Camping in Uganda
By Michelle Sutton
Camping: the act of leaving civilization to spend time living in the outdoors and sleeping in a tent. Some people camp as an affordable accommodation option and others have a sheer passion for it. I fall into the latter category and have found that Uganda has a lot to offer and best of all, the opportunities to camp extend year round because of the climate. If you’re new to Uganda or new to camping you may not be sure where to get started. Hopefully this will give you a few ideas on where to go so that you can start enjoying Uganda’s great outdoors.
Where to Camp
Unknown to many, there are numerous campgrounds all over the country catering to all levels of adventure. Some are private campsites and others operated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) within the wildlife reserves and national parks. The campsites vary in facilities and amenities so it’s best inquire about what you can expect before you go so that you can pack accordingly. Over the years I have developed a few favorite spots to camp. By no means have I visited every campsite in Uganda so if I haven’t mentioned here, please don’t discount it. My intention in mentioning the following places is to give other interested campers some ideas on places to go.
Located close to Jinja, the Haven is an easy getaway from Kampala and offers stunning views of the Nile and a great facility. The benefits of camping here is the proximity to Kampala and the amenities making for an easy weekend getaway. The large grassy campsite sprawls around an outdoor camp kitchen with running water. Nearby is a large toilet and shower block with solar hot water. Meals and cold drinks are available inside the lodge and a campfire is lit in the evenings to sit around for the full camping experience. For those that want to camp but don’t have a tent ask them about their “lazy camping”, they’ll provide you a tent with a bed inside and all your meals.
Ishasha River Campsite
Located in the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP, the UWA’s Ishasha River Camp is a really beautiful place to camp. Large trees provide plenty of shade on the banks of the Ishasha River. The only thing separating you from the Democratic Republic of Congo is a narrow muddy river full of hippos. When you sit in your camp, hippos snort and perform just metres away, you can’t get much closer to wildlife than that. The amenities are fairly basic, a pit latrine and a shower fed with buckets of water from the river. Firewood is provided by the rangers who are never far away and can help you with any needs you may have. Near the Ishasha headquarters (a few minute drive from the campsite) is a canteen selling drinks and very basic meals. Game drive highlights nearby include the parks famous tree climbing lions and the Lake Edward Flats where you’ll find lots of birds including the shoebill as well as buffalo and elephants. If you are fascinated by insects, the Ishasha River camp is the place to be. Interesting and unique creatures will keep you entertained for hours.
Mweya Peninsula Campsite
Located in the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth NP, the UWA has a campsite on the tip of the Mweya Peninsula. It is a large, open (meaning little shade) campsite that is very active with wildlife. For those that want to sit in once place and enjoy the camping experience, you won’t be disappointed with the wildlife that passes through this site. Flushing toilets, cold water showers, running water and firewood are all provided which make this campsite very easy and comfortable to spend several days at. A few minutes drive away is a canteen which serves the Mweya hostel and has plenty of choice for meals and cold drinks. Activities nearby include game drives, boat trips on the Kazinga Channel and the scenic Explosion Crater drive.
Murchison River Lodge
Although I have never camped here, I have seen the site and I think this campsite deserves mention simply because of the facilities. The campsite is a large flat area with plenty of shade, a couple of camp kitchens, running water and a very spacious shower and toilet block. Since the campsite is part of a lodge, meals and drinks, are available close by. MRL is located just outside of the park with the gate a 5 minute drive away. The site is very private and really gives a great wilderness feel without having to sacrifice amenities. MRL also offers “lazy camping” so for those that want to camp but don’t have the equipment or don’t feel like packing it all in the car, they’ve got you covered.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority offers bush camping inside Murchison Falls NP on the Nile Delta. The location is stunning but this is as the name suggests, “bush camping”. There are no designated spots and no facilities. You need to bring everything with you including all the water you need and a shovel for a bush toilet so that you can “drop and cover”. The price is rather high for camping but the experience is worth it and includes a UWA ranger that accompanies you for safety from wild animals. The sun sets over the delta are incredible and are followed by a star filled sky and plenty of animal noises. Camping at the delta is really getting close to nature as you are right in the middle of a game park. Anything can happen which makes it such an exciting and worthwhile experience. The biggest advantage to camping here is that you are on the delta for those early morning game drives. For the real adventurers, this camping experience is one to consider.
What to Bring
Beside your camping essentials like your tent, cooking equipment etc. There are some things that you shouldn’t leave home without. Most importantly you need to bring your sense of adventure! You are living in nature so things like storms happen, solar hot water isn’t 100% reliable but if you’re flexible you’ll make the best of it. Secondly bring what you think will make will make you comfortable during your trip. If you’re not comfortable, you will not be a happy camper. A few essentials that I would recommend bringing are toilet paper, plenty of drinking and potable water, mosquito repellent and binoculars.
Don’t forget common sense. Camping in a national park can be a very exciting experience, but don’t think for a second that designated camping sites are safe to go wandering around freely. Wild animals can’t read the sign that demarcates the campsite and are likely to wander through both day and night which is what makes these spots so special. Make sure you look around constantly and be aware of what’s around you. At night make sure you have a sufficient flashlight and extra batteries so that you can check what’s around you before moving very far from the vehicle which I really wouldn’t recommend doing unless you’re on your way to the toilet. Having a campfire at night helps let the animals know that you are there and will likely curb their curiosity and keep away from you.
Lastly, be a respect camper. There is nothing worse than arriving at a campsite to find garbage or a mess left behind by previous campers. Make use of garbage bins that are provided and if you can’t find one, pack out your garbage. Take only pictures and leave only footprints is the best motto to live by. When camping near other people, be respectful of their space and control your noise levels. It will be much appreciated and respected by others as no one enjoys rude people.
So start dusting off your tent, get your equipment and supplies together, pack the car and get out and have some fun!