Uganda’s best destinations include many of its national parks and a few cities to boot. Whatever your area of interest, Uganda abounds in unforgettable activities and encounters. Deciding to do a self-drive Uganda is perfect for those of you who want to enjoy the drive themselves, want privacy, lots of flexibility and are looking to travel around Uganda on a budget.
You can go self-driving to Kibale Forest National Park and track chimpanzees or Bwindi Forest for mountain gorillas in the depths of tropical forests; search for tree-climbing lions on the open Ishasha plains; descend into the hot depths of the Western Rift Valley in search of rare birdlife; fish for a record Nile Perch on the island-studded expanse of Lake Victoria; raft the turbulent headwaters of the Nile and marvel at the great river’s eruption through a 6m canyon at Murchison Falls; visit a traditional homestead on the remote plains of Karamoja; and feel the chill of equatorial snow on the 5,100m Rwenzori Mountains.
Below are the places to go self-driving in Uganda
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
The Big Five in Uganda, in 2005, Rhino Fund Uganda opened this private 70-sq-km reserve, 170km northwest of Kampala, about 30 years after poachers shot the nation’s last wild rhino in Murchison in 1983. There are about 25 southern white rhinos roaming the savannah and wetland, many of which were born in the wild in Uganda. A guide will lead you on an up-close encounter, either in your vehicle or theirs. The long-term goal for these magnificent beasts is to reintroduce them in Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley National Parks. While tracking rhinos on foot sounds a bit foolhardy, the fact that they are in the company of armed ant poacher rangers 24 hours, means they are well and truly used to human presence.
- Kidepo Valley National Park
This is a top choice national park in North-eastern Uganda. Offering some of the most stunning scenery of any protected area in Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park is hidden away in an isolated valley in the extreme northeast of Uganda. The rolling, short-grass savannah of the 1442-sq-km national park is ringed by mountains and cut by rocky ridges. Kidepo is most known for having a number of animals found nowhere else in Uganda, including cheetahs, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves, caracals, and greater and lesser kudus.
- Murchison Falls National Park
This is a top choice national park in North-western Uganda. Uganda’s largest national park is one of its very best; animals are in plentiful supply and the raging Murchison Falls, where the Victoria Nile crashes through the rock and descends dramatically towards Lake Albert, is an unforgettable sight. Despite a decimation of animal numbers during the war years, numbers have recovered well and you can expect to see elephants, Rothschild giraffes, lions, Ugandan Kobs (antelope), waterbucks, buffaloes, hippos, and crocodiles, not to mention some 460 species of bird.
Top of the Falls is a top choice waterfall in Murchison Falls National Park. Once described as the most spectacular thing to happen to the Nile along its 6700km length, the 50m wide Victoria Nile is squeezed here through a 6m gap in the rock and crashes through this narrow gorge with unbelievable power. Murchison was even stronger back then, but in 1962 massive floods cut a second channel creating the smaller Uhuru Falls 200m to the north.
There is also a beautiful walking trail from the top down to the river, and the upper stretch of this path offers views of Uhuru Falls, which a boat trip will not bring you close enough to appreciate because of the water levels that increased in 2020. Though it’s straightforward, a ranger guide is required. The visitors no longer stop to hike up to the top of the falls because of the water levels that increased; they just drive up to the falls.
- Budongo Forest Reserve
Budongo Forest Reserve is found in the southern part of Murchison Falls National Park. The Budongo Forest Reserve is a large 825-sq-km tract of virgin tropical forest on the southern fringes of Murchison Falls National Park. Its main attractions are chimpanzees and birds (366 species), but the huge mahogany trees are also worth a look. It’s a great add-on to your Murchison Falls National Park visit, with your park permit allowing you entry to Budongo too.
- Kibale Forest National Park
This is the best park in Africa to track Chimpanzees. The 795-sq-km Kibale National Park is a lush tropical rainforest, believed to have the highest density of primates in Africa. It’s most famous for being one of the best places in the world to track wild chimpanzees, with five groups habituated to human contact. It is home to 13 primate species, with the rare red colobus and L’Hoest’s monkeys the other highlights.
