The African Great Lakes Region
The Great Lakes Region located in East Africa is comprised of Burundi, Democratic Republic of DR Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. Surrounding a system with some of the continent's largest freshwater bodies, the region has a unique and unparalleled ecological diversity. Uganda, DR Congo and Rwanda are the home of the mountain gorillas, listed as critically endangered by the World Conservation Region; only 1000 individuals exist. In this extraordinary landscape of active volcanos, rainforests, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers, the flora and fauna are unlike any other in the world.
Responsible and sustainable tourism is of highest priority given the importance and sensitivity of these ecosystems. These areas are protected through national parks and wildlife reserves including the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Virunga Massif, Queen Elizabeth and Rwenzori Mountains National Parks. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated many of these as World Heritage Sites and Biosphere Reserves.
As visitors to these homes of flora and fauna, Instinct Safaris strives for sustainable tourism with a minimal eco-footprint. As a part of the greater ecosystem, we seek to fulfill our responsibility for preserving and protecting our environment.
Bwindi Impenetrable National Park - Uganda
Location: South-western Uganda, close to borders of DR Congo and Rwanda (550 km from Kampala, 146 km from Kigali)
Size: 331 kilometers squared
Famous for: mountain gorillas (and co-existing chimpanzees), biodiversity, birds
The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a region in the Albertine Rift Valley and regarded as one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa. As the habitat of numerous endangered species, it is one of the continent’s most important conservation areas. The eponymous Bwindi National Park has been a UNESCO Natural World Heritage site since 1994. It is known for its rich floral and faunal diversity and for mountain gorilla tracking.
Gorilla Tracking & Gorilla Habituation Experience
Over half the world population of the critically endangered mountain gorilla live in the national park, including more than eight habituated gorilla families of different sizes. Today, small groups can track and observe these gorilla families on a daily basis. Mountain gorilla tracking greants the visitor about one hour with the gentle giants. Joining the mountain gorilla habituation experience further extends the time with the mountain gorillas to four hours to make your visit the trip of a lifetime.
Flora & Fauna
This region is regarded as one of the most biologically diverse forests in Africa with the richest faunal community in East Africa. The area boasts upwards of 120 mammalian species, more than any other Ugandan national park. Among these are forest elephants and ten species of primates, including chimpanzees, colobus monkeys and baboons. Bwindi is the only park in the world where chimpanzees and gorillas co-exist The rare giant forest hog can also be found here, although sightings are rare!
For bird watchers, Bwindi is one of the most enticing areas in Uganda to visit. There are an estimated 360 species of birds including 23 of the 24 endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley and another fourteen species not found anywhere else in Uganda, such as the African Green Broadbill. The pristine rainforests of this park are also home to approximately 300 butterfly species (including two endangered species of Swallowtails), 200 native tree species, and many species of reptiles and amphibians.
Forest walks are also a popular activity in Bwindi. Enjoy a 4-6 hour walk through the forest to view birds, butterflies and other forest dwellers under the canopy of the Impenetrable Forest. A nature walk to Nshongi waterfall can be organized when staying in Ruhija or Nkuringo. Interspersed through the trees and valleys are also gorges and other remarkable geographic scenery.
Virunga Massif - Uganda, Rwanda, and DR Congo
Location: on the borders of DR Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda (510 km from Kampala, 113 km from Kigali)
Size: 444 kilometers squared
Famous for: mountain gorillas, golden monkeys, dormant and active volcanoes
“Virunga” is a Kinyarwanda word for boiling pots, a reference to the defining volcanic origins of these unique mountains. At least one of the seven volcanoes in the range - Mount Nyiragongo - is active. In 2001, there was a dramatic eruption on the Congolese side of the range. The Virunga Massif is located in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and spans across Uganda, Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park and part of DR Congo's Virunga National Park.
The Volcanoes of the Virunga Massif
Mgahinga National Park in Uganda features three extinct volcanoes: Mount Muhavura (4,127 meters), Mount Sabyinyo (3,645 meters) and Mount Gahinga (3,475 meters), which has a swampy caldera on its peak. The park name was derived from Gahinga, described in Kinyarwanda/Rufumbira dialect as "a small pile of stones”. There are two volcanoes in Rwanda, Bisoke (3,711 meters) and Kalisimbi (4,507 meters). The tallest, Mikeno (4,437 meters) and Mount Nyiragongo (3,470 meters) is an active volcano, which are both situated in DR Congo.
The vegetation of the Virunga Massif ranges from tropical rain forests up to the afro-montane vegetation zones. Many local herbs grow in the park, including a giant tree-sized relative of the herb St. Johns Wort.
The Mgahinga Gorilla National Park supports some 40 recorded mammal species, although some believe there are even more. Of the larger mammals, there are the mountain gorilla, buffalo and forest elephant. The endangered golden monkey, a subspecies of the blue monkey, can be found only in the bamboo forests of the Park. Leopards and several other small feline species can also be found here. 294 bird species have been recorded in the Virunga region, among which are the handsome Francolin, Rwenzori Turaco and Side-Breasted Tit. Twenty of these species are endemic to the Albertine Rift Valley.
The popular activities in Mghainga National Park include mountain gorilla and golden monkey tracking. Virunga Massif day trekking, bird-watching excursions and guided nature walks are available, as well. in DR Congo, Instinct Safaris offers overnight hikes to the summit of Mount Nyiragongo, the active volcano. Nyiragongo has the largest permanent lava lake in the world.
Ruwenzori Mountains National Park - Uganda & DR Congo
Location: Western Uganda (415 km from Kampala, 472 km from Kigali)
Size: almost 1000 kilometers squared
Famous for: Mountains of the Moon and Margherita Peak (5,109 m), alpine flora, endangered bird species, mountain climbing
The Rwenzori Mountains are relatively unexploited and rarely visited, and thus a visit here provides an unparalleled opportunity to explore East Africa’s mountain wilderness. This legendary mist-covered range is the highest in the continent and stretches across the border between western Uganda and Congo (historically named Zaire). The associated National Park was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1994 to protect the flora and fauna of this beautiful area and the important watershed for the many lakes of the region.
Evidence of the Rwenzori as the source of the Nile date back to as early as the Greco-Roman period by Claudius Ptolemy. The infamous polymath first described them in c.a. 150 AD as the “Mountains of the Moon”. However, it was not until the 19th century when European nations began expeditions of the rumored region. In 1886. Sir Henry Stanley became the first European to see the mountains, which he named the Rwenzori. They were photographed by 1906 by Vittorio Sella. Beginning that year, Italian Prince Luigi di Savoia (a.k.a. Duke of Abruzzi) and his intrepid team made the first substantial climb and mapped all the major peaks.
Unlike other major mountainous regions of East Africa, the Rwenzoris are not volcanic but originated from uplift associated with the western Rift Valley formation. At the center of the range, there are six peaks carrying permanent snow, three with glaciers. The highest of these peaks -- also the third-highest in Africa, is Margherita, which rises to 5,109 meters above sea level atop Mt. Stanley. Among mountain climbers, the Rwenzori Mountains are comparably popular with Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya and offer a more challenging climb.
Flora & Fauna
The Rwenzori Mountains are known particularly for their dense vegetation and luxuriant forest with abundant flowering plants and for being the largest and most extensive stands of alpine big game plants in East Africa. The park has a wide variety of plants across five distinct vegetation zones. Here, the giant lobelias and groundsels are even larger than on the other major East African mountains.
Recent studies have reported species of trees and shrubs, 85 mammals, 217 birds, 60 invertebrates (of which 25 are new to science), as well as 78 butterfly, 41 moth, 338 moss and 83 lichen species. Mammals found here include tree hyraxes, blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus, black-fronted duikers and the red duikers. The Rwenzori Mountain National Park has three endemic mammals — Rwenzoir duiker, Rwenzori Otter shrew and Rwenzori Colobus monkey. The IUCN Red List of threatened animals includes the Rwenzori duiker, the elephant, the chimpanzee and the Rwenzori Otter shrew. Excellent bird watching features conspicuous regal and purple-breasted sunbirds, francolins, olive pigeons and Rwenzori turacos.
Queen Elizabeth National Park - Uganda
Location: Western Uganda (44 km from Kampala, 350 km from Kigali)
Size: 2000 kilometers squared
Famous for: game viewing, hot air balloon rides, tree-climbing lions
As one of the outstanding treasures of Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park has recently been designated a Biosphere Reserve for Humanity under UNESCO. The national park is also a wetland reserve and arguably the most popular and easily accessible game reserve in Uganda. The national park has remarkable varieties of ecosystems; from semi-deciduous tropical forest to green meadows, savannah and swamps.
95 mammal species has been recorded here, This National Park has the highest recorded number of mammalian species (contains 95 recorded mammalian species) of all Ugandan national parks. It is the home of the famous tree-climbing lions, the Uganda Kob and other antelope species, as well as elephants, buffalos, hippos, baboons and chimpanzees. The Rare Giant Forest Hog is often seen here. 612 bird species have been sighted in Queen Elizabeth, making this park truly unique for it has one of the highest number in the world for such a relatively small reserve. The species include the Shoebill Stork, Black Bee-Eater, 11 types of kingfishers and a variety of raptors, including several falcons and eagles.
