Uganda is a great destination to experience wildlife viewing in both forest and savannah. Not to be missed is gorilla tracking in Bwindi; while chimps can easily be spotted in Kibale National Park. Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks offer wonderful savannah safaris with good wildlife viewing, but animals are not as abundant compared to the top parks of Kenya and Tanzania.
PREMIER PARKS & RESERVES
Some of the parks and reserves include;
- Bwindi Impenetrable NP – Gorilla tracking
- Murchison Falls NP – Boat and classic safari, waterfall, abundant wildlife, 4 of the Big 5 (No Rhino)
- Budongo Forest – Forest walks, large chimp population, no chimp tracking, birding hotspot
- Mgahinga Gorilla – Gorilla tracking
- Queen Elizabeth NP – Boat and classic safari, abundant wildlife, 4 of the Big 5 (No Rhino, No Giraffe)
- Kibale National Park – Chimpanzee tracking
WILDLIFE & ANIMALS IN UGANDA
Uganda is a unique destination offering a wonderful mix of Savannah and forest parks. Gorilla and chimp tracking are highlights, but many smaller primates can be seen as well. Uganda also offers great Savannah safaris, but not all of the Big Five are present. Black Rhino is extinct, and the status of the white rhino was the same until they were reintroduced in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in 2005. Cheetah is very rarely seen. Lion is quite common in Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls national parks. They can often be found hunting Uganda kob, which gives them away with their alarm calls. Giraffe can only be found in Murchison Falls, Lake Mburo and Kidepo Valley national parks, while zebra exists only in Murchison Falls and Lake Mburo. Uganda is also a prime birding destination.
- Wildlife Highlights
Uganda is home to many West African mammal species as well as the more usual East African safari animals. Primates are especially well represented. Patas monkey, red-tailed monkey, De Brazza’s monkey, l’Hoest’s monkey and grey-cheeked mangabey are some of the specials. The black-and-white colobus is widespread throughout Uganda. Uganda is home to a wide variety of antelope species. The Uganda kob, the national antelope, is a near endemic. The very rare sitatunga antelope is found in six national parks in the country but rarely seen. The uncommon oribi is often seen in pairs in Murchison Falls National Park.
- Best Time for Wildlife Viewing
The best time for wildlife viewing is in the dry season (December-February and June-September). Some of the roads are impassable during the rainy season (September-November and March- May). Gorilla can be tracked year round, but the experience can be spoiled – to some extent – by heavy rain in the wet season
Uganda’s remarkable avian diversity (over 1,000 species within an area similar in size to that of Great Britain) can be attributed to its location between the East African savannah, West African rainforests and semi-desert of the north. Uganda offers easy access to bird-rich habitats that are difficult to reach elsewhere. The country has only two endemics, but if you only take East Africa into consideration, there are 150 species to be found only in Uganda. Migrant birds are present from November to April.
- Best Time for Bird Watching
From a birder’s perspective, Uganda is good all year-round, especially since the main birding interest lies in the resident birds. The climate is the main factor to take into consideration. Uganda is a very wet country. During the Wet seasons, roads and forest trails might be in poor condition and rains could interfere with birding time.
In general, the best time for bird watching is from late May through September, when the rain is less and food is abundant. The main nesting season in Bwindi and Mgahinga (key sites for the Albertine Rift endemics) is May and June, but from mid-April to mid-May the rains might still be too heavy. February and early March is the only time Toro-Semliki is relatively dry, but it is uncomfortably hot in the north, including in Murchison Falls NP. December and January are also good months since the north is not yet too hot and there is less rain in the south. The best time for primate tracking and wildlife viewing in the savannah reserves is also in the Dry season, from June to August and December to February.
- Best Parks for Birding
Murchison Falls is excellent for seeing a wide array of common birds and specials, including the sought-after shoebill. Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Park are the most accessible sites for Albertine Rift endemics, and Semuliki is the only place in East Africa to see many Guinea-Congo regional species.
BEST TIME TO VISIT UGANDA
The best wildlife viewing months in Uganda are during the Dry seasons from June to August and December to February. Primate walks in the forest are a big part of any safari in Uganda. The habitat of rainforests is, by default, very wet, and one can’t avoid rain completely. However, after heavy rain, the skies often open up to bright sunshine.
