Camping in Uganda

Camping in Uganda

Getting out and exploring Uganda is one of the greatest things about living in this country. The chaos and bustle of Kampala quickly fades away to lush scenery and slower, relaxed pace of life. For those looking to experience the most on a budget, Uganda’s National Parks offers one of the cheapest and easiest ways to connect with nature. It’s not for the faint of heart, but bush camping can leave you with memories that last a lifetime.

Now understandably, setting up a flimsy nylon tent in a national park full of the world’s greatest predators might seem like a ridiculous idea at best. Yet, there are some basics about bush camping that may soothe your nerves. The first is that you must imagine what a tent looks like for an animal. Like a rock or tree, a tent is simply a structure. And just as elephants don’t go ramming into the sides of rocks and hyenas don’t just walk through trees, it is highly unlikely that an animal will test the structural integrity of your tent.

“If you stay in the tent, you will be fine,” Roger, a UWA guide in Kidepo National Park, tells us. “Getting out in the middle of the night when there are animals passing? You must use caution. But the tent is safe”. Roger and his fellow UWA guides have spent thousands of nights relying on this method for their own safety. While many rangers are supplied with proper bandas or housing while living in a national park, they spend many nights out in the park, either patrolling for poachers (far more dangerous than any animal in the African bush), or spending the night with park visitors, who, depending on the park, will be supplied with an armed ranger for the night.

The other component that makes bush camping safe? Fire. Animals are instinctively afraid of fire. From hippos to lions, they know it means destruction and death and will avoid it. Set up camp during the day and arrange the fire pit so it is ready to go by nightfall. In most parks, UWA guides will come around and light it for you, but of course, you are welcome to create your own.

So, now you’re sitting in the park and night has fallen. You have your tent, your fire, and now what? What if an animal approaches? First, one has to remember this is not a zoo. You are on another animal’s territory, and you probably will see, or at least hear, something. Again, we refer to another UWA guide, Dennis, for his expertise. “If a lion approaches you, or a buffalo or anything,” Dennis says, “the worst thing you can do is run. You will look like prey. If you see something, be calm and back away slowly. Seek shelter in your car or another closed structure.”

One camper we spoke with ran into both lions and leopards when camping on Queen Elizabeth’s Mweya Peninsula. “I just stayed sitting by the fire.” he says, “There were two male lions in heat and they were chasing around a female. Their roars do shake you to the core. The sound carries so well and it’s hard to tell where they are. Then I would just see one, strolling just out of the firelight. I stayed put next to the fire and watched. It was better than any game drive I’ve ever been on, and after that night, I wouldn’t spend the night in a lodge if you paid me.”

“You keep any food out of the tent, and you close your tent well”, offered another experienced camper. “Most attacks take place when either the flaps are left open (hyenas are curious and will investigate an open tent) or there is food in the tent. If it’s just you and your sleeping bag, animals will be bored at best. Humans generally don’t provide the same fatty meal as, say, a Zebra or a Cob. You are seen as slightly pointless to eat.”

Still not convinced? There is one tiny bit of information that might comfort you: while locals and tourists alike have occasionally been killed by a lone buffalo attack or hippo encounter, no tourist has ever been attacked and killed by a predator while camping in Uganda.

Yet, there is such a focus on safety that we often forget about what you can gain from camping. You sleep under a blanket of stars so bright and clear, you can see the cosmic dust glowing between the galaxies. There is the thrill of watching the sunset over some of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth. And there is the fun of sitting around a campfire (roasting marshmallows!) and sharing stories with UWA rangers about their experiences while living in a national park.

Hearing a lion roar in the distance will give you a true understanding of what it means to be immersed in nature. The other bonus of camping? You get the jump on morning game drives and often get to tour the park alone. This gives you the best opportunity to spot lions, hyenas, leopards and various other wildlife before they seek refuge from the myriad of 4WD vehicles that will head their way. Camping costs will vary by location but rarely exceed 15,000 UGX a night. If you are at a campsite that requires an armed guard, the cost for the guard’s time (they will spend the night at the campsite with you) is around 100,000 UGX.

The African bush might seem like a harsh and unforgiving place to set up camp, yet most people who try it a few times refuse to stay any other way. It’s a way to connect with some of the most exquisite landscapes on Earth and for nature lovers, it can feel like paradise. With a little bit of caution, and a healthy respect for your surroundings, it can be a safe and inexpensive way to enjoy the experience of a lifetime.


About Lizabeth Paulat

Hi, I’m Lizabeth, a freelance writer whose been stomping around Kampala for the better part of two years. I came here while pursuing a story and decided never to leave. I’m originally from Seattle and have found refuge in both the sun and the culture of Kampalans (plus I still get the rain when I’m feeling homesick).I’m always trying to unearth new and interesting stories about Kampala’s culture and development and am so exited to have an amazing platform to explore the city with. I hope to bring a bit of know-how and a bit of fun to Living in Kampala. Feel free to contact me any time at