Everything you need to know about your Uganda holiday
Welcome to Discover Africa’s ultimate Uganda holiday guide. A Uganda safari holiday offers the intrepid traveller the best that Africa has to offer. From the lush Bwindi Impenetrable Forest with its last remaining Mountain gorillas, to the stunning Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda offers something for everyone. Curate your holiday experience and let us do the rest for you. It couldn’t be more easy.
Our Recommended Tour
Birding through Uganda
Uganda is Africa’s premier bird watching destination, with over 1000 species of birds and a combination of Albertine Rift endemics, ‘old forest’ birds and papyrus species. This safari is for the avid birder who wants to tick off at least 100 new species. From the not-so-hard-to-find shoebill to the Nkulengu rail, you will be astounded how many new birds species you’ll see. Combine this with chimpanzee and gorilla trekking.
You’ll be picked up when you arrive at Entebbe International Airport (ETT) and driven to The Boma Guesthouse in Entebbe, where you’ll spend the night. Dinner and breakfast are included
The four to five hours’ drive to Fort Portal takes you via the rural towns of Mityana, Mubende and Kwenjojo before entering the town of Fort Portal through an attractive landscape of rolling hillsides with tea plantations and the Rwenzori Mountains in the background …After lunch in Fort Portal, you’ll cross the eastern wall of the Rift Valley towards the settlement of Karagutu, where you’ll turn off to the Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve – one of the best birding areas in Uganda (350+ bird species). You’ll arrive at the Semliki Safari Lodge by mid-afternoon. On your first evening, you’re welcome to join in a night game drive with spotlight (in a shared open-sided lodge vehicle) in search of nocturnal wildlife and bird species, such as standard-winged and pennant-winged nightjars. Overnight at Semliki Safari Lodge, with your meals and drinks included.
Following an early breakfast, you’ll be transferred to the fishing village of Ntoroko from where you’ll go on a birding boat cruise on Lake Albert. The swamp at the southern end of Lake Albert is one of the best spots in Uganda to observe the much sought-after and rare shoebill stork …You’ll have a chance to observe rare species such as grey-headed gull, lesser Swamp-warbler, Spot-breasted ibis, Senegal coucal and African green ibis. Some other remarkable birds that can be seen are blue-cheeked bee-eater, blue-headed coucal, goliath heron, yellow-billed stork and grey-crowned crane. After your boat trip, you’ll return to Semliki Safari Lodge for lunch. Mid-afternoon, you’ll go on a wildlife/birding ride in the Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve in a private 4x4 with an experienced naturalist driver-guide. You’ll have a chance to observe species such as sulfur-breasted bushshrike, red-shouldered cuckoo shrike, White-browed Scrub-robin, blue-naped mousebird, striped kingfisher, white-breasted robin, bateleur and snake eagles, and helmeted guineafowl. In the evening you’ll go on another night drive with spotlight (in a shared open-sided lodge vehicle) in search of nocturnal wildlife and bird species. Overnight at Semliki Safari Lodge, with your meals and drinks included.
Following an early breakfast, you’ll drive about 1,5 to two hours to the Semliki National Park with a packed lunch. The park, which has 430+ bird species, is the eastern extension of the vast Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) …Forest walks in the Semliki National Park will provide you with some of Africa’s best forest birding, including white-crested hornbill, red-billed dwarf hornbill, piping hornbill, Congo serpent eagle, yellow-throated nicator, red-rumped tinker bird, black winged oriole, black collared lovebird, Zenkers honey-guide, great blue and Ross’s turacos. In the afternoon you’ll visit the Sempaya Hot Springs, spurting bubbling water and steam up to two meters high. Before returning to the Semliki Valley Wildlife Reserve, you’ll pass via the Sempaya-Ntandi Road, a six-kilometre section of public road that runs through one of the loveliest tracts of forest in Uganda and provides views of birds and monkeys high up in the forest canopy. Overnight at Semliki Safari Lodge, with your meals and drinks included.
