Across the city’s hinterland, you’ll encounter Best Parks & Game Reserves, niche sanctuaries with very few visitors, and there’s even the possibility of a marine safari. Here are some of our favorites.
Best Parks & Game Reserves
Tsavo East National Park
If you only have time to go on one safari near Mombasa, make it Tsavo East NP. One of Kenya’s best parks, it’s famous for elephants that you’ll very often see bathed in the red Tsavo dust. Lion sightings are similarly common and they have a story to tell: Tsavo lions have always been known for their ferocity and for the scruffy manes of the park’s male lions. Cheetahs, too, are a real highlight here, especially on the plains out in the eastern reaches of the park, the section of Tsavo East closest to Mombasa. The wild Galana River and the wildlife-rich Kanderi Swamp are also lovely focal points for your visit, and among the park’s more unusual wildlife prizes are the Somali ostrich, the gerenuk and the endangered Hunter’s hartebeest (hirola)
Tsavo West National Park
It’s quite an excursion from Mombasa, but Tsavo West NP is one of Kenya’s best parks and it’s not all that far away. Weird-and-wonderful rock formations and lava tubes dominate the park. Places such as Mzima Springs feel like another world, with greenery, hippos and crocs. Tsavo West’s other wildlife can be amazing, even if the denser vegetation means that the elephants, lions, leopards and more can be harder to see here than in neighboring Tsavo East NP. Giraffes, rhinos and plenty of birds are also highlights here.
Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary
It’s a bit of a drive from Mombasa to get here, but Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary is well worth the effort. At the heart of this private community sanctuary is a pocket of forested hills surrounded by savannah grasslands, not far from the arid plains of Tsavo. You’ll probably see elephants, and you might even see lions, cheetahs and klipspringers here. But it’s the birding that really gets visitors excited, especially the chance to see some forest species, as well as birds of prey.
Shimba Hills National Reserve
Southwest of the city, inland from Diani Beach, Shimba Hills NR is one of the best game reserves near Mombasa. The hilly landscape here is a gorgeous combination of lush, tropical greens and savannah wildlife. While you’re here, you might see elephants, sable antelope and buffalo, as well as baboons, giraffes, plenty of birds and more butterflies than you ever thought possible. Not many safaris make it out here, and almost all of them come on day trips from the coast. Stay overnight if you can.
Lumo Community Wildlife Sanctuary
Close to Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary and worth combining with it if you’re coming from Mombasa, Lumo is a community-run sanctuary that gets big cats, elephants and more. While you’re here, you might even see a black serval or an aardwolf! The birding is also incredible: over half of Kenya’s 1,100 bird species are possible, with the Taita thrush, Taita white-eye and Taita apalis possible highlights you just don’t see elsewhere. Unlike in Kenya’s national parks, you can even go on a walking safari.
Kisite Marine National Park
Going on safari near Mombasa isn’t just about cats and elephants and animals grazing the savannah. In the waters around Wasini Island, this marine national park also includes the Mpunguti Marine National Reserve. It is great for diving and snorkeling in search of dolphins, turtles and all manner of marine life on the beautifully preserved coral reefs.
Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary
You don’t have to travel far from Mombasa to see elephants. Mwaluganje Elephant Sanctuary is one of Kenya’s newer reserves and it lies along an important elephant-migration corridor. Seeing an elephant is almost guaranteed while you’re here. The riverine scenery through the Cha Shimba Valley, as well as the fact that very few visitors come here, combine to make this one of the more rewarding safari experiences in Kenya’s southeast.
South of Voi and a little removed from the main safari trail, Tsavo Conservancy is a special place. Part of its appeal is the wildlife. The conservancy lies along an elephant-migration corridor, Grevy’s zebra inhabit the area, and more than 300 bird species have been seen here. But it also offers the chance to engage with local community projects set up to increase self-sufficiency and alternative sources of income for local people.
Gorilla trekking in Uganda versus Rwanda, which is better? Both are great options, but which is best depends on your needs. In this post, we’ll have a look at some of the differences between gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. Below are some of the main points of comparison to help you decide where to go on a gorilla trek.
Comparison 1: Number of Permits
As one of the ultimate wildlife experiences in Africa, gorilla trekking is becoming more and more popular. Luckily strict regulations are in place to protect these gentle giants, and the number of permits available per day is finite. Only eight visitors can spend one hour with a habituated gorilla group per day. Rwanda has 12 groups available for tracking in Volcanoes National Park, and Uganda has 13 groups in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and just one group in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.
Mgahinga Gorilla NP in the Virunga Mountains is an amazing place for gorilla trekking, possibly my favorite. But with just one gorilla group and very little accommodation in the area, it isn’t a popular option. For the purposes of this blog, I’ve left this off-the-beaten-track gorilla park out of the equation and the comparisons below are between the two most popular and accessible gorilla trekking destinations: Bwindi in Uganda and Volcanoes NP in Rwanda.
