Lake Mburo

Introduction

With exciting African wildlife watching in arm’s reach of the capital, the 370-sq-km Lake Mburo National Park is an increasingly common stop on the safari circuit. It’s the only place in southern Uganda to see zebras and the only park in the country with impalas, slender mongoose, and giant bush rats.</p> <p>Lake Mburo National Park is an underrated Uganda safari gem, dominated by the eponymous lake, which — with its forest-fringed shores hemmed in by rolling green hills — is scenically reminiscent of the more celebrated Lake Naivasha in the Kenyan Rift Valley.</p> <p>Despite its relative accessibility, Lake Mburo National Park is historically bypassed by most safaris and independent travelers, presumably due to the low ‘big five’ count, particularly the lack of elephants and lions.

Lake Mburo Park Entry Fees 2021/22

CATEGORYFNRNREAC
Park Entry for AdultsUSD 40USD 30UGX 20,000
Park Entry for childrenUSD 20USD 10UGX 5,000
Pr & Sec StudentsUGX 3,000
College StudentsUGX 5,000
Wildlife ClubsUGX 2,000
Guided Day Game DriveUSD 20USD 20UGX 20,000
Guided Night Game DriveUSD 30USD 30UGX 30,000
Guided Nature WalkUSD 30USD 15UGX 10,000
Boat LaunchUSD 30USD 30UGX 30,000
Guided CyclingUSD 30USD 30UGX 30,000

KEY: FNR – Foreign Non-Residents, FR – Foreign Residents, EAC – East African Community

Lake Mburo National Park

Lake Mburo National Park is an underrated Uganda safari gem, dominated by the eponymous lake, which — with its forest-fringed shores hemmed in by rolling green hills — is scenically reminiscent of the more celebrated Lake Naivasha in the Kenyan Rift Valley.

Despite its relative accessibility, Lake Mburo National Park is historically bypassed by most safaris and independent travelers, presumably due to the low ‘big five’ count, particularly the lack of elephants and lions.

Even in the absence of wildlife heavyweights, however, Lake Mburo offers some excellent game viewing, and you’re as likely to see as many different large mammal species over a day as you would in any Ugandan national park. Some recent developments have raised the profile of the park.

With some desperation, safari operators have promoted Lake Mburo National Park as an ideal overnight stop along the long drive between Kampala and the national parks along the country’s western border.

Amazingly, the number of travelers accepting the invitation has risen sharply since exemplary lodges opened up in the park, like the luxury Mihingo Lodge.

Impala in Lake Mburo NP

Vegetation & Climate

Lake Mburo, Uganda’s smallest national park, extends over 260km2 of undulating territory with an altitude range from 1,220m to 1,828m above sea level. The annual rainfall figure of around 800mm is relatively low, but roughly 20% of the park’s surface area consists of wetland habitats.

The most important of these is Lake Mburo itself, the largest of five lakes that lie within the park boundaries and part of a cluster of 14 lakes fed by the Rwizi River and connected by several permanent and seasonal swamps.

The park’s remainder mainly consists of open savannah and acacia woodland, with some of the more common trees being Acacia hockii, Acacia gerrardii, Acacia sieberiana, and Acacia polyacantha.

In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges—patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of the lush riparian woodland line the verges of the various lakes.

Wildlife Viewing in Lake Mburo

Lake Mburo is also the only Ugandan protected area where visitors can view game animals on foot, a quad bike, and horseback. The park harbors several species not easily observed elsewhere in Uganda.

It is the only reserve in the country to support a population of impala, the handsome antelope for which Kampala is named, and one of only three protected areas countrywide where Burchell’s zebra occurs. The other two being the far less accessible Kidepo and Pian Upe.

Other antelope species casual visitors will see are topi, bushbuck, common duiker, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, and Bohor reedbuck. At the same time, the lake and lush fringing vegetation support healthy populations of buffalo, warthog, bushpig, and hippopotamus.

