Uganda is one of those destinations in Africa that every traveler would very much love to visit for a wildlife viewing experience. Despite majority of the safaris being dominated by gorilla activities, almost every itinerary for a trip has either one or multiple wildlife viewing activities in respective national parks. There are quite a number of places you can view wildlife from in Uganda but this article only highlights the three most popular destinations which are; Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Kidepo Valley National Park because the best wildlife viewing experiences happen in either of the three national parks. I am going to draw a lot of comparisons basing on a lot of factors so that we can definitely single out the best place for wildlife viewing in Uganda.
Wildlife Viewing in Murchison Falls NP
Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s biggest national park covering an estimated area of 3,840 square kilometers. This national park harbors over 77 species of mammals, 452 species of birds and sits right on the shores of Lake Albert northwest of Uganda. It is bisected by River Nile that plunges 46 meters through a gorge to form it’s centerpiece, Murchison Falls. The northern part of this safari park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland where as the south is mainly dominated by woodland and forests.
So what so exceptional about Murchison Falls NP? I would say of all the parks in Uganda, Murchison Falls NP has the best lodging facilities that range from budget, mid-range to luxury and can go for as much as $400 a night. What most travelers don’t know is accommodation is very vital and counts a lot. A nice wildlife viewing experience can be ruined by a substandard accommodation facility so easily in case of any discomfort on the client’s side. Irrespective of your budget, you can still find the perfect accommodation facility in this safari park that will keep the spark on when you return for rest.
About Wildlife, this parks is the only one that harbors the big five African animals; Buffalo, Leopards, Lions, Elephants and Rhinos (found at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary). Murchison Falls NP also harbors the Rothschild giraffe, crocodiles, hippos, antelopes, kobs, oribi, hartebeest plus several other species of wildlife leaving it with variety of wildlife displays. Truth is this park will give you an exceptional wildlife viewing moment irrespective of your time of visit. The size of the national park makes it possible to have multiple game drives with extinct experiences since you can’t explore the whole park in just a day.
Is Murchison Falls far from Kampala? This park is actually the closest from Kampala compared to the rest. Located in Masindi District, it is just 3 hours away by road and less than 40 minutes away by flight reason why most itineraries have it first on their lists of destinations not forgetting the possibility to visit and explore this lovely park in only 3 days.
What i don’t like about Murchison falls. It’s quite a risky area to be in compared to the rest of the parks. Extra caution has to be taken while staying in it’s wilderness especially concerning getting close to water bodies by foot. The water of the Nile is crocodile infested, making the park very unsafe for roaming reason why you are asked to always follow the respective safety rules at each accommodation facility carefully. It’s also hard to access most accommodation facilities especially from the main gate and can take you close to three hours before you can get to the ferry point to cross to the other side of the park and another couple of minutes to reach safari lodges.
Can i carry out Hot-Air Ballooning from Murchison? The balloon company (Dream Balloons) that launched their services in this safari park made it very possible to carry out a hot-air ballooning activity while viewing wildlife. More companies could launch in future but apparently there is only one company that charges a rack rate of $380 per adult and $180 per kid. These balloons were manually inspected and authorized by Uganda Civil Aviation Authority meaning they are very safe and standard.
Wildlife Viewing in Queen Elizabeth NP
I have come across several reports claiming Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most visited / popular among st all the other safari parks in Uganda. Not just one or two but multiple sources and indeed they might be true because this Queen is among the top parks that generate a lot of revenue to Uganda Wildlife Authority annual. I won’t deny the fact that wildlife viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park is excellent because of a lot of factors that i am yet to mention. Queen’s has various ecosystems like the sprawling savanna, humid forests, lakes and wetlands that harbors it’s wildlife, primates and variety of bird species.
Regarding views, i would say this national park has the best views of all the three i have mentioned in this article. This parks is located right next to the Rwenzori Mountains, has several craters attached to it’s hills that are made of green and has excellent views of the famous Kazinga Channel. Some of it’s wildlife include hippopotamuses, buffalo, elephants, tree climbing lions (best sight), Uganda kobs and many other more.
What’s special about Queen? Besides the exceptional views, craters and the Kazinga Channel, the tree climbing lions that reside in the tree plains of Ishasha have long sold this national park. In fact, it’s possible to carry out two or three game drives with different sights in the different sectors of this park (Kasenyi & Ishasha) and still get the best wildlife viewing experience. There is just a lot to do and explore in this park though it’s mainly known for wildlife viewing. The lodging facilities in Queen are also superb with variety to choose from. Some of them include Mweya Safari Lodge, Kyambura Game Lodge, Enganzi Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge, Katara Lodge, Ihamba Safari Lodge and more.