After breakfast, you have a two- to three-hour drive to Kibale Primate Lodge where you’ll have lunch. You’ll go chimpanzee trekking in the afternoon when you have a better chance of seeing the chimps on the forest floor …Kibale has wonderful forest and papyrus birds but you’ll have to rely on calls and the odd glimpse through the forest canopy. Rare species include the papyrus gonolek, white-winged warbler, white-collared olive back and papyrus canary, white-spotted flufftail, yellow-spotted barbet, hairy-breasted barbet, yellow-billed barbet, western nicator, grey-winged robin-chat, white-tailed ant-thrush, brown-backed scrub-robin, Black-and-white Shrike-flycatcher, brown-throated wattle-eye, superb sunbird, Brown-crowned tchagra, Bocage’s Bush-shrike, black bishop, white-breasted negrofinch and black-crowned waxbill. Overnight at Kibale Primate Lodge, with your meals included.
After breakfast at the Kibale Primate Lodge, you’ll set out for the Kibale Forest at a leisurely pace via the Crater Lakes area to Kasese town, the second most populous center in Western Uganda …The road passes through fertile agricultural land and follows the lower slopes of one of Africa’s largest mountain ranges – the famous Rwenzori Mountains. You’ll cross the equator and pass through the Queen Elizabeth National Park (600+ bird species) where the Uganda kob is abundant and you may see elephant or buffalo in the distance. After lunch at the Mweya Safari Lodge, you’ll go on a boat cruise on the Kazinga channel, leaving at 3pm. The 32-kilometre Kazinga channel is a dominant feature of the Queen Elizabeth National Park and links Lake George with Lake Edward. The channel attracts a varied range of animals and birds and one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos year round. During the cruise, you may spot skimmers, striated heron, African spoonbill, African crake, three-banded plover, marsh sandpiper, green sandpiper, wood sandpiper, grey-headed gull, lesser swamp-warbler and many others. Overnight at the Kyambura Gorge Lodge, with your meals and drinks included.
After breakfast at the Kyambura Gorge Lodge, you’ll leave the Northern section of the Queen Elizabeth National Park via an 80-kilometre dirt road (1,5 to two hours, depending on road conditions) towards the Congolese border town of Ishasha …Although the road passes through the Queen Elizabeth National Park, this is a public road. Enjoy your packed lunch at a quiet spot at the Ishasha River before checking in to the Ishasha Wilderness Camp. In the afternoon you’ll go on a wildlife and birding drive on the Ishasha Plains in a private 4x4 vehicle with your driver-guide. As the sun sets, return to the Ishasha Wilderness Camp for the night, meals included.
Spend the morning after breakfast on a last game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park before driving to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park (two to three hours away) in time for dinner …Bwindi is a bird watcher’s heaven, with 350 species of birds and 90% of all Albertine rift endemics. An experienced bird watcher can identify up to 100 species in a day. Birding takes place along the Buhoma Waterfall Trail and along the bamboo zone and Mubwindi Swamp trail in Ruhija. Overnight at Gorilla Forest Camp, with your meals and drinks included.
This is the morning for your mountain gorilla trek. Spend your allotted hour with these giant primates and return to …Gorilla Forest Camp for a late lunch, with time to relax in the afternoon. Overnight at Gorilla Forest Camp, with your meals and drinks included.
The last day of your birding safari through Uganda will be spent looking for the species you haven’t seen yet …Look out for some of the 23 Albertine Rift endemics, such as the short-tailed warbler, rusty-faced woodland warbler, bar-tailed trogon, Gruer’s rush warbler, Wilcock’s honey-guide, yellow-eyed black fly-catcher, Kivu ground thrush, dusky crimson wing and white-tailed blue monarch, as well as seven IUCN red data listed species that are difficult or impossible to see in any other part of East Africa. Overnight at Gorilla Forest Camp, with your meals and drinks included.
