Uganda’s top 10 destinations great for safari include two rainforest jungles popular for primates viewing, three shoreline destinations on two massive lakes, and five savannah game parks—an impressive collection no other Africa safari destination, that size, can dream of having.
From the savannah plains, rainforest jungles to hidden cultural cities, Uganda has many obscure and diverse destinations great for a private or group African safari holiday. In this little country, the size of Britain, there are 10 national parks, 12 wildlife reserves, a multi culture mix, and a bucket-load of breathtaking landscapes; it’s challenging to decide which places deserve the distinction of the best destinations to visit in Uganda.
That’s why we considered a variety of factors, such as the destination’s ttractions, access, bioviversity, accommodation options, as well as popularity and ratings, to determine which are best places for safari in Uganda.
Uganda’s top destinations have become popular with private and small group travelers and what makes them preferred by the new and seasoned travelers is that its tourist numbers are still small and tolerable compared to its famous giant safari neighbors (Kenya and Tanzania).
There’s a big chance that an ordinary traveler’s toes will not get stepped on, their lazy evenings will not be disrupted, or even they might be the only one on a game drive in the entire national park. The destination is a giant private reserve that makes private safari an affordable indulgence for an everyday traveler.
Uganda has all the savannah plains, the rainforest jungles, the snow-capped mountains, and the indigenous African cultures to brag about. Having all this travel trove in one giant private reserve, I think, makes Ugandan people the most modest, welcoming, entertaining, and so much caring hosts.
Take a look at our compilation of the top 10 Uganda destinations; use it for your vacation planning, and cast your vote at the end of this post to have a say in next year’s list.
Top 10 Destinations in Uganda
- Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Murchison Falls National Park
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
- Entebbe – Kampala
- Kibale National Park
- Lake Mburo National Park
- Jinja, Source of The Nile
- Lake Bunyonyi
- Kidepo National Park
- Rwenzori National Park
1. Queen Elizabeth National Park
Few reserves in the world have such high biodiversity, landscapes, savannah plains, bushland, wetlands, and lush forests like this park. Covering 1978 sq km, scenic Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most popular of all Uganda destinations with animals and tourists.
Uganda’s most famous safari destinations protect the highest number of animals. Some of the best to see on safari include hippos cooling off their massive bodies in the Kazinga channel, elephant parades, lion prides, leopards, hyenas, Uganda kobs, and the chimpanzee troop in the Kyambura Gorge forest.
The park is easy to reach and enjoys a stunning location on the rift valley floor between Lakes Edward and George. Varied habitats epitomize the rift valley vegetative mosaic that tempted our hominid ancestors to migrate from forest to grasslands and are home to 95 mammal and 612 bird species.
Scenically, Queen Elizabeth National Park has everything: thirty miles to the north of the park, the blue Rwenzori Mountains explode from the plains—a composite, jagged mass of mountains, sixty miles long and forty wide. Looking in a certain ever-changing park atmosphere, the mountains seem like you can reach out and touch them.
Across Lake Edward to the west, the Mitumba hills stand sentinel on the Congo border, blue in the long sight, but the closer you get, the green, wooded, steep, and unfriendly epitomize dark Africa.
Mweya Peninsula is the park’s primary tourist hub. Reached by a narrow portage separating Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel. The peninsula enjoys marvelous views in all directions. Mweya is home to the park headquarters, several modern safari lodges, and budget hostels.
The Kazinga Channel
The Kazinga Channel shores provide year-round water for large numbers of birds, reptiles, and mammals. A boat safari (or launch trip) to view this wildlife spectacle is Queen Elizabeth National Park’s most famous and enduring activity. Boat safaris make a 2-hour round trip between the Mweya jetty and Lake Edward, providing marvelous opportunities to view up-close crocodiles, elephants, hippo, buffalo, and a wide variety of waterbirds.
A network of safari game tracks allows game drives to explore the plains north of the Kazinga Channel. Large numbers of animals live here but a patchwork of grassland and scrubby thickets can make game viewing challenging especially after the long rains; you will need more time on your safari drive tocarefully spot them.
The Channel track and the Leopard Loop are probably the most likely of all Uganda destinations to find Leopard and Giant Forest Hog. The area is also memorable for its distinctive candelabra trees (Euphorbia candelabrum) and the African Fish Eagles perch.
At the foot of the rift’s Kichwamba escarpment, the Kyambura River flows through the deep, cliff-lined Kyambura Gorge towards the Kazinga Channel. The Fig Tree Camp at the gorge’s edge provides a giddy view down into the 100m-deep chasm.