Is Queen far from Kampala? This park is about 8 and a half hours away by road or 2 hours away by chartered flights. Queen Elizabeth NP is located in Kasese, Western Uganda right next to two of the great lakes (Lake Edward and Lake George). If your entry point is Entebbe International Airport, you will need a full day of travelling in case you can’t afford domestic / chartered flights else spend half a day travelling if you use the Rwanda – Uganda entry point.
Is there Hot-Air Ballooning in Queen? Shortly after launching their services in Murchison Falls National Park, Dream Balloons also went ahead to do the same in Queen. Their rates are the same but i would say Queen has the best Hot-Air Ballooning experience considering the fact that it has the best views among st all national parks in Uganda.
What i don’t like about Queen Elizabeth NP. The only thing i don’t like about Queen is the distance. A 8 hours drive isn’t something easy and is a very tiresome journey. Besides, not every one can afford domestic flights! Most tourists travel to and fro by road.
Wildlife Viewing in Kidepo Valley NP
I would say if Kidepo was visited more often just like Queen & Murchison, it would definitely be the best place for wildlife safaris in Uganda. This virgin national park that lies north-west in the wild frontier region of Uganda has a lot of history especially when it comes to security issues that till now, some media houses have gone ahead to publish outdated information discouraging tourists from visiting this park. If you have landed on such information then it’s high time you discarded it because i can confirm that this national park is extremely safe to visit at any time of the year. This national park harbors over 78 mammals and 478 bird species with majority of it’s wildlife being extinct. This park has only two rivers (Kidepo and Narus) which often disappear during the dry season and reappear during the rainy season though some pools of water are always left for wildlife irrespective if the season.
Kidepo has a lot of wildlife that you can’t find in any other national park in Uganda and the fact that it borders Masai Mara, the best place for wildlife viewing in Africa makes it one of the best places for wildlife viewing in Africa. Doubt this? In 2013 Cable News Network (CNN) named this park the 3rd best in Africa with it’s neighbor Masai Mara taking up the first slot. it is undoubtedly one of Africa’s finest wildernesses!
What special about Kidepo? Definitely everything about it’s wildlife and scenery. Wildlife like Cheetahs and birds like Ostriches can only be found in this national park. Despite cheetahs being rare to find, Ostriches live in plenty and can be easily spotted during game drives.
Is there Hot-Air Ballooning in Kidepo? Unfortunately, there is no Hot-Air Ballooning in Kidepo Valley NP but could launch very soon if only the number of trips increase. Dream Balloons could have launched here but the parks doesn’t attract a lot of visitors annually compared to the two above.
How far is Kidepo from Kampala? Among st all the national parks in Uganda, Kidepo is the most isolated. Tourists often call an 8 hour drive tiresome but Kidepo requires just more than that. It is possible to access this park in a day only that it requires a very early departure if you reach very late in the night which is not good reason why most guides drive till Gulu District or Kitgum District for an overnight then proceed to the park the following morning. This distance is what has discouraged most tourists from visiting this park but the few brave ones and the ones who opted for chartered flights have managed to access this park.
What i don’t like about Kidepo. The extremely long distance and absence of Hot-Air ballooning turns it off for me. Besides those two, everything else is just so perfect. The accommodation facilities in Kidepo are also limited with only 1 facility (Apoka Safari Lodge) offering slumber / luxury packages to clients, Ngamoru Wilderness Camp offering mid-range / budget packages and Apoka rest camp offering budget accommodation.
Regardless of the distance, i would definitely go with Kidepo then Queen and Murchison in the exact order. If you prefer less hours of travelling then Murchison falls national park is ideal for you though i would choose Queen to Murchison any day. There is so much behind a globally recognized source like CNN naming Kidepo the 3rd best national park in Uganda and Queen Elizabeth NP being referred to as the most popular national park in Uganda. Murchison Falls NP could be the only safari park to shelter the big five animals but this park is mostly popular for the Devils Cauldron (Murchison Falls) compared to wildlife viewing.
You can never know what is best for you until you try it out yourself. I suggest you book a Uganda safaris package that combines all these three parks in one itinerary then try to reflect on the park that gave you the best experience. To me i think Kidepo is the best place for wildlife viewing in Uganda.