Comparison 2: Habitat & Landscape
The habitat and landscape of the main gorilla trekking parks in Uganda and Rwanda are very different. Rwanda’s Volcanoes NP is part of a mostly dormant volcanic mountain range known as the Virungas. Here, the gorillas stay almost exclusively in the bamboo forest zone, a beautiful setting in which to see these great apes. The vegetation tends to be quite open, which is ideal for easy viewing. Uganda’s most popular gorilla trekking destination, Bwindi Impenetrable NP, is an extensive tract of tropical rainforest. It’s a stunning setting as well, but as the name suggests, the denser vegetation can sometimes make clear views of the gorillas a bit more challenging.
Comparison 3: Cost
Another important point to consider when comparing gorilla trekking in Uganda versus Rwanda is the cost. The price of a gorilla trekking permit in Uganda is US$700 and in Rwanda it’s US$1,500 per person. A big difference. Of course, you can argue that the difference isn’t considerable when absorbed into a 10-day holiday package. This fee doesn’t include any travel arrangements, such as transport, your guide, accommodation etc. It only covers the activity, the park ranger who will be your guide for gorilla trekking, and the trackers who go ahead to find the gorillas. Tips for the guide, trackers and optional porter are extra.
Comparison 4: Trek Conditions
In general, the trek conditions tend to be a bit easier in Rwanda than in Uganda. This is not absolute though. Conditions change daily depending on the location of the gorillas. Each gorilla group has its territory and some of them are usually easier to reach than others. Conditions tend to deteriorate after heavy rain when the forest paths become very slippery. This is especially true in Bwindi, which sees very high rainfall throughout the year. The tracks in Rwanda are usually quite defined, while the tracks in Uganda tend to be very steep and overgrown. Having said that, the high altitude in Rwanda can be a challenge for some people.
Comparison 5: Accommodation Options
There are good accommodation options for gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda. Rwanda has perhaps more choice in top-end luxury lodges, while Uganda has a few more mid-range options. Several lodges in Uganda border the park and have a true forest feel, while in Rwanda many lodges have mountain and/or lake views, but most are a bit farther away from the forest boundary.
Comparison 6: Getting There
Volcanoes NP in Rwanda is considerably more accessible than Bwindi Impenetrable NP in Uganda. The drive from Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, to Volcanoes NP takes up to 3 hours on a good road. The drive from Entebbe, Uganda’s gateway for most visitors, to Bwindi takes between 8 and 10 hours. While there is only one starting point for gorilla treks in Rwanda, there are four different trailheads in Bwindi. Some of them require a good 4×4 to get to. There are, however, scheduled flights to Bwindi. Alternatively, a stay in Bwindi can be incorporated into a larger road tour in Uganda, visiting other parks and reserves. For a quick gorilla trekking tour or an add-on to a safari in Kenya or Tanzania, Rwanda is most convenient.
Comparison 7: Overall Safari
Most people will incorporate a gorilla trek into a longer safari. For this, Uganda has more options than Rwanda. Uganda’s Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks are two top-notch savannah reserves. You’ll see most iconic safari animals here, including elephants, lions, buffalo and giraffes. All the Big Five are present except for rhinos, which can be seen in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Uganda is also a top destination for chimpanzee trekking, while Lake Bunyonyi is a great place to chill out for a couple of days at the end of an action-packed safari.
Rwanda is less established as a stand-alone safari destination, but it has a few very good off-the-beaten-track gems worth tagging onto your gorilla trek. Most notable are Akagera National Park, a scenic Big Five savannah park, and Nyungwe National Park, a montane rainforest, which is home to 13 primate species, including chimpanzees.
Comparison 8: Best Time to Go
The best time for gorilla trekking in Rwanda and Uganda is from June to August and to a lesser extent from December to February. These are the driest months. At this time, the trails tend to be less slippery and hiking in the forest is easier. Your experience will be less likely interrupted by rain. However, Volcanoes NP in Rwanda sees less rainfall overall and conditions are mostly fine from May to February. Bwindi is a rainforest, and you can get wet here at any time. You’ll still see the gorillas though. As long as you avoid the peaks of the rains (April to May and October to November) you should be OK. Waterproof jackets are a must, of course.
Here, in alphabetical order, we introduce you to 10 of our favorite Uganda Luxury Safari camps & lodges. Uganda is one of Africa’s most underrated safari destinations. It is best known for its mountain gorillas, which can be tracked in Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga Gorilla National Parks. Rather less publicized is the fact that Uganda’s biodiverse network of parks also offers excellent chimpanzee trekking and a decent chance of spotting all the Big Five. Other attractions include some of Africa’s most scenic mountains and lakes, and a checklist of more than 1,000 bird species.
As for where to stay in Uganda, the country is served by a diverse network of accommodation, ranging from campsites and backpacker lodges to five-star hotels and world-class safari lodges.
Best Uganda Luxury Safari Camps & Lodges
Apoka Safari Lodge
Unquestionably the top safari lodge in northeast Uganda, Apoka stands on a rocky ridge overlooking a waterhole in Kidepo Valley National Park. Accommodation is in super-spacious chalets with canvas walls and private terraces, and there’s a wonderful natural rock swimming pool, as well as a shady thatched dining area with a view over the plains. Best of all, Apoka is the perfect base for exploring a remote and relatively little-known park where lions, elephants and buffalo are all likely to be seen on a daily basis.
Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge
Resembling an Africanized version of a palatial Alpine ski chalet, Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge is the highest lodge in Uganda, perched at an altitude of around 2,100m/6,889ft on a forested ridge close to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park’s Nkuringo Gate. Eight cozy 80m2/860ft2 guest cottages each include a king-size bed, a spacious lounge complete with plump sofas and roaring log fire, and a stylish modern bathroom. There’s no finer base than Clouds for gorilla tracking in Bwindi’s remote southwest, and the views towards the volcanic Virungas, with active Nyiragongo glowing orange after dark, are truly stunning. Luxurious touches include a personal butler, a pampering foot massage after your gorilla trek, and superb cuisine complemented by a selection of imported wines.
This luxury owner-managed property on the outskirts of Fort Portal boasts the most impressive architecture of any Uganda safari lodge. Built almost entirely from wood and thatch, it consists of eight spacious cottages spaced widely along a stilted wooden walkway on the forested rim of Kyaninga Crater Lake. The view across the lake toward the Rwenzori Mountains is sensational, there’s some great walking and canoeing on the property, and it’s one of the best places to stay in Uganda prior to chimpanzee trekking in nearby Kibale National Park
Situated in a private wilderness area bordering Lake Mburo National Park, Mihingo is an exclusive family owned lodge that stands out for possessing that elusive ‘wow’ factor. A dozen luxury tented chalets are scattered across a forested hill whose rocky summit offers wonderful views in all directions. There’s also a beautifully appointed open-sided dining area and a swimming pool set between the boulders. This is unquestionably the most luxurious Uganda safari lodge servicing Lake Mburo National Park. It has the added value of offering horseback and walking safaris, as well as night drives that come with a decent chance of spotting leopards.
Mount Gahinga Lodge
The standout luxury base for exploring Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Mount Gahinga Lodge has a peerless setting below a trio of tall volcanic peaks belonging to the Virunga range bordering Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Under the same dynamic management since it first opened in 2002, the lodge comprises seven massive cottages that combine local Bafumbira stone architecture with modern comforts and excellent amenities. Being only five minutes’ walk from the main park entrance, Mount Gahinga Lodge is ideally positioned for gorilla tracking in Mgahinga, as well as other activities such as golden monkey trekking and day hikes to the Virunga peaks.
Mweya Safari Lodge
One of the most famous places to stay in Uganda, Mweya Safari Lodge boasts a commanding cliff-top position on the Mweya Peninsula in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Overlooking a stretch of the Kazinga Channel that’s favored by thirsty buffalo and elephant herds, it offers perhaps the most reliable in-house wildlife viewing of any Uganda safari lodge. There’s also plentiful birdlife in the gardens, and on a clear day you can see the snowcapped peaks of the Rwenzori. With 54 rooms, it is not as intimate or exclusive as smaller Uganda safari camps, but the prime location and on-the-ball management ensure it remains a very popular choice on upmarket safaris.
Paraa Safari Lodge
Among the oldest and largest of Uganda’s safari lodges, Paraa was constructed in 1959 on a slope overlooking the north bank of the Nile as it flows through Murchison Falls, the country’s largest national park. The 54-room lodge has undergone many face-lifts since then, but it still enjoys a wonderful location, best appreciated from the large and inviting swimming pool. It has comfortable, well-equipped rooms and a restaurant decorated in colonial style. Logistically, Paraa is perfectly sited for boat trips to the base of Murchison Falls and game drives on the productive Delta Circuit.
Primate Lodge Kibale
One of my very favorite Uganda safari lodges, Primate Lodge accommodates guests in luxurious stone and thatch cottages set in Kibale National Park, Uganda’s top chimpanzee trekking destination. The lodge is only five minutes’ walk from the main chimp trekking trailhead. Guest cottages are spaced out widely in an area of rainforest where you’re likely to see red-tailed monkey, black-and-white colobus and a wide variety of birds.
Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp
Combining the feel of an exclusive safari camp with a gorgeous rainforest setting in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Sanctuary Gorilla Forest Camp is without doubt one of the best places to stay in Uganda. Accommodation is in eight large and stylish standing tents, each fitted with two queen-size beds and a private balcony set deep in the forest. There’s no more luxurious base from which to visit Uganda’s mountain gorillas, especially as it lies practically opposite the main tracking assembly point at Buhoma, Bwindi’s park headquarters. Wildlife viewing doesn’t stop when you get back to camp: forest birds include the dazzling great blue turaco, plenty of monkeys pass through on a daily basis, and it’s not unheard of for gorillas to wander across the lawn!
Sipi River Lodge
Quality accommodation is thin on the ground in eastern Uganda, but Sipi River Lodge is a welcome exception. It stands in lushly wooded grounds on the slopes of Mt Elgon, an extinct volcano that ranks as Africa’s eighth-tallest massif at 4,321m/14,177ft. This is a great base for hiking in the fertile Elgon foothills and visiting a trio of pretty waterfalls that adorn the Sipi River. The main Sipi Falls is only a few minutes’ walk away, and the middle cascade actually stands in the grounds, within view of some of the cottages. With a cozy rustic feel that might be transplanted from the English countryside, this isn’t your average safari lodge, and the relatively high altitude ensures it enjoys a pleasant temperate climate.
