Uganda: Luxury & Private Safaris
Uganda is an Eden of rainforest and lush vegetation, balanced by vast stretches of grassland, lakes and rivers. This diversity of habitats and environments is ideal for a variety of wildlife from primates to big cats, abundant plains game, and prolific bird species.
Most notably, Uganda is home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorilla population and is one of the few countries where you can encounter them in their natural environment. In addition to mountain gorillas, Uganda boasts a dozen other primate species including chimpanzees. Once you have had your fill of forests, move on to the savannah grasslands, lakes and rivers of Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and Murchison Falls, where you can enjoy both traditional vehicle game drives and game-viewing by boat, which is rarely found in other East African countries.
We love Uganda for its diversity. One day you find yourself kneeling in awe before a gorilla family with your camera at the ready, and the next day you could be floating in a boat and watching the Nile River cascade over Murchison Falls. All the while, the local people and culture will touch your heart.
Secrets and Tips from our Experts
- Hop on a scheduled charter flight to Bwindi for gorillas if you are tight on time; or if you want to take in the sights and travel by road in a comfy 4×4 vehicle, then visit Queen Elizabeth National Park or Lake Mburo en route.
- If you want remote and off-the-beaten path, then consider a safari to either Kidepo Valley or to Semliki Safari Lodge.
- Consider booking a gorilla habituation permit for an exclusive and unique experience offering extended time limits with the gorillas.
- Hike through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest staying at lodges on either end to fully experience the forest.
- Fly directly from Entebbe to the Maasai Mara in Kenya for an epic primate and migration safari.
Is Uganda the right destination for you?
- Uganda attracts anyone who is really interested in primates. Apart from the popular mountain gorillas, guests can track chimpanzees and golden monkeys.
- Gorilla permits are less than half the cost of permits in Rwanda (subject to change).
- Active travelers can participate in lots of hiking, in addition to primate trekking, along with white water rafting on the Nile River.
- Contrary to the assumption that the gorillas are the only reason to visit the country, Uganda is a stand-alone safari destination. Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls, Kidepo Valley and Lake Mburo offer game drives and boat safaris, creating a dynamic safari experience with excellent wildlife viewing and a nice diversity of activities.
- If you like seeing a country by road, then Uganda is the best destination for a driving-safari, but it’s best if you have at least 10 days or more to really explore.
- Uganda offers plentiful opportunities to spot rare bird life.
When to visit Uganda
Straddling the equator, Uganda is a year-round destination, as there is little fluctuation in temperature (average temps in the 80’s, although cooler at night in the higher altitudes – which can be up to 7,500 feet above sea level). It can be quite humid, especially in the mountainous areas where you do your gorilla and chimp trekking. Peak season in terms of best weather and popularity is July through early September and again in late December through February. During peak season, gorilla permits can sell out, so it’s best to plan in advance. October is a “secret season” with great rates at select lodges and lovely weather.
Like other parts of East Africa there are two rainy periods: March to May (long rains) and late September to November (short rains). It will be rainier during these months for gorilla trekking, but the gorillas live in a rainforest so any time of year will be wet. Some roads do become impassible in the rainy season, but the local guides know the best ways to get around. Despite the rain, October and November are actually good months to be in Uganda, especially for birding.
How much should I budget for a safari to Uganda?
Uganda: Luxury & Private Safaris
Uganda offers comfortable, mid-market properties that won’t break the bank (averaging between $300-500 per person, per night), with a few upscale options here and there ($800 per person per night). When budgeting for a safari to Uganda, you must consider the costs for transportation and for the permits, which really start to drive up the cost of a trip ($700 per person per gorilla permit, $200 per person per chimpanzee permit and $100 per person per golden monkey permit – all subject to change). A driving safari across the country can help to keep costs down, especially when shared between 2 to 4 guests; however, the internal bush flights add up quickly, especially because some sectors require a minimum of 4 guests. For a quick gorilla trekking extension to a Kenyan or Tanzanian safari, you’ll need to fly to/from Bwindi Impenetrable Forest plus factor in your gorilla permits, so that moderately priced safari lodge option can price out higher than anticipated. We, of course, think those gorillas and the other hidden gems of Uganda are worth every penny.
Our favorite areas in Uganda
Visiting the mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is at the top of the list, but it’s worth building in some extra time for two treks, some cultural visits and extra hiking in this remarkably beautiful forest. For another primate-fix, we recommend chimpanzee trekking in Kibale Forest National Park, where you can also spot a handful of other monkeys and varied wildlife. We love off-the-beaten-path destinations, and Kidepo Valley National Park fits the bill for Uganda. This oasis in the semi-desert area in the far north of the country offers an extreme diversity of flora and fauna which you will essentially have all to yourself! Its boasts buffalo herds, cheetah and Rothschild/Nubian giraffe.
What else should I know before planning a safari to Uganda?
- Uganda: Hike Challenges: Gorilla and chimp trekking can be challenging due to the steep terrain and higher altitude. Local porters (hired at a small fee) will carry your gear and help you every step of the way but be prepared for slow and steady yet long and hard hiking.
- Uganda: Luxury & Private Safaris: While the camps and lodges in Uganda are not comparable to uber-luxe options in, say, Botswana or South Africa, they all offer the comforts needed and more. Most are privately owned and operated making for a warm welcome and homey experience.
- Uganda: Driving vs Flying: The drives between destinations are long and bumpy and can be tiring. Flying is a better option if you have the budget.
- Uganda: Off-road: There is no off-road game driving in the national parks.
- Uganda: Roads: QENP has a major road going through it which can be off-putting, but you still see good wildlife.
Ways to experience Uganda
- Gorilla trekking in either Bwindi or Mgahinga is at the top of everyone’s list, but don’t forget about the exclusive gorilla habituation option, as well.
- Chimpanzee trekking rivals the gorilla experience and the cheeky chimps will keep you on your toes. Golden monkey trekking in Mgahinga rounds out your ultimate primate experience.
- Beyond primates, there is an amazing diversity of activities to enjoy – game drives, boat safaris of varying lengths (1 hour to full day), forest walks & hikes, horseback riding, white water rafting, and immersive cultural interactions.
Wildlife you will see
The highlight on a trip to Uganda is spending that precious hour with the endangered mountain gorillas, but you can also spend equally rewarding time with chimpanzees. On a safari across Uganda’s national parks, you can also spot four of the Big 5 (rhino are found only in a private sanctuary and have not yet been released into national parks), boundless plains game including zebra, giraffe and various antelope, and prolific bird life. Other rare species you may encounter include the elusive forest elephant, giant forest hog, and shoebill. In Murchison Falls National Park, you can see the rare Nubian giraffe and learn more about the influential conservation efforts to save this endangered species. Please note that not all parks in Uganda have all of these species, but we’re here to help make a plan for your priorities.
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