Big Five Safari in Uganda

Africa is a magical continent and it blew our minds when we first visited. Most tourists travel to Africa for safari, of course. Seeing the big five on a safari in Uganda is their natural habitat is an incredible experience.

We put together everything you need to know about planning your big five safari in Africa including a spectacular highlight you can only witness ion a safari n Uganda. So read on and find out why Uganda blew our minds!

“I never knew of a morning in Africa when I woke up that I was not happy.”

– Ernest Hemingway (American author and journalist)
Sunrise during our safari in Uganda.

Why Big Five Safari in Uganda?

The term Big Five originates from game hunting and was used to define the 5 most dangerous animals to hunt on foot in Africa. Fortunately, today the Big 5 are protected and the term is synonymously used for photographic safaris. Thinking about Africa most people immediately picture the big 5 – those unique animals which all have their own special characteristics. Big Five safaris today contribute to the conservation of these magnificent wild animals and are an experience you will think about for years to come.

We summarized the big 5, their special characteristics, and where to find them.

1. African Lion

The king of the savanna is an excellent hunter. However, most of the time you will find him resting in the shade. Lions sleep up to 20 hours a day. So it shouldn’t be too hard to get a great shot of a lion or even a couple of them as soon as you or your guide finds them, which might turn out to be more tricky.

Between dusk and dawn, lions are on the hunt – mostly the females. You can hear their roar up to 8 km away. So opting for an early morning safari might increase the chances of seeing them and of getting a picture in their playful mode right before hunting or after feeding. Queen Elizabeth National Park offers the best chances to see lions. We spotted the first couple of lions at Queen Elizabeth’s – females with their cubs after feeding on their prey in the morning.

Pack of lions resting after their hunt.
Lioness carrying her prey into the shade.

10 Facts about the African Lion:

  • largest of all cat species
  • have the loudest roar of all cats
  • males eat first
  • play an important role in the ecosystem
  • females live together for life
  • most social of all big cats
  • the darker the mane the older the lion
  • get 10 – 14 years old (in wild)
  • weight: 190 kg Male / 130 kg Female
  • Status: vulnerable

2. African Leopard

Leopards are loners and perfectly camouflaged which is why they are the hardest to spot on a safari. Most of the time they are hiding in trees, where they pull their kill. For that reason, it’s recommended to get a well-trained guide to help you discover those incredible predators.

During our 2-week big five safari in Uganda, we spotted unbelievably 3 leopards, thanks to our observant guide. Two of them in Murchison Falls National Park.

Leopard resting in the shade of an abandoned hotel ruin.
Leopard resting in a tree.

10 Facts about the African Leopard

  • live a solitary life
  • are amazing swimmers
  • can leap up to 6 meters
  • reach speeds up to 58km
  • their dark spots are called rosettes
  • rag their prey up into trees
  • play an important role in the ecosystem
  • get 12 to 17 years old (in wild)
  • weight: 35 to 91 kg
  • Status: endangered

3. African Elephant

The African Elephant is the largest animal on land. They are very communicative and sociable and use a wide range of sounds to communicate which can be heard up to 10 kilometers away. You will definitely see plenty of elephants during your big five safari in almost every National Park in Uganda. Especially, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Related females live in family groups with their calves, while mature males live alone or in bachelor herds. If a bull or a female with a baby appears on the horizon or even close to your car keep in mind that elephants, as gentle as they are, can get pretty protective of their young ones. So make sure to be quiet and don’t startle them with flashlights.

First elephant we saw in Murchison Falls National Park.
Group of Elephants grazing in Murchison Falls.
Elephant crossing the street right in front of our car.
Single elephant crossing the road.

10 Facts about the African Elephant

  • live up to 70 years (in wild)
  • eat between 130 to 230 kg of food per day
  • have bad eyesight but the largest brains of all animals
  • the only mammal that can not jump
  • have the longest pregnancy of all mammals – 22 months
  • have a very structured social order in the herd
  • the trunk can sense size, shape and the temperature of an object
  • the large ears control their body temperature
  • weight: 2000 to 6000 kg
  • Status: endangered

4. Cape Buffalo

In case you are thinking that the lion is the most dangerous animal of the big five – you’re wrong. The buffalo has killed more hunters than any other animal and even a lion would never dare to attack a fully-grown Buffalo on his own.

Cape Buffalos need to drink at least once a day, which makes water holes, lakes, and rivers the perfect place to spot them. I guarantee you that the Cape Buffalo will accompany you throughout your big five safari in Uganda. There are huge herds across Uganda’s National Parks.

Buffalo by the water.
Pair of buffalos in a water whole.

10 Facts about the Cape Buffalo

  • have an incredible sense of smell
  • can get really aggressive
  • travel through water with their young to be safe from lions
  • young or weak stay in the center of the heard – for protection
  • the neck can be as thick as 2 inches
  • have exceptional memories
  • both males & females have horns
  • get cleaned by birds sitting on their backs
  • weight: 590 kg
  • Status: population decreasing

5. African white & black Rhino

The black rhino is highly endangered with only 4,000 animals throughout Africa. In comparison, the amount of white ones is about 17,000 animals. A grown rhino weighs almost 3 tons and can sprint up to 60km/h. During the day they prefer resting in the shade.

During your safari in Uganda, there is only one place where you can see wild Rhinoceroses – Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. We visited the Sanctuary and one of the guides took us on a walking safari through the sanctuary where we followed a herd for a couple of hours. Such an amazing experience!

Rhino looking right at us.
Rhino sleeping in the shade.

10 Facts about African Rhinos

  • can sleep standing
  • wallow in mud to cool done
  • White Rhino is the largest Rhino species
  • White Rhinos graze on grass
  • have large heads and squared lips
  • can run up to 60 km/h in short bursts
  • Black Rhinos are browsers and feed on trees and bushes
  • have a hooked, pointed upper lip
  • weight: White 2300 kg / Black 1400 kg
  • Status: Black Rhino Critically Endangered 

Besides the big five, there are so many more incredible animals you can spot in Uganda. Each National Park has its own biodiversity and you will be stunned no matter which one you choose for your big five safari. If you have the time we suggest visiting them all. ;)

We were lucky to encounter so many different species in addition to the big five during our safari in Uganda. To mention a few: giraffes, zebras, antelopes, crocodiles and hippos, all kinds of monkeys and primates. Seeing primates like the magnificent mountain gorilla is definitely one big advantage of choosing a safari in Uganda. Except for Rwanda Uganda is the only place where you can find mountain gorillas.

Giraffe crossing the road in Murchison Falls.
Zebras in Lake Mburo National Park.
Crocodile during a water safari in Uganda.
We luckily spotted this Hyena.

When to plan your Big Five Safari in Uganda

Like with every vacation the right time of the year might sound crucial. We have experienced that each season has its advantages and the average temperature is always about 26 degrees Celsius.

The rain season offers great prices, fewer tourists and you can witness Uganda in its most colorful beauty.

The end of the dry season, on the other hand, offers the best chances for game viewing when wildlife is concentrated around water sources. Likewise, the dry season is the best time to visit Uganda for gorilla trekking.


Top 6 National Parks in Uganda

To get the most out of your big five safari in Uganda you should at least plan 10 days in Uganda. We would even recommend taking two weeks. So you can visit the most amazing national parks and experience the biodiversity of each of them.

To give a little preview of what to expect in the different national parks we put together a list including the animals we saw.

Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

The sanctuary is the only place where you can find wild Rhinoceroses in Uganda. Protected from poachers the rhinos were brought back from extinction by the Rhino Fund Uganda and Uganda Wildlife Authority. In 2009 their breeding and release project made history with the first baby rhino born in Uganda in approximately 30 years. The NGO’s vision is to repopulate Uganda’s national parks with rhinoceroses by applying sound conservation principles whereby a safe environment is created.

Fees at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary:

  • Entrance Fee: 50US$
    (for children between the age of 5-15 years: 25US$)

Murchison Falls National Park

Uganda’s largest national park stands for endless savannah views and an amazing wildlife variety. For instance, we saw so many wild giraffes, elephants, and our first leopard on day 2! Murchison Falls is what you picture thinking about a safari in Africa.

During a boat trip at the base of Murchison Falls, where the Nile thunders through a small 7-meter gap plunging 43 meters into the Nile on the way to Lake Albert you can witness all kinds of wildlife like hippos, and crocodiles.