Your flight back to Entebbe leaves at 10:55am and arrives at Entebbe an hour later. You’ll be in time for lunch back at The Boma, where you’ll spend the afternoon before being transferred to Entebbe International for your connecting flight.
When to visit Uganda?
- January is the dry season in both the north and south of Uganda. It’s a hot month, with daytime temperatures peaking in the high 20s in the south and in the 30s in the north. It’s a good time to go gorilla trekking and visit national parks in the south of the country, but it’s too hot and dusty to be an ideal time to visit Kidepo Valley National Park in the north.
- February is a relatively dry month in Uganda, so it’s a good time to visit national parks in the south and go gorilla trekking. In the north of the country it’s particularly hot and dusty and not an ideal time for wildlife viewing.
- March marks the start of the first rainy season of the year in southern Uganda, while it’s still dry in northern Uganda. It’s not an ideal time to travel for gorilla trekking and wildlife viewing.
-April is the wettest month in Uganda. Some park lodging is closed and roads in some parks may be impassable due to rain. It’s low season for tourism, which means you can find discounted rates at lodges and hotels and you may be able to get discounted gorilla trekking permits.
- May is another rainy month across Uganda, although it’s not as wet as April. It’s still the low season, so you can find discounts on lodging and gorilla trekking permits.
- June is one of the driest months of the year in the south of Uganda, while it’s the rainy season in the north of the country. It’s one of the best months for wildlife viewing in the parks in the south, and it’s also a great month for gorilla trekking. It’s the start of the peak season in Uganda, and you’ll need to book far in advance for gorilla trekking permits and lodging in popular spots.
- Because of its low rainfall, July is one of the best months for safaris and gorilla trekking in southern Uganda. In parks such as Queen Elizabeth National Park, animals are congregating around water sources, making them easier to spot. This is also a great month for gorilla trekking, as the mostly dry weather means that the paths are easier to hike on. It’s one of the most popular months for travel, however, so you’ll need to book ahead for gorilla trekking permits and lodging.
-August is another excellent month to visit southern Uganda. Falling at the end of dry season, August is a great time for gorilla tracking, and there’s superb wildlife viewing in national parks with dry vegetation and animals congregating around water sources.
- In September, the second rainy season of the year begins in southern Uganda, while the rainy season continues in northern Uganda. It’s not an ideal month to visit national parks or go gorilla trekking, but if you’re willing to put up with heavy thundershowers, challenging roads and difficult hiking to find gorillas, then you’ll be able to save on lodging costs with low season rates, and you may be able to get discounted gorilla trekking permits.
- October is another rainy month in Uganda, and it’s not an ideal time to visit if you’d like to see wildlife and go gorilla trekking.
- After April, November is the second wettest month in Uganda. Few tourists visit this month because it’s difficult to spot wildlife in the national parks (and some roads and lodging may be closed) and the muddy paths and thundershowers make gorilla trekking in Bwindi more challenging.
- Nairobi and the central highlands are hot by day, cool by night and receive a moderate to high amount of rain. Mombasa and the coast is very hot by day, rather hot at night, and might receive occasional rainfall. The Rift Valley and western interior are hot by day, cool at night and receive occasional rain.
- From December onwards the Tsavo sees an increase in humidity and although it can get rather intense, it’s still a good time to visit the coastal regions. The ocean breeze also helps to alleviate the heat and the warm water is a pleasure.
- December isn’t the best time for beach holidays on the Kenyan coast, since it is quite wet and daytime temperatures can get very high. Game viewing in most safari destinations is good in December. Birdlife is boosted by a variety of intra-African and Palaearctic migrants.
- For divers and snorkelers, December is a good month to see larger marine creatures such as whale shark, manta ray, and various sharks, dolphins and turtles.
“For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly ‘the Pearl of Africa’.” Winston Churchill penned these words about Uganda in 1907, and more than a century later, they still ring true.