Here is our author’s selection of the top 10 things to do in Kenya. Kenya is one of Africa’s most varied travel destinations. The main draw is going on safari in world-class parks such as the Masai Mara National Reserve, but this equatorial East African country boasts many other compelling attractions. Popular things to see in Kenya include the idyllic beaches, offshore reefs and old Swahili settlements that line the Indian Ocean coastline. Other Kenya tourist attractions include the opportunity to gaze at the snowcapped peaks of Africa’s two tallest mountains.
Friendly, well organized and enormously scenic, Kenya offers everything you could ask of a tropical African holiday destination.
catch the World’s Largest Wildebeest Migration in the Masai Mara
The Masai Mara is Kenya’s most popular safari destination. Few parks are more reliable when it comes to seeing lion, leopard, cheetah and other carnivores. Elephants and buffalo are common, and lucky visitors might hit the Big Five jackpot with a rare sighting of a black rhino. Wildlife viewing is great throughout the year, but peaks over August to October, when hundreds of thousands of migrating wildebeest stream across the border with Tanzania. Watching these wildebeest cross the Mara River en masse is one of the most amazing things to see in Kenya.
Step Back in Time at Fort Jesus
Mombasa’s Fort Jesus was built by the Portuguese in 1593 and would go on to change hands several times over the centuries. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it is most imposing from the seaward side, where the turreted walls rise 16m/52ft above the old harbor. The interior incorporates an excellent site museum and a cartoon-like 17th-century fresco painted by an anonymous Portuguese sailor.
Climb Majestic Mt Kenya
Kenya shares its name with Africa’s second-highest mountain, an extinct volcano whose equator-straddling glacial peaks rise to 5,199m/17,057ft. The multi-day climb to the snowline isn’t for everyone, but it will top many hikers’ wish lists of what to do in Kenya. The ascent passes through montane (mountain) forests alive with elephants and monkeys, and a chilly Afro-alpine moorland zone dotted with otherworldly giant lobelias. You summit at Point Lenana, the highest non-technical peak at 4,985m/16,355ft.
Enjoy Flamingos & Other Dazzling Birds at the Rift Valley Lakes
The beautiful lakes that stud the Rift Valley northwest of Nairobi are renowned for their impressive birdlife. More than a million flamingos sometimes congregate on Lakes Nakuru or Bogoria, tinting the shallows pink. Even when flamingos are scarce, you can expect to see an impressive range of other tropical birds, from heavyweight pelicans and storks to colorful lovebirds and bee-eaters.
Snorkel the Coral Gardens of Watamu
Watamu, on the Indian Ocean coastline about 100km/60mi north of Mombasa, stands at the north end of a shallow bay punctuated with weird mushroom-shaped coral islets. It is one of the few beaches I know where you can simply wade out with snorkel and flippers, and find yourself exploring calm coral gardens swirling with colorful reef fish. Non-swimmers can enjoy the submarine action in a glass-bottomed boat.
Take an Exclusive Private Safari in Laikipia Plateau
Laikipia differs from most other major safari destinations in that it comprises a mosaic of like-minded private reserves and community conservancies. Most lodges here operate on an all-inclusive basis; depending on which you visit, guided activities might include standard game drives, night drives, bush walks, horseback excursions or camelback safaris. Wildlife viewing is superb and includes all the Big Five, as well as African wild dog. Laikipia is an important stronghold for the localized Grevy’s zebra, which is larger and has narrower stripes than other zebras, and the striking reticulated giraffe.
Take a Walk on the Wild Side at Hell’s Gate & Mt Longonot
The tectonic forces that shaped the Great Rift Valley also molded Hell’s Gate, a scenic national park studded with volcanic plugs and hot springs. Visiting Hell’s Gate National Park ranks among my top things to do in Kenya, because it’s the only park where you can walk or cycle unguided through big-game territory. Buffalo, giraffe and a variety of antelope are resident, but big cats also pass through on occasion. The skyline is dominated by Mt Longonot, a nearby volcano whose gaping caldera, which last erupted in the 1860s, is 90 minutes’ hike from the base.
Wander Through the Labyrinthine Alleys of Lamu’s Old Town
Island-bound Lamu is my favorite town in East Africa. Established in medieval times, it blossomed in the 17th to 18th centuries as a trading port and center of Swahili art and scholarship. Today it’s something of a backwater, and too remote to attract much mainstream tourism, but the timeworn alleys of the old town retain a compelling Swahili cultural and architectural identity.
Admire Snowcapped Mt Kilimanjaro From the Plains of Amboseli
Amboseli National Park ranks among the most popular of Kenya tourist attractions. This national park is renowned for its plentiful elephants, which are often seen wading in the swamps. Buffalo, giraffe, hippo and wildebeest are common, and you might encounter big cats. Amboseli’s crowning glory is the dramatic backdrop provided by the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, which towers 5km/3mi above the plains below. One of the most amazing things to see in Kenya is Kilimanjaro’s snowcapped peak emerge from the clouds above Amboseli, a phenomenon that most often occurs at dusk or dawn.
