Buffalos at Lake Mburo National Park

Visiting Lake Mburo National Park, Southwestern Uganda

Hi, everyone! I hope all is well with you in your respective corners of the world. 2013 turned out to be a blog break for me, but now that it’s over, I am back! I hope you didn’t miss me too much. 😉 Picking up right where we left off…

A little after publishing my last post, I found myself in Uganda for a late Christmas break. I think I have mentioned on this blog before that I am part Ugandan, so like many Ugandans, the end-of-year season for me usually includes a trip to the village to bond with family and just chillax. I hadn’t gotten to do that at Christmas for several reasons, so in January I thought: better late than never.

Home for me–at least my rural home–in Uganda is in Kiruhura district (woo hoo!). Although I was late to the party, I was lucky enough to find my mother, some of her siblings, and many of my cousins still at home for Christmas break. As always, it was great to be home, but the truth is, sometimes the ritual of going to the village every year gets a little old.

Waterbuck at Lake Mburo National ParkIn 2011, when I realized that Uganda had been named Lonely Planet’s top country to visit in 2012, it suddenly dawned on me that though I had often been to Uganda, I had never really viewed it as a tourist destination. Rather, the time I spent in Uganda was usually about spending time with my extended family. That, I thought, needed to change.

So…in January 2013, as I found myself spending long, long days chilling in the village, I decided to do something touristy: I would take a trip to Lake Mburo National Park. Trust me, that wasn’t much of a stretch: Lake Mburo National Park is also in Kiruhura district. Yet, for all the years I had been going to Kiruhura, not once had I thought of visiting the park.

Keeping with the theme of family bonding, I loaded my mother’s car full of relatives, and off we went to discover what Lake Mburo National Park had to offer. In less than two hours, we found ourselves at Lake Mburo National Park’s Sanga gate, were we stopped to pay park entrance fees. Very, very cheap because everyone in the car was East African, we parted with Ush. 10,000 per person and Ush. 30,000 for the car and proceeded into the park for the 9km drive to the park’s headquarters at Rwonyo.

Zebra at Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

As soon as we entered the park, we began to see animals (but then again, in Kiruhura, it’s not at all uncommon to see zebra during the course of everyday life). We saw antelopes, zebra, warthogs and baboons. This was all very exciting for my younger cousins, none of whom had ever been to a national park before.

In no time, we made it to Rwonyo, the park’s headquarters. As I learned from my disastrous trip to Tarangire National Park, it’s never advisable to tour a national park without an experienced guide. At the park’s headquarters, we paid $US20 for a guide to show us around.

Having the guide in the car made all the difference. All of a sudden, what I had been calling antelopes became more specifically impala, reedbuck, and bushbuck. We learned many interesting facts about the animals we saw, and then, we got to a clearing where there were parked cars, tents, and the most beautiful, placid lake. We had reached Lake Mburo.

Lake Mburo at Dusk, Uganda

Lake Mburo, after which the park is named, is the biggest lake in a 50-km long wetland ecosystem that includes 13 other lakes (only a total of 5 lakes lie within the boundary of the national park). We got out of the car to take a closer look. It was early afternoon and the lake shimmered from the sun reflecting in its gentle waves. Maybe it was the fact that Lake Mburo was surrounded by hills, but immediately it made me remember Lake Bunyonyi, which I had visited more than a decade prior–both were simply stunning!

As we stood on the lake shore, I could see boats nearby with people preparing to board them. At the information center, I learned that it was possible to go for a boat ride on this beautiful lake, with boats departing every two hours. I was almost ready to forgo the game drive and simply go for a boat ride, but the members of my party were not having any of it. Not to be a party pooper, I continued on with them as planned. I am happy to say: I was not disappointed!

With 350 bird species and 68 mammal species living within it, Lake Mburo National Park is full of animals to see. Unlike a recent trip to Mikumi National Park, we didn’t have to drive long stretches to find game. I could enumerate all the animals we saw that day, but I don’t think that would tell you much. Rather, I would like to characterize the kind of game that we saw: we saw lots and lots of antelopes. Yawn, you might think, but actually that was not the case. The antelopes we saw were extremely varied, and I even saw a couple that I had never seen before (and I have been to quite a few national parks). My favorite was the weird-looking topi–I had never seen one of those before. I also particularly enjoyed seeing the biggest antelope of them all, the eland (though the kind found in East Africa is smaller than the giant eland found elsewhere) which was remarkably huge!

Impala at Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

Did you know that Lake Mburo National Park is the only place in Uganda where you can see impala? That’s quite strange given that Uganda’s capital city, Kampala, is named after the impala. To find out how Kampala got its name (from which you’ll quickly figure out why impala are no longer abundant in Uganda), click here.

But the best part of my trip had nothing to do with game. At some point on the drive, our guide told us to be particularly attentive to something coming up. I noticed that the vegetation changed from woodland to open savannah so I thought that was it, but the guide quickly assured me that that’s not what he was talking about. We drove on in the savannah until the guide told us to stop the car and get out. (Unlike many other national parks, the whole of Lake Mburo National Park is open to walkers as long as they are accompanied by a park ranger.)

We got out of the car and began to climb a steep hill. We huffed and puffed up the hill, with some of us threatening to stop halfway, but the guide assured us that it would be well worth our while.

View from Kazuma Point, Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda

As we approached the top of the hill, we began to understand why. At the top of the hill was Kazuma Lookout Point, from where we could see Lake Mburo and eight other nearby lakes. The view was breathtaking!

We took some time to enjoy the reward of our effort and take group photos, after which we got back into the car and made our way back to the park’s headquarters. There, we dropped off our guide and thanked him for the wonderful tour he had given us. We found our way to the park’s exit and began our journey back home.

Moral of the story? If you ever get the chance to visit Lake Mburo National Park, don’t dismiss it because it is one of Uganda’s smaller parks. Personally, I enjoyed it a lot more than I did Queen Elizabeth National Park. I saw a lot of animals that I had never seen before, and I learned a lot. Although, I didn’t get to go for a boat ride on Lake Mburo itself, that’s what’s going to take me back!

For more information on Lake Mburo National Park, visit Uganda Wildlife Authority’s website.

Have you ever been to Lake Mburo National Park? If so, what did you think? As always, I look forward to hearng what you have to say.

Until the next time,

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Photo Credits: tour.red, Snarglebarf, Shiraz Chakera, Arturo de Frias Marques, www.sntourtravels.com.

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