Savannah and Rainforest Parks in Uganda

Savannah Parks Vs Rainforested Parks In Uganda

National parks are one of the major tourist attractions in Uganda. These are usually sub-divided according to the nature of the area where they are located. Uganda alone has ten national parks with three-quarters of this number being the Savannah and Rain forested parks.  Mountain Rwenzori and Mountain Elgon National Parks fulfil the last quarter.

What makes it a Savannah park?

Savannah parks are usually characterized by the Savannah vegetation which is among the attractions in the national parks. The combination of savannah woodlands and grasslands is very rewarding with plenty of wildlife for anybody who chooses to explore them and an important feature of savannah parks. The short-scattered trees, shrubs and grassland plains along other features like drainage systems reward you with a thrilling wilderness experience found only in the Savannah Park.
Uganda Wildlife Tour

Uganda has a total of five savannah national parks which include; Murchison Falls National Park the largest national park, Queen Elizabeth national park– the second largest, Kidepo valley national park, Part of Semuliki national park, and Lake Mburo national park– the smallest savannah park in Uganda.

What is a Rain forested park?

The rain forested national parks are characterized by the rain forests/ tropical forests from which they get their name. They have tall trees, evergreen due to heavy rainfall and form canopies. Rain forested parks are mainly home to primate species in the region including the endangered species, mountain gorillas a feature that distinguishes them from other parks.

Only three of the remaining half form the rain forested national parks in Uganda. They include; Bwindi impenetrable national park, Kibale National park and Mgahinga national park– the smallest national park in Uganda.

An overview of the Savannah parks in Uganda.

  • Murchison Falls National Park

Doubling as the largest savannah park and largest national park in the country, Murchison falls national park is located in northwestern Uganda, 210 km from Kampala- Uganda’s capital city, approximately 3-4 hrs drive. The park is famous for it’s Murchison falls located at the centre of the park, providing one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles.

Elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos, Nile crocodile and aquatic birds are some of the regular visitors. While at Murchison falls national parks, you can explore the Launch trips upstream from Paraa which displays a memorable frontal view of the falls and wildlife especially hippos, crocodiles and elephants among others which regularly visit the stream to drink water.

The morning cruise downstream to the Nile delta provides birders with the best chance of sighting a number of bird species including the Shoebill. Game drive which is the major activity done in the savannah parks, birding, sport fishing, bus camping, nature walks are all among the activities one gets to enjoy at the park.

  • Queen Elizabeth national park

Believed to be ‘a medley of wonders’ Queen Elizabeth national park was founded in 1952, situated in western Uganda and Uganda’s most popular destination. The park is home to 95 mammal species and over 600 bird species. From sprawling savanna to fertile wetlands and humid forests, Queen Elizabeth national park is an ideal home for classic game rewarding you with; lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and several antelope species including Uganda kobs, waterbucks, and many others. While at the park, one gets to explore a number of activities the park offers such as game drive the rewards you with memorable Uganda safari experience. With the help of a game ranger, visitors may see the pride of lions at dusk, warthogs, buffaloes, elephants among others. Other activities visitors get to enjoy at the park include birding, launch trips, nature walks, cultural tours and hot air balloon trips among others.

  • Kidepo valley national park

This is one of the best Uganda tours and travel destinations and was ranked by the CNN as one of the top safari destinations to visit in Africa. Located in the far northeastern corner of Uganda is Kidepo valley national park. The park is 571 km from Kampala via Gulu approximately 10hrs drive. Kidepo valley national park is Uganda’s less-visited park due to its remoteness but, one of the only parks where one may experience Africa’ True Wilderness.

Kidepo Valley National Park

The park is home to over 77 mammal species and around 475 bird species. Like the fore mentioned national parks, the Game drive is an ideal activity recommended at Kidepo valley national park. With the help of a ranger, one is able to view wildlife including; buffalo, lions lying on rock outcrops, giraffes, elands, bush pig, bushbuck, elephants, jackal, leopards or even bird species such as ostriches in the Narus valley. Interested birders could visit Apoka rest camp, Namamukweny and Narus valleys where one may see the Purple heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, and Clapperton’s Francolin. Other activities include nature walks, hiking and cultural encounters with the local people.

  • Semuliki National park

Occupying 220 square kilometres, Semuliki national park lies across the floor of the Semuliki Valley on the western side of Rwenzori. The park is located in the far western park of Uganda neighbouring the Democratic Republic of Congo. Semuliki national park is both forested and Savannah Park with Birding being the major activity carried out.

Semuliki National park is home to 441 bird species and about 53 mammal species. Interested may view the white-crested hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator among others at Sempaya, and Kirumia river.