Chill Out on Idyllic Diani Beach
Fine white sand. Swaying coconut palms. Turquoise waters protected by a coral reef. A selection of classy upmarket resort hotels. Yes, lovely Diani Beach, 33km/20mi south of Mombasa, ticks all the boxes when it comes to tropical beach escapes. As a bonus, the surrounding forests support plenty of monkeys, and it makes a great base for a day safari to underrated Shimba Hills National Reserve.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most popular savannah reserve and has the widest variety of wildlife of any Ugandan park. The variety of habitats includes grassland savannah, forests, wetlands and lakes. This provides the setting for an extensive range of large mammals and primates. Four of the Big Five are present (rhino are absent) and chimp tracking is available.
This is the most reliable park in Uganda for lion, which is particularly common on the grassy Kasenyi Plains, but is more famous for its tree-climbing antics in the Ishasha sector. Huge herds of buffalo and elephant are found in the savannah areas of the park, and an amazing number of hippo inhabit the Kazinga Channel on which daily boat trips are conducted.
The park is set against a backdrop of the Rwenzori Mountains. Additional scenic points are Kazinga Channel between Lake Edward and Lake George and at least 10 crater lakes. The most accessible part of the park is open savannah, but large forest areas are open to the public. These include the forested Kyambura Gorge and the extensive Maramagambo forest in the southeast.
Weather & Climate
Queen Elizabeth National Park’s nearness to the equator ensures uniformly warm temperatures throughout the year. Heavy rain that makes some roads impassable is a feature of the region’s two Wet seasons (March to May and August to December). Although there’s no official Dry season, the rainfall decreases somewhat – though rarely entirely – from January to February and June to July.
Best Time for Wildlife Viewing
Queen Elizabeth National Park can be visited throughout the year, but the best times for wildlife viewing are the Dry seasons (from June to July and January to February) when animals are concentrated near rivers and lakes. Some of the roads can become impassable after heavy rain.
Introduced in 2015 and available for a minimal duration of only 2-3 years is the gorilla habituation experience in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. To become habituated to tourists’ presence, each gorilla group has undergone an extremely delicate process, lasting around five years, gradually getting accustomed to the presence of humans.
Park rangers start by spending a short period with the gorillas every day, at a certain distance that represents the limit of the gorillas’ comfort zone. As the years go by, they gradually increase the time and reduce the distance until they deem the gorillas ready for paying clients to visit them.
The gorilla habituation experience for the first time allows paying clients to participate in this process. It is limited to two gorilla families in the southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Bukingyi and Bushaho, in the park’s Rushaga sector. Due to the steep terrain, dense vegetation, and high altitudes, a high level of fitness is required.
Gorilla habituation is the process through which a gorilla family gets used to human visits. When there were plans to introduce gorilla tourism in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the remaining task was to ensure that the mountain gorillas get used to tourists’ visits. Remember, the gorillas were living in the forest and were not used to human visits.
A gorilla habituation process takes 2-3 years, and it involves an advanced team from the Uganda Wildlife Authority making frequent visits to the gorilla family. Upon establishing that the group is used and welcoming to tourists, the gorilla family becomes ready for tourists’ visits.
History of Gorilla Habituation Process
The habituation of wild gorillas has long been a useful tool for research and conservation programs. Decisions to habituate gorillas typically reflect a balance of the benefits gained and the costs/risks. In general, the benefits include that it: generates revenue through tourism for governments, local communities, and businesses; enables detailed research on feeding ecology and social behaviour; provides daily protection for the groups monitored; enables gorilla health monitoring; provides a mechanism for examining trends in population dynamics by monitoring births, death and dispersal patterns.
In contrast, the costs of habituation are that it: increases the risk of disease through exposure to humans in close proximity; increases risk of poaching due to loss of fear of humans; requires financial resources and staff to monitor habituated gorillas as a lifelong commitment.
Both the costs and benefits can be illustrated in all locations where gorillas have been habituated. For example, several habituated Grauer’s gorillas were killed during the political instability in Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo (Yamagiwa 2003), and evidence of a virus transmitted from humans was found in Virunga mountain gorillas suffering from respiratory disease (Palacios et al. 2011).
The economic benefits derived from gorilla tourism can be enormous. Still, they may come to a halt due to political instability, which is the current situation in Dzanga-Sangha National Park, Central African Republic.
Conservation and research efforts in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda, which contains about half of the remaining mountain gorillas globally, did not begin in earnest until the early 1990s following its being gazetted as a national park in 1991. This is in contrast to the Virunga Massif’s mountain gorillas, which have been the focus of intense efforts since the last 1960s.
February is the best month to visit Uganda because it’s one of the moderately dry periods that won’t have your itinerary interrupted by downpours. And the vegetation during this time is the greenest, great for photography. Besides that, you must consider why you’re visiting the “Pearl of Africa” and what you want to see and experience on holiday in Uganda.
7 reasons why February is the best time to visit and travel around Uganda
1. It’s the driest time of the year
So it’s one of the best times of the year for seeing wildlife. The undergrowth is sparser, making it more difficult for the animals to camouflage and travel long distances for water.
On a game drive across the savanna, you’ll encounter large herds of giraffes, elephants, and gazelles on parade. At the same time, a forest jungle hike makes for an unforgettable encounter with rare primates like mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, and many forest dwellers.
2. The best time to track gorillas and chimpanzees
Uganda’s most precious jewel is the more than 500 mountain gorillas in its tropical rainforests of Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks.
