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Things to Do in Kenya – Top 10 Tourist Attractions

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

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.

Wildlife

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.

Scenery

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.

The Gorilla Habituation Experience

The Gorilla Habituation Experience

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.

Why February is The Best month To Visit Uganda

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.

Best month To Visit Uganda-February
You must visit Uganda in Feb to gaze at this kind of emerald luminance.

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; JinjaKampala, 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.

Uganda Travel Restrictions & Health Declaration Form

Travel Restrictions Summary:

  • 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.

Press-Statement-COVID-19-situation-and

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.

Travel Requirements

  • 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.

Important links and recommendations

Lake Mburo National Park

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.

Why go

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.

Wildlife in Lake Mburo National 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.

Elands and impala antelopes on a walking trail in Lake Mburo National Park
Elands and impala antelopes are a common sight to see on a walking trail in the park.

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.

Pied kingfisher on the papyrus shores
Pied kingfisher on the papyrus shores of Lake Mburo

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.

Landscape views

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.

Two men riding bikes in Lake Mburo National park

Interesting things to do in and around the park

Quad biking

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.

Horseback riding safari to view wildlife

Horseback safaris

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.

Park Fees

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.

Rwakobo rock

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.

Poolside view at mihingo lodge, a luxury accommodation in the park
Poolside view at Mihingo Lodge, an up-market luxury accommodation in the park

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.

The lower end of the budget places to stay

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.

The beautiful Lake Bunyonyi

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.

Lake Bunyonyi

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.

The Pearl of Africa, Canoeing on Lake Bunyonyi

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).

guidedn nature walks around the lake

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.

The best time to visit Uganda

June, July, August and September are the best time to visit Uganda. These peak months are generally dry (although rain can fall at any time). Book well in advance if tracking gorillas, as permits sell out months in advance. Really, though, this is a year-round destination. Uganda sits squarely on the equator so there are no true seasons, plus an average altitude of around 1,000m tempers the heat. March-May and October-November see the highest rainfall, but gorillas are still lurking in the mist – although trekking to find them will be slippery and slower. Accommodation and gorilla permits can be much cheaper at this time.

visit Uganda
A mountain gorilla feeding

VISIT UGANDA MONTH BY MONTH

  • March, April and May see the heaviest rainfall in Uganda, with shorter rains in October to November. This doesn’t affect your chances of spotting gorillas, although be prepared for a soggy, slippery trek! Waterproofs, and waterproof boots, are essential. It’s also believed that the gorillas linger on the warmer, lower slopes during wetter weather, so your trek may be shorter.
  • The wildlife is not migratory in Uganda so you can still see plenty of game in parks such as Queen Elizabeth, although thicker vegetation makes spotting the animals a little harder. Do be aware that the already appalling roads will become even more bone shaking.
  • Murchison Falls in the northeast has a drier climate, so is a good place to head during the wetter months.
  • The Uganda Wildlife Authority, which issues gorilla tracking permits, offers discounts of up to 25 percent in April, May and November – well worth it if you’re on a budget.
  • June to September are popular months, thanks to dry weather and school holidays. Uganda remains happily oblivious to mass tourism, though, and you won’t need to worry about crowds.
  • December, January and February are also great months to visit. Generally dry (though rains can linger into December), the wildlife will be lured to waterholes, making this a great time for boat safaris. Migratory birds are also present.
  • Throughout the country, the temperature drops quite considerably at night – you’ll need a jumper or cardi. This makes it much easier to sleep. But it never reaches the chilly extremes of places such as Kruger of the Kalahari.

The New Big Five Animals in Uganda

The “Big Five” are the animal kingdom’s famous celebrities on the African Savana; every tourist hopes to set eyes on these dramatic creatures. Uganda, like many other African safari destinations, hosts the big players and more. That is why we thought we should tell you more about Uganda’s new selection of the big 5 game aniamls.

The ‘Big 5’ was coined by hunting safari explorers, back in the 1800s, based on how challenging to hunt these animals were. But since the big five experience is now all about photographing, viewing, and meeting the wild creatures, Uganda’s new big five list includes the mountain gorilla, lion, chimpanzee, African elephant, and leopard. Our list is based on travelers most south after animals to see on a Uganda safari, challenging to reach and offer memorable photography moments.

In addition to experiencing Uganda’s exquisite cultures, and people, and viewing some of the most stunning landscapes, your trip to Uganda will not richly reward you until you meet these magnificent animals.

