Uganda’s equatorial location means that the climate is relatively stable throughout the year, although there are distinctly wetter and drier periods. As much as the country itself is a wonderful mosaic of habitats, from arid to lush, the best times to visit Uganda on safari interweave and overlap depending on the region.
While its Central African setting makes Uganda a year-round destination, old Uganda hands will tell you that the year’s two dry seasons – from December to February and June to August – are the optimum times to visit. The cessation of the rains tends to precipitate higher visitor numbers, drawn by the generally excellent game-viewing conditions.
If your aim is plains game, you’ll find that as the dry seasons progress, reduced water concentrates wildlife in Kidepo Valley and Murchison Falls national parks (and retreating vegetation means less hide-and-seek). In Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, lower rainfall means less mist and more found gorilla. The gorilla treks themselves are also easier underfoot, and the heat dissipates as the elevation increases.
Similarly, chimp trekking in Queen Elizabeth National Park is also easy going now, while the resident tree-climbing lion seek the shade and the wings of migratory birds cast their own shadows over the landscape.
The flipside is that Uganda’s dry seasons are – unlike the twin valleys and hot springs of Kidepo – a badly kept secret, so visitor numbers (and prices) tend to climb as the humidity falls. Towards the end of each dry season, you may well find bargains, while as the rains end (especially in December), lush vegetation makes a wonderfully photogenic backdrop before the sun’s rays wither it.
BEST VALUE FOR MONEY
Uganda has two wet seasons: the short rains from March to May and the long rains from September to November. One of the biggest ticket items on your Uganda safari itinerary is likely to be your gorilla-trekking permit, so if you’re looking for enhanced value, consider visiting Bwindi around March, when prices for permits (and lodges) begin to fall.
So too will the rain, in the form of heavy but brief showers. The vegetation – especially in the forests and savannah – responds with enthusiasm, meaning that game (and gorilla) can be harder to spot.
For Kidepo and Murchison Falls, you’ll get great value at the very start of either rainy season, when shoulder season or off-peak rates apply, but the vegetation has not yet recovered, and the game is still dependent on shrunken wetlands and isolated waterholes. Good deals are possible in Queen Elizabeth during the wet seasons too.
The birding is outstanding year round in Uganda, but really takes off during the rains – so if you’re an avowed avian fan, the wet seasons are even better value. You’ll also have your pick of lodges, with availability being higher. Just don’t forget your shoes, Bill – mountain-gorilla trekking in wet weather can quickly become a slippery slope.
BEST TIME FOR ADVENTURE
The annual long rains, from September to November, can make a safari in Uganda a little more challenging – and raise the adventure factor a notch or two. Your muddy footprints may be soon washed away, but your memories will prove rather more durable – and you’ll really have the place to yourself.
The natural pressure valve that is the Nile River squeezing itself through Murchison Falls only becomes more impressive as water levels rise, closer to November. Or you can choose to let off steam in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, any time during the long rains. Despite its forbidding name, it’s no harder to enter, but you could be seeing gorillas in the mist.
Equally, you could return home with endearing pictures of our primate cousins using giant forest leaves as makeshift umbrellas – and you may not have to trek as far. Despite their trademark dense fur, mountain gorilla don’t especially enjoy cold, wet weather, and often descend lower down the slopes at this time of year.
Queen Elizabeth is at its prettiest during both wet seasons, but some activities may be interrupted. Game drives in all of Uganda’s parks are certainly adventurous during the long rains – expect muddy puddles and more bumps than speed. But you can also expect flowers, migratory birds and baby animals galore as Uganda garlands itself in its green-season finery … a fine reward indeed for adventurous souls.