A game drive is also another activity to experience in Toro- Semuliki wildlife reserve. Small and large forested elephants are usually seen, buffalo, Uganda kobs, waterbucks, warthogs among others. With luck, you may also see bushbabies, leopards, Hippo, and white-tailed mongoose. Other activities include nature walks to the Sempaya hot springs and beyond, hiking and cultural encounters.

  • Lake Mburo National park

Situated along the Mbarara- Masaka dry corridor, Lake Mburo national is the smallest Savannah Park. The park is located in southwestern Uganda, Kiruhura district 234.9 km, approximately 4hrs drive from Kampala. Lake Mburo national park is home to 350 bird species and plenty of wildlife such as Zebras, African Buffalo, Giraffes and antelope species such as kobs, impalas, Elands, Oribis, and many others.

Unlike other savannah parks, Lake Mburo national park has much woodland since there are no elephants to tame the vegetation. Unique from other savannah national parks, Lake Mburo national park is famous for its Horseback riding safari where one explores the park’s wildlife riding on a horse with a game ranger. Game drives, nature walks, birding, sport fishing, hiking and cultural tours are among the other activities guests enjoy at the park.

An overview of Rain forested national parks

  • Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Sited in southwestern Uganda, Bwindi impenetrable national park is Uganda’s most adventurous destination. The park contains about 400 plant species and an estimated 500 mountain gorillas. Bwindi impenetrable national park is home to 120 mammals including primate species, baboons, chimpanzees, forest elephants, forest antelopes and 350 bird species.Mountain Gorilla Playing in the Jungle

Contrary to the savannah parks, the major activity at Bwindi is mountain gorilla tracking where the guests experience the ultimate Gorilla experience to track any of the 18 habituated group of mountain Gorillas after securing permits from Uganda wildlife authority. Other activities including mountain gorilla habituation, birding, nature walks, mountain biking, and cultural tours.

  • Mgahinga Gorilla national park

Being the smallest national park in Uganda, Mgahinga Gorilla national park is found in southwestern Uganda in Kisoro district and lies along the border region of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park sits on 33.7 square kilometres and is a habitat for the rare mountain gorillas and the endangered golden monkeys. The major activity at the park is gorilla tracking where guests visit the Nyakagezi group and golden monkey tracking in the bamboo forests. Other activities include nature walks, hiking, birding and cultural encounters.

  • Kibale national park

Kibale national park lies in western Uganda and is close to the tranquil Ndali- Kasenda crater area within half a day’s drive from Queen Elizabeth. Kibale national park is home to over 375 bird species, a total of 60 mammal species, most famously 13 species of primates including the rarest L’Hoest monkey, Colobus monkey, Black and white Colobus, Grey-cheeked mangabeys and chimpanzees. The park is most popular for Chimpanzee trekking and Habituation where guests take on the adventure to view Man’s closest relatives. Other activities include nature walks, birding, and cultural tours.

 Are there differences between savannah parks and rainforested parks?

The question as to whether Savannah parks and Rain forested parks differ depends on a number of factors which I intend to discuss in this article. Judging from the activities visitors enjoy at the parks, you may be able to cite out that there might be differences between the two. Allow me to take you through some of those differences which set each park (Savannah and Rain forested) apart from the other.

A game drive is to savannah parks whale Tracking and Habituation is to rainforested parks. This is where almost all savannah parks in Uganda reward guests with a thrilling wilderness experience where one views abundant wildlife in the comfort of a Safari vehicle. However, rainforested park offer Tracking and habituation of a number of primate species including the endangered Mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys among others.

While most savannah parks have savannah vegetation especially woodlands and grasslands characterized by shrubs short scattered trees and grass, rainforested parks contain tropical rain forests, bamboo trees which are tall and evergreen forming canopies, thus supporting the mammal species that reside therein.

One unique feature between Savannah parks is the idea of park entry fees where individuals are required to pay a sum of $40 per person per 24hrs to access the park. This is not the case with Rain forested parks where the park entry fees are included on the cost of the gorilla permit which should be paid prior to the arrival date for adequate planning.

Savannah parks contain plenty of wildlife species including the lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants, buffaloes, Antelope species, leopards, hippos among others compared to rainforested parks which contain quite a few such as Mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, golden monkeys, blue monkeys, Colobus monkey among others.

Rain forested parks restrict the number of individuals that track gorillas to only eight members. This is applicable for Bwindi and Mgahinga national parks. Kibale on the other hands requires a maximum of eight members to track chimpanzees and the same applies to chimpanzee habituation. This number is independent of the porters a guest may choose to have.

Similarly for one to track gorillas, he/she must be 15 years and above whereas chimp tracing is 16 years and above. This however, is not the case with Savannah parks where activities are open to any number of individuals including children except for Kyambura gorge, Kalinzu forest in Queen Elizabeth and Toro-Semuliki game reserve near Semuliki national park where visitors can enjoy chimpanzee tracking.

