In the western part of Uganda, the part known as the Albertine Rift Valley, Kibale National Park, Semuliki National Park and Semliki Wildlife Reserve all offer great views of the awesome Rwenzori Mountains, excellent birding and rewarding forest walks in search of chimpanzees and other primates. These are the factors these three game reserves share but they are far from replicating the same experience.
Kibale National Park
Chimpanzee tracking is the key attraction of the forest walks in Kibale National Park, the best place for primates in Uganda in terms of both numbers and variety. Kibale is home to over 1000 chimps, including one group of 80 individuals, and is home to 13 primate species, including the red colobus, black-and-white colobus and L’Hoest’s monkey. The rainforest park also hides the elusive forest elephant, giant forest hog, small antelope and buffalo.
Most of the activities are organised from the Kibale National Park headquarters. The most popular is the chimpanzee tours which takes place in both the morning and the late afternoon. There is also a fascinating chimpanzee habituation experience which gives guests the chance to watch as they wake up, search for food, rest and play and then settle down to sleep again. A nocturnal walk is a particularly unusual and thrilling treat, though only possible for those staying close to the park gate at lodges such as Primate Lodge or Kibale Forest Lodge. Outside the park, you can walk with villagers on guided walks around their community and to the nearby wetlands. You may see some of the local crafts such as woven raffia baskets offered for sale.
Semliki Wildlife Reserve
The Semliki Wildlife Reserve is 500 km² of wilderness in Uganda between the Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Albert in the Western Rift Valley. A safari here offers dramatic contrasts: acacia savannah with dense jungle forests and wetland habitats. Semliki Wildlife Reserve is best known for the elegant national antelope of Uganda, the Uganda kob, as well as good numbers of buffalo, forest elephant, the shy leopard and various monkeys and antelope. Being a centre for primate research, mainly chimpanzees, this is also a great place for chimpanzee tracking on guided walks and safaris. Semliki Wildlife Reserve is an excellent birding safari destination with 500 bird species including the Shoebill stork, regularly to be seen on the shimmering shores of Lake Albert.
Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is very much border country and feels more Central Africa than East Africa: the Semliki River forms the border with the DRC and the forest which makes up most of the protected area is the eastern part of the ancient Ituri Forest of the Congo basin. This, coupled with the fact that there is no accommodation in Semuliki National Park (much of it floods in the wet season), means that it is little visited by non-residents. The Sempaya Hot Springs are the main draw. Two hot springs gurgle up in a swamp in the midst of the forest, each used in ritual by men and women separately. Birding walks also take place in Sempaya.
Between the parks is the dusty old colonial outpost of Fort Portal, surrounded by lush tea plantations and the numerous crater lakes. The ridges of these extinct volcanoes are ideal for a scenic hike to admire not only the sparkling waters of the lakes but also the misty grandeur of the towering Rwenzori mountain range. The Rwenzoris, popularly claimed as Ptolemy’s ‘mountains of the moon’, are the highest mountain range in Africa. Only the solo peaks of Kilimanjaro and Kenya are higher.