Visiting these sanctuaries during the rainy seasons can leave a somewhat wrong impression of the country, for the roads are impassable, and the drenching rains are annoying.
Visiting in February, however, will make you fall in love with the country’s rural attractions. During February, the forest floors are dry, with little or no rain, and the trails are passable. You’ll find your rural or forest walking experience an unforgettable memory.
3. It’s shoulder season
After the excitement of the December & January holidays, fewer people are traveling, flights are cheaper, and accommodation prices have come down. It’s a much nicer traveling business, staying in premium safari camps and riding the savanna plains with little or no crowds.
4. The temperatures are a little higher during the day
With temperatures around the 30 degrees Celsius mark, the weather’s perfect for enjoying hotel and safari camp swimming pools.
Walking in the jungle on a steamy hot day gives the right temperatures under the shadows of massively huge old trees—a great time for a trek in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Oh, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere, coming back home to winter with a tan isn’t such a bad idea, either.
5. The pleasant evenings
Uganda’s cities have awesome outdoorsy nightlife, especially the big ones; Jinja, Kampala, and Mbarara; think rooftop bars, beer gardens, and outdoor restaurants.
Order a Tusker or Nile Special beer and a ‘relax’ (a pan-fried egg and wheat dish) and settle for an evening of travel stories with your fellow adventurers.
6. It’s an excellent time for bird watching
It’s always a good time of year for bird-watching in Uganda. Notably, from September to April, migratory birds from North Africa and Europe travel south to nest and take advantage of the warm (and dry) weather. Along with seeing spectacular local birds like Black-headed Lapwing, Orange Weaver, Red-throated lathe, and the famous rare and near-endemic Shoebill.
7. Into hiking? Climb Mt Stanley (minus the crowds)
At an elevation of 5,109 m (16,763 ft), it is the highest mountain in both the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda and the third-highest in Africa, after Kilimanjaro (5,895 m) and Mount Kenya (5,199 m).
The peak and several other surrounding peaks are high enough to support glaciers. Mount Stanley is part of the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s a popular trek for avid hikers.
Doing the climb in February means the slopes are dry, and it’s much less busy than the peak June to October season. It’s also cooler than during the summer months; you’re more likely to encounter snow the higher you get.
Complete the Covid-19 Vaccination and carry a valid certificate or take a PCR test 72 hours before you catch a flight to Uganda. (-5 years olds are exempt.)
Fill out the online Health Declaration Form 24 hours before you catch your flight and save or print the QR code.
Take a yellow fever vaccination jab and carry a certificate with you.
Apply and pay for the Uganda entry visa online.
In addition to the existing travel restrictions, the Uganda government has announced new entry restriction changes effective November 14th, 2022, introducing the Health Declaration Form for all travellers. The form could be a move to control the spreading of the deadly Ebola virus to other countries and monitor travellers.
The Ministry of Health now requires all inbound or outbound travellers to complete the Uganda Travel Health Declaration Form within 24 hours of arrival. Travellers can access the form online at poe-screening.health.go.ug.
Immediately after filling out the form and submitting it, the traveller will get a QR code they can save to their phone or print out to present to the immigration officer.
It’s a straightforward process that anyone with internet access can fill out. We think it is to help track travellers and prevent the spreading of killer diseases worldwide.
In relation to Covid-19, all travellers should hold a valid COVID-19 vaccination certificate or negative PCR test with a sample taken at most 72 hours before they board their flight to Uganda. Children below 5 years are exempted.
There is no mandatory covid testing on arrival.
All inbound and outbound travellers will be required to show proof of complete COVID-19 vaccination, except for travellers aged five years and below.
Travellers with partial or no vaccination will be required to present a negative PCR test done within 72 hours before their flight to Uganda, except travellers below five years.
Travellers are advised to wear face masks in crowded places but not a requirement..
The Vulnerable or high-risk population, i.e. elderly aged 50 years and above and people living with co-morbidities irrespective of age, are advised to wear a facemask at all times whether they are vaccinated.
Mandatory screening of visitors for Covid symptoms like temperature and colds will till continue to identify COVID carriers.
You will be required to wear a facemask and keep a ten-meter distance when viewing the great apes in Uganda’s rainforests.
Because entire Uganda is Yellow Fever prone, vaccination is mandatory for all travellers entering Uganda. All travellers must present a valid Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate at entry. Any exception must give an authoritative document to prove their claim.
All Uganda visas are processed online at visas.immigration.go.ug. No visa processing at entry points. You’ll need a six months valid passport and yellow fever vaccination certificate to be allowed entry.
Lake Mburo National Park with forest-fringed shores hemmed in by rolling green hills, scenically reminiscent of the more celebrated Lake Naivasha in Kenya. With its off-the-beaten-path adventures and hidden gems, Lake Mburo National Park is perfect for viewing wildlife on foot. So pull over, wander off, and let chance be your guide. You don’t need a path for adventure; just 100 meters away from just about any trail in Mburo is likely to reveal a magnificent vista not in any guidebook.
Lake Mburo National Park is a small savanna wildlife reserve in southwestern Uganda, an arm’s reach from the capital. It is an excellent stop for long drives to the far southwestern national parks.
