Boat based wildlife viewing in Uganda is conducted on the Nile River, Kazinga channel and Lake Mburo. Both of these water bodies are part of the savanna protected areas such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth National parks in western Uganda. There are large mammal species such as hippos, buffaloes, African elephants, buffaloes as well as antelopes. In particular, the big cats – lion and leopard are present in the former. Elsewhere boat safari excursions are available to look for Shoebill stork in Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve (Lake Albert) and Mabamba swamp, Entebbe. The famous Serengeti and Masai Mara reserves don’t have this kind of boat based wildlife viewing in Uganda.
The types of boat used in Uganda
Large, engine-powered, double-decked and medium-sized, motorized boats are the only vessels permitted for wildlife viewing tours in Uganda. The large boats remain on the river’s main channel, while the small boats can be used to explore the river’s narrow channels, allowing for closer encounters with wildlife. These boat tours operate from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 5:30 p.m. until the sun sets. Reservations can be made on arrival at the destination or through a tour operator.
Where to go for boat based wildlife tours in Uganda
Nile River boat cruise in Murchison Falls National Park
Best for scenery, waterfalls and wildlife especially Nile crocodiles, African bush elephants and shoebill storks.
Rightly so, Murchison Falls is the most powerful waterfall along the longest river in the world. For some 360 sq.km stretch, all the water that flows northwards from the source of the Nile in Jinja on the northern shores of Victoria squeeze through a small gorge to form the Murchison falls. Boat safaris in Murchison falls national park offers visitors a chance to stand 10 meters away and watch the bottom of the falls where the river reassembles after falling steeply over a 40-meter cliff known as the devil’s cauldron with a trademark rainbow. On the riverbanks of the Nile, Nile crocodiles, hippos, birds, and elephant encounters abound. The climax of boat cruise is a hike to the top of the falls where the scenery is most spectacular. Here you stand at the top of the cliff looking down below the gorge with mist from the falls getting you moderately wet.
Kazinga Channel, Queen Elizabeth National Park
At last, after the Nile River cruise, you can skip the Kazinga channel cruise. However, along the banks of the Kazinga channel, hippos and buffaloes and elephants frequently coexist than they do at Murchison falls. This is due to the large channel banks that appear during the dry season as water levels recede.
Lake Mburo boat cruise
The 234-square-kilometer Lake Mburo National Park is four hours’ drive south-west of Kampala’s capital city. It is the smallest of the aforementioned savanna protected areas, covering 370 square kilometers, and the only one with Impalas and plains zebras in the western region. Lake Mburo, the largest of the park’s 13 lakes, is surrounded by dense forests and swamps and has calm water. There are no elephants in this park, so you can expect to see solitary Cape buffalo bulls, Sitatunga (a swamp-dwelling antelope), hippos, crocodiles, and a variety of bird species, including the African whistling duck, the African fish eagle, and several kingfishers. Besides offering boat cruise, the park offers opportunity to view wildlife by guided walking safari, biking and horseback riding.
Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve
Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve is off-the-beaten track in the rift valley between Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Albert. The wilderness area contains mammal species same as in Murchison Falls. The key highlight is the boat ride excursion on Lake Albert. Its mainly for bird watching with opportunity to spot shoe-bill stork, pygmy goose, blue headed coucal among others such as several species of bee-eaters.