Uganda is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries: home to 13 types of primates and 330 mammals, of which six are found nowhere else, as well as more than 1000 bird species, it also encompasses a startling range of landscapes, from Africa’s highest mountain range and the source of the Nile – the world’s longest river – to the continent’s largest lake.
While most people think of Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to East African safaris, landlocked Uganda has one thing that its neighbours don’t: Mountain gorillas. The country conserves half of the world’s remaining wild mountain gorilla population, and tracking these magnificent primates in their wild habitat is one of the most memorable wildlife experiences on the planet – and a big reason why travellers visit Uganda. This is also of the few countries in Africa where you can track chimpanzees in forest reserves: another primate encounter that you’ll never forget.
In addition to safari experiences in rainforests, Uganda also offers the traditional East African safari experience of game drives on open savannah to spot lions, elephant, leopards, buffalo and some rare wildlife highlights such as tree-climbing lions, sitatunga antelope, oribi, and rare shoebill storks, one of Africa’s top birds.
Other outdoor adventures abound in Uganda, from white-water rafting and kayaking on the Nile River to bungee jumping, horseback safaris and hiking among the glacier lakes and cloud forests of the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains – as well as climbing Africa’s third highest peak, Mount Stanley.
Uganda has a turbulent past but today the country is relatively safe and stable. There’s been a huge investment in tourist infrastructure over the past several years, and visitor numbers are on the rise. Ugandans are incredibly warm and friendly people: wherever you go, you’ll be met with big smiles from locals who are proud to welcome you to the Pearl of Africa.
Kenya is undoubtedly one of Africa’s finest Big Five destinations. But it has a great deal more to offer than just safaris. Culturally, it is a fascinating mass of contradictions. One of Africa’s most developed countries, it has an unusually high level of education, a substantial middle class, world-class tourist facilities, and a growing industrial belt sprawling out from its bustling capital. Yet away from the cities, on dusty plains populated by pastoralists such as the Maasai, Samburu and Turkana, it ranks among the most visibly traditional of African nations.
What makes Uganda unique?
Uganda has one special attraction that only two other countries in the world also share: Mountain gorillas. The country is home to half of the world’s remaining population of these great apes, and seeing them in the wild is one of the planet’s most thrilling and memorable wildlife encounters. While you can also go gorilla trekking in Rwanda and the DRC, Uganda is the only country that offers the gorilla habituation experience, where you get to spend half a day with a gorilla group that is in the process of being exposed to humans.
But there’s more to Uganda than just gorillas: the country is also a fantastic place to do chimpanzee trekking, another wildlife activity that you can only do in a few places in Africa. Another special animal highlight are Uganda’s tree-climbing lions, which are found in Queen Elizabeth National Park. There’s only one other place in the world where lions climb trees – Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania – so seeing these big cats draped across branches is a rare sight.
There aren’t many other countries in Africa where you have the chance to experience safaris on the open savannah as well as in tropical forests, and Uganda offers both. In parks such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth, you can have the quintessential East African safari of spotting big game on the wide-open plains, while you also have the opportunity to go chimpanzee trekking and searching for other primates in pockets of rainforest in Western Uganda.
For birdwatching, Uganda is one of the best countries in Africa, due to its astounding diversity of species – a result of its position in between the East African savanna and West African rainforest, and its variety of different habitats. Along with the many beautiful species to search for, birdwatchers come to Uganda for the chance of seeing the elusive shoebill stork, which is hardly seen anywhere else and is rated as one of the top five birds to spot in the continent.
Uganda is home to two unique natural highlights: the source of Africa’s longest river – the Nile – and the continent’s highest mountain range, the Rwenzori, or “Mountains of the Moon”. Both of these places offer adventures galore, including white-water rafting, kayaking, boating, hiking and mountaineering.
