Giraffes in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Uganda Highlights + How to Pick a Safari Destination

Going on safari had been a dream of mine for as long as I could remember. I’ve always been obsessed with nature and animals, so the idea of seeing them in the wild was pretty magical to me. When Ben and I got married, we tried to make a safari honeymoon happen, but a trip of that scale was beyond our financial reach. Well, it took us almost five years, but we finally went! Our destination of choice was Uganda, and it was genuinely incredible. In this post, I’ll cover some of the highlights from our trip, and provide tips for choosing a safari destination for yourself!

One of the main reasons we chose to visit Uganda was its astounding variety. We visited several national parks while we were there and each offered a completely different experience. Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Parks, for example, feature savanna landscapes literally teeming with wildlife. You can game drive for hours and see something new at pretty much any moment. Kibale and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Parks, on the other hand, are literal rainforests. You have the opportunity to get up close and personal on foot with chimpanzees and mountain gorillas, respectively. Since we covered quite a bit of ground on this trip, I’ll break my highlights up by location.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

White Rhinos at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary in Uganda

Despite feeling a bit curated, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is super cool. First, you get briefed by a ranger on how to behave around the rhinos. Then, you set out to track them. White rhinos are crazy endangered, so each one is protected by armed guards around the clock. For that reason, rangers are always aware of their locations and will take you directly to them without much trekking required. That said, this is the only place where you can see wild white rhinos in Uganda, and I kind of appreciated not having to work too hard to do so.

Murchison Falls National Park

Giraffes in Murchison Falls National Park

While I think ranking the quality of any of these places is an exercise in futility, Murchison Falls was my absolute favorite spot for game drives. A game drive is basically where you drive around a park for a few hours to look for animals. Driving through Murchison Falls National Park was like driving up to Jurassic Park. I’d never seen that many animals in one place before. I’d also never seen more than a few giraffes in one place before, but at one point we saw about 60 of them at once. Majestic is the only word that feels appropriate here.

Murchison Falls National Park

Between just this park and the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, we were able to spot Uganda’s big five (elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards and rhinos) within two days.

Lions in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda
Leopard in Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

Murchison Falls National Park is also home to its namesake waterfall. This waterfall funnels the entire Nile River through a seven meter gap in the rocks. It’s wild. And also very loud and wet.

Murchison Falls National Park

Kibale Forest National Park

Our first taste of Ugandan rainforest was Kibale Forest National Park. Here, we were able to successfully track a family of chimpanzees on foot. Once you find your family, you’re allowed to spend an hour in their presence.

Kibale National Park

The weather here is much colder and wetter than it was in Murchison, which was a welcome change as Murchison was scorching hot every afternoon! We also had the opportunity to go on a community and swamp tour, where we were able to learn more about local wildlife (both plant and animal) and gain insight into how people in the Bigodi village live.

And as an added bonus, the roads in and around Kibale are filled with baboons! (I realize this might be a nuisance to some, but I loved them.)

Kibale National Park, Uganda

Queen Elizabeth National Park

As I mentioned earlier, the terrain in Queen Elizabeth National Park is similar to that of Murchison Falls. Sprawling savannas packed with diverse wildlife. We didn’t have quite the same luck on game drives here as we did in Murchison, but we were able to see a ton of elephants, hippos, and other cool animals via boat!

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Kobs, Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

The other thing Queen Elizabeth National Park offers is Ishasha’s tree-climbing lions. I almost didn’t include them in this subheading, as Ishasha is located in a far-off stretch of the park, but since it’s featured on the park’s website I figured it was fair game. Ishasha is the only place in Uganda where tree-climbing lions are found, and we were lucky enough to spot one. He was pretty far from our car, but still a wonder to behold.

Ishasha Tree Climbing Lion

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park

Our last stop in Uganda was one of our most anticipated. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is home to some of the last mountain gorillas on earth, and we were able to track them! Tracking gorillas was similar to tracking chimpanzees, except the hike itself was one of the hardest I’ve ever done. And I’m no stranger to a trail. In order to find our gorilla family we had to hike for 2+ hours through deep mud and steep declines/inclines. Occasionally, we had to cross a stream by walking across a rotting, unstable log or hopping from one slippery rock to another. All the while our guide slashed away at leaves with a machete to carve a path. Because it’s a literal rainforest. It was dope. I fell many hundreds of times, but I also felt like I’d really accomplished something.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

As was the case with our chimp tracking adventure, we were able to spend an hour in the gorillas’ presence. During this time, we mostly marveled at the beautiful creatures before us and took tons of pictures. We also got extensively farted on because as it turns out, mountain gorillas are extremely gassy. I give the whole experience a 10/10.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, Uganda

These five parks were the main attractions for our trip. That said, it took several hours of driving (sometimes up to nine!) to get to each one, though during those trips we were able to witness some pretty incredible animals and scenery. I’ll leave you with one last picture before giving you a few tips on how to pick a safari destination of your own, and then sending you on your way. It’s of a salty crater lake that we dropped by on one of our drives!

Crater Lake in Uganda

Tips for Picking a Safari Destination

Think about what you want from your trip. Are you chill with spending most of your time on game drives (read: in a car), or do you crave more physical adventure? Tracking chimps and mountain gorillas broke up our marathon car rides and gave us a chance to have interactive experiences, which was important to us. If you’re looking for a less rugged trip that’ll allow you to see wild animals while still being able to enjoy lots of city time, South Africa might be more your speed.

Consider what animals you want to see. Is your heart set on seeing a certain type of animal? If so, look up the best place to do so. I’d have been so sad if I’d been dead-set on seeing a zebra in Uganda, for example. But Ben and I did our research and knew what to expect beforehand.

If you’re on a budget, compare different location options. We’d originally looked into booking a trip to Tanzania. It seemed perfect because it featured lots of activities and had most of the animals we were hoping to see. Then we stumbled upon an itinerary for Uganda and fell in love. That itinerary offered a chance to see many of those same animals, plus mountain gorillas. It was also almost half the price!

Look into conservation efforts in different locations. A percentage of the admission costs for our trip went towards local communities and park conservation efforts, which was rad. If you’re taking a trip like this, you’re probably interested in the animals’ well-being and thus might want to find destinations that will help support the local ecosystems. Unless you’re a big game hunter, in which case you can go die.

Check to make sure the location(s) you’re interested in are safe for tourism. Look out for any travel advisories or current events that may effect you.

These ideas may seem like no brainers, but they really go a long way in helping you decide where to go on safari.

I’ll be doing a couple more posts on this trip in the next few weeks, so if you’re thinking of going on safari, keep an eye out for those! In the meantime, is there anything you’re curious about? Let me know in the comments!

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