The New Big Five Animals in Uganda

  1. Mountain Gorilla
  2. Lion
  3. Chimpanzee
  4. African Elephant
  5. Leopard

1. Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)

a mountain gorilla
A mountain Gorilla resting on a tree

Arguably the most sought-after primate in Africa is the mountain gorilla (King of the rainforest jungle), and Uganda offers the best gorilla viewing experiences worldwide. The gentle giants in Uganda’s southwestern corner are so famous, hundreds of tourists wait up months in advance to spend a moment with these charming beasts. More than 1060 mountain gorillas find sanctuary in the east-central African mountain rainforests, and more than half of them are in Uganda.

Standing upright at 4 to 6 feet, a fully grown mountain gorilla can weigh a whopping 300 to 485 pounds (135 to 220 kilograms). The mountain gorilla unsurprisingly makes the number one on the list of new BIG five animals in Uganda because of its mass, scarcity, and magical moments. Most of all, the gentle giant lives in one of the most biodiverse homes in the world.

To stay warm in the mountains, mountain gorillas have longer hair than their eastern lowland cousins, the Grauer’s gorillas (Gorilla beringei graueri). They also tend to be a bit larger than other gorillas and have shorter arms.

Gorillas can climb trees but are usually found on the ground in communities of up to 30 individuals. These troops are organized according to fascinating social structures.

One dominant, older adult male leads troops, often called a silverback because of the swath of silver hair that adorns his otherwise dark fur. Troops also include several other young males, some females, and their offspring.

2. African Lion (Panthera leo)

Big five
lion-in-queen-elizabeth-national-park

The most imposing feline on the African savannah now attracts more protection than a pop culture celebrity. The lion is the most sought-after of the new big five animals in Uganda’s wild. It is also considered the most sociable of the large cats, living in loosely structured cat prides of typically five to 15 animals.

This ferocious cat has special cultural significance in Ugandan cultures and enjoys a reputation as the king of the beasts and a symbol of royalty, strength, and bravery.

In Uganda, you can find lions in mainly three of the largest savanna parks: Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), Kidepo Valley National Park (KVNP), and Queen Elizabeth National Park (QENP).

In QENP’s southern section, the Ishasha lions show off their unique behavior of climbing trees, and travelers have branded them the “Ishasha tree-climbing lions.” Tourists flock to this sector to marvel at this rare behavior of wild cats.

Unfortunately for the lions in this section of Uganda have faced gruesome wildlife atrocities on two occasions in the last decade; once in April 2011 (poachers poisoned 11 lions) and recently in April 2021 (6 poisoned and dismembered). The worst threat still facing those magnificent lions in Uganda is poaching.

3. Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Chimpanzee Trekking in Uganda
Chimpanzees in Kibale National Park

7 out of 10 tourists visiting Uganda’s rainforest parks will say they had to come and see our playful primate cousins in their natural cradle. The chimpanzee’s celebrity status among travelers earns it a great position on Uganda’s new BIG five Animals lists.

The common Chimpanzee is a distinctive black-coated ape that’s more closely related to man than any other living creature. Along with bonobos, they are our closest living relatives, sharing 98.7 percent of our genetic blueprint. Science research has consistently shown that humans and chimps share a common ancestor who lived some seven to 13 million years ago.

The Chimpanzee lives in large, loosely bonded communities based around a core of related males with an internal hierarchy topped by an alpha male. Females are generally less strongly bonded to their core group than are males; emigration between communities is not unusual.

Mother—child bonds are strong. Daughters normally leave their mother only after they reach maturity, at which point they break their relations. Mother—son relations have been known to survive for over 40 years. A troop has a well-defined core territory which is fiercely defended by regular boundary patrols.

Chimpanzees are primarily frugivorous (fruit-eating), but they eat meat and even hunt on occasion — they’ve regularly hunted red colobus monkeys in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains national parks. Simultaneously, researchers in Kalinzu Forest in Uganda have observed chimps eating blue and red-tailed monkeys, and unsuccessful attempts to hunt black-and-white colobus.

Chimpanzees are among the most intelligent of Uganda’s new BIG five animals. These guys have been observed regularly using tools like modified sticks to ‘fish’ in termite mounds. Scientists have also observed chimps cracking nuts open using a stone and anvil.

In language studies in the USA, researchers have taught chimps to communicate in American sign language. They have demonstrated their understanding, in some instances, by even creating compound words for new objects (such as rock-berry to describe a nut).

Uganda hosts more than 4900 chimps within its national park, making it a top destination for primate viewing. Kibale National Park, in western Uganda, offers the best chimpanzee viewing (in their natural habitat) opportunities in the world, with over 1500 chimps swinging the park’s tree-tops.