The canyon contains a beautiful riverine forest in which travelers can track one habituated chimpanzee troot with gorge’s forest. Chimpanzee trekking excursions head out twice daily at 8:00am and at 14:00.
Although chimp sightings are not guaranteed, the ravine offers a remarkable nature hike that’s a great compliment to savannah game drives on the plains above.
The magnificent and remote Ishasha sector lies in the extreme south of Queen Elizabeth NP, adjoining the Virunga National Park, which lies on the opposite side of the Ishasha River in the D.R. Congo. Few tourists make the long drive from the famous Mweya sector in the north. It is their loss, for the sector enjoys a wilderness character unrivaled elsewhere in the park.
Ishasha is home to a superb variety of animal variety. Hippos are common in the Ishasha River that forms the border between DRC and Uganda. Buffalo, Topi, and Kob roam the Ishasha plains, some of which become prey for Leopard and the sector’s most famous residents, the tree-climbing lions.
These docile felines can be easily spotted draped over the branches of large fig trees and acacia trees. Their motive for tree climbing remains unclear to researchers. Still, whether it is to enjoy the shade, watch for approaching meals, or avoid irritating bugs, Ishasha lions look incredibly comfortable on their high perches.
Best Safari Trips To Queen Elizabeth NP
QENP is the best of all Uganda destinations, excellent for family safari holidays. The park welcomes all ages and is the easiest to access. You can visit it any time of the year, and it’s also a great addition to any of the two primate destinations, Bwindi & Kibale Forests. Nkuringo Safaris, a long-serving trusted operator, runs a promotional trip to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi and visit QENP.
From $2,538 pp
2. Murchison Falls National Park
Voted second on our top 10 Uganda destinations is Murchison Falls National Park, which sits on the shores of Lake Albert in northwestern Uganda. It’s known for the rumbling Murchison Falls, the most powerful falls where the Victoria Nile River squeezes through a 7-meter narrow gap to splash out powerful water at 300 cubic meters per second.
Adjacent to Murchison is Uhuru Falls, taking the excess of Murchison Falls water to create a spectacle that has become a Uganda tourism magnet.
Together with the adjacent Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Wildlife Reserve, the park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA), the largest of all Uganda destinations at 3,893 square kilometres (1,503 sq mi).
Murchison Falls National Park is endowed with big game, including elephants and hippos, and you could catch sight of the chimpanzee in the Kanyiyo Padidi mahogany forest. The Lake Albert Delta is home to rare shoebill storks. There is game fishing in the cascades of Karuma Falls.
MFNP lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift, where the valley’s bounding escarpments fade into north Uganda’s anonymous expanses. The Victoria Nile bisects the park for 100 kilometers as it flows west from Karuma Falls to the Albert Nile. Created in 1952, today, it forms the core of the even larger Murchison Falls Conservation Area (5,072 sq km), including the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu wildlife reserves.
The River Nile through that park with its teeming hippo and serried ranks of crocodiles on the sandbanks, coupled with large numbers of other species coming down to drink and bathe, in the highlight of a visit to this magnificent park.
The most dramatic view of the waterfall is at the top of the falls, where the sight and sounds of the Nile crashing through the 6-meter wide chasm makes an unforgettable assault on your neural senses.
The Falls site may be reached either by vehicle or a hot half-hour climb on foot after leaving the Paraa launch in Fajao Gorge. The latter route passes Baker’s point, a peninsula that faces Murchison Falls and a secondary cataract named Uhuru Falls.
Wildlife in Murchison Falls
The Paraa boat safari cruise is undoubtedly the park’s most enduring and famous safari attraction. The safari boat trips that launch off at Paraa jetty cruise up the Nile to the bottom of the Murchison Falls. On the Nile banks, you can spot the Nile crocodiles, elephant herds, lions, lazy hippos, buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffe, oribi, hartebeest, and monitor lizards.
Birding is spectacular along the Victoria Nile River to the delta. Hundreds of Red-throated bee-eaters nest in a river cliff near Paraa, while you’ll find many waterbirds along the channel.
The most prized bird sighting in Murchison is the strange-looking Shoebill or Whale-headed Stork, which frequents marshy areas. With luck, you can see the Shoebill from the Paraa boat safari, but opportunities are best in the Victoria Nile’s papyrus delta, Mabamba Swamp, where the river enters Lake Albert.