Roan antelope, once common, are now locally extinct, but large herds of the majestic eland still move seasonally through parts of the park. The sitatunga antelope is confined to swamp interiors, and the klipspringer is occasionally observed in rocky areas.

Only two diurnal primates occur at Lake Mburo: the vervet monkey and olive baboon.

The eerie rising nocturnal call of the spotted hyena is often heard from the camps, and tourists less frequently observe individuals crossing the road shortly after dawn.

Leopard, side-striped jackal, and various smaller predators are also present, most visibly white-tailed mongoose (at dusk and dawn) and three otter species resident in the lakes.

Birding in Lake Mburo

Bird experts have recorded 315 species of birds in Lake Mburo National Park. It is probably the best place in Uganda to see acacia-associated birds.

Rwonyo Camp is as good a place as any to look for the likes of mosque swallow, black-bellied bustard, bare-faced go-away bird, and Ruppell’s long-tailed starling.

A handful of birds recorded at Lake Mburo are essentially southern species at the very northern limit of their range, for instance, the southern ground hornbill, black-collared and black-throated barbets, and green-capped eremomela.

Of particular interest to birders are the swamps where six papyrus endemics are resident, including the brilliantly colored papyrus gonolek, the striking blue-headed coucal, the highly localized white-winged, and papyrus yellow warblers; recorded nowhere else in Uganda.

Getting There and Away

Two different roads connect Lake Mburo National Park to the main surfaced road between Masaka and Mbarara. The better approach road branches south at Sanga, 37km east of Mbarara, coming from the west. Coming from Kampala, it’s easier to use the road branching south from the 50km marker for Mbarara, about 20km past Lyantonde.

The drive from Kampala should take about four to five hours, not allowing for breaks. The approach roads are both quite rough, so a 4×4 vehicle is recommended, though not essential during the dry season, and either way, you’re looking at about an hour’s drive between the main road and the rest camp.

There is no public transport on either of the approach roads, but it is possible to charter a special hire from Sanga (expect to pay more than Ush40,000) or pick up a boda-boda (around Ush15,000).

Another option is to ask the UWA headquarters in Kampala to radio a day in advance to find out whether any safari vehicle will be going to Mbarara, in which case you could wait for it at Sanga.

Activities at Lake Mburo

Quad biking

A 2hr safari, usually leaving at 09.00 to explore the Eland Track, costs Ush125,000 (US$63). A 4hr trip departing at 14.00 covers the Ruroko circuit & costs Ush195,000 (US$98)).

One of the most exciting activities allowed in a Ugandan park in years, quad biking from the Mantana Tented Camp, is run by All Terrain Adventures, the same fellas at Bujagali Falls near Jinja. Inevitably, conservation purists question whether the activity is appropriate in a national park.

However, since Lake Mburo’s obscurity among tourist operators, and the absence of elephants and lions, it seems reasonable to make these deficiencies a selling point for safe quad biking and horseback safaris.

Principles aside, it is fantastic fun, and everyone who has tried it has loved the experience. The maximum group size is five people.

The Uganda safari trips provide a wilderness experience beyond the confines of a vehicle, and if you’re looking to race, pull wheelies, and other stunts, you’re in the wrong place! The patrons will provide you with introductory training, helmets, goggles, overalls, and refreshments.

Horseback safaris

Mihingo Lodge introduced horseback safaris in the east of the park — another first in a Ugandan protected area. Though the basic premise — escaping the car — is the same as quad biking, the horseback experience is heightened by the absence of engine noise. The event is tailored to your experience and requirements.

A lodge assistant will lead the kids on good-natured ponies while (at the other extreme) experienced riders can help a couple of ex-racehorses burn off some calories.

Rates vary from USD 25 for a quick 30-minute taster (the grassy valley floor 15 minutes’ ride from the lodge is habitually filled with wild game) to USD 130 for three-hour hacks to hilltop viewpoints with the option of bush breakfasts or sundowners.

