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Uganda's National Parks
Uganda is home to ten wonderful and varied national parks.
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.
Areas of Interest:
Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai, 13km from Sipi town, doubles as the educational centre for schools and the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits of between, 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escapments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates. Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub's turaco, eastern bronze-napped pigeon, lemon dove, dusky- turtle dove, African hill babbler, alpine chat, black-throated wattle-eye, mountain yellow warbler, thick-billed honey guide, grey cuckoo-shrike.
CAVES: Mount Elgon's slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are kapkwai cave, near the forest exploration center, and khauka cave on wanale ridge. Historically such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock; later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings. more recently, they were used by climbers and their porters, and even today, campsites are still located at hunter's cave, siyo cave (near the hot springs), mude cave and tutum cave - ideal for overnight expeditions.
Jackson's Pool stands at 4,050m and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165m high Jackson's Peak, a free- standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain. These features were named after the explorer Frederick Jackson, who in 1889 was the first European to climb mount Elgon. The peak is used by the locals as a spot to communication with their ancestors.
The Peaks and the Caldera: Mount Elgon's highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim enclosing one of the world's largest calderas, the tallest peak is 4321m wagagi, followed by sudek 4303m, koitobos 4222m and mubiyi 4210m. The caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. When it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone, it collapsed into a depression like shape. In the eastern corner of the caldera, hot springs are found at the start of the deep suam gorge. In the northern, Simu gorge was formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera cutting two streams beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
Nkokenjeru Ridge: a distinctive finger of the forest extending outward from themain massif of mount elgon. It lies at an elevation of 2347m and covers a 25km - long tongue of lava that flowed out of the side of the volcano after the cone collapsed to block the main vent. Nkokenjeru ridge culminates at the superb wanale cliffs which tower above Mbale town; the seasonal Nabuyonga and Namatyo waterfalls are located here. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to khauka cave where petrified wood can be found. The ridge also offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over the Mbale town. The Nabuyonga trail is an 5km loop with birding, fauna and flora. Viewpoints overlook Mbale town, lakes Kyoga, Bisina and Salisbara, and the rugged mountains in karamoja region. On a clear day, you may enjoy vistas of wagagai peak and even areas of western Kenya. Beware of throwing a stone into the Nabuyonga stream- local folklore claims that if you do so, a thunderstorm will strike before you leave!
Sipi Falls: The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometers in length, over which the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. The best known are the three waterfalls at sipi on the kapchorwa road, just outside the park. The lowest of these falls is the most spectacular as it cascades over a loom cliff. The second, know as samba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave. Visitors can stand in the cave and enjoy a view of the back of the fall. The third water fall, also known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Sipi falls is less than an hour drive from Mbale on a paved road. Easily accessible waterfall are also found at sisiyi, bulago, chebonet and wanale and many more are scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
Tewei Hill: Outside the park overlooking Sipi Falls is the hill where during the 1960s, Chemongeskingo, king of the Sabiny would meet his subjects. From the top you can view the three falls, the Karamajongo plains and the Wagagai.
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
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 gorgous place.
Semuliki 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 Semuliki's species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. 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 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 lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro
escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted 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.
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, leopard, hippo, hyena, topi
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 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 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 Semuliki National Parks, as well as the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
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 with fairly tale scene. Rwenzori mountains national park protects the parts of the 120 km-long and 65 km wide Rwenzori range. The national park hosts a bout 70 mammals and 217
bird species including 19 Albertine rift endemic (for birders). As well as some of the world's rarest vegetation.
The Rwenzori are 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.
Kidepo National Park lies in the rugged semi-arid valleys between Uganda's border with Southern Sudan and Kenya,
kilometres from the capital kampala. Gazetted as a national park in 1962, It has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammals species as wellas 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 gazette 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.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park lies in south western 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 elemphants and antelopes. These 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.
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Uganda: the pearl of Africa
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