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.
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 “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 (Gorilla beringei beringei)
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)
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)
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 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)
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 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 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.
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.
Enjoying a Uganda safari is the most memorable and life-changing of leisure holidays. You’ll fall in love with safari life in Africa. The first time you go on a game drive, see an elephant, touch a rhino, giraffes, and watch lions climb trees, the moment will stay with you forever.
The Ultimate Guide To Planning Your First Uganda Safari
The most profound of all Uganda safari experiences is the close encounter with the higher apes. That little moment you’ll spend close to a mountain gorilla or band of chimpanzees will profoundly change your relationship with nature.
We live in this giant wildlife reserve and use every leisure time we can spare to inspect this destination’s treasure trove. We have been on countless Uganda safaris and work with numerous safari lodges. We have traveled extensively through the Pearl of Africa as travel bloggers. For us, anytime is safari time because our love for the wide-open spaces, the bush, and all the beautiful creatures in it reincarnates every single day.
Planning your first Uganda safari may be a daunting experience, but with a bit of research and local expert advice, it becomes the most memorable journey you ever make. We’ve written this first-timer’s guide to making planning your holiday in Uganda a great memory.
Why Go On A Uganda Safari
Your first Uganda safari will unwrap vast horizons, open skies, emerald landscapes, and rich tropical forests. Take more days on your first-time safari for a great memorable experience. A slow safari will allow you to immerse yourself in the raw wilderness, to get up close and personal with primates, meeting people of different cultures and ways of life, and contributing to the conservation of the very places and animals you’ve come to see.
You may have seen a lion or elephant in an enclosure at a zoo or in a wildlife documentary on the National Geographic channel. But there is a profound difference when you come upon a band of chimpanzees, a herd of elephants, or a pride of lions in their natural habitat with no fences between you and no commercial breaks to interrupt the action.
A longer Uganda safari allows you a chance to experience indigenous cultures. Whether through traditional foods that might appear on the menu or perhaps interacting with local tribespeople. Uganda Safaris can leave you with a new perspective on life as you witness different ways of living in the remote villages you walk through.
Most Uganda safari holidays are eco-friendly and contribute a big chunk to the conservation of wildlife resources. Uganda’s tourism generates much-needed income to fund conservation efforts. For example, gorilla tourism ensures that the conservation and protection of the mountain gorillas and their sanctuary are well supported. Uganda safaris operators, camps, and lodges directly employ people and resources from local communities.
Going on your first Pearl of Africa safari journey will be a break from the hustle and bustle of daily modern life. It’s a change of scenery, an adventure, and maybe even a culture shock. As the sun rises over the savannah plains or sinks in the Rwenzori Mountain backdrop, you will catch your breath and embrace the silence of these moments, knowing that they will remain in your memory long after you have returned home.
When And Where To Go
Uganda is a well-endowed destination with many incredible attractions to visit, each with its own charms and attractions. The country has a warm and sunny tropical climate, mostly throughout the year. But different regions within the country experience a variety of climates and weather conditions.
When planning your first Uganda safari, the best time to travel depends very much on the destination activity you’ve chosen. Generally, it’s best to go during the dry season, when water is scarce, and animals tend to gather in places where the water hasn’t dried up.
Dirt roads are also easier to navigate during the dry season, and so you can expect to see a lot more animals during the two dry seasons of December to January and June to August.
Note, though, that since the dry season is considered peak season for Uganda safaris, it will likely come with a heftier price tag. If you’re expecting to observe the mountain gorillas in the impenetrable forest of Bwindi, be sure also to consider the availability of gorilla permits.
A Uganda safari because of the people, gorilla trek, climate and breathtaking scenery. Uganda encompasses the typical African travel experience any traveler could ever dream of. It is the confluence of African nature, landscape and cultural melting pot. Here are 10 reasons why Uganda should be on your bucket list.
