Uganda is home to ten wonderful and varied national parks, and numerous conservation areas and game reserves, all under the custodianship of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
- Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda - Kenya border it is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in east Africa. Its vast form in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding or refuge for flora and fauna. Mount Elgon national park is the home to over 300 species of birds, including the endangered Lanmergeyer. Small entelopes, forest monkeys, elephants and buffaloes also live on the mountainside. The higher slopes are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which Has declared a UNESCO man and biosphere reserve.
A climb on Mt. Elgon's deserted moorland unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains; the ultimate goal on reaching the top of Mt. Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai peak but the descent into the vast 40 square kilometers caldera.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mgahinga Gorilla National Park sits high in the clouds, at an altitude of between 2,227m and 4,127m. As its name suggests, it was created to protect the rare mountain gorillas that inhabit its dense forests, and it is also an important habitat for the endangered golden monkey.
As well as being important for wildlife, the park also has a huge cultural significance, in particular for the indigenous Batwa pygmies. This tribe of hunter- gatherers was the forest's "first people", and their ancient knowledge of its secrets remains unrivalled. Mgahinga's 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 volcanoes' slopes contain various ecosystems and are biologically diverse, and their peaks provide a striking backdrop to this gorgeous place.
- Semliki National Park
Semliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa's most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.
The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
While Semliki's species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. The Sempaya hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
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, buffalo 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 gazetting of the park has ensured the conservation of its ecosystems, which in turn benefits the surrounding communities. Uganda's Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly a Medley of Wonders.
- Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First created as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda's largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds.
The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river's energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda's most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
Near Murchison Falls National Park is the famous and fabulous Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.
- Lake Mburo National Park
Lake Mburo National Park is a compact gem, located conveniently close to the highway that connects Kampala to the parks of western Uganda. It is the smallest of Uganda's savannah national parks and underlain by ancient Precambrian metamorphic rocks which date back more than 500 million years.
It is home to 350 bird species as well as zebra, impala, eland, buffalo, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, hippo, hyena, toppi and giraffe.
Together with 13 other lakes in the area, Lake Mburo forms part of a 50km-long wetland system linked by a swamp. Five of these lakes lie within the park's borders. Once covered by open savanna, Lake Mburo National Park now contains much woodland as there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. In the western part of the park, the savanna is interspersed with rocky ridges and forested gorges while patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line.
- Kibale Forest National Park
Kibale Forest National Park contains one of the loveliest and most varied tracts of tropical forest in Uganda. Forest cover, interspersed with patches of grassland and swamp, dominates the northern and central parts of the park on an elevated plateau. The park is home to a total of 70 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primate including the chimpanzee. It also contains over 375 species of birds.
Kibale adjoins Queen Elizabeth National Park to the south to create a 180km-long corridor for wildlife between Ishasha, the remote southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Sebitoli in the north of Kibale Forest National Park. The Kibale-Fort Portal area is one of Uganda's most rewarding destinations to explore. The park lies close to the tranquil Ndali-Kasenda crater area and within half a day's drive of the Queen Elizabeth, Rwenzori Mountains and Semliki National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
- Rwenzori National Park
The fabled 'mountains of the moon' lie in western Uganda along the Uganda-Congo border. The equatorial snow peaks include the third highest point in Africa.
While the lower slopes are blanketed in moorland bamboo and rich, moist montane forest, huge tree-heathers and colourful mosses are draped across the mountain side in fairy-tale scenery. Rwenzori National Park protects parts of the 120 km-long and 65 km wide, 996 square kilometers, Rwenzori range. The national park hosts about 70 mammals and 217 bird species including 19 albertine rift endemic birds. As well as some of the world's rarest vegetation.
The Rwenzori is a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination. A nine to twelve days trek will get skilled climbers to the summit of Margherita - the highest peak - though shorter, non-technical treks are possible to scale the surrounding peak, For those who prefer something a little less strenuous, neighboring Bakonzo villages offer nature walks, homestead visits, home cultural performances and accommodation, including home-cooked local cuisine.
The park was created in 1991 and was recognized as a World Heritage site in 1994 and a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance in 2008. The Rwenzori range were christened the 'mountains of the moon' by the Alexandrine geographer Ptolemy in AD 150, however, it is not volcanic, like East Africa's other major mountains, but rather it is a block of rock upfaulted through the floor of the western Rift Valley. Its highest point, at 5109m above sea level is the Margherita peak on Mt Stanley. The explorer Henry Stanley placed Rwenzori on the map on 24th May 1888. He labeled it "Rwenzori" a local name which he recorded as meaning "rain-maker" or "cloud-king".
- Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park lies in the rugged semi-arid valleys between Uganda's border with Southern Sudan and Kenya, some 700 kilometres from the capital Kampala. Created as a national park in 1962, it has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammals species as well as around 475 bird species.
Kidepo is Uganda's most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamojong would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa's finest wildernesses. From Apoka, in the heart of the park, a savannah landscape extends far beyond the create area, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges. During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnants pools in the broad Narus valley near Apoka, these seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park's prime game viewing location.
The park is 1442 square kilometers in size, and its altitude ranges between 914m-2750m above sea level. The park contains two rivers - Kidepo and Narus - which disappear in the dry season, leaving just pools for wildlife. The local communities around the park include pastoral Karamojong people, similar to the Masai of Kenya, and the Ik, a hunter-gatherer tribe whose survival is threatened.
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in southwestern Uganda on the edge of the rift valley. Its mist-covered hillsides are blanketed by one of Uganda's oldest and most biologically diverse rain forest, which dates back over 25,000 years and contain almost 400 species of plants.
More famously, this "impenetrable forest" also protects an estimated 600 mountain gorillas - roughly half of the world's population, including several habituated groups, which can be tracked. This biological diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzee, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine rift endemics.
The neighboring towns of Buhoma and Nkuringo both have an impressive array of luxury lodges, rustic bandas, craft stalls and guiding services. Opportunities abound to discover the local Bakiga and Batwa pygmy culture through performances, workshops and village walks.
Size: 321 square kilometers.
Altitude: 1,160m - 2,607m above sea level.
Bwindi was created as a national park in 1991 and declared a UNESCO Natural world heritage site in 1994.
The Mubare gorilla group was the first to become available for tourism in Uganda in April 1993. Thirteen groups are now habituated for tourism, and one for research.
Spread over a series of steep ridges and valleys, Bwindi is a source of five major rivers which flow into Lake Edward.