The best safari game viewing opportunities in this top Uganda destination are found north of the Nile in the savannah plains of Buligi Area. This stunning grassland wilderness is sandwiched between the Victoria and Albert Niles with panoramic views towards the rift valley escarpment in the West Nile districts and DR. Congo.
Murchison Falls wildlife collection lucks the Rhino to complete Africa’s famous Big 5 game animals list (Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Cape Buffalo, and Rhino). Unfortunately for safari enthusiasts, the fifth of them, the White Rhino, lives in the nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, is closed off for tourism due to misunderstandings between the private sanctuary’s owners.
However, the Buffalo and elephant are ubiquitous among Murchison Falls NP wildlife. A very healthy lion population likes to prey on the abundant Uganda kob on the expansive park’s savannah plains. Several antelope species roam the plains, including oribi, Jackson’s hartebeest, Defassa waterbuck, grey duiker, and bushbuck.
On the Victoria Nile banks, which bisect the park, are crocodiles and hippos busking under the savannah heat. You’re also most likely to see large herds of the localized Rothschild’s giraffe in the park, but the leopard is far from showing up randomly. The most likely place to see the leopard is in the vicinity of Pakuba Lodge.
Troops of the rare Pata’s monkey sometimes hand around the grassy plains and are easy to spot on a Uganda safari game drive. The neighboring Budongo Forest offers chimpanzee tracking excursions to compliment your game drive. It’s fun watching these distant habituated cousins showcase their native behaviors.
Other notable areas north of the river are a parkland-like expanse of Borassus Palms near Tangi and the Nyamsika Cliffs viewpoint, overlooking a river valley used by wildlife as a corridor to reach the Nile. Game is more scarce in the bushier habitats south of the river. However, you can find forest species, notably Chimpanzee, in the Kanyiyo Padidi Forest in the southern part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.
Murchison Falls Safaris
For Big 5 enthusiasts, Murchison Falls Route is a perfect bucket list-lickers choice. Lion, elephant, leopard, and Cape buffalo roam the massive park plains. Trips in Murchison feature a boat launch on the Nile to the foot of falls and early morning and evening game drives in the Delta.
Murchison Falls Big Game Safari Journeys.
3. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi would have taken the number one spot on the top 10 Uganda destinations because it protects the world’s most precious jungle jewels, the mountain gorillas. Alternatively, it took the third because it’s only popular with international tourists and not the locals. And this is mostly because it’s the most expensive of all places to visit in Uganda.
The name Bwindi comes from the local word “Mubwindi” meaning place of darkness. The thick forest canopy blankets the forest floors creating an environment for plants to highly compete for light and an impenetrable jungle for humans. Thus the name Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
This swath of steep ridges covered in the thick, steamy jungle is just as magnificent as it sounds. The 32,092 ha (320 sq km) UNESCO World Heritage-listed Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is one of Africa’s prehistoric habitats that scientists date back to have survived the last Ice Age as most of the continent’s other forests disappeared. The tropical forest is one of the largest areas in East Africa, which still has Afromontane lowland forest extending to well within the montane forest belt.
Located in a mountainous area in southwest Uganda (near the border with Rwanda in the south), Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is most famous for its giant primate inhabitants, the mountain gorillas.
See Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi
Home to almost half of the world’s mountain gorilla population, the property represents a conservation frontline as an isolated forest of outstanding biological richness surrounded by an agricultural landscape supporting one of the highest rural population densities in tropical Africa. Community benefits arising from gorilla trekking tourism and other ecotourism may be the only hope for the future conservation of this unique site.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is the best place in the world to see mountain gorillas up close. Spending a once-in-a-lifetime moment up close with these critically endangered forest giants is an unforgettable experience any traveler should include on their travel bucket list.
However, restricted numbers of viewing permits are issued at a hefty price of USD 700 (Discounted at $400) to help protect the endangered gorilla groups. So make sure you book your gorilla permit months way before your planned safari trip to one of the top 10 Uganda destinations to get a chance to view these cousins.
Hiking Trails in Bwindi Forest
Even if you can’t afford gorilla tracking, Bwindi is a rewarding place to visit just for a chance to explore the lush virgin rainforest. Several 3 to 7-hour hikes run by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) penetrate the Impenetrable Forest between Buhoma and Nkuringo sections of the forest. The walks, conducted by the premier Nkuringo Walking Safaris, begin at 9 am and 2.15 pm and cost US$30 per person (not including your park entry fee).
