Game viewing safaris – Uganda, Rwanda & Tanzania

game viewing

Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are among the best countries for game viewing safaris in Africa. The 3 countries are home to the famous Africa “big five” game as well as a variety of other game species. In addition to game viewing, visitors can as well enjoy primate experiences here including gorilla trekking, chimpanzee tracking, and golden monkey trekking. Some of the best game viewing experiences happen during the great wildebeest migration in Tanzania. Big Five African mammals include lion, buffalo, elephant, rhino, and buffalo.

There are several ways to search for wild animals in the wild such as 4×4 guided day and night game drives, walking safaris, and hot air ballooning. It is good to choose and prioritize your game viewing activities as well as accommodation carefully with a trusted tour operator. Given that most of the wildlife species you intend to see are endangered due to habitat loss, human wildlife conflicts, and poaching, you can support conservation related initiatives and have a responsible game viewing experience.  

Game viewing in Uganda 

game viewing

Uganda was nicknamed the “Pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill, a British prime minister who visited the country in 1907. During his African journey from Cape, South Africa to Cairo in Egypt, he spent some time in the Buganda kingdom around Lake Victoria and went through northwest Uganda along the Nile river to Sudan. He was impressed with the natural endowment and explained that “The kingdom of Uganda is like a fairy tale. The scenery is different, the climate is different and most of all the people are different from anything else to be seen in the whole range of Africa. For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion or brilliant life-bird, insect, reptile, beast – for vast scale, Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.”  

His words still apply today. Uganda offers a variety of landscapes which include  lakes and rivers, tropical and semi-arid savanna, tropical forests, volcanoes and snow-capped Rwenzori peaks. This enables visitors to see a variety of sites and do several wildlife viewing experiences with less travel and expense. The most notable being mountain gorilla trekking in Mgahinga and Bwindi impenetrable national parks famous for harboring 459 gorillas of the 1,063 which is almost half of the world’s mountain gorillas population. Among other primate safaris include chimpanzees and golden monkey trekking which can be rewarding as mountain gorilla trekking. In addition to primates, there are other 8 national parks that allow visitors to combine primates with game viewing experiences including game drives and boat cruises safaris. 

The western Uganda safari circuit is the best for game viewing and includes Murchison falls, Kibale forest, Queen Elizabeth, and Lake Mburo national parks. These savanna parks are home to 345 mammal species including elephants, lions, buffaloes, leopards, Nubian giraffes, hippos, and several antelope species such as impalas, Uganda kobs, Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, waterbucks, bushbucks, and topi. Other parks and attractions are added depending on the amount of time the visitors wish to spend. For instance, the Ziwa rhino sanctuary, the only home of rhinos in Uganda. The spectacular Rwenzori Mountains offer multiple-day trekking. Semliki national park has hot springs and offers bird watching with 40% of the over 1,060 bird species. Lake Bunyonyi is a great addition to the circuit especially after gorilla trekking. The beautiful, bilharzia-free lake without crocodiles or hippos, it is a must-visit gem in East Africa and offers swimming and other water sports of canoeing and boat rides. 

Those intending to add adventure can go for the circuit in the Eastern part of Uganda which includes Kidepo Valley, Pian Upe wildlife reserve, Mount Elgon national parks and the source of River Nile. The source of the Nile in Jinja is Uganda’s iconic attraction and has become the adventure capital of East Africa offering whitewater rafting, bungee jumping, and zip lining. 

Game viewing in Rwanda

kidepo valley national park

Rwanda is known for the tragic genocide against Tutsi in 1994 that led to loss of over 800,000 people. Over the past 3 decades, the country has emerged out of her dark past to become one of the fastest growing economies in sub-saharan Africa. Tourism and wildlife conservation are the largest source of foreign exchange earnings with mountain gorillas in Volcanoes national park and chimpanzees in Nyungwe forest as the major attractions.