Kibale also has the highest density of primates on the continent, with researchers recording 13 primate species within the park. Much work has gone into habituating chimpanzee troops for tourism in Kibale Forest, so seeing our primate cousins in the park is highly guaranteed.

You can also see chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge found in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Semliki Wildlife Reserve, and the Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi forests near Murchison Falls National Park.

4. African Elephant (Loxodonta africana)

African Elephant
An African Elephant in Queen Elizabeth National Park

African Elephant is the world’s largest of all Uganda’s new BIG five animals and perhaps the most enduring symbol of nature’s grace and fragility. The elephant is also one of the most intelligent and entertaining to watch on a classic Uganda safari game drive.

A fully-grown male elephant can weigh a whopping 13,889 lbs (6300 kilos). Even the smallest adult male rarely dips below 4000 kilos, which is way more than twice the weight on an average family SUV. Females are usually just over half the weight of the male.

The size difference between the two is not as surprising as when it comes to height – the tallest males are 4 meters tall, the tallest female rises to 3.4 meters. Apart from overall size, unless the male is sexually aroused, the most obvious difference between males and females is that females have an angular forehead. In contrast, a bull’s forehead is more rounded.

There’s more: an African elephant has the giant brain of any mammal alive; it can weigh up to 6 kilos. Its trunk, which serves an elephant like a hand, can be 2 meters long and weigh over 130 kilos – a trunk has no bones but may have 60,000 muscles in it. An elephant uses its tusks as both tools and weapons. The longest recorded tusks were 3.17m long, while the heaviest reached 70kg.

There are two subspecies of the African elephant – the forest and the savannah elephant. You may be lucky to see the smaller and slightly hairier forest elephant in Kibale and Bwindi’s equatorial forests. The savannah elephant dwells throughout the grassy plains and bushlands of Uganda’s massive savannah parks. The two races are thought to interbreed in parts of western Uganda.

5. Leopard (Panthera pardus)

A leopard lying on a tree branch
A leopard lying on a tree branch

This is the most elusive of Uganda’s BIG 5 animals. Leopards in Uganda are sneaky and harder to spot. Naturally shy and exclusively nocturnal, leopards spend the daylight hours hidden from view. These solitary felines are impressive to watch when hauling large kills, such as zebra or antelope, into a tree to eat alone, in peace.

Leopards can be distinguished from cheetahs by their rosette-shaped spots and more robust build and their preference for wooded or rocky habitats. They are found in virtually all habitats which offer adequate cover and are present in most Ugandan national parks and forest reserves.

Its capacity for adapting to changes in prey species, hunting conditions, carnivore competition, vegetation patterns, and human activities enables it to survive in developing Africa with more success than almost any other large wild animal. It can even persist in more or less advanced agricultural areas, though often in significantly reduced numbers.

A leopard differs from other new BIG five animals because of locals reporting them outside protected areas. They hunt using stealth and power, often getting to within 5 meters of their intended prey before pouncing, and they habitually store their kill in a tree to keep it from being poached by other large predators.

Meanwhile, together with the poaching, it has induced, the international fur trade has depressed leopard populations in several parts of Uganda. We do not have any reasonable measure of population numbers anywhere for this species. However, we do have sightings from rangers collected while they are on patrol in the protected areas managed by UWA.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda is the most popular tourist activity done in both countries. It is also referred to as Gorilla trekking and it is where the ranger guides try to find the given habituated gorilla group for the clients on their trekking date. The clients will be divided into a group of 8 people in the morning to be assigned to a specific Gorilla group or Gorilla family and escorted at exactly 8:00am by ranger guides into the forest to search for the rare Mountain Gorillas. It might take you 2-6 hours while in the forest depending on the time and the place where you will find the Mountain Gorillas. Upon finding the Gorillas, clients will spend only one (1) hour of interacting with these lovely primates. You will learn the Gorillas behavior, how they feed, and play, couple and how they associate with each other then you will realize that these are closest creatures to human beings.

Gorilla trekking in Uganda and Rwanda
Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda

Gorilla tracking tours is for everyone in the world apart from children below 15 years old and if you realize that you cannot walk into the forest then there are porters who can carry you to and from the forest using the stretchers. You have to agree the price for being carried on the stretcher with the porters and our safari guide will help you out.

The rare Mountain gorilla’s family or group is led by the Silverback which is the male Gorilla and it weighs over 200kgs.

The Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park has over 20 Gorilla families but only 19 Gorilla groups are available for clients to track. The Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park include; Katwe, Habinyanja, Rushegura and Mubare group in Buhoma sector. Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyaguliro and Mukiza group in Ruhija sector. Nkuringo, Bushaho and Christmas family in Nkuringo sector. Mishaya, Kahungye, Busingye, Bweza, Nshongi, Mucunguzi, Bikingi and Kutu Gorilla family in Rushaga sector while Mgahinga Gorilla National Park also found in Uganda has only 1 (one) Gorilla family called Nyakagezi Gorilla family. This Park forms the Greater Virunga Transboundary Collaboration as continuation of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in DR Congo.

The one and only Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park known also for Gorilla trekking has 10 Gorilla families designated for tourists and they include Susa Gorilla Group (Susa A Family), Karisimbi Gorilla Group (Susa-B), Sabyinyo Gorilla Group, Amahoro Gorilla Group, Umubano Gorilla Group, Agashya Gorilla Group, Kwitonda Gorilla Group, Hirwa Gorilla Group, Bwenge Family Group and Ugenda Gorilla Family.

Trekking Mountain Gorillas on a Budget Friendly Plan

Even though gorilla trekking is known to be a life time experience, most trekkers have been left thinking that it’s only for the wealthy class and this is not right. A gorilla trek to see a group of endangered mountain gorillas in the thick tropical rain forests in Uganda and Rwanda is the most thrilling experience that comes once a life time. These are classified as the critically endangered apes by the IUCN and not more than 1,200 individuals still live in the whole world with half of them living in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. To be able to view these species, there are about 20 habituated groups that are assigned to eight trekkers per day all of which belong to different trailhead. Some of these groups include; Katwe, Habinyanja, Rushegura and Mubare group in Buhoma sector. Bitukura, Oruzogo, Kyaguliro and Mukiza group in Ruhija sector. Nkuringo, Bushaho and Christmas family in Nkuringo sector. Mishaya, Kahungye, Busingye, Bweza, Nshongi, Mucunguzi, Bikingi and Kutu Gorilla family in Rushaga sector.

Gorilla Tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park (Uganda)

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is a magnificent verdant swathe of forest across the steep ridges of the Albertine Rift Valley, these 331 km²ancient rains forest, one of the few in Africa to have flourished throughout the last Ice Age and it is a home to the rare Mountain Gorillas.

Gorilla Tracking In Mgahinga Gorilla National Park (Uganda)

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is the smallest National Park in Uganda at just 33.7km2. It is located in the corner of south western Uganda in Kisoro District, 12.5km south of Kisoro town council. It makes up the northeastern part of the Virunga Volcano ranges which extends into DR Congo and Rwanda. This comprises of Mount Muhavura, Gahinga and Sabinyo.

The summit of Mount Muhavura is the highest point of the park at 4,127 m and has a small crater lake that tourists may want to visit. The view from the summit is frequently obscured by the cloud. The vegetation in the park includes montane, alpine and sub-alpine flora at each of the different levels up the volcano, varying the altitude. It is possible to climb to the peaks of Gahinga, Sabinyo, and Muhavura, although the pace set by the ranger and armed escort may be exhausting unless you are fit. Climbs can be organised at the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park office in Kisoro.

Gorilla Trekking in Volcanoes National Park (Rwanda)

Volcanoes National Park is the most visited national park in Rwanda and it harbours some of the worlds rare Mountain Gorillas and the rare Golden Monkeys only found in East Africa. It forms part of the Virunga Conservation Area covering more than 125km2, including five extinct volcanoes: Muhabura, Sabyinyo, Gahinga, Karisimbi and Bisoke. The Virunga conservation area is formed of Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda and Virunga National Park in DRC Congo and the Virunga Massif contains over 603 rare Mountain Gorillas to add on the ones in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda.

Volcanoes National Park has the fantastic scenic forest that is covered with mountains and diverse vegetation as well as the six volcanoes; this is why Rwanda is also known as the land of a thousand hills.

Gorilla Trekking in Uganda and Rwanda.

Permit Cost

Uganda gorilla trekking permit = Cost US$ 700 per person and you will spend 1 hour with rare Mountain Gorillas upon meeting them.

Uganda Gorilla habituation permit = Costs US$ 1,500 per person and you will spend 4 hours with the rare Mountain Gorillas upon meeting them

Rwanda Gorilla trekking permit = Costs US$ 1,500 per person and you will spend 1 hour with the rare Mountain Gorillas upon meeting them.

DR Congo Gorilla trekking permit = Costs US$ 400 per person and you will spend 1 hour with the rare Mountain Gorillas upon meeting them.