Reasons you should take on a Uganda safari
1. Ugandans: Warm and Friendly People
People come to Uganda for gorilla safaris but leave with good impressions of the people. Ugandans are some of the friendliest and most welcoming people you could ever hope to meet. They are hospitable often happy to share their food and welcome you in their home.
2. Uganda’s Climate and Weather
The climate in Uganda is what many will refer to as near perfect all year round. You can plan your Uganda safari any time of the year and expect to have an amazing time. Uganda is along the equator, home to mountains, lakes and forests that give you the best climate. If you love sunrise’s and sunset’s, you will enjoy these on your Uganda safari. The country has dry and wet seasons only. In the wet seasons – the sun comes out shortly after the rain, making it possible for one to travel and enjoy nature.
3. Fresh Organic Food
The food in Uganda is organic and fresh from the gardens grown by small holder farmers. You have access to fresh vegetables and fruits from the markets daily. The pineapples in Uganda are like no other. If there was a competition, Uganda’s pineapples would win the Guinness book of records. You have opportunity to enjoy different traditional meals from the different tribes. You can include this experience while on your Uganda safari.
4. Breath-taking Scenery
The breath-taking savannah areas and mountainous eastern and western Uganda. The amazing Sipi falls, Sezibwa falls and Kisizi falls while on your Uganda safari. The undulating hills of Kigezi terraced by locals as they work in their gardens. The Ssese Islands in the oceanic-sized Lake Victoria. They have beaches and burning sunsets – the kind of place you’ll want to seek out a hammock and bring a good book.
5. Endangered Mountain Gorillas
The gorilla safari in two national parks in Uganda. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Mgahinga gorilla national park is home to the mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. Gorilla tracking is an experience you look back to and reminisce on with happiness. The experience in the rain forest even before you sight the gorillas is fulling. The mountain gorillas are often found feeding, grooming each other and playing.
Chimpanzees are mans’ closest relatives sharing a DNA of about 98.7% with man. The chimpanzees develop tools for use and raise young ones mimicking humans. Did you know chimpanzees eat meat? Go chimpanzee trekking in Kibale forest, Budongo forest, Semliki reserve, Kyambura gorge and Kalinzu forest. Enjoy other forest inhabitants and the cool air.
7. Game drives in Uganda’s Savannah national parks
Uganda has 10 national parks and about 12 game reserves. The savannah parks offer game drives. Murchison Falls National Park Uganda’s largest park offering fulfilling game drives. Queen Elizabeth national park for the elusive leopard and tree-climbing lions of Ishasha. Kidepo Valley National Park has rewarding game drives of large herds and scenery. Lake Mburo national park has few numbers of predators but offers nature walks.
8. Jinja: Source of the Nile – Adventure Capital of East Africa
Jinja is the adventure capital of East Africa. It is home to all the adrenalin activities. It is the source of River Nile and home to the best white water rafting experiences over several rapids. You can also do kayaking and or jet boat ride. Bungee jumping to kiss the Nile, Quad biking and horse riding on the banks of the Nile or in the communities.
9. The Mountains
Uganda is home to several mountains that offer great hiking and mountaineering experiences. You can do hiking for a few hours, one day hikes or multi day hikes with the longest being one week. National Geographical selected the Rwenzoris as one of the World’s Best Hikes.
Mount Elgon is one of the oldest volcanic mountains in Africa and has the worlds’ largest caldera. Enjoy sights of beautiful vegetation and landscape as you ascend to Wagagai peak. The Virunga volcanoes are one day hikes – Mt Gahinga, Mt Muhabura and Mt Sabyinyo. Other mountains for your hiking cravings: Mt Moroto, Mt Murungole, Mt Kadam, Mt Napak etc.
10. Lake Bunyonyi
Lake Bunyonyi surrounded by beautiful terraced hills and home to 29 islands is a must visit for you. It is the second deepest lake in Africa. The lake is free from dangerous animals hence people love to swim. You can hire a canoe to take out for a paddle.
We invite you to visit Uganda and experience the hospitality of Ugandans and nature.