Of Uganda’s forested reserves, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is best known for its superb gorilla tracking, but it also provides refuge to elephant, chimpanzee, monkeys and various small antelope, as well as 23 bird species restricted to the Albertine Rift.
Kibale National Park is a primatologist’s dream. It hosts a population of more than 1,000 chimpanzees, of which one 80-strong community has been habituated to tourist visits, as well as half-a-dozen readily observed monkey species, including the acrobatic red colobus and black-and-white colobus, and the handsome L’Hoest’s monkey.
In the far northeast, the remote, wild and little-visited Kidepo Valley National Park provides refuge to a long list of dry-country species not found elsewhere in the country, including cheetah and greater kudu, while its perennial waters attract large numbers of elephant and thousand-strong buffalo herds, especially during the dry season.
The closest savannah reserve to Kampala, Lake Mburo National Park is centred on a series of swamp-fringed lakes known for their rich birdlife, notably the secretive African finfoot. The green acacia woodland surrounding the lake harbours dense populations of zebra, warthog, buffalo, impala and various other grazers, including the last surviving Ugandan population of eland, the largest of African antelope.
Mountain gorillas also form the main attraction at Mgahinga National Park, which protects the Ugandan portion of the Virungas, an imposing string of nine freestanding extinct and active volcanoes that runs along the border with Rwanda and the Congo.
Rwenzori Mountains National Park protects the eastern slopes and glacial peaks of the 120km-long Rwenzori Mountains or ‘Mountains of the Moon’, a world-class hiking and mountaineering destination whose significance as a source of the Nile was first alluded to by the geographer Ptolemy circa 150 AD. Rising from the Rift Valley floor to a wintry elevation of 5,109m, the Rwenzori supports large tracts of evergreen and bamboo forest, while the higher moorland zone is known for its other-worldly cover of giant heathers, lobelias and groundsels.
Set on the Kenya border near Mbale, Mount Elgon National Park encompasses the 4,321 metre mountain for which it is named, which has the largest base of any extinct volcano in the world. A lush mosaic of Afro-montane forest, grassland and moorland habitats makes this park a highly rewarding destination for hikers and other natural history enthusiasts.
The country’s largest protected area is Murchison Falls National Park, whose palm-studded grassland supports dense populations of lion, buffalo, elephant and Uganda kob, together with the localised Rothschild’s giraffe and patas monkey. Immense concentrations of hippos and birds can be observed from morning and afternoon launch trips along the Nile below the spectacular waterfall for which the park is named.
Set majestically in the shadow of the Rwenzori, flanking Lakes Edward and George, the lush savannah of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers prime grazing to buffalo, elephant and various antelope. A checklist of 600-plus bird species testifies to the extraordinary ecological diversity of this park. Mammalian specialities include the (elsewhere elusive) giant forest hog, and the legendary tree-climbing lions of the Ishasha Sector.