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Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park

'Uganda's largest national park – an irresistible marvel'

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls national park is the biggest national park in Uganda. It is located in Northwestern Uganda on a 3,893 sqkm of Savannah grassland, riverine forest, woodland and wetland. The park is dissected by the Victoria Nile from east to west for distance of 115km. It established in 1952 and was originally called ‘Kabarega national park”.

Murchison falls National Park is famous for the 141ft Murchison falls that form on the Victoria Nile. These falls form by water squeezing into a 7m gorge before tumbling over a 141ft rock over the remnant rift valley wall. The falls are one of the major attractions in the park. The banks of the river are swarming with animals and birds. The Nile is also famous for harboring Nile crocodiles and hippos.

The conservation area under Murchison Falls National Park is quite huge. The park spreads inland from the shores of Lake Albert encompassing the Nile, Murchison falls, Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Rabongo, Kaniyo bapidi and Budongo forests, Kibiro Salt gardens, Karuma falls and Buligi area. This makes the park diverse with plenty of activities that you can do.

Game drives in this park are quite the highlight. They are usually done in the morning when tracks are still fresh through sausage trees and whistling acacia with an opportunity to see animals like; oribis, zebras, hippos, buffalos, lions, hartebeests, chimps, Uganda kobs, giraffes, elephants, leopards and waterbucks among others.

Murchison Falls National Park is without question a birding haven. The park harbors over 450 bird species inclusive of the rare ones. These birds can best be spotted in the Park’s forests. Some of the birds that you are likely to see include; the rare Shoe-billed stork, Dwarf Kingfisher, Goliath Heron, White-thighed hornbill and great blue turaco among other birds.,

 Location and how to get there:

Murchison Falls National Park is located in Northwestern Uganda in the districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo and Masindi. The Park is set on 3,893 square kilometers and is about 85km from Masindi town using the shortest route. The park is 305 km by road from Kampala city. This is about a 5 hour’s drive. The Park can also be accessed by air from Pakuba landing sites.

Attractions at Murchison Falls National Park:

  • The Nile:

River Nile is the longest River in Africa and has a record of hosting half of the world’s population of Nile crocodiles. You will be able to see a section of the Nile as it slices through Murchison Falls National Park on its course upstream. The most fascinating thing you can do while on the Nile is take a boat launch trip to observe the falls and water life at the banks of the river.

The boat launch covers two trips taking 3 hours each. The first trip starts at 9.00am and the second trip starts at 2.00pm.Enjoy a rich view of countless Nile crocodiles in the water. Another trip heads downstream from Paraa to the papyrus delta where the Nile pours into Lake Albert. This is great opportunity to meet the Nile hippopotamus spread out on the banks of the river.  The entire roundabout takes about 4 – 5 hours.

Expect to see plenty of wildlife while on a boat cruise on the Nile including Elephants, Buffalos, antelopes and other animals that come to quench their thirst. Birdlife includes; Shoe bill stork. From the base of the falls it’s only a 30 minute hike to the top of the falls.

Upon prior booking, tourists can engage in sport fishing on the Nile with a chance to catch huge Nile Perch. Boats can be hired also upon advance booking. However, one is reminded to carry their own fishing equipment. 

  • Murchison falls:

The majestic Murchison falls, formerly known as “Kabarega falls” are formed at the point where the Victoria Nile pushes through a 7m gorge before stumbling over a 141ft rock. The falls form a beautiful rainbow over a loud roar before water reaches the bottom. It then flows over several smaller rocks before forming a peaceful river headed upstream into Lake Albert in the western Rift Valley.

Murchison falls can be reached by car or 45 minute hike from Paraa. One can hike up to view the top of the falls after the boat launch on the Nile. The Falls are surrounded by lush riverine forest swarming with birdlife. Some birds that you might see include; Rock Pratincole, Veracious Dove, Long-toed Plover, Osprey, Long-tailed Nightjar, weaver birds, Blue-headed Coucal and Standard-winged Nightjar among other birds.

  • Chimpanzee tracking:

Chimpanzee trekking in Murchison Falls National Park is mainly done in Budongo Forest that covers over 793sq km of forest with a touch of Savannah grassland.. Budongo Forest together with Rabongo and Kaniyo Pabidi forests have a population of 600 chimpanzees. Budongo Forest is the largest Mahogany forest in East Africa.  It has over 360 bird species, 24 mammal species, and 450 tree species.

Chimpanzee trekking in Murchison Falls National park can last from 30 minutes to an entire day. The activity commences at 7.00am where tourists gather at Kaniyo Pabidi eco cite for briefing and preparations. There are mainly 6 chimpanzee groups so the length of your trekking safari will depend on how quickly you find the chimps.  The Chimpanzee trekking permits are issues at Uganda Wildlife offices and a maximum of 16 permits per day and they cost $85 per person. However, these prices tend to shift depending on the season.