Boat trips

A boat safari trip on the lake leaves from the jetty at the main campsite 1km from Rwonyo Camp. In addition to the attractive scenery and simple pleasure attached to being out on the water, the boat trip reliably produces good sightings of hippo, crocodile, buffalo, waterbuck, and bushbuck, and it’s also worth looking out for the three species of resident otter.

Among the more conspicuous waterbirds are African fish eagle, marabou stork, pied kingfisher, and various egrets and herons, while Ross’s turaco and Narina trogon are frequently seen in lakeside thickets.

Lake Mburo is possibly the most accessible place in Uganda to see the elusive African finfoot, which is generally associated with still water below overhanging branches.

A small boat launch on Lake Mburo, carrying up to 8 people, costs USD 20/UGX 30,000 pp (min 4, max 8 pax).

A Bigger boat launch on Lake Mburo costs USD 30/UGX 30,000 per person.

Game drives

It’s terribly unfashionable, but it is still possible to explore Lake Mburo by vehicle if you can shrug off the looks from horseriders and quad bikers. The most frequently used roads are the Impala and Zebra tracks, respectively connecting Sanga Gate and Nshara Gate to Rwonyo Rest Camp.

The quality of game viewing along these tracks is erratic, but, particularly during the wet season, substantial concentrations of impala, zebra, waterbuck, topi, and buffalo are often to be found only 2km from Rwonyo in the park-like savanna at the junction of Impala and Warukiri tracks.

Historically, when animals congregate around the swamps and lakes during the dry season, the most productive roads were the Lakeside Track and Kigambira Loop. However, the increasingly dense bush cover has complicated game viewing in this area (unless you’re searching specifically for bush-dwelling birds) or hoping to spot a leopard.

Scrub has obscured all the 360° panorama from the once-grassy summit of Kigambira Hill. It’s a different situation if you branch east of the Lakeside track where the Kazuma and Ruroko tracks pass through relatively open savanna interspersed with rocky hills where you can observe pairs of klipspringer. Visitors can park up and walk to the top of Kazuma Hill, where there is a view over four of the park’s lakes.

To the west of Rwonyo, starting near Sanga Gate, the Rwizi Track leads through an area of light acacia savanna. Impala, eland, and Burchell’s zebra are common in this area.

The western shore of Lake Mburo is visible at times. After 12km, the track approaches the Rwizi River and fringing swamps. It then veers to the west, following the wooded watercourse for 33km before reaching Bisheshe Gate, a stretch that is particularly rewarding for birds. It is possible to drive beyond the gate to the main Mbarara road, but the track is appalling and challenging even in a 4×4 vehicle.

Guided walks (USD 30 pp) One of the major attractions of Lake Mburo is that you are permitted to walk anywhere in the park in the company of an armed ranger. Near to the camp, the road to the jetty remains an excellent place to walk: rich in birds and regularly visited by hippos.

An even better target is the viewing platform that overlooks a salt lick about 2km from the camp — this is an excellent place to see a wide variety of animals.

Of particular interest to walkers and birders is the Rubanga Forest, which lies off the Rwizi Track, and guests can only visit with the warden’s permission, who will provide you with an armed ranger.

Fees

To visit Lake Mburo National Park, non-residents pay a visitation fee of US$40/day. East African residents pay discounted rates of UGX 20,000 on showing proof of residency. An entrance permit is valid for 24hrs from the time of entrance. The standard vehicle entry fees are levied.

Lake Mburo National Park vehicle entrance fees include motorcycles pay USD 30/UGX 10,000 for foreign/E.African, Minibusses pay USD 50/UGX 30,000 for foreign/EA, Tour Company Vehicles pay USD 120 per vehicle for foreign/East Africans, and Pickups or 4WD will be charged USD 50 per vehicle for foreign/E.African plates.

Accommodation in Lake Mburo National Park

Because of its size and meager popularity, Lake Mburo National Park does not have many accommodation choices for Uganda safari. However, you can choose from the few places to stay spreading over luxury, midrange to budget camping style.