Why would people keep coming back to Uganda
While seeing Mountain gorillas is the main reason that many travellers come to Uganda, there’s much more to the country in terms of wildlife, landscapes and outdoor adventures, that it would be hard to fit it all into one trip – unless you have a few months to travel.
While many people might see mountain gorillas, chimpanzees and other wildlife in the national parks on their first trip, other attractions would bring them back, such as hiking in the Rwenzori Mountains and in Mount Elgon National Park, gorilla tracking in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, birdwatching in Bundongo Forest Reserve and exploring the beautiful crater lakes region.
Uganda is home to some wonderful off-the-beaten-track gems, such as Kidepo Valley National Park in the remote north of the country, which may be difficult to reach than the more popular parks and reserves, but would definitely draw adventurous travellers back on repeat visits.
- Travelling to Uganda
From Europe and North America you can fly to Entebbe in Uganda either via the African cities of Addis Ababa, Kigali or Nairobi or via the Middle East, going through Dubai or Doha.
- Getting Uganda
One way to travel Uganda independently is by hiring your own car. Hiring a 4x4 is highly recommended, because most roads are unpaved and are often extremely bumpy and potholed, and most of the roads in the national parks are only suitable for 4x4s. However, driving on rough Ugandan roads is not for the feint hearted, and if you don’t have much experience driving in Africa it might be best to think about hiring a driver for your trip.
If you don’t hire a car, your options for getting around cities are shared taxi vans (known as matatus) and boda boda motorcycles (but note that both matatus and boda bodas have high accident rates). The safest option is to take private taxis (the taxi-ride app Uber operates in Kampala).
For long distance travel between major towns the most affordable option is coaches, which are slow and can be crowded – and they do have accidents. The most hassle-free way to travel around Uganda is to fly: Aerolink (www.aerolinkuganda.com) flies to Uganda’s top five national parks, Eagle Air (www.eagleair-ug.com) has scheduled flights to six towns across Uganda and also operates private charter flights, while Fly Uganda (www.flyuganda.com) offers private charter flights to all of Uganda’s airstrips as well as custom flying safaris.
- Wildlife of Uganda
Western Uganda is home to most of the country’s national parks and reserves, and is the best region to visit for wildlife. The standout highlight of this region is the gorilla tracking experience in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in Uganda’s southwest corner. While seeing mountain gorillas is the main reason people travel to Bwindi, there’s more wildlife to spot in the misty forests of the park, from nine other primate species, such as black-and-white colobus and l’Hoest monkeys, as well as forest duikers, elusive forest elephants and more than 200 butterfly species.
Kibale Forest Reserve is also a primate haven – with 13 resident species, it boasts the largest concentration of primates in the country and the biggest diversity of primates of any East African reserve. Tracking chimpanzees is the main draw to Kibale, although spotting olive baboons, black-and-white colobus, l’Hoest and blue monkeys are also highlights in themselves.
Still in western Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park is the country’s best park for wildlife diversity, home to 95 species of mammals and 20 predators, including the Big Four (buffalo, lion, leopard and elephant) as well as chimpanzees and a whopping 611 species of birds. The park’s standout highlight are the tree-climbing lions – there’s only one other place in Africa where they do this – so catching this sighting is particularly special.
Murchison Falls National Park is another Big Four reserve (only rhino si missing) in western Uganda, which is known for its large herds of elephant, giraffe and buffalo, as well as for lucky sightings of the rare ground-dwelling patas monkey. For birders it’s the best place to try and track down the rare shoebill stork.
Just south of Murchison Falls, Budongo Forest Reserve conserves Uganda’s largest population of chimpanzees, as well as other primate species including black-and-white colobus, blue monkey and red-tailed monkey. With around 360 species of birds including many species found in only a few other locations in East Africa, it’s considered the country’s best birding destination.
Close to Kampala and still in Western Uganda, Lake Mburo National Park is where to go to spot animals not easily found elsewhere in the country, from Uganda’s only population of impala to Burchell’s zebra. While elephant are absent in the park, there are plenty of other mammals to see, including sitatunga antelope, topi, oribi, Bohor reedbuck and herds of eland.
