The festive season is here and both domestic and international tourists are looking for special getaways.
Uganda is gifted with a variety of natural resources such as lakes, rivers and mountains as well as wildlife diversity including more than 1,070 species of birds, the Big Five animals, Great Apes, and butterflies found in the 10 National Parks and 12 games reserves managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Accommodation is a vital component for tourists visiting the scenic national parks. Majority of Ugandan travellers opt for shoestring and budget accommodation which is affordable, convenient and decent.
UWA grants concessions to private companies and investors to set up and manage facilities. “Investors operate luxury and midrange lodges in the parks, whereas UWA provides the accommodation facilities for a budget tourist,” says Stephen Sanyi Masaba, Director Tourism and Business Services.
Out of the 10 parks, UWA runs accommodation facilities in six national parks; Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Kidepo Valley, Semliki, Mount Elgon, Murchison Falls and Kibale Forest National Park, targeting budget tourists.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth national park is Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. With diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savannah and sparkling lakes, tourists find it an ideal habitat for the classic big game, 10 primate species, and over 600 species of birds.
UWA has 255 beds in both self-contained and non-self-contained rooms; among these 65 are in cottages, 30 are in both guest houses and hostel blocks, 28 beds are available in self-catering guest houses and 48 are found in the student centre.
“We have a new hostel designed to accommodate 70 people. It is due to be opened in January,” says Masaba.
In the southern sector of the park, which is made up of mainly open wooded grasslands and famous for the tree climbing lions, are two bandas for four persons, two campsites that hold 40 visitors and the Mweya campsite that hosts at most 40 persons. According to the UWA conservation tariff January 2016 -December 2017, the dormitory rate is Shs20,000 and Shs3,500 for adults and students respectively.
Alternative private budget and shoestring accommodation facilities can be found outside the national park.
“The UWA accommodation is well placed in the park with good restaurant service,” says James Wanduse, a tour guide.
He emphasises variations in budget prices between international and local visitors citing the average minimum budget rate for internationals a+s $30 (Shs108,000).
Lake Mburo National Park
Escape to Lake Mburo National park which boasts of a wide range of birds estimated to be over 330 species, giraffes and zebras.
Dubbed the Whispers of the wild, at Rwonyo Rest Camp, UWA manages six tents which accommodate 12 persons and four bandas with eight beds. The bandas cost Shs35,000 and Shs40, 000 for single and double rooms respectively, while tents are charged Shs30, 000 and Shs40, 000 for single and double respectively.
“The banda and student centres need to be renovated despite the affordable rates,” proposes Damiane Datireho of Mbarara Tourism Information Centre.
Kidepo Valley National Park
With two unique campsites that provide shelter up to 50 people, a guesthouse that lodges 10 guests and 21 bandas that house 42 persons, the wildlife authority offers a reason for one to explore the trails of Kidepo Valley National Park. Visitors in the bandas, however, decry the insufficient services at the restaurant. However, Kidepo Savannah lodge, a budget facility with restaurant services, has been opened. The park is suitable for game drives, bird watching and scenic hikes and cultural tours. The self-contained bandas cost Shs60, 000 and Shs70,000 for single and double rooms respectively, whereas the charge for non-self-contained bandas is Shs40,000 and Shs50,000 for single and double rooms respectively.
Semliki Valley National Park
At Semliki Valley National Park popularly known as the birders’ haven with more than 440 species of birds, there are fewer accomodation options. UWA operates five bandas that accommodate nine persons and a campsite that is designed for 12 people, hence a total of 21. Banda rates range from Shs40,000 to Shs82,000 depending on whether it is self-contained or not.
The private budget option is Ntoroko game lodge in the Semliki game reserve at the farthest end of Ntoroko.
Murchison Falls National Park
Unlike other parks, Murchison Falls National Park(MFNP) has only one government owned facility, the student centre. Accommodation in the largest park consists of 60 beds in the student centre, which is reportedly old and in need of a revamp.
Amid the challenges, the Tourism Warden MFNP Agnes Nakidde says the future of budget accommodation in the park is bright. “We have already identified a site where plans are underway to construct bandas for budget tourists”, she explains. The dormitory cost per bed is Shs20,000 for adults and Shs3,500 for students.
Mt Elgon National Park
UWA has a total of 78 beds in Mount Elgon National Park; Kapkwai has a dormitory that shelters 40 persons and three cottages that house five people; Kapkwata boasts a guesthouse for seven visitors; Swam guesthouse has three houses with 14 beds; Pianupe wildlife reserve has four bandas designed to accommodate four guests and Moroto guesthouse has six rooms with eight beds. The Park is popular with hikers. Single rooms in this park cost Shs30,000, double Shs55,000, whereas the dormitory charge per bed is Shs20,000 for adults and Shs3,500 for students.
Kibale National Park
Kibale National Park situated south of Fort Portal has basic accommodation at Sebitoli camping ground on the northern end of the park; the UWA-run camp has three cottages with two double beds and seven single beds. “There are few visitors to Sebitoli. We are always at Kanyanchu or Fort Portal,” says Johnny Kamugisha, a tour operator.