The 260 square kilometer park is the only protected area in southwestern Uganda to host zebras and the only park in the country with impalas, slender mongooses, and giant bush rats.
Mburo is a 4-hour drive from Kampala, Uganda’s most accessible national park. Secondly, due to the absence of the big savannah game players like the elephants and lions, Lake Mburo National Park offers exhilarating walking safari experiences for viewing wild game on foot and horseback.
Even without wildlife heavyweights, this small park offers excellent game viewing. You’re likely to see as many different large mammal species over a day’s visit as you would in any Ugandan national park. In addition, the availability of decent safari lodges and the repopulation of some animals, like giraffes, have raised the park’s profile.
Safari operators promote Lake Mburo National Park as an ideal overnight stop on 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 and just outside the park.
Interesting plant and animal life to watch.
The most prominent feature in the park is the lake Mburo, the largest of five lakes 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 other parts of the park mainly feature open savannas and acacia woodland. In the western part of the park, the rocky ridges and forested gorges intersperse with savannas—patches of papyrus swamp and narrow bands of lush riparian woodland line the verges of the various lakes.
Lake Mburo National Park’s commonest wildlife is the impala, the handsome antelope for which Kampala derives its name. You will also see zebra, topi, bushbuck, common duiker, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, and Bohor reedbuck casually feeding on the plain. Also, the lake and lush fringing vegetation support healthy populations of buffalo, warthog, bushpig, and hippopotamus.
A beautiful sight in the park is the large herds of the majestic eland that move seasonally through some parts of the park. Sitatunga is confined to swamp interiors, and you can occasionally observe klipspringer around the rocky areas.
If you lodge in camps or lodges close to the park, you will often hear the eerie rising nocturnal call of the spotted hyena, and many visitors occasionally observe these laughing predators crossing the tracks shortly after dawn.
Leopard, side-striped jackal and various smaller predators are also present in Lake Mburo National Park. Still, you would be fortunate to spot them. In contrast, the most visible small predators are the white-tailed mongoose (visible at dusk and dawn) and three otter species resident in the lakes.
Bird-watching experts have recorded 315 bird species in Lake Mburo National Park. They say the park is the best place in Uganda to see acacia-associated birds.
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.
I recommend avian enthusiasts take a walk around Rwonyo Camp. It is as good a place as any to look for birds like the mosque swallow, black-bellied bustard, bare-faced go-away bird, and Ruppell’s long-tailed starling.
Other exciting spots for 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 the endemic papyrus yellow warblers.
How to get to Lake Mburo National Park
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, 37 kilometers 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 should take about four to five hours, not allowing for breaks.
The approach roads are rough, so a 4×4 vehicle is recommended, though not essential during the dry season. Either way, you’re looking at an hour’s drive between the main road and the rest camp.
There is no public transport on either of the approach roads. Still, it is possible to charter a special hire from Sanga (expect to pay more than UGX 40K) or pick up a boda-boda (around 15K).
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.
Interesting things to do in and around the park
One of the most exciting activities in Lake Mburo National Park is quad biking from the Mantana Tented Camp. It is operated 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, the park is not a common choice for travelers. It does not have dangerous animals such as elephants and lions. Making these deficiencies a selling point for safe quad biking and horseback safaris seems reasonable.
Principles aside, it is fantastic fun, and everyone who has tried it has loved the experience.
A 2-hour quad biking safari, usually leaving at 09.00 to explore the Eland Track, costs UGX 125K (USD 63). A four-hour trip departing at 2 pm covers the Ruroko circuit & costs 195K (USD 98)). The maximum group size is five people.
Mihingo Lodge offers horseback safaris 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 absence of engine noise made the horseback experience more fulfilling for me. And amazingly, the service provider will tailor the event to your expertise and requirements.
Horseback safari can also be an excellent family activity in Mburo, with kids riding on good-natured ponies. At the same time, experienced riders can help a couple of ex-racehorses burn off some calories.
Rates for horseback safari in Lake Mburo National Park vary from USD 25 for a quick 30-minute taster to USD 130 for three-hour hacks to hilltop viewpoints with the option of bush breakfasts or sundowners. The 15-minute grassy valley floor ride from the lodge is habitually filled with wild game.
Calm boat rides to watch shoreline wildlife.
In addition to the attractive scenery and simple pleasures attached to being out on the water, taking a boat trip on the calm waters of Lake Mburo reliably produces good sightings of hippo, crocodile, buffalo, waterbuck, and bushbuck. It’s also worth looking out for the three species of resident otter while you are at it.
Among the more conspicuous waterbirds that would show up on the boat ride are the African fish eagle, marabou stork, pied kingfisher, and various egrets and herons. At the same time, Ross’s turaco and Narina trogon frequently fly 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.
If you don’t want to spend a fortune on the boat rides, join the public UWA boat that leaves from the jetty a kilometer from Rwonyo Camp. A small boat launch carries up to 8 people and costs $20 bucks 30K Ugandan shillings. However, it needs a minimum of four people to leave, but there’s also a bigger one for $30 or 30K per person.
Game drives to watch wildlife from the comfort of the car.
It’s terribly unfashionable, but still possible to explore Lake Mburo National Park by vehicle if you can shrug off the looks from horseriders and quad bikers. Nonetheless, you can explore the most frequently used Impala and Zebra tracks connecting Sanga Gate and Nshara Gate to Rwonyo Rest Camp.