In Central Uganda, the main wildlife highlight is tracking southern white rhinos on foot at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. The reserve is also an excellent place to see shoebill storks.
In the Karamoja region of northern Uganda near the Kenyan border, Kidepo Valley National Park is a remote park that that offers rugged wilderness and excellent wildlife, everything from elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo to Burchell’s zebra, Rothschild’s giraffe and black-backed jackal and cheetah – two of the many species that you don’t find anywhere else in the country.
- Uganda culture
As in many African countries, it’s customary for Ugandans to exchange friendly greetings before launching into the topic of conversation. To be polite, you should stick to this cultural practice, even if you’re simply asking a stranger on the street for directions.
Public displays of affection are considered impolite in Uganda: so restrict your affection towards your partner. Ugandan women tend to dress conservatively, wearing long dresses and skirts that cover their knees.
- Languages in Uganda
Uganda has 43 languages, of which Luganda is the most widely spoke, and Swahili and English are the official languages. Most educated Ugandans speak English, and in tourist destinations most people will speak English.
- Is Uganda safe?
Uganda is generally a safe and stable country but there are a few things to be aware of.
When in cities and towns use the same precautions that you would anywhere; don’t flaunt your valuables, be aware of your bag when you’re in crowded places and don’t leave valuables in your car. Be careful when you’re walking or driving at night.
Avoid political demonstrations in cities as they can turn confrontational.
Travel cautiously if you’re going near the border with South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, as there have been violent clashes in the area. There also has been violence in the Karamoja region of north-eastern Uganda.
Uganda has a high rate of road accidents, so take caution if you’re on a self-driving trip. Most roads are unpaved and many are extremely pot-holed and bumpy. Never drive at night outside of the main towns – roads are not lit; some drivers drive without their lights on and there’s often livestock walking across the roads. In towns and villages, the speed limit is 50 kilometres per hour, while outside of towns it’s 80 km. Breaking the speed limit can get you a fine or imprisonment. Make sure that you’re travelling with a spare tyre and all the necessary tools.
- Changing money in Uganda
Uganda’s currency is the Ugandan shilling (US$1 is around USh3800). US dollars are widely accepted for lodging, activities, park entrance fees and safari activities. The dollar bills need to be newer than 2003 and have no tears on them.
Uganda is a cash society: many lodges and restaurants in Uganda don’t accept credit cards, and payment for park fees and permits are in cash, so always have enough cash with you. There are ATMs located in towns across the country, but if you’re travelling to remote areas, it’s a good idea to travel with enough cash to pay for everything you will need.
- Shopping in Uganda
Kampala, Entebbe and Jinja have the best selection of arts, crafts, curio shops and markets. In Kampala, Exposure Africa is the largest craft “village” in the city where you’ll find everything from drums and wooden carvings (go for carvings made from renewable woods rather than indigenous hardwoods) to sandals, baskets and jewellery, while the Friday craft market on Ggaba Road is a great place to browse handmade arts and crafts sold by the artisans themselves. A shopping highlight in Kampala is Banana Boat, with three different branches, where you’ll find upcycled paper products and jewellery and other beautiful arts, crafts and décor items.
In Entebbe there’s the Entebbe Crafts Village with 20 stalls selling jewellery, clothes, sculptures and souvenirs, as well as several other curio shops.
In Jinja, visit Kilombera Workshop for cotton fabrics or browse sidewalk stalls for sandals, bags, drums and paintings.
Most upmarket safari lodges have a shop that sells curios and souvenirs, but these are usually priced much higher than the same products that you’d find in markets.
If you need to buy travel gear, shopping malls in Kampala and Entebbe will be your best options. In terms of food shopping, there are supermarkets in towns and open-air food markets where you can buy cheap, local fresh produce.