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Lake Mburo National Park – A Travel Guide

Lake Mburo National Park – A Travel Guide

Lake Mburo National Park is a relatively hidden gem on the edge of Uganda’s Western Region. This small park is home to an array of wild animals from large grazing herbivores to tiny, rare birds. In this Lake Mburo travel guide we’ll cover a brief history of Lake Mburo as well as its remarkable wildlife, unique activities, how to get there, accommodation options, and more.

History of Lake Mburo

Lake Mburo National Park is located in western Uganda. The area was used as a controlled hunting ground from as early as 1933, upgraded to a game reserve in 1963, before becoming a national park in 1983.

Historically, the area was home to the Bahima people who reared long-horned Ankole cattle in the region. The founding of the park was a contentious issue as the Bahima tribes were moved from their grazing lands.

The park is named after Lake Mburo, which is one of the five major lakes in Uganda. The name Mburo itself has a mythical origin.

The tale tells of two brothers, Kigarama and Mburo, that lived in the valley long ago. The eldest brother Kigarama dreamt of a flood that washed the village away. He tried to convince Mburo to leave with him, seeking refuge in the nearby hills. But Mburo thought nothing of his brother’s premonition and stayed in the valley. Later, when the rains came, Kigarama’s nightmare came true – the area was flooded and Mburo drowned. So today, the lake bears his name, and the surrounding hills are named after Kigarama.

Lake Mburo National Park

Covering an area of around 140 square miles, Lake Mburo is one of Uganda’s smaller national parks and its smallest savanna park. But despite the park’s smaller size, Lake Mburo is renowned for its diverse ecosystem and abundant wildlife.

As well as the open savanna it also features wetlands, rolling hills, acacia woodlands, and of course the picturesque Lake itself.

Is Lake Mburo Worth Visiting?

Whether you’re planning a road trip or safari vacation around Uganda, Lake Mburo is absolutely worth visiting! The park offers a unique safari experience, distinct from other national parks in Uganda. Its compact size means it’s easy to explore, and its varied landscapes support a wide range of wildlife species.

Wildlife in Lake Mburo National Park

The biodiversity of Lake Mburo National Park is astounding, with a wide array of animal species calling this ecosystem home.

Does Lake Mburo National Park Have Lions?

While Lake Mburo National Park is home to a variety of wildlife, lions are not found within its boundaries. They were hunted and killed to extinction by the neighboring farming communities. The absence of lions makes it a safe destination for walking safaris and other activities.

Does Lake Mburo National Park Have Leopards?

Leopards are present in Lake Mburo National Park, but they are extremely elusive, and sightings are rare. You’ll need a keen eye and a huge dose of luck to see one during a game drive.

Other Animals in Lake Mburo National Park

Perhaps the most significant residents at Lake Mburo are its huge hippo population that spend the day wallowing in the lake, returning to shore in the evenings to graze. In terms of megafauna the park is also home to large groups of zebra and cape buffalo.

A relatively recent addition to the park is the handful of Rothschild’s giraffes that were introduced from Murchison Falls in 2015. The spreading acacia trees were getting out of control and causing issues for grazing herbivores, so the introduction of giraffes should put this back into balance.

Lake Mburo is also home to a variety of antelope species, including impala, eland, topi, and the Uganda kob. A few other common sightings are warthogs, bucks, and mongoose.

Additionally, the park is a birdwatcher’s paradise, with this small park boasting over 300 bird species including the rare shoebill stork, various kingfishers, and the aptly named hamerkop.

Somewhat resembling a duck or goose when squatting, the hamerkop’s head is shaped like a hammer when it stands upright. They also build the most incredible nests, one of the largest of any species in the world. You should spot a few of these giant nests in the trees as they’re abundant in Lake Mburo.

Getting to Lake Mburo National Park

There are two main options for getting to and around Lake Mburo – self-driving or hiring a driver with a 4×4 vehicle. It all depends on whether you feel comfortable exploring on your own or if you’d prefer the convenience of a guided journey.

We took the self-drive option and rented a 4×4 from Road Trip Africa but both options guarantee an unforgettable experience.

Self-Drive with Road Trip Africa

If you’re self-driving around Uganda, then the best advice is to stick to the main roads. Very often, it’s quicker and more convenient to take longer routes using main roads rather than the more direct path.

Lake Mburo is a great start to a Uganda road trip, after picking up the vehicle in Kampala it’s around a 4-hour drive southwest along the main road. The best way into the park itself is to turn off at the Amos Dairies Farm and follow the off-road track south to the Nshara Gate.

Tip: There’s a Shell gas station around 10 miles before you arrive at the dairy farm, remember to fill up before you enter the park.

After following the trail for 15 miles you’ll reach the Mburo park office where you’ll need to pay the entrance fee which is $40 for foreign non-residents.

Hire 4×4 with a Driver

For a hassle-free option, Road Trip Africa also offer rental with a driver. If you take this option, then sit back, relax, and enjoy the journey down to the lake.

Things to Do in Lake Mburo National Park

Thanks to the absence of lions, there are many options aside from driving around Lake Mburo including walking, and even cycling or by horseback. There’s also a fantastic boat safari if you want to get up close and personal with the lake’s hippos.