Primate safaris are complemented by game viewing in one national park. Game viewing in Rwanda is done in Akagera national park, the only savanna protected area in the country. Akagera is home to the big five mammals which include over 30 white and 20 black rhinos, 58 lions, over 133 African elephants, and 2,093 buffaloes, and 15 – 20 leopards. Lions and rhinos were reintroduced following their extinction during the Rwandan genocide against Tutsi in 1994. Refugees and farmers occupied some parts of the park, reducing its area from  2,500 to 1,122

There was immense loss of biodiversity due to poaching and habitat destruction. The government of Rwanda and the African Parks Network formed a renewable long-term partnership in 2010 that has since succeeded at restoring the park’s biodiversity and developing sustainable solutions that support the local community development. According to the Akagera aerial census (2013), the population of mammal species is soaring. There are over 8,000 large mammal species including 885 hippos, 1,057 impalas, 948 waterbucks, and 999 zebras, making for one of the best game viewing areas in East Africa. The park offers day and night game drives, boat cruise safari on Lake Ihema, guided walking safari, experiential behind the scenes, nature walks, and village walks to visiting a dairy farm, a traditional healer for his stunning metaphysics and banana beer brewing activity.

Game viewing in Tanzania

game viewing

Tanzania is an ideal destination for game viewing for those intending to spot the Big Five mammal species and witness the great wildebeest migration. Those intending to visit Tanzania for wildlife safari, there are three safari circuits to consider which include the northern, southern, and western. The classic northern circuit includes the Serengeti famous for harboring the great wildebeest migration and highest number of lions in Tanzania. There’s also the Ngorongoro crater, an 8th wonder of the world home to over 28,000 mammal species. Other places can be added along this circuit including Tarangire with large herds of elephants, Lake Manyara for flamingos as well as Mount Kilimanjaro and Arusha national parks. The western circuit is off-the-beaten path and offers unique wildlife experiences which include chimpanzee trekking in Gombe stream and Mahale mountains national parks. The southern circuit includes Ruaha national park which holds 10% of the world’s African lion population and Selous game reserve.

Game viewing in Serengeti national park

Serengeti offers excellent game viewing with a higher chance to spot the Big 5 mammals and see the Great migration of the wildebeests. The park is divided into different tourism areas including Seronera valley (central) with main park headquarters and southern plains. You have to plan your safari game drive in the Serengeti depending on the area and wildlife species you’re interested in seeing. You can choose to stay in one of the private concessions bordering the park for special activities like night game drives and guided bush walks.

Those intending to see rhinos should know that Serengeti’s rhino population, about 160 individuals mainly lives in the central plains with some black rhinos often seen around the Moru Kopjes in the southern plains. It is in these plains that Wildebeests give birth with some in the adjacent Ndutu plains of Ngorongoro conservation area. The Serengeti calving season begins in January up to March. According to National Geographic, over 24,000 calves might be born each day. Many baby animals such as impalas, kobs, zebras, gazelles are also born in the Serengeti which attracts predators.

Big and small cats of the Serengeti can be seen including lions, spotted hyenas, cheetahs, leopards, wild dogs, black backed jackals, serval cats, wild cats, and caracals. Wildebeests also cross the Mara river where it flows through the northern part of Serengeti where it adjoins Masai Mara national park in Kenya. The main entrance gate at Naabi hills is 245 km (4-hour drive) north west of Arusha the nearest to Serengeti. The gate is also a 2-hour drive from Ngorongoro crater. 

Game drive safari in the Ngorongoro crater 

Ngorongoro offers a unique game viewing experience which involves descending into the crater that extends for 264 long and 19 across and is enclosed by ancient volcanic walls that rise 610 meters above the floor. Ngorongoro is the world’s largest unflooded caldera famous for harboring over 28,000 mammal species including the Big 5 which include black rhinos, big tusker elephants, buffaloes, lions, and leopards.

A 4×4 safari game drive in the Ngorongoro crater offers an opportunity to spot all the Big Five among other endangered species which include African painted dogs, African golden cats, cheetahs, bat-eared foxes, and ostriches as well common zebras, hippos, wildebeests, grant’s gazelles. The crater floor contains a variety of vegetation which include from scrub heath and moorlands, lerai tropical forests with yellow-barked acacia tree (acacia xanthoploea), acacia melifera and African blackwood (dalbergia melanoxylon) tree species, open plains as well as permanent Ngoitokitok springs and Gorigor swamps that sustains wildlife all year round.