The best time to trek chimpanzees is in October when the grass is short and the fruits are ripening.  Chimpanzee trekking is done usually in the mornings and afternoons.  The forest is also crawling with other primates like; Olive baboons, white and black Colobus monkeys, red-tailed and blue monkeys among others. This thrilling activity can also be done moderately in Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo forests.

  • Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary:

The Ziwa Rhino sanctuary covers around 70 square kilometers and is Uganda’s wild endangered Rhino’s conservation unit. It is located in Nakasongola district about 180km from Kampala by road.  It was established in 2005 after Uganda had purchased some Rhinos. These had gone extinct in 1983 following massive wars and poaching. While here, you can track Rhinos on foot and also see other animals. The sanctuary has about 19 animals, antelopes, crocodiles, hippos and monkeys among other animals.

A skilled ranger guides you while you track Rhinos on foot, get about 6 – 7m close to them and watch as they feed. You could also take some pictures to take as memories with you.  The sanctuary also offers a great birding experience as you can easily spot the Blue spotted dove, the Shoebill stork, Abdim’s stork and African black crake among other birds.

  • Birding:

Murchison Falls National Park is among Uganda’s best birding sites. The park has about 451 bird species with uncommon birds like the Gray crowned crane and Giant Kingfisher. The park has a diversity of bird species like Albertine rift endemics, water birds and savannah birds. The best spots where birding is at its best are the savannah grasslands, along the Nile and on the delta.

Some of the birds that you are most likely to see include the blue napped mouse birds, silver birds, weavers, nightjars, shoebill, Gray crowned cranes, Goliath herons, black headed lapwings, Giant Heron, African Darter, Abyssinian ground Hornbill, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Marabou stork and black-bellied Bustard among other birds.

  • Rabongo and Kaniyo Pabidi forests:

Nature walks in these Kaniyo Pabidi forest are perfect for Chimpanzee tracking. The trails are always fresh and stretch for as far as 8km starting at kichumbar gate. The forest is also considered Uganda’s largest remaining mahogany and iron wood trees.

The forest is also a great spot for bird lovers since it hosts about 360 species including uncommon ones like the yellow-footed flycatcher, white thi hornbill, Ituri batis and chocolate backed kingfishers.

Rabongo forest provides immense nature walks with a great chance at primate trekking.  The forest is rich in Vervet monkeys, black and white Colobus monkeys, baboons and red tailed monkeys. Rabongo forest is only a 1 hour and 30 minutes drive from Paraa. There is usually a campsite with fire and water in the forest.

Birding can be done all throughout the year. However during the wet season especially in the month of October, the rains make roads muddy and slippery making hiking and nature walks almost impossible. Birders are encouraged to carry a pair of binoculars, plenty of drinking water, a pointer and a birder’s guide book.

  • Buligi area:

The Buligi area is located between the Victoria and Albert Niles with a large stretch of savannah grassland. It provides great views across the western rift valley to the Congo plains over Lake Albert. It takes about 3- 4hours driving from Paraa through the Delta point to reach the Buligi area. The best time to visit this area is early morning and late afternoon. While visiting this area, having a ranger guide is recommended.

  • Flora and fauna

Murchison Falls National Park is covered in woodland, soggy wetland, lush savannah and tropical forest. Hiding behind this intriguing vegetation is rich wildlife of about 76 mammal species. These include; Hippopotamus, Rothschild’s giraffe, warthogs, Cape buffalos, Uganda kobs, hartebeest and elephants.

  • Budongo forest:

Budongo forest is part of Murchison Falls National Park. It covers an area of about 793 square kilometers. It is the largest Mahogany forest in East Africa. It has about 359 bird species, 465 tree species, 24 mammal species and 9 primate species. The forest is famous for Chimpanzee trekking since it has about 600 chimpanzees.

Apart from Chimpanzees some of the primates you will see include Olive monkeys, Vervet monkeys, black and white Colobus, red tailed monkeys, blue monkeys and baboons among others. The forest is endowed with 59 restricted range species of birds including; dwarf kingfisher, Goliath heron, white –thighed hornbill and great blue turaco.

  • Karuma falls:

The Karuma Falls are located on the eastern border of Murchison Falls National Park. The falls are located on the Victoria Nile and are just an hour’s drive from Gulu district in northwestern Uganda. The falls are made up of great rocks that cause the Victoria Nile to ripple causing great white foam over the water.