In the crater lakes, spectacular flocks of flamingos gather, creating the image of a moving pink carpet. The launch trip along the Kazinga Channel connecting Lakes Edward and George is a memorable way to view the abundant game in Queen Elizabeth and to see an astounding number of bird species. In the eastern section of the park is Kyambura Gorge where visitors can climb down the 100 meter deep gorge through tropical forest and catch sight of a variety of primates, especially chimpanzees. In the more isolated Ishasha sector of the park, visitors can move through the woodlands in search of tree-climbing lions perched on the boughs of ancient fig trees. Large herds of elephants and Uganda Kob are also seen here.
Murchison Falls National Park - Uganda
Location: Central Uganda (300 km from Kampala, 630 km from Kigali)
Size: 3800 kilometers squared
Famous for: Murchison falls, game drives, giraffes
Murchison Falls National Park is the largest of Uganda’s ten National Parks and one of the most spectacular parks in all of Africa. Renown for its scenic beauty and the eponymous waterfalls, this park and the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area support a mind-boggling abundance of flora and fauna, boasting 76 mammalian, ten primate, 250 butterfly and more than 465 plant species. From rolling savannah and tall grasslands to thick bush and woodlands, the biodiversity of this park never ceases to amaze visitors and residents alike.
Murchison Falls' rich biodiversity
A visit to this National Park is incomplete without seeing the magnificent falls. At the top of the falls where the Nile River narrows, one can watch the dramatic water crashes through a seven-meter gorge and tumbles 45 meters to the rocks below.
The plethora of mammals, reptiles and birds can be seen during game drives. Larger habituated mammals include the cape buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffe, Ugandan job, hartebeest and waterbuck. Other species such as oribi, bushbuck, Bohor reedbuck, the shy sitatunga, bush duiker, warthog and bush pig also live in the region. Fierce lions, leopards and spotted hyenas comprise the large carnivorous population. The Park is home to six species of primates, most commonly chimpanzees and olive baboons. Crocodiles and hippopotamuses patrol the river banks of the Nile, which hosts species of birds such as the Goliath heron, Egyptian geese, pelican, bee-eaters, kingfishers, hornbill, cormorant, saddle-bill stork and the rare Shoebill stork.
A boat cruise to the delta is a highlight for the avid birdwatcher and safari traveler. A cruise to the base of the falls is truly unforgettable. Hikes to the top of the falls are possible and offer a remarkable view of the area.
Mount Nyiragongo Active Volcano - DR Congo
Location: Far eastern DR Congo, close to the Rwandan and Ugandan borders (540 km from Kampala, 183 km from Kigali)
Size: 25 kilometers squared
Famous for: the world's largest permanent lava lake, summit overnight shelters, amazing views
Nyiragongo contains the only active volcano in the whole region and houses the world’s largest lava lake! Located in a safe and accessible area of eastern DR Congo, the lava lake measures about 1,200 meters wide and 800 meters deep from the volcano's summit. This natural marvel can be viewed from a terrace halfway down to the lake’s surface. Travelers who make it to Mount Nyiragongo get to spend a whole night at the summit. Overnight shelters have been constructed by the local park authority and allow a comfortable stay in this extraordinary environment. While ascending and descending the volcano, one can also find many rare bird species and small mammals.
Kibale National Park - Uganda
Location: Western Uganda, about one hour east of Fort Portal (309 km from Kampala, 399 km from Kigali)
Size: 331 kilometers squared
Famous for: the world's largest density of primates, chimpanzee habituation experience, experimental tourism
The Kibale National Park is distinguished by its high level of biodiversity, notably the thirteen habituated primate species. A great number of chimpanzees live in Kibaale, finding safe retreat in these Ugandan forests, as well as black, white and even red colobus monkeys. Forest elephants also reside here.
Since Kibale was transformed into a national park, the area has become more tourist-friendly and prepared to offer a variety of activities. Today, primate walks, community walks, chimp habituation experiences and guided night trekking are offered near Bigodi wetlands and Magombe swamps. For bird aficionados, this swampy region is great for spotting numerous bird species.
Lake Mburo National Park - Uganda
Location: South-western Uganda, close to Mbarara (228 km from Kampala, 305 km from Kigali)
Size: 260 kilometers squared
Famous for: Zebras, horseback safaris, night game drives to see leopards
This National Park features a stunning wetland ecosystem of Lake Mburo and four other lakes. In total, the stunning wetland ecosystem consists of fifteen lakes. These lakes are connected by a 50-kilometer swamp, which is fed by the Ruizi river from the west. The national park, centered around Lake Mburo, stretches over five of these lakes, with the former as the largest. nAlmost one-fifth of the Park are wetlands with both seasonally flooded and permanent swamps. The different types of swamps are home to a wide variety of wetland birds and mammals such as the shy, rare sitatunga antelope. As Lake Mburo’s surface and its fringing vegetation are always changing, it is delightful to take a boat and experience the lake’s moods and the extraordinary landscape. Another exclusive way to explore the area is by opting in for a horseback safari.