Up-Market/Luxury Stay

Mihingo Lodge – $175 pp-single

Technically, Mihingo Lodge is not inside the park but just outside its eastern boundary in a private, 240-acre wilderness on the extensive rock outcrop. It’s one of the finest Uganda safari lodges providing accommodation in luxurious and privately positioned tents enjoying views from room verandas and spacious bathrooms.

Rwakobo Rock – $155 pp/fb

Set on a massive granite outcrop high overlooking the wilderness of the savannah, Rwakobo offers eco-friendly private thatched cottages which perfectly blend into the natural landscape. The cottages mushroom around the hill, taking advantage of rocky ledges and secluded corners. It is the easiest to access in the northern part of Mburo; as you enter the park from the main highway,

Acadia Cottages – $120 pp/fb single

Located 2km from the park headquarters at Rwonyo, Arcadia Lodge contains eight self-contained cottages are arranged around a central lodge building, where guests can relax and take in the stunning view from a raised deck.

 

Moderate Accommodation

Mburo Eagle’s Nest – $90 pp/fb

Mburo Eagle’s Nest sits on the southern edge of the park, on a hill with sweeping views across Lake Mburo National Park swaths. The tented rooms have an outside sitting with African styles decor, and a bush wilderness feel.

Kimbla Mantana Camp

It is a small luxury tented camp with only nine well-spaced rooms set up in open woodland near the summit of a hill, 4 km from Lake Mburo. The large ‘Larsen-style’ tents are set on wooden platforms, with verandahs overlooking the park. The tents themselves are simple but comfortably furnished with twin beds and an en suite bathroom.

Lake Mburo Safari Lodge – $90 pp

Relax in one of Mburo Safari Lodge’s wooden cottages, all raised on a wooden platform and covered by a grass-thatched roof. The rooms perfectly blend with the natural serenity, stylishly and thoughtfully designed for absolute wilderness comfort, and convenience. The lodge is located on the edge of the eastern border of the park, not far from Mihingo.

Hyena Hill Lodge – $52 pp/fb single

Hyena Hill Lodge sits on the western edge of the park, close to the Sanga gate. The Dutch hosts,  Tom and Anne,  perfectly combine Dutch and Ugandan styles to create a comfortable wilderness atmosphere for an African wild getaway. The lodge offers both private and shared cottage accommodation at reasonable prices.

Budget Accommodation

Rwonyo Rest Camp – $5-$20 pp

This UWA rest camp on a hillside about a kilometer from the lakeshore offers a couple of rather basic bandas and some double-standing tents, all with communal private showers in the bush uphill of the main camp. It’s a pleasant enough site though rather an unimaginative choice given its proximity to the lovely Lake Mburo shoreline and the panoramic Rwonyo hilltop.

Lake Mburo Campsite – $10

The Lake Mburo shore, about 1km from Rwonyo, is an attractive place to pitch your own tent. Pods of hippos laze in the lake during the day before coming ashore at night to keep the campground lawns cropped nicely.

Booking a Uganda safari

Het there! You might be looking into booking a Uganda safari, and Lake Mburo National Park made it your list of attractions to visit. You could book directly and get planning with your trip. Alternatively, you can consider an All-inclusive Uganda safari by a licensed safari specialist.

The advantage of an all-inclusive safari trip is that you don’t hustle with anything except put down your expectations, your travel style, and your budget. The local safari operator will suggest the best options you have on the plate and deal with booking accommodation, paying entrance fees, arranging your transportation, making sure you have the proper meals, and curating your experience in the field.

So send us an email through [email protected], and we will connect you with the right safari operator directly. No hidden fees and no third-party rates, you’ll be talking directly to a local expert. Go on, send us that email!

Explore Lake Mburo Your Own Way!

Lake Mburo National Park is an awesome family destination. Kids (5-15) are allowed in the park, take your family to this great safari destination in Uganda and let them experience the raw African savanna jungle.