The Waterfall Trail leads to a magnificent 33m waterfall on the Munyaga River, but just as impressive is the rich forest ecosystems it passes through. It is the best trail for spotting both orchids and primates.
If you visit during the good weather seasons, the Muzabijiro Loop Trail and Rushura Hill Trail offer excellent views south to the Virunga volcanoes and the Western Rift Valley in the DRC. The latter, which is a more challenging climb, also serves up Lake Edward’s views and, on an exceptionally clear day, the Rwenzoris can be seen.
A longer but much easier trek is along the River Ivi Trail, which follows a planned but never-built road between Buhoma and Nkuringo. It’s a 14-kilometer walk through the forest and then another 6km uphill to join the Nteko-Nkuringo road; some travelers brave the last 10 kilometers to Nkuringo, and others hitch a boda-boda or have their driver pick them up. If you’re moving between Nkuringo and Buhoma, this is the most rewarding way to go. It is also the best bird-watching trail in the forest.
Seasoned hikers start from Kisoro town and take the 18km trek to Lake mutanda (which the walking guide can shorten to 10 km with some driving). You’ll pass through primitive communities with children dashing out hellos and cheering like it’s a July parade.
When when you reach Lake Mutanda, take a 2.5-hour paddle (life jackets provided) in a dugout canoe across to Mutanda Lake Resort. From here, it’s another 4km on foot to Kisoro or drive 36km (1 hour) to Nkuringo Sector.
Gorilla Trekking Experiences
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest protects about half of all the mountain gorillas globally, with four sectors well positioned on the park boundaries to make sure you don’t miss any opportunity to see the mountain giants.
You’re guaranteed 98% to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi because it has more habituated gorillas than Rwanda or DR Congo and with the most affordable gorilla permit (USD 700/400). The Southern Section (Nkuringo & Rushaga Sectors) offers the best trekking and habituation experiences.
Although the low season offers the best lodging prices, the best time to see gorillas is between June to August and December to February. At these times, the forest trails are drier and therefore less slippery. Also, your chance of a dry gorilla viewing experience is higher during these months. This might result in a better experience, and photography will be easier.
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4. Entebbe – Kampala
Entebbe town and Kampala City make the top 10 destinations in Uganda list mainly because one is the nation’s cultural and business hub (Kampala) while the other (Entebbe) is the only hub connecting Uganda to other international cities.
Established on rolling hills some 10km off northern Lake Victoria shores, Kampala is the conventional African capital. More verdant than many of its regional counterparts, not relatively so populous or chaotic as others —but practically the familiar contrast of a bustling compact high-rise city center rising from a leafy suburban sprawl, increasingly organic as one reaches its rustic periphery. It has a contrasting atmosphere of modern urban bustle and time-warped tropical languor.
Kampala is linked to Entebbe’s international airport by a smooth-surfaced highway passing through a lush cover of broad-leaved plantains that make for a fascinating introduction to Uganda.
Coming by air, you’ll land at Entebbe International Airport (EBB, 3km from the town center, and if your main interest is natural history, then you’d be well advised to stay over in Entebbe rather than heading on to the capital.
Kampala is the pulsating heart of Uganda’s cultural and intellectual life, nightlife. It also lies at the international and domestic long-haul bus network hub, making it an attractive base for independent travelers seeking a taste of urban African cultures.
Because Kampala is extensive to cover in the top destinations in Uganda list, please read a great piece we wrote on Exploring Kampala City, Uganda’s Economic and Social Hub.
Entebbe’s attractions to see include Uganda Wildlife Edication Center, commonly known as the Zoo, which will give you a great introduction to most of Uganda’s wildlife you’ll find in the countryside.
Lake Victoria, the largest lake on the continent is a good place to start your visit to Uganda. Birders will find the shores rich with unique bird species in places like Botanical Gardens and Mabamba Swamps (for the Shoebill Storks). Ngamba Islands on Lake Victoria protects orphaned chimpanzees and tourists can visit via a speed boat and even spend a night or two on the island.
Near the airport are a great many places to stay that are a walking distance to shopping malls, local open markets, golf courses, and quaint suburbs for sunset walks and biking experiences.
5. Kibale National Park
Stepping into Kibale Forest, you will immediately be welcomed by the dew freshness, endemic flowers’ fragrance, and primates’ musty scents. The alien sounds that bounce off your eardrums echo from distant red colobus hoots and exotic birds’ tweets.