- Best Time – June to August and December to February (All parks)
- High Season – June to September (It’s rarely crowded, but you’ll need to book your gorilla permits long in advance)
- Low Season – March, April, May, October, November (Some lodges and camps in high rainfall areas close down; roads and forest trails can be in poor condition)
- Best Weather – June-July and January-February (Little rainfall)
- Worst Weather – March, April and May (Peak of Wet season)
June to August and December to February –Dry Season
- This is the best time for gorilla tracking because these are the drier months
- In the Savannah reserves, vegetation is less and animals gather around water sources, making wildlife easier to spot
- Even during the high season (June to September) the parks don’t feel crowded
- The skies are clear; there is less rain and more sunshine
- Gorilla permits need to be booked very far in advance
March to May and September to November –Wet Season
- The scenery of the Savannah reserves is greener – it’s low season, resulting in lower rates.
- Although wildlife in the Savannah reserves is easier to spot in the Dry season, you’ll still see plenty, including newborn animals.
- Some of the roads get very bad and cars often get stuck; forest trails can become slippery and challenging.
- You won’t be able to change your expensive gorilla permit if it pours with rain; departures go as scheduled.
Best Time to Go to Uganda by Major Park
All parks are best visited during the Dry season from June to August and December to February
WEATHER & CLIMATE OF UGANDA
Straddling the equator, there is little year-round fluctuation in temperature and no real winter or summer. The hottest months are January and February when the average daytime range is 24-33°C (52-91°F) with peaks of up to 40°C/104°F in the far north. The south has two Wet seasons: from mid-September to November and March to May. The Dry season from December to February means only that it rains less and the gorilla parks remain fairly wet during these months. The second Dry season – from June and July – is considerably drier. Still, with 1,000 to 2,000mm (39.4-78.7in) of rain every year, it can rain at almost any time. The north, including Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley, has one continuous Wet season from March to November and a more obvious Dry season from December to February.
Kampala’s climate compared to Uganda’s parks
In general, the south of Uganda shares the same tropical climate as Kampala. The city has a slightly milder climate due to its location near Lake Victoria. The parks in the south tend to be a bit warmer during the day and cooler at night. The areas at high altitude, including the gorilla parks, get considerably colder because temperatures drop by about 6°C for every 1,000m you climb (or 3.5°F per 1,000ft). Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley in the north are warmer with daytime temperatures averaging 32°C/90°F.
Dry season – June to August and December to February
- June, July & August – June and July are the driest months in most of the south, but it can still rain. Average temperatures hover around 27°C/81°F in the afternoon and 16°C/61°F in the morning. It will be colder at altitudes above 1300m/4265ft, including the gorilla parks. Unlike the south, these months are part of the wet season in the north. The far north, including Kidepo Valley, is semi-arid and can experience droughts some years.
- December, January & February – Most of the south has less rainfall, but still more when compared to June and July. It is slightly warmer with daytime temperatures of about 28°C/82°F and morning temperatures of 16°C/61°F. The north has a clear Dry season with little rain.
Wet season – March to May and September to November
- March, April & May – There is more rainfall throughout the country during these months, with a clear peak in April in the south. Most days have some sunshine as well. The rain can make travel more difficult since dirt roads and forest trails used for gorilla tracking can become challenging to navigate. Daytime temperatures average around 28°C/82°F and morning temperatures around 16°C/61°F. It will be colder in the gorilla parks at high altitudes and warmer in the north.
- September, October & November – These months are comparable to March, April and May but, on average, there is a bit less rain. Daytime temperatures are around 28°C/82°F.
- Popular Routes Where Wildlife Viewing Is a Major Part of the Tour
If you are visiting only Uganda, there is one obvious loop to follow. You can naturally go in two directions, but most tours will follow this itinerary.
- The Wildlife Circuit (2 to 3 weeks) – Bwindi/Mgahinga NP, Queen Elizabeth NP, Kibale NP, Murchison Falls NP
After arriving at Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport, you can spend the night on the shore of Lake Victoria or head out immediately to Lake Mburo NP if timing permits. This is the only park in Uganda that has a population of the graceful impala antelope, so common in more southern wildlife countries. Your next stop will be Bwindi NP for the ultimate highlight of the trip: gorilla tracking. You can also decide to do gorilla tracking in the less popular Mgahinga Gorilla NP, which is part of the Virunga Mountains.
Next is Queen Elizabeth NP, which has an array of activities to offer. This is Uganda’s most popular Savannah reserve. Highlights include a boat trip on Kazinga Channel between Lake Edward and Lake George, chimp tracking in Chambura Gorge and finding tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha sector of the park. Game drives on the Kasenyi plains tend to be very productive as well. Next, is Kibale NP, the best place for chimp tracking in Uganda and home to many more primates and incredible birds and butterflies. From here, you will return to Kampala.
