Uganda is one of the best countries to rent a car and explore its nature, culture and its untouched beauty. At the beginning of May 2015 we took our visiting friends on a self-drive safari to Lake Mburo National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park. We reassured ourselves that self drive safaris are the most awesome adventures to do! Driving on your own through the parks gives a great sense of adventure and excitement. Below are tips for driving in the National Parks to keep it safe and make your time in Uganda unforgettable.
Tip 1: Go for bush camping in Uganda
In my opinion, bush camping is the true safari experience. You won’t be able to get more immersed into the wild than going on a bush camp within in the National Parks. In most parks, there are two options: either use the facilities of designated UWA campsites (of varying quality / cleanliness), or find your own spot in the wilderness with the guidance of an UWA ranger.
The UWA, Ugandan Wildlife Authority, is the governmental arm that protects and manages the flora and fauna in the National Parks.
Bush camping in the complete wilderness is possible with the guidance of an UWA ranger. You can arrange this at the entrance or headquarters in the parks. You need to bring your own food and water. It is polite, even expected, that the ranger can join you for the meal. The UWA ranger will help you to find a great spot to pitch your tent, make a fire, and will safeguard your tent at night. Rest assured, no toilets, shower or other guests. It’s you, a campfire and jungle. Steve Irwin, eat your heart out…
During our friends’ visit we went bushcamping in Lake Mburo. Upon arrival, the hippos in the lake welcomed us with their mouths wide open, and as soon as the sun set, we could hear a cacophony of strange noises from the surrounding bushes (we were quite sure it was a leopard). After dinner, we took a good nightcap to ensure some sleep, but still we could hear the hippos standing besides the tent flapping their faeces around. Exhilarating!
Tip 2: The early bird catches the worm
If you thought that going on a safari was a good opportunity to catch some sleep, think again! Safaris are very relaxing, but ideally they require an early morning lifestyle. You will increase your chances of spotting hyenas, lions, leopards and other wildlife in any national park in Uganda if you are among the first at the gate (the parks open at 7AM). Most lodges are used to the early morning habits of their guests and serve breakfast from 5:30 AM onwards. On our safari with our friends we were lucky enough to spot five hyenas in Queen Elizabeth National park before hitting 8:00 AM.
Tip 3: Drive Mpola Mpola
‘You have no idea that you have been rushing all your life until you arrive in Uganda’… – Myself
Coming from crazy rushy London, it took some time for me to adjust to the tropical pace of life. We bazungu (foreigners) are used to rushing from one place to the next, but really during a game drive in the park, you see most if you are driving not faster than 15km/h. You hardly have to hit the gas pedal at all in my opinion. What’s the rush? And besides, when you go slowly, you have the chance to distinguish whether that brown heap in the grass is an ant hill or a lion.
Tip 4: Get yourself a Ranger Guide
Yes, just the two of you in a Landcruiser on the wide savannah plains is pretty amazing and I can surely recommend you go into the park by yourself. However, it’s advisable to also take an UWA guide with you on one of your game drives. These rangers know every corner of the parks and can lead you to the best places to spot predators such as lions. You can book an UWA ranger/guide at the entrance gate of the park, and they will accompany you in your car and guide you through the plains and bushes. They are worth every penny of the $20 fee you pay for this service.