In the distance, the sound of forest elephants felling branches along its path gives you an image of what surprise inhabitants you could encounter in this ancient tropical forest. Unexpected visitors leave trails around your forest camp or cottage to inform you that someone is watching when you’re not.
Guttural belches from warthogs remind you of the clumsy Pumba and Timon escapades of the ‘Hakuna Matata’ juggles. Gaze up, and a single scene might capture the iconic and unique as an olive long-tailed cuckoo flies above a small buffalo herd. The spirit of this jungle will make you feel more alive than ever before.
This 795-sq-km national park just outside Fort Portal comprises dense tropical rainforests, within which dwell enormous numbers of primates. If you can’t afford the lavish cost of mountain-gorilla tracking, then visiting one of the five habituated troops of chimpanzees here is a very worthy substitute, not to mention a far less financially draining one. Also regularly seen here are the rare red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys.
Beaming with an alluring combination of exquisite landscape scenery and various remarkable tourist activities, Kibale Forest National Park, together with the nearby Ndali-Kasenda Crater Lakes, is close to being an independent traveler’s dream.
Kibale Forest is highly powerfully and mysteriously attractive to nature lovers who come to view a wide range of forest birds and track chimpanzees and other twelve primate species (the highest concentration on the continent) that find refuge within the park.
Kibale National Park’s scenic appeal, chimp tracking cost, and the rising number of safari lodges make it one of the top destinations in Uganda and a great alternative to the southern gorilla destination Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
The most popular activity in Kibale National Park is the guided chimpanzee tracking excursion out of Kanyanchu almost as popular is the guided walking trail through the Bigodi Wetland Sanctuary, which is probably better for general monkey viewing and one of the finest birding trails in the country.
There is also plenty of potential for unguided exploration in the area, both along the main road through the forest and around Bigodi trading center and Kanyanchu Camp. If time is limited, it’s advisable to do the activity that most interests you in the morning — this is the best time to see chimpanzees and when birds are most active.
Guided forest walks in Kibale cost USD 30/40 Day/Night, excluding park entrance.
A highlight of any visit to Kibale Forest will be the chimp tracking hike that leaves Kanyanchu at 08.00 and 14.00 daily. Chimp sightings are not guaranteed on these walks, but the odds of encountering them have significantly improved in recent years and now stand at around 96%. The chimpanzee community, whose territory centers on Kanyanchu, is well habituated, with the result that visitors can often approach within a few meters of them.
You will hear plenty of birdsong, but it’s challenging to see any birds in the heart of the forest. You’re better off looking for them in the rest camp and along the road. The guides are knowledgeable and will identify various medicinal plants, bird calls, and animal spoor.
For dedicated chimp enthusiasts or aspiring researchers seeking field experience, join a chimpanzee habituation experience, which involves staying with the chimps all day with habituators and taking notes on their behavior. A one-day chimpanzee habituation experience for foreign non-residents and residents costs USD 250 per person, and East African Nationals cost UGX 250,000 per person. The cost includes guide fees and park entrance but not accommodation.
Kibale Forest stands out as one of the top Uganda destinations because of its exciting guided night walk with spotlights. The guided night walk runs from 19.30 to 22.00 daily, costs US$40 per person, and offers a good chance of sighting nocturnal primates such as the bushbaby and potto.
6. Lake Mburo National Park
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 southwestern Uganda safari circuit. It’s the only one of the top 10 Uganda destinations in the southern region where you’ll see zebras, giraffe, and the only park in the country with impalas, slender mongoose, and giant bush rats.
Lake Mburo is an underrated Uganda safari destination, 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 Uganda safari trips 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 safari game viewing. Stay for two or more nights, 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 other top destinations in southwestern Uganda. Amazingly, the number of travelers accepting the invitation has risen sharply since exemplary lodges opened up in the park, like the luxury Mihingo Lodge.
Wild Game in Lake Mburo
Lake Mburo is also the only protected area of the top 10 destinations in Uganda where visitors can view game animals on foot and horseback. The park harbors several species you may not see easily elsewhere in Uganda.
It is the only reserve in Uganda to support a large population of impala, and one of only three protected areas countrywide where Burchell’s zebra occurs—the other two being the far less accessible Kidepo Valley and Pian Upe.
Other antelope species casual visitors can spot 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.
Bird experts have recorded about 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.
Lake Mburo Safaris
For locals, Lake Mburo is the cheapest and most accessible of the top 10 Uganda destinations. The park offers excellent family safari holidays and bush walking experiences for Kids.