Game Drives

The easiest and best way to see Lake Mburo’s varied wildlife is on a game drive. Of course, if you have a guided driver then there’s not a lot to add. They have vast experience of the National Parks and so can navigate to the various areas and spot wildlife.

For those self-driving, you can either choose to navigate around yourself or you can actually hire a guide from inside the park. The UWA (Uganda Wildlife Authority) guide will join you in the vehicle and help with routes and animal spotting.

We chose to go it alone and had a lot of fun reading the map and exploring the park ourselves.

Some of the best roads for driving and seeing wildlife include the Kazuma, Acacia, Zebra, Impala, and Eland tracks.

Be careful taking the Ruroko Track to the southeast as it gets very boggy after rain. We were stuck for a while here and finally managed to get out of the thick mud with great difficulty! There’s also a lot of tsetse flies in this area so be sure to wind your windows up before driving along it.

Night Safari

It’s not often that you can experience a nocturnal game drive at a safari park, but Lake Mburo is one of the few exceptions.

Whether you’re self-driving or with a driver, you’ll still need to hire a guide to come in the vehicle with you. It’s worth noting that if you are self-driving, you’ll need a high clearance, large 4×4 vehicle like a Toyota Land Cruiser or similar for a night safari.

Many animals are most active at night, so it’s a great way to see nocturnal animals and behaviors like hippos grazing.

Walking Safari

Another rare opportunity for a wildlife area is the walking safari where you can get surprisingly close to some of Lake Mburo’s animals.

Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide, you can walk through the acacia grassland and hopefully get close to the giraffes and antelopes. The guide will share insights on the park’s flora and fauna, how to track animals with footprints and dung, and they’re happy to answer any questions you have. It’s an interesting and natural way to see the park from a new perspective.

Boat Safari

One of the highlights of Lake Mburo is surely pulling up right beside a large group of hippos on the boat safari.

Crocodiles are another common sighting, as they sun themselves on the water’s edge as well as a striking variety of birdlife from wading birds to kingfishers.

Cycling Safari

The cycling safari is another very unique opportunity at Lake Mburo due to the lack of large predators.

Although UWA offer the guided cycling safari, strangely they don’t supply the bikes! We found this out on arrival and so missed out. It was only when we arrived at our accommodation outside the park – Leopard Rest Camp (more on this later) – that we realized they offer bike rentals there, which is convenient.

Horse Safari

The final option to explore some of the park is on horseback. There are stables centrally located in the park with special trails to ride along.

It’s a good way to get closer to the animals than in a vehicle because there’s less noise, and less suspicion from wildlife. Like the walking and cycling safaris, an experienced park guide also leads this.

Lake Mburo Accommodation

Lake Mburo offers the widest range of accommodation you could ask for. From pitching your own tent among the grazing warthogs to luxury lodges, there’s something for every level of travel.

Rwonyo Campsite – Budget UWA Camping

The no-frills option is to camp right at the lakeside in the UWA Rwonyo Campsite. There are basic amenities like an outdoor shower block and a small restaurant.

As simple as the campsite is, the actual setting is incredible. Opening the tent door, to the beautiful lake filled with hippos was an unforgettable moment. What’s more, in the night a mother and baby hippo came to graze in the campsite! You’ll also find yourself surrounded by warthogs that graze by kneeling on their front legs.

If you’re a light sleeper, you may find the noises around the tent too disturbing, but for us it was magical.

Rwonyo Rest Camp – Budget UWA Lodgings

If you don’t fancy the idea of pitching your own tent, the next option up is the very basic bandas in Rwonyo Rest Camp. It’s in the same area as a campsite but you’ll have a somewhat more solid foundation to stay in.

Arcadia Lodge

For a mid-range, comfortable stay inside the park, Arcadia Lodge’s cottages are a good balance between luxury and affordability.

Mihingo Lodge

For the ultimate indulgence, look no further than a relaxing stay at Mihingo Lodge. Perched on a hillside overlooking the vast savanna, the lodge has an infinity pool where you can watch the roaming buffalo and antelope.

Leopard Rest Camp

Just outside the Nshara gate to the north you’ll find Leopard Rest Camp. They offer pitching spots to set up your own tent or small lodges.

The entrance fee to Lake Mburo National Park covers a 24-hour period, and since Leopard Rest Camp is outside the park, it’s a good option to consider in order to save another day of park fees when arriving or leaving.

Where to Eat at Lake Mburo

Apart from the accommodation inside the park, the only place to grab a bite is the Lakeside Restaurant in the Rwonyo Campsite. The simple but tasty menu was more than we expected from a small park, and it was nice to have the option to not cook even while camping.

Final Thoughts on Lake Mburo

Lake Mburo National Park was our first day on the Ugandan road trip and it was certainly a memorable start to the trip. From the remarkable diversity of wildlife to the variety of activities offered, Lake Mburo should not be missed off any Uganda itinerary.

Whether you’re self-driving or with a driver, exploring by 4×4 or on foot, bicycle, or horseback this less-trodden national park is sure to impress. And with the range of accommodations, you can choose the right balance of adventure, nature, comfort, and luxury for your perfect visit.

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