On top of the incredible wildlife staying at Pakuba Lodge in the middle of Murchison Falls National Park absolutely exceeded our expectations. Right from our Veranda, we saw warthogs crossing and different monkey species playing on the roofs of the apartments. In the night you might hear elephants communicating or probably a hyena scream. ;)

Fees at Murchison Falls National Park

  • Park Entrance Fee (valid 24h): 40US$
    (for children between the age of 5-15 years: 20US$)
  • Vehicle Entry fees
    • Minibuses, Omni-buses: 50US$
    • Pick-ups and 4-WD Cars: 50US$
    • Tour Company vehicles: 120US$
  • Ferry crossing at Murchison Falls National Park
    • Vehicles: 5-12US$
    • Passengers: 1,4US$ / person
  • Guided private game drives
    • Day / vehicle: 30US$
    • Night / vehicle: 100US$
  • Boat trip to the bottom of the Murchison Falls: 30US$

Kibale National Park

In Kibale, you can find extraordinary 13 species of primates, including chimpanzees, red colobus, and L’Hoest monkeys. Above all, it is the perfect place to go chimp trekking. The Park offers two different experiences where you can see chimpanzees – a guided walk and a habituation experience.

The guided walks are the most popular activities and start at 8 am and 2 pm. They last an average of three hours providing the chance to observe the chimpanzees in their natural habitat for limited one-hour contact time. Since the chimpanzees are accustomed to human presence the chance of locating them is over 90%. Each tourist group is led by qualified guides and limited to six visitors.

However, we choose to do the chimpanzee habituation experience since I am absolutely obsessed with primates and wanted to spend as much time close to them as possible. In opposite to the guided walks, the habituation experience offers the opportunity to observe chimpanzees less accustomed to human presence from the distance. The habituation is offered for a full or half-day as a private tour.

I will never forget the moment when one of the adolescent chimps came running right at us demonstrating his strength to impress the females as well as the alpha of the group. We got a little to close since the chimps were unexpectedly resting on the walking path. Our guide immediately walked us back to expand the distance to the group and we continued to observe them from afar.

If you want to experience the chimpanzees in their natural habitat make sure to book one of the packages in advance!

Chimpanzee enjoying a lazy afternoon.
Chimp looking in our direction.


At Chimpanzee Forest Guesthouse located on a hill, you will wake up overviewing the incredible landscape touched in the morning mist. The staff was super nice and the food amazing.

Fees at Kibale National Park

  • Park Entrance Fee (valid 24h): 40US$
  • Chimpanzee Tracking
    • Standard Permit: 150US$
    • Habituation experience: 200US$ (1day trekking)
      Rates include: guide fee, park entrance fee

Queen Elizabeth National Park

The Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game park or reserve in the world. Its beautiful landscapes offering mesmerizing views with the far mountains glimmering on the horizon. We spotted the first lions during our big five safari in Queen Elizabeth. Witnessing a pack of female lions with their cubs playing in the early morning sun right next to the leftovers of their last hunt was an unbelievable experience.

Another great activity in this national park is taking a cruise along the Kazinga Channel, home to one of the largest concentrations of the hippopotamus. You might even see elephants getting a bath as well as herds of buffalos. On top of that Kazinga also attracts a tremendous variety of bird species.

Hippos watching us on the boat.


Overlooking Lake George in the Queen Elizabeth National Park from one of the private luxury tents of Marafiki Safari Lodge was another breathtaking experience during our big five safari in Uganda. Looking all the way to the Rwenzori Mountains. That is to say, we would have never imagined sleeping in a tent could be so luxurious.

Fees at Queen Elizabeth National Park

  • Park Entrance Fee (valid 24h): 40US$
    (for children between the age of 5-15 years: 20US$)
  • Vehicle Entry fees
    • Minibusses, Omni-buses: 50US$
    • Pick-ups and 4-WD Cars: 50US$
    • Tour Company vehicles: 120US$
  • Guided private game drives
    • Day / vehicle: 20US$
  • Boat trip: 30US$
  • Nature Walk: 30US$

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Before heading to Bwindi, which was definitely the highlight of our safari in Uganda, we stopped at Ishasha in the hope of seeing the famous tree-climbing lions. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky. This is why I want to remind you that seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is always a big fortune. Appreciate it if you get the chance to experience those moments but never get upset if it doesn’t work out as expected.