There is a variety of activities to be enjoyed in Savannah parks compared to Rain forested parks in Uganda. Take for example; you can enjoy Gorilla or Chimpanzee tracking, Gorilla or chimpanzee habituation, nature walks, birding, and cultural tours mainly in Rain forested parks. In Savannah parks, you can enjoy day-game drives or Night game drives, Launch trips, Hot air balloon trips, birding, Nature walks, cultural tours, sport fishing among others.

Rain forested parks provide guests with a maximum of one hour to track Gorillas, chimps or golden monkeys respectively. This is where guests get a chance to view the primates in their natural habitat, learn about them and take pictures before embarking back to the park headquarters. Savannah parks, on the other hand, provide guests with a maximum of three hours to enjoy some of the park activities especially Game drive, launch trip, among others.

All Savannah and rainforested parks provide accommodation facilities to guests who come to explore the parks. Accommodation is both within and outside the park where the visitor gets to choose which accommodation is favourably ranging from Budget accommodation to Mid-range or even Luxury depending on your budget.

How similar are Savannah parks to rainforested parks?

In as much as Savannah and rainforested parks have differences, one way or the other, the two types of national parks share a number of qualities in common as you shall see below;

  • Birding

Both rain forested parks and Savannah national parks reward guests with exceptional birding experiences. This is where alongside wildlife; the parks are home to several birds species including the endemic species. Some of the incredible bird species include the shoebill, superb sunbird, black bishop, ostriches, Abyssinian ground hornbill, crown eagle, green-breasted Pitta, white-tailed hornbill, blue-headed crested flycatcher, the orange weaver, and Purple- breasted sunbirds among others. Much as almost Savannah and rainforested parks reward guests with bird viewing, Semuliki national park is highly recommended for birding adventures since it not only has a variety of bird species but also is known as a true birder’s Haven.

  • Nature Walks

Nature walks are a common feature in both savannah parks and rainforested parks. The guests here get to enjoy more relaxed opportunities to explore the wildlife, relief, drainage features, and breath-taking views of the forest covers, hot springs, and also birds.

  • Cultural Encounters

Both Savannah national parks and the rainforested parks provide cultural tours to their guests especially beyond the park where they learn about the culture of the local people living around these natural habitats. Guests learn to appreciate the way of life of the local people, their forms of worship, music, dance and drama, folklore and local cuisines. You will also be able to learn about some of the most minority groups in Uganda especially the Ik of Northeastern Uganda or the Batwa of southwestern Uganda among many others.

  • Rules and Regulations

Both national parks have rules that Guests must abide to when they come to enjoy any of the activities they offer. For instance, gorilla tracking in rain forested national parks is restricted to eight individuals; guests are not allowed to use cameras with flashlights while taking pictures among others. Savannah parks on the other hand restrict the guests from making campfires except under the guidance of rangers; guests are prohibited from off tracking, making motor horn sounds while in the park and many others.

  • Fees

In both Savannah and rainforested parks, guests are required to pay fees before accessing any park activities. In cases where you are interested in Gorilla trekking in Uganda, you are expected to purchase a gorilla permit at $700 which offers you an opportunity to track one gorilla group in either Bwindi or Mgahinga. Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale is USD150, while habituation experience is US$200 per person.

This is the same case with Savannah national park where you are required to pay $40 park entry to enjoy some park activities like a game drive. What is important to remember in this case is guided game drive is enjoyed at a fee of about $20 per ranger guide in the vehicle. A boat trip in Lake Mburo national park or Queen Elizabeth will cost you $15 to $35 per head as you explore water-loving creatures- birds alongside wildlife.

  • Access

Transport to both Savannah and Rain forested parks is either by road or air. This is where one could choose to drive to either destination which sometimes is longer depending on the location of the park, or book Chartered flights from Entebbe/Kajjansi which is the quickest means to access both parks. However, most Savannah parks are easily accessible from Kampala- Uganda’s capital city, except Kidepo valley national park which is in a remote area compared to Rain forested parks which are somewhat further from Kampala.

  • Animals

There is plenty of wild animal species in savannah parks compared to Rain forested parks. Queen Elizabeth national park alone is home to 95 mammal species, Kidepo valley national park 77 mammal species including Giraffes, elephants, buffalo, Antelope species, lions, and leopards, Hippo, zebras and many more. This is rather different from Rain forested national parks which have plenty of primate species. These include Bwindi Impenetrable national park which is home to over 500 mountain gorillas, Kibale national park which is home to 13 primate species having the highest population of chimpanzees in Uganda among others.

Having looked at the above comparison between Savannah and Rain forested parks, I believe you are in a position to choose which destination is convenient depending on your schedule, budget and interest.