For tourists, the park offers excellent complementary to the gorilla trekking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (see above). It also acts as a buffer for the long voyages to Bwindi and Queen Elizabeth National Parks.
This small park is located 107 km from Masaka City and 67 km before Mbarara City.
7. Jinja, Source of The Nile
One of Uganda’s largest towns, Jinja, just about 80km east of Kampala, overlooking the point where the Nile flows out of Lake Victoria (the Source of The Nile), makes it to our top 10 destinations in Uganda because of its overwhelming popularity with local and international travelers. And it is the source of the mighty river rather than the moderately interesting town that attracts visitors to Jinja.
The thrilling series of grade-five rapids below Bujagali Falls, a magnet for adrenaline tourists, has emerged as perhaps the single most popular tourist activity in Uganda, arguably surpassing even the mountain gorillas of the southwest. The rapids attract several adrenaline adventures concentrated in a small radius. It is one of the most spectacular white-water rafting destinations in the world.
There is also a certain poignancy attached to standing on the slopes from where Speke first identified that geographical Holy Grail which, less than a decade earlier, had lured an obsessed (and hopelessly misdirected) Livingstone to a feverish death near Lake Bangweulu in Zambia.
No less impressive is the knowledge that the water flowing past these green slopes will eventually drain into the Mediterranean, following a 6,500km journey through the desert wastes of Sudan and Egypt.
Jinja has an attractively lush location on the northern shore of Lake Victoria above the Ripon Falls, identified by Speke in 1862 as the source of the Nile, but submerged following the construction of the Owen Falls Dam in the 1950s. The colonial town was formerly the industrial heartland of Uganda, with a current population of 300,000 people.
Although its population makes it one of the largest urban centers in Uganda, Jinja is far from a metropolis that straddles the source of the Nile.
First-time visitors wandering around Jinja’s compact, low-rise town center might reasonably reflect on the colonial times the Europeans made this place their economic center.
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The town center proliferates with abandoned colonial architecture. Some fine colonial-era Asian architecture — epitomized by the restored 1919 Madvhani House on Main Street — complemented by a spread of thickly vegetated residential suburbs carved from the surrounding jungle, does give Jinja a compelling sense of place.
A great selection of accommodation choices sprouts around the city, allowing any traveler to spend a night in this colonial town. From hippie hostels to luxury travel lodges, you can’t fail to get where to spend your night in Jinja. A trip to any of the top Uganda destinations without visiting the source of the mighty Nile river will leave you with unfinished business guilt. It would be best if you extended your stay in Uganda to visit Jinja city.
8. Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi’s exotic landscapes that are a magnet for local and international travelers place it on this list of top 10 destinations in Uganda. Dotted with at least 20 small islands and encircled by steep terraced hills, Bunyonyi is a magical spot. It has been a popular day trip out of Kabale for decades. Over the past few years, the lake has further gained popularity thanks to a proliferation of budget and other campsites and resorts around the small fishing village of Rutinda (also known as Kyabahinga) and nearby islands.
Bunyonyi is a local name translating to “little birds,” which references the prolific weaver colonies along its shore. Larger birds are also represented by grey-crowned cranes, African harrier hawks, and various herons and egrets. Other common sightings include the levillant cuckoo, white-tailed monad, slender-billed baglafetch, cardinal woodpecker, and the African kingfisher.
The lake is large and irregularly shaped with numerous islands and the surrounding hillsides, which locals have beautifully cultivated like parts of Nepal. The area is vibrant with activities like canoeing, cycling, or hiking.
Also in its favor is the high-altitude location, which ensures a moderate climate (often becoming quite chilly at night) and a relatively low incidence of malaria. Health authorities have reliably reported the absence of Bilharzia and crocodiles and hippos, which means the lake is very safe for swimming adventures.
Active travelers will be excited that the easy availability of canoes, kayaks, and mountain bikes for hire, and enough potential excursions to keep one busy for days.
Things to do around lake Bunyonyi
One primary reason to include lake Bunyonyi on the top destinations in Uganda is the endless opportunities for activities available at the Lake Bunyoni region. Many villagers around the lake, several of the guesthouses, and campsites have boats for hire. It isn’t challenging to arrange a canoe trip on the lake. Canoeing is a popular activity, and you can rent dugouts from most of the camps. Charges are pretty reasonable but practice for a while before heading off on an ambitious trip around the islands, as many tourists end up going round and round in circles, doing what’s known locally as the mzungu (corkscrew).