Larger but rarely seen residents include bushbucks, sitatungas, buffaloes, leopards, and quite a few forest elephants. There are also an incredible 250 species of butterfly that live here. While on the smaller side, Kibale also has a great bird list with 372 species.
- Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is known for its abundant wildlife, including African elephants, African buffaloes, Ugandan kob, hippopotamus, topi, waterbuck, warthog, giant forest hog, Nile crocodile, leopard, Spotted hyena, and lion. Overall, the park is home to 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species.
This famous national park is on nearly all itineraries, and while you will never be far from other safari groups, you’re guaranteed to see a large range of wildlife. The famous tree-climbing lions in the remote Ishasha sector of the park are a fascinating highlight. Besides the usual game drives, the park is well worth a visit for the wonderful boat trip on the Kazinga Channel and a walk through beautiful Kyambura (Chambura) Gorge, a little Eden brimming with chimpanzees and other primates.
- Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
One of the places you can go for self–drive Is Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a top choice national park in southwestern Uganda. Trekking through the jungle to marvel at critically endangered mountain gorillas is one of the most unforgettable experiences one can ever get. Set over 331 sq. km of steep mountain rainforest, the park is home to an estimated 459 gorillas: undoubtedly Uganda’s biggest tourist drawcard.
Gorilla trekking is the park’s main activity. As well as its famous primates, the park contains 120 other species of mammal – more than any of Uganda’s other national parks – though sightings are less common due to the dense forest. Lucky visitors might see forest elephants, 11 species of primate (including chimpanzees and L’Hoest’s monkeys), duikers, and bushbucks, among others. For birdwatchers, it’s one of the most exciting destinations in the country, with over 350 species, including 23 of the 24 endemics to the Albertine Rift and several endangered species, such as the African green broadbill.
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
This is Uganda’s smallest national park 34sq km, but full of wonders. Tropical rainforest cloaks three dramatic extinct volcanoes and, along with the contiguous Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mgahinga is the home of half the world’s mountain gorilla population. Mgahinga also serves up some challenging but rewarding treks and an interesting cave, plus golden-monkey tracking is almost as fun as hanging out with the big boys. Gorilla tracking is the main attraction, but it’s less popular than Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, due to the one habituated family having a tendency to cross the mountains into Rwanda or the DRC. All activities are booked through UWA in Kisoro, or otherwise its office in Mgahinga.
- Uganda Wildlife Education Centre
This is a zoo in Entebbe and this centre is actually a world-class animal refuge that has benefited from international assistance in recent years. Most of the animals on display were once injured or were recovered from poachers and traffickers. Various attractions include chimpanzees, southern white rhinos, lions, Tigers, snakes, birds, buffalo, giraffes, elephants, leopards, and shoebill storks.
A variety of programs gets you closer to the animals, including chimp encounters, behind-the-scenes tours, and zookeeper for the daybook directly through UWEC for discounts. There are long-term volunteering opportunities and it has on-site lodging.
- Source of the Nile River
The River Nile starts in Jinja. The Nile has two major tributaries: the White Nile, which begins at Jinja, Lake Victoria, and the Blue Nile. The White Nile is longer and rises in the Great Lakes region. It begins from Uganda Lake Victoria, Uganda, and South Sudan. There’s a landmark identifying the source and a few restaurants and bars, which can make for a nice place for a sunset beer. Exploring the source by boat is another popular option.
It’s more pleasant across the river on the western bank with the Source of the Nile Gardens and Speke Monument a pillar commemorating where the British explorer first laid claim to the historic source of the Nile in 1858.
- Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Located 23km southeast of Entebbe in Lake Victoria, Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary is home to over 40 orphaned or rescued chimpanzees that are unable to return to the wild. The island is a project of the Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust, which arranges bookings for day trips and accommodation. Humans are confined to one of the 40 hectares while the chimps wander freely through the rest, emerging from the forest twice a day for feeding at 11 am and 2.30 pm. This conflicts with visitor arrival times to the island, with viewings of the chimps via a raised platform.
While it can’t compare to the experience of seeing chimps in the wild, especially due to the large electrified fence that separates chimps from humans, it still makes for a worthwhile excursion to observe the animals’ remarkable behavior. Guides here are informative, and there are individual profiles for each chimp, detailing both their distinct personalities and history. There are also big monitor lizards in residence and abundant birdlife.