Our next stop, however, exceeded our expectations. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park – home of the endangered mountain gorillas. Seeing those impressive primates is one of the highlights of a safari in Uganda (or Rwanda, the second country in the world where you can find mountain gorillas).

Silverback looking right at us.
Female gorillas with their young ones from the distance.

Fees at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

  • Gorilla Tracking
    • Standard Permit: 600US$
    • Habituation experience: 1,500US$

Rates include: guide fee, park entrance fees for the day and community development contribution

Lake Mburo National Park

This Park has a distinctly different fauna compared to other Ugandan parks. It is the best place in the country to see Eland Antelope, Zebra, Topi, Impala, and Acacia. We saw so many zebras but only once the rarely seen Eland antelopes.
Lake Mburo National Park is a great place for one last safari before heading back to the airport in Entebbe.

Fees at Lake Mburo National Park

  • Park Entrance Fee (valid 24h): 40US$
    (for children between the age of 5-15 years: 20US$)
  • Vehicle Entry fees
    • Minibusses, Omni-buses: 50US$
    • Pick-ups and 4-WD Cars: 50US$
    • Tour Company vehicles: 120US$
  • Guided private game drives
    • Day / vehicle: 30US$
    • Night / vehicle: 30US$
  • Boat trip: 20-30US$
  • Nature Walk: 30US$

For more information on the current prices of Uganda’s National Parks and for information about Gorilla and Chimpanzee Tracking check the Uganda Wildlife Authority Guide.

Getting around during your Safari in Uganda

There are two options on how to get around in Uganda, you can either rent your own car or book an all-inclusive tour. We did the second.

The advantage of an organized tour is that the operator will give you options on your route and accommodations beforehand and you have a local guide with you at all times. Our guide from Churchill Safaris was amazing. He told us so much about this beautiful country and he spotted every animal. We were really lucky to have him!

Booking an all-inclusive big five safari in Uganda also means that every day and destination is already planned for you, which might get exhausting some days. For instance, your guide wants to make your stay unbelievable and will not stop driving until he finds that one rarely seen antelope. ;)

Our beloved car during our time in Uganda.

If you prefer a more spontaneous tour you might choose to rent a private car and booking a guide only for the parks. A trained guide is, for example, amazing in spotting the wildlife and he knows exactly where to go.

Good to know about Uganda

Before you start preparing for your unforgettable Big Five safari in Uganda there are a few more facts you should know about the country. Located in eastern Africa, crossed by the equator, Uganda is painted in 1,001 shades of green. Besides its wildlife diversity, it has some of the largest lakes on the continent including Lake Albert and Lake Victoria

It is moving to see how people who suffered so much have worked hard to overcome the nightmares of the past, regain their lives, and fight for a normal, settled life.

The beauty of the country, the diverse wildlife, and the friendly people led Winston Churchill to refer to Uganda as ‘The Pearl of Africa’. Visiting Uganda is the opportunity of a lifetime.

4 Interesting Facts about Uganda

  • Over 30 different languages are spoken in Uganda.
  • Cars drive on the left side of the road.
  • US dollars printed before 2006 won’t be accepted. (We’ve tried that one)
  • In Uganda, a “Rolex” is not a watch – it’s an omelet wrapped in a chapatti.

Most recommended vaccinations for Uganda

Make sure that basic vaccinations are updated like measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, and whooping cough vaccinations. You should also plan your doctor’s appointment a couple of months ahead of your safari – some vaccinations need more than one shot (terrible we know :().

The most recommended ones you should get especially for your safari in Uganda are the following.

  • Hepatitis A + B
  • Typhoid
  • Cholera
  • Yellow Fever
  • Rabies
  • bring anti-malaria medication

That said, you are almost all set for your amazing big five safari in Uganda – now book that flight and get your mood on by listening to Africa – from Toto. Don’t forget to tell us which one of the big five you saw during your safari in Uganda! ;)

No Comments

Post a Comment