There are endless walking opportunities in the area, and for those who want a challenge, you can boat across the lake before trekking down to Kisoro. Guided walks are also popular, and these can usually be arranged through camps here. However, if you want a relaxed amble along the shores of the lake, it is straightforward enough to find your own way.
You can hire a Mountain bike (per day USD 10) from Bunyoni Overland Camp and are a great way to get along the lakeshore, although getting to Kabale would require a king of the mountains, Tour de France style effort.
Wednesday and Saturday are Kyenvu open market days, drawing villagers from all over the region. It is a long way from all the camps around the lake and involves a three-hour trip by the dugout. However, most of the camps can arrange a rower to help out or secure a motorboat for rent. The people out here are pretty shy, so be sensitive with a camera.
There are also several Batwa villages in this part of the region, and if you can link up with a friendly guide at the market, you might be able to arrange a visit to a Batwa community. Nearer to the camps is Punishment Island, located midway between Bushara and Njuyera Islands; so named because it was once the place where unmarried pregnant women were dumped to die. Tragically, most of them did die trying to swim for shore because they usually didn’t have the stamina to make it. It is easy to spot – it has just one small tree in the center.
9. Kidepo National Park
Nestled in the extreme northeastern corner of Uganda among rugged hills and valleys and off the beaten track, Kidepo National Park is a destination hidden so far away that its beauty has mostly gone unnoticed. Sprawling with expansive savannah plains, soaring mountains, spectacular landscapes, and great buffalo herds, Kidepo Valley offers one of Africa’s most attractive picturesque safaris. It sits on a massive 557 sq mile (1,442 sq km) rocky semi-arid Karamoja province.
Of all the top ten destinations in Uganda, Kidepo Valley is the most remote and unusual. It is crammed in the northwestern corner of Uganda’s border with Kenya and South Sudan, which would take approximately 10 hours to drive 292 mi from Kampala to Kidepo on the newly paved road.
Kidepo National Park offers breathtaking savannah scenery that ends on a rocky horizon. The park harbors outstanding landscape scenery unrivaled by any other national park in the whole of East Africa, and it features a wide latitudinal array that offers a variety of climatic conditions which support remarkably different vegetation.
The diverse vegetation facilitates the different assortment of animal species within the park which are equally plentiful, among which are not seen in other parts of this country. The wildlife and vegetation in the park are rather more characteristic of Kenya than Uganda.
Over 77 animals inhabit Kidepo National Park. Among the resident Carnivore species only endemic to Kidepo are the hunting dog, bat-eared fox, cheetah, striped hyena, caracal, aardwolf, Beisa Oryx, Lesser Kudu plus Grant’s gazelle, elephant, Orbis, Burchell’s zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, bush pigs, cape buffaloes, bohor reedbucks, warthogs, defassa waterbucks, Rothschild giraffes, bush duskier and elands, bushbucks, in addition to lions, common zebras, leopards, plus several small cats such as the side-striped jackal, Kongoni, black-backed jackal spotted hyena, lions are seen to rest on the rocks.
The park has five primate species, including the endemic Kavirondo bush baby, numerous Orbis within the Narus Valley, Guenther’s Dik Dik, the Senegal Galago, and the White-tailed Mongoose. However, they comfortably come out for a good show on a night game drive.
Kidepo Valley has the second-highest population of birds than any of the top destinations in Uganda, led only by Queen Elizabeth National Park, showcasing an impressive bird list of over 470 species. Sixty of the bird species on its list haven’t been recorded anywhere else in Uganda. Kidepo is especially good for spotting raptors, with 56 species on record. You can spot migratory birds in Kidepo from November to April.
Kidepo National Park is home to one of the smallest ethnic groups in Africa: the Ik. With a population of just above 10,000, the small tribe struggles to preserve their unique culture and language, which no rival tribes understand. A visit through Kidepo will immerse you in their raw cultural practices that even a historian would marvel at. You’ll learn about their fascinating way of life, meet the village elders and enjoy a fun-filled activity with the community children.
Hike into the Morungole Mountains within the park to engage with the enchanting Ik people. This remote community of subsistence farmers has kept to their traditional way of life, with villagers only traveling to the lowlands to trade grain.
Not far from the Ik are the interesting Karamojong pastoralists. Initially, it isn’t easy to distinguish between IK people and Karamojong due to their similar lively jump dancing, specific hut building, and unique dressing. The difference between these two tribes is that the Ik people speak the Teuso language and practice subsistence farming and are not nomadic pastoralism, like the Karamojong.
