Family safari in Uganda
Credit: Steven Dieveney
Uganda is a wonderful choice for a family safari holiday, offering some of the most memorable wildlife experiences on the continent, game drives in national parks without the crowds, island and lakeside beaches to while away relaxing days and more outdoors activities than you can shake a GoPro stick at.
For a family holiday in Uganda, Western Uganda is the top region to visit: home to most of the country’s national parks, reserves and natural attractions, it offers spectacular wildlife, astonishing landscapes to explore and lots of outdoors activities. For families with older children, mountain gorilla and chimpanzee trekking are two top highlights, while children of all ages can enjoy wildlife spotting in the most popular national parks of the region – Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls – and guided nature walks to spot birds and monkeys in the region’s beautiful rainforests, such as in Budongo Forest Reserve.
Central Uganda also has some wonderful attractions for families: children above the age of six can track rhinos on foot and go in search of shoebill storks in canoes at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, and for children who are under the age of 15 and can’t go chimp trekking, a visit to Ngamba Island chimpanzee sanctuary is a great alternative. Scattered in Lake Victoria, the Ssese Islands also make for a relaxing beach destination with some fun activities, such as wind surfing and fishing.
For active families, Eastern Uganda is home to the adrenaline capital of East Africa, Jinja, which lies at the source of the Nile River. For children above the age of eight, white-water rafting is a heart-pumping adventure and there’s plenty more fun to be had on the river, including boat cruises, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking. Then on land there’s bungee-jumping, horse-back riding, quad biking and mountain biking – more than enough to keep even the most energetic of children entertained for a few days.
Highlights for families travelling in Uganda include wonderful wildlife encounters – tracking mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, rhinos and shoebill storks and seeing rescued chimps on Ngamba Island, exploring the savanna and rivers of Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park to see lions, elephant, giraffe, leopards and hippos, experiencing and learning about the amazing primates, birds and butterflies of Western Uganda’s biodiverse rainforest on guided walks and exciting activities, from windsurfing in the Ssese Island archipelago to white-water rafting on the Nile River.
Tracking mountain gorillas is a big reason why people travel to Uganda and it’s a wonderful activity to do as a family, but note that there is a minimum age limit of 15 for gorilla safaris (the same age limit applies for chimp trekking). Many other safari and wildlife activities also have an age limit – for example, rhino trekking at Ziwa is only for children above six.
Uganda’s roads are mostly unpaved and rough, which means that travelling by car between destinations can take a lot longer than you would expect, given the distance. If you’re self-driving or hiring a driver to travel around Uganda with your family, it makes sense to limit your itinerary to fewer places, spending more time in each destination, rather than trying to see all of the highlights on one trip.
There’s a risk of contracting several mosquito-borne diseases in Uganda. Malaria is the biggest risk, and children are particularly susceptible to catching severe and fatal malaria. It’s essential that you consult your doctor before travelling about taking antimalarial medication for your children, and that while you’re travelling you try to prevent them getting bitten by wearing suitable clothing, insect repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets.
Before you book any lodging, check up on the minimum age policies of lodges, as many of them won’t accept children under a certain age (and some don’t allow any children). Some lodges have a policy of only allowing children on game drives if you book a private vehicle and guide. Some lodges, however, are particularly child-friendly, offering family rooms and things like children’s menus and guided nature walks for kids, so it’s worth doing research on the best lodges for families before your trip.