The falls are a perfect place to spot a variety of animals like Buffalos, Antelopes, Lions, Elephants, Leopards, Uganda Kobs, Hartebeest and giraffes. Primates like monkeys and baboons are also common. Birds like the Secretary bird, the Red-throated bee-eater, Senegal thick-knee, African Jacana, Red winged Grey Warbler and Denham’s Bustard among other birds can be spotted.

The Karuma Falls form right under the Karuma Bridge that connects Gulu district to Masindi. The Karuma power station is located on the Karuma falls of Murchison Falls National Park. The power plant produces around 750 Megawatts of hydropower and was developed to boost the country’s hydroelectricity production. This area was once a hideout for the LRA rebel group but fortunately, those days are behind the spectacular falls.

  • Hiking and Nature walks:

Murchison Falls National Park is blessed with fascinating sceneries and vast landscapes. Hiking and taking nature walks is one of the best experiences in the park with endless opportunities to see wildlife through sausage trees and whistling acacia.

The first trail is the one that leads to the top of Murchison falls in Murchison Falls national park. This starts at the base of the falls through riverine forest as you watch rolling hills and wildlife. The hike usually takes 45 minutes and the best route to observe the Victoria Nile as it pushes through a gorge falling over rocks to form the Murchison falls. The thunderous roar of the water will send a thrill down your spine.

The next trail would be the Kaniyo Pabidi nature forest trail. The Kaniyo Pabidi is part of Budongo Forest and is perfect for nature walks. The trail takes you through big ironwood and Mahogany trees spotting Chimpanzees and beautiful birds like Hornbills and Chocolate backed Kingfishers among other birds.

Equally enchanting is the Rabongo forest trail.  This forest is almost 1 hour and 30 minutes from Paraa.  The forest is covered in Savannah grasslands with good cottages and a campsite. Rabongo forest is famous for its primates like the Vervet monkeys, black and white Colobus, baboons and chimpanzees among others.  

The last famous trail is the Nile delta trail. This nature walk takes you through the soggy swamp for 2 – 4 hours. When the water table is low, the wildlife viewing is at its best. It is the perfect place to see the rare Shoebill stork. The vegetation and general ecosystem on this trail is to die for.

  • Cultural encounter:

While meeting local communities can be fun, the Boomu cultural experience at Murchison Falls National Park is one that is bound to stand out. The word “Boomu” is translated to mean “together” and the cultural experience is handled by the Boomu Women’s Group in Kigaragara village. This group was formed in 1999 in an attempt to reduce malnutrition, poverty levels and enable children to go to school.

The locals participate in a lot of activities that you will find appealing. Despite its name, the group also welcomes male work force. While at Murchison falls National Park, you will be able to see; how the locals mix herbal medicine, craft making, cooking local dishes, cultivation, local music and dance. You will be intrigued to find that the community lives a typical African setting life without relying so much on modern means. You can buy some artifacts s souvenirs.

The locals do not have running water, hydro or solar lighting and cook using locally made stoves. The food is harvested right from their gardens and prepared immediately. They even eat the food using their bare hands. You can enjoy an open air shower with warm or cold water. The community also provides accommodations in traditional bandas covered in flowers, shrubs and trees. There is a campfire lit at night for relaxation and storytelling.

  • Fishing:

Murchison Falls National Park is famous among tourists for having some of the best sport fishing sites. Owing to the rich Nile waters, tourists have the opportunity to catch some fish and also have fun doing it. The Nile has a diversity of water life from animals to reptiles and fish. Sport fishing, however can only be done upon prior booking and one has to carry their own gear. Fishing boats are available for hire.

Some of the fish you are likely to catch are; the Nile Perch, cat fish and Tiger fish. The biggest fish recorded that was caught was a 113kg Nile Perch. Fishing at Murchison Falls National Park is mainly done at the Victoria Nile along rocky ground, at the bottom of the falls in the devil’s cauldron and at the river banks. However, you ought to take caution of Nile crocodiles and hippos while at the river banks.

The fishing spots can either be accessed by boat or take a 45 minute walk on a slope from the top of the falls to the gorge. Fishing can be done at any time of year since the fish is always available. However, from mid-January to early-April Fishing is at its best since the water level is low and the waters are clearer. The best time to fish is early morning and late afternoon.   

Fishing isn’t the only thing you will do while you go Sport fishing. You will also enjoy seeing plenty of wildlife like Crocodiles, hippos, Elephants and Waterbucks among others. These love to roam about the river banks looking for water. Seeking help from skilled fishing guide from Murchison Falls National Park is recommended incase one is not an expert at fishing.