However, not all animals remain in the crater. The zebras and wildebeests tend to get out through the Upper Kitete wildlife corridor that connects Ngorongoro with Tarangire and Lake Manyara national parks. In addition to the game drive, other activities include the Endoro Nature walk to the caves where elephants are often found licking mineral salts, village walks to interact with the Hadzabe bushmen and Maasai warriors. &Beyond offers a banquet in the crater and accommodation on the Ngorongoro crater lodge located on the crater at 2,286 meters above sea level (7,500 feet).  

Tarangire national park

Covering 2,850, Tarangire encampasses acacia commiphora woodlands, open grassland, and baobab trees in a warm and dry climate zone. There’s one major source of water, the Tarangire river and its swamps that retain water all year round attracts huge congregations of mammals in what is known as the Tarangire migration. The park is famous for harboring over 3,000 elephants, making for one of the best places to see elephants in Africa. Elephants along with zebras, wildebeests, hartebeests, giraffes, buffalo, hippos, seasonally migrate within the larger Tarangire Conservation Area that stretches from the park across Lake Manyara, Lake Natron Game Controlled Area to Mount Kilimanjaro.

The best time for game viewing in Tarangire is June to October. The river becomes a haven for wildlife. Elephants on the Tarangire River can be compared to the remarkable herds found in Chobe National Park, Botswana. One should aim to spend 2 days and do a guided walking safari in addition to a normal game drive safari. The park is 109 km (2-hour drive) easy to reach from Arusha city and (1-hour drive) from Ngorongoro crater. The park offers a wide range of accommodations in and outside the park including Gibb’s Farm Lodge.

Game viewing in Lake Manyara national park 

The lake Manyara basin covers 230, almost two thirds of 325 the park’s total area. The alkaline lake contains green algae which provides habitat for feeding and breeding of thousands of lesser and greater flamingos. Along with over 400 species of birds, the park is one of the best bird watching destinations in Tanzania. November and May are the best times to visit. The best activities for birders include canoeing on the lake and canopy walk in the Marang forest at the northern entrance gate. The ground forest reserve dominated by Mahogany tree species lies to the north of the lake along the rift valley escarpment. The forest contains underground springs that originate from the Ngorongoro highlands, creating rivers and waterfalls including the Miwaleni waterfalls.

The forest provides habitat for baboons, velvet monkeys, blue monkeys and a variety of forest birds such as pink-backed pelicans, little bee-eaters, crowned hornbills, silvery cheeked hornbills, palm nut vultures. To the south of the lake, the habitats include open savanna woodlands with acacia Senegal and yellow fever trees. This area is home to the large mammal species including Africa’s rarest wild animal, the tree climbing lion. The southern part of Lake Manyara national park is linked to Tarangire by a community conservation ranch providing a corridor for elephants, giraffes, buffaloes, hippos, zebras, wildebeests and leopards to cross the ecosystem.

Southern Tanzania safari circuit

Game viewing in Southern Tanzania safari circuit is quite off-the-beaten path and unique especially in Ruaha national park and Selous game reserve. Both parks lie in the river Rufiji basin with unique habitats ranging from riverine forests, savanna, mangrove forests, and miombo woodlands. There are also large densities, unique wildlife species and activities such as walking safaris and boat cruises.

Tanzania has over 15,000 African lions which is the world’s largest population of lions of which most are found in Serengeti. Ruaha national park alone is famous for harboring over 1,000 lions which is almost 10% of the African lion population, making for one of the best places to see lions in Tanzania. 

Nyerere national park formerly known as Selous game reserve covers 54,600 and is the largest protected area in Africa. The park harbors some of the large wildlife densities including  100,000 wildebeests, 145,000 buffalos, 4,000 Lions, 35000 zebras, 40,000 hippos, 250,000 impalas. Among other unique species that are not found in the northern circuit such as sable and puku antelopes, wild dogs, 

The western circuit 

The western Tanzania safari circuit offers chimpanzee trekking in Gombe stream and Mahale mountains national parks. Lake Tanganyika is another attractive destination to explore in this circuit. The lake offers secluded beaches and water sports which include boat rides and spot fishing. 

Best time for game viewing in Tanzania is the dry season from June to October. Those intending to see the wildebeest migration crossing of the Mara river and the mating season should visit the Serengeti west and central. The calving season for the migration occurs between January and March and takes place in the southern Serengeti plains.