The quality of game viewing along these tracks is irregular, but, particularly during the wet season, you can see substantial concentrations of impala, zebra, waterbuck, topi, and buffalo. Drive about two kilometers from Rwonyo, around the 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 covered all the 360° panorama from the once-grassy summit of Kigambira Hill. It’s different if you branch east of the Lakeside track, where the Kazuma and Ruroko routes pass through a relatively open savanna. It is 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 12 kilometers, the track approaches the Rwizi River and fringing swamps. It then veers west, following the wooded watercourse for 33km before reaching Bisheshe Gate. This stretch is gratifying for bird watchers, and it is possible to drive beyond the gate to the main Mbarara road. Still, the track is appalling and challenging even in a 4×4 vehicle.
Guided nature walks
One of the major attractions of Lake Mburo National Park is that you can walk anywhere in the park in the company of an armed ranger guide. Near 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 2 kilometers from the camp — this is an excellent place to see a wide variety of animals.
The Rubanga Forest, which lies off the Rwizi Track, is fascinating to walkers and birders. Guests can only visit with the warden’s permission, who will provide you with an armed ranger guide.
To visit Lake Mburo National Park, non-residents pay a visitation fee of US$40 per day. East African residents UGX 20,000 on showing proof of residency. An entrance permit is valid for 24hrs from the time of entrance.
Park vehicle entrance fees are USD 30 for foreigners and UGX 10,000 for foreign East African residents. Minibusses pay 50 or 30,000K. Pickups or 4WD will be charged USD 50 per vehicle for foreign plates.
Where to sleep and eat
Because of its size and meager popularity, Lake Mburo National Park does not have many safari accommodation choices. However, you can choose from the few places to stay, from luxury and midrange to budget camping style.
Up-Market or luxury style camps
Mihingo Lodge – $175 pp-single: Technically, Mihingo Lodge is not inside the park but just outside the park’s 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 safari tents enjoying views from room verandas and spacious bathrooms.
Rwakobo Rock ($155 pp) sits on a massive granite outcrop high overlooking the wilderness of the savannah. The safari lodge 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 reach in the northern part of Mburo; as you enter the park from the main highway.
Acadia Cottages ($120 pp-single) is located 2 kilometers from the park headquarters at Rwonyo. It contains eight self-contained cottages arranged around a central lodge building, where guests can relax and enjoy the stunning view from a raised deck.
Moderately priced accommodation
Mburo Eagle’s Nest ($90 pp) 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 decor, and a bush wilderness feel.
Kimbla Mantana Camp: a small luxury tented camp with only nine well-spaced rooms set up 4 kilometers from the main lake in open woodland near the summit of a hill. The large ‘Larsen-style’ tents sit on wooden platforms, with verandahs overlooking the park. The tents 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 sits on the edge of the park’s eastern border, not far from Mihingo.
Hyena Hill Lodge ($52 pp-single): The lodge sits on the park’s western edge, 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.
Rwonyo Rest Camp ($5-$20 pp): This UWA rest camp on a hillside about a kilometer from the lakeshore offers a couple of basic bandas and 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 tent. Pods of hippos laze in the lake during the day before coming ashore at night to keep the campground lawns cropped nicely.
Lake Bunyonyi is a magical resort destination in Kabale southwestern Uganda. The lake is dotted with at least 20 small islands and it’s surrounded by steep terraced hills and exotic rural landscapes and the Virunga mountains backdrop. It is popular with day trips out of Kabale, gaining popularity by the day, thanks to a proliferation of entertainment, food, and lodging places around the lake. Many budget lodges, campsites, and resorts float 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, such as the grey-crowned cranes, African harrier hawks, and herons and egrets, are also present. 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 beautifully cultivate like parts of Nepal. The area is vibrant, with activities like canoeing, cycling, and 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 malaria incidence. 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 about the easy availability of canoes, kayaks, mountain bikes for hire, and enough potential excursions to keep one busy for days.
Things to do around Lake Bunyonyi
The endless opportunities for the region’s activities make Lake Bunyonyi a favored attraction among adventure travelers. Many villagers around the lake, several guesthouses, and campsites have boats for hire, making it simple 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 reasonable but practice for a while before heading off on an ambitious trip around the islands. Many tourists go round in circles, doing what’s known locally as the mzungu (corkscrew).
There is endless nature walking opportunities in the area. Guided walking adventures are popular around Lake Bunyonyi, which travelers usually arrange through camps or the long-serving Verdoro Safaris operator.
For those who want a challenge, boat across the lake and trek the 40-kilometer (29-mile) walking trail to Kisoro. 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 for 30k shillings a day ($10) from Bunyoni Overland Camp, a great way to get along the lakeshore. However, 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 around the region. It is a long way from all the camps around the lake and involves a three-hour trip by dugout canoes. Nonetheless, most bases can arrange a rower to help out or secure a motorboat for rent. People here are pretty shy, so be sensitive with a camera.
There are also several Batwa villages in this part of the region. If you can link up with a friendly guide at the market, they can 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 where unmarried pregnant women were dumped to die. Tragically, most of them died 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.