Time permitting; a trip up north to Murchison Falls NP is a must. This park is more remote and falls outside the geographical wildlife circuit, but is more than worthwhile. The Victoria Nile is the center point of the park. Aside from boat trips to the impressive waterfall after which the park is named, wildlife viewing from the boat offers a different side to the park and gives the opportunity to spot the elusive shoebill. An overnight stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary en route to Murchison Falls is recommended as this is the only place in the country to see rhino.
- Kidepo Valley NP for true remote wilderness appeal
- Mount Elgon for climbing the mountain
- Toro-Semliki WR for visiting a pygmy community and excellent birding
- Rwenzori Mountains for an amazing mountain challenge
- Bujagali Falls for adventure activities such as white-water rafting and bungee jumping
The main entry point for flights into Uganda is Entebbe International Airport (EBB) located near the town Entebbe, about 46km/29mi from the capital, Kampala. Uganda is a relatively compact country and further transportation within the country is usually done by vehicle. In most cases, your local tour operator will collect you from the airport or hotel and will arrange further transportation as part of your safari-package.
PASSPORT, VISA AND OTHER ENTRY REQUIREMENTS
Entry requirements can change, so please contact your local Uganda Embassy to verify the information below is current.
- A passport is required for all foreign visitors and has to be valid for at least six months.
- Passports must have a clean and full visa page for endorsement.
- All visitors traveling to Uganda must have a valid yellow fever certificate, which will be required as part of a visa application, and may also be required at the port of entry.
- Citizens of most countries require a visa. A list of countries that don’t need a visa is available.
- Visas are best obtained in advance through an official online visa-application portal, but they can also be obtained through your local Uganda Embassy or high commission. At present visas on arrival are still being issued alongside the online application process, but this is meant to be phased out so inquire about this before opting to go this route.
- Tourist visas are available for Uganda only, or East Africa (which covers entry to Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda) for the same cost.
MALARIA & VACCINATIONS
The information on this page is a general guide and should not replace a consultation with your travel doctor. The government organizations and travel clinics below are trusted resources for complete and up-to-date info about travelers’ health in Uganda.
- Malaria Risk
High risk throughout the country except for high altitude mountains over 2,000m, including Mt. Elgon and the Ruwenzori. All safari parks are high-risk zones. The highest risk of transition is during the rainy season (March to May and October to December).
SAFETY & SECURITY
- Travel Alert
Most countries have issued a travel warning for the areas within 50km of Uganda’s border with DR Congo and South Sudan.
- West Uganda
In late 2016, in western Uganda, near the border with the DRC, tensions between the Ugandan government and the Rwenzururu Kingdom (which the government accuses of supporting a separatist movement) escalated, and turned violent. Ugandan troops moved against the king (whom they arrested) and his royal guards.
In early 2017, the situation was calmer. For the latest information, we recommend seeking local advice before travel to Kasese and the Ruwenzori Mountains. We advise people passing Kasese by road between Fort Portal and Queen Elizabeth National Park to do so with caution and without unnecessary stops in Kasese.
- North Uganda
Most countries have also issued a travel warning for the remote Karamoja region in northeastern Uganda, which includes Kidepo Valley National Park.The security situation in the Karamoja region has improved in recent years, but this isn’t yet reflected in the advice given by the travel advisories. Kidepo Valley NP has always been considered safe enough for travel, but previously the advice was to fly there instead of driving. Several reputable tour operators now consider the area to be safe enough for driving and are taking clients by road. If you are planning a self-drive to Kidepo Valley though, it is recommended to seek local advice before you depart.
Fortunately, most of Uganda’s tourism highlights are located in safe areas, and the risk-zones are easily avoided without compromising your safari. When taking normal safety precautions, Uganda can be considered safe as a safari destination and for most general tourism.
In our opinion, Uganda is safe to visit as the risk zones are limited to clearly defined regions that can easily be avoided. All the more so if your visit is primarily an organized safari. Many tourists visit Uganda every year, and most visits are trouble-free. There have been several terrorist attacks in the past. Unfortunately, terrorism has become part of life, and it is very difficult – if not impossible – to safeguard against it. Fortunately, incidents are very rare, and the chance of being a random victim is almost negligent. As with many third-world countries, theft and muggings are relatively common, but most incidents are in cities, Kampala in particular. Walking alone around the city is not recommended. An overnight stay at a reputable hotel or an organized visit to one of the many attractions in or around the city is fairly risk-free.