s can be put into three categories of trekking, nature walks and peak climbing:
This is done along two routes; a 7-day trekking of the central tourism circuit, and a 5-day trek along Kilembe route to the southern part of the park. Shorter hikes can be arranged.
There are trees in the park which allow visitors up close interaction with nature.
The six-day loop trail is a tough but rewarding hike taking in all vegetation zones and the glacier peaks. There are ascents to major peaks within the Rwenzori ranges along both routes. These include ascents to Margherita (5,109m) on Mountain Stanley, Vittorio
Emmanuelle (4,889m) on Mountain Speke and Edward (4,842m) on Mountain Baker. These hikes offer commanding and panoramic views of other peaks within the ranges. However, high peaks should only be attempted by experienced mountaineers.