The Karamojong people are also an intriguing tribe that has seen much attention from tourists due to their authentic cultural experiences and activities. They are a Nilotic tribe for whom cattle form an essential part of their culture. The cattle are assembled collectively and provide cow blood and cattle blood for food, just like the Maasai in Kenya.
Now that UNRA has paved major roads further north of Uganda, it puts Kidepo Valley National Park comfortably on the top 10 destinations in Uganda list. Have the honor to visit this outstanding destination.
10. Rwenzori National Park
We couldn’t talk about the top 10 destinations in Uganda without including something for the adventure seekers. Uganda has something for every kind of traveler, even extreme hikers too.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park encompasses the legendary Rwenzori mountains dubbed the mountains of the Moon, where the highest snow-peak in the country (third-highest on the continent) pervades the East African clouds. The ranges are a combination of beautiful peaks, glaciers, Valleys, Rivers, Lakes, and various species of flora and fauna, making the Rwenzori scenic. The stratified vegetation is one of the main attractions for visitors.
The Rwenzori is the highest mountain range in Africa. Its loftiest peaks, Margherita (5,109m) and Alexandra (5,083m) on Mount Stanley are exceeded in altitude elsewhere in Africa only by Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya. Both of which are extinct volcanoes standing in isolation above the surrounding plains. In addition to Mount Stanley, there are four other glacial peaks in the Rwenzori: Mount Speke (4,890m), Mount Emin (4,791m), Mount Gessi (4,715m), and Mount Luigi da Savoia (4,627m).
The Rwenzori Mountains are unique among east Africa’s major peaks in that they are not volcanic in origin. Still, they do rise directly from the Rift Valley floor, and their formation, like that of Kilimanjaro and Kenya, was linked to the geological upheaval that created the Rift.
The Rwenzori makes our top 10 destinations in Uganda because they hold three of the continent’s five highest peaks. The summits are spectacular, the routes are uncrowded, and the high-altitude forest teems with life. The ranges contain six of Africa’s ten highest mountains, most of them more elevated than the tallest Alps. Yet, to most bucket-list hikers, they are largely unknown, overshadowed by Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya, Africa’s two highest mountains.
The fabled ‘Mountains of the Moon’ are now a protected World Heritage Site within the Rwenzori Mountains National Park and considered to be the source of the White Nile.
Rwenzori Mountains range also supports a diversity of animals, including 70 mammal and 177 bird species, several of the latter being Albertine Rift endemics. It is the only national park in Uganda where you’ll find the Angola colobus, though sighting it will require careful search. Nevertheless, you can easily spot the similar and more widespread black-and-white colobus monkey, small antelope such as bushbucks, and unusual reptiles such as the three-horned chameleon.
Like other large east African mountains, the Rwenzori range has several altitude zones, each with its own distinct microclimate and flora and fauna. It is known for its distinctive flora rather than its fauna. On the route to the peaks, hikers climb through a series of distinct altitudinal vegetation zones, including montane forest, bamboo, tree heathers, and afro-alpine. With its giant symbolic forms of Senecio (groundsel) and lobelia, the latter is one of the world’s rarest botanical communities, limited to East African mountains above 3800m.
The vegetations present a beautiful land terrain and plant life of sub-montane vegetation in the Afro-montane zone covered by luxurious tropical evergreen forest with a high richness in color and species.
On the foothills of the mountain, you will witness farmlands and on top of the distinctive mountain flora, which has attracted a great deal of fauna and delivering a fantastic picturesque to the travel enthusiasts. Arrive at the top of the mountain and behold the majestic snow-capped peaks that will leave you breathless.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park is situated in Western Uganda in the East African Rift Valley and also straddles to the Democratic Republic of Congo and its conservation area known as Virunga National Park.
The top 10 Uganda destinations are just a pick from so much that the country brags about. The destination is arguably undiscovered, with very few numbers of travelers flocking in. That makes Uganda an attractive destination for private journeys and authentic African experiences. The plethora of cultures concentrated in major towns and every corner of the country will introduce you, so some never heard before tribes, people, food, languages, colors, and everything in between. Uganda should be on your bucket list. When you’re ready to travel, send us an email at [email protected], and we’ll connect you with local experts to help you plan your custom trip to Uganda. For now, follow our media channels below or leave a comment to let us know what you think.