Southwest Uganda: what not to miss

27/05/2016 12:28

Written by Philip Briggs

Hosting the most varied safari circuit anywhere in Africa, southwest Uganda is studded with national parks and other protected areas shielding a range of habitats that embraces everything from snow-capped glacial peaks and frosty Afro-alpine moorland to marsh-fringed Rift Valley lakes and forest-swathed volcanoes – not some vast tracts of archetypal African savannah. The highlight for most visitors is tracking mountain gorillas in Bwindi or Mgahinga national parks – truly one of the world’s most thrilling wildlife encounters – but it is also a good place to see habituated chimpanzees, tree-climbing lions, furtive leopards, stinking great African elephants, not to mention a dazzling variety of monkeys, antelope and birds. Wildlife aside, the Rwenzori and Virunga mountains offer some utterly superb – albeit challenging – high-altitude hiking and climbing opportunities, while more sedentary visitors get to choose between a quite extraordinary range of upmarket lodges and low-key budget camps servicing pretty Lake Bunyonyi and the hundred-odd crater lakes that run south from Fort Portal (one of Uganda’s most appealing towns) to the Kichwamba Escarpment.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park gorillas Uganda by Ariadne Van Zandbergen

Home to 12 habituated mountain gorilla groups, Bwindi’s densely forested slopes also offer great monkey viewing, occasional elephant encounters, and the opportunity to tick two dozen bird species endemic to the Albertine Rift.

Kibale National Park

Chimpanzees Kibale National Park Uganda by Ariadne Van Zandbergen

Uganda’s top chimpanzee-tracking site also protects the country’s densest and most varied monkey population and a fabulous variety of forest birds showcased at the community-run Bigodi Swamp Walk.

Queen Elizabeth National Park 

Lion Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda by Ariadne Van Zandbergen

Arguably the most biodiverse conservation area in East Africa with a bird checklist topping the 600 mark, QENP’s variety embraces the elephant, hippos and giant forest hogs that haunt the Kazinga Channel – serviced by several boat trips daily – as well as the chimps of Kyambura Gorge and celebrated tree-climbing lions of Ishasha.

Toro Crater Lakes

Toro Crater Lakes Uganda

Studding the volcanically formed Rwenzori footslopes like a ribbon of green and blue gemstones, the 30-plus crater lakes of Toro providing the setting for some Uganda’s most attractive upmarket lodges and budget camps.

Lake Bunyonyi

Lake Bunyonyi Uganda© Rod Waddington, Wikimedia Commons

A flooded riverine valley set between the steep terraced slopes of Kigezi, lovely Lake Bunyonyi is entrenched as the place to chill out for a few days before or after gorilla tracking in nearby Bwindi.

Semliki Valley

Semliki Wildlife Reserve Uganda by Africa Image Library

As scenically stunning as it is remote, the section of the Albertine Rift that divides the northern Rwenzori footslopes from Lake Albert supports two fine but little-visited conservation areas known for their ecological affinities to the Ituri Forest to the neighbouring Congo Basin.

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