  • Hot Air Balloon safari:

Hot Air Balloon safaris in Uganda can only be done at Murchison Falls National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. As such, this rare yet amazing activity is one to tryout when you visit the park. The Balloon safaris are handled by the Dream balloons registered and certified by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority in 2011 and Egyptian Aviation Authority. The balloons currently carry only 8 passengers and children bellow 6 are excluded.

The balloons soar 10,000ft in the air and take off from near Paraa lodge early in the morni9ng. The passengers are briefed about the safety precautions and rules and regulations before boarding the balloon. While high up in the air, you will be able to enjoy a marvelous view of wildlife and lush vegetation. You can also get a better view of the Victoria Nile and Lake Albert.

After your trip, you are handed certificates and a bush breakfast plus champagne to celebrate. After all this you can continue with other morning activities. An evening trip is also available starting from 4 without meals and celebrations. The Hot Air Balloon Safari costs $380 per person.

  • Game drives:

Murchison Falls National Park is home to about 76 mammal and 451 bird species. All this rich wildlife you can be able to see while on a game drive in the park. Some of the animals you can expect to see include; Buffaloes, Jackson hartebeests, Antelopes, Lions, Kobs, Giraffes, Hyenas, Bushbucks and Warthogs among other animals.

The best place for a game drive is in the Northern part of the forest which is swarming with wildlife. The southern part has fewer antelope herds and lesser wildlife in general. You can easily spot the big 4 in the northern part of the park with exception of Rhinos since they are conserved in the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

The main game driving tracks in the Park are; Albert, Victoria and Buligi tracks. The Buligi track is 7km long north of Paraa. It is one of the most commonly used tracks. The Nyamsika gorge is harbors plenty of water animals with Lions and Buffaloes concentrated on the cliffs. The Egyptian clover and bee-eaters are also common in these parts.

Game drives in Murchison Falls National Park are done in the morning and evening. The best time to see wildlife is 6.30am.  The evening game drive starts at 4.00pm and lasts for 3-4 hours. A round thorough game drive in the Park would take around 5 hours. Game drives are best done in a 4*4 vehicle since some areas have rough terrain.

  • Kibiro Salt Gardens:

Kibiro salt Gardens are located at the base of the Western Rift Valley on the southeastern shores of Lake Albert. The major economic activities in the area are fishing and salt trading. The salt gardens also have a hot spring located on the shores in Kigorobyo sub-county. The hot springs are an hour’s drive from Hoima town. The salt gardens can be accessed by boat from Lake Albert, by foot, by hiking from the base of the escarpment or using a 4*4 vehicle since the area has rough terrain.

The land in the salt gardens is under Bunyoro Kingdom and thus, they are the biggest consumers of the salt. You will see locals, mostly women, selling salt as you make your way to the Kibiro Salt Gardens. The salt production and trading is mostly done by women in this area. The water in the hot springs boils at 100◦C and sometimes proves fatal to animals. The hot springs form a stream flowing westward into Lake Albert.

Salt Mining and processing in these salt gardens of Murchison Falls National Park is done using traditional ways. For example one would pour dry soil on the salty water. This will eventually cause the water to drain and dry up leaving behind salt crystals that can be picked up more easily. The salt is then placed in a big filter over a container. Water is then poured over it to wash out the soil.

The last step is burning the salt solution to give off any impurities left therein. The final product would be salt crystals which later turn into big cones. You are advised to carry enough drinking water and snacks.

Where to stay:

  • Paraa safari lodge:

This is an up market lodge located within Murchison Falls National Park. The lodge has 54 rooms with en suite bathrooms. Some rooms have a terrace or balcony where you have a great view of the Nile and some are fitted with a kitchenette. Meals are prepared at the onsite restaurant and the lodge provides free wifi as well. There is also a well stocked bar and a rental car service.

  • Red Chili rest camp:

This is both a budget and mid-range accommodation site located at the heart of Murchison Falls National Park. The camp is just 500m from the delta overlooking the point where water vessels take off. There are furnished safari tents and bandas with modern showers, toilets, cooking area and security lighting. There is a well stocked bar & restaurant with vegan meals under an open thatched roof overlooking the Nile.

  • Sambiya river lodge:

This is an up market lodge located in Masindi district near Murchison Falls National Park. It is just 15 minutes away from the falls. The park provides beautiful accommodations with private bathrooms, showers and free toiletries. There is an outdoor pool, a restaurant that serves a full English / Irish breakfast, and free wifi. The lodge also provides an airport shuttle at an extra fee.

  • Chobe safari lodge:

This is located near Murchison Falls National Park. It has a well stocked restaurant and bar, outdoor pool, coffee shop a health club and free wifi. The lodge serves a full English breakfast with free bottled water. The rooms are well furnished with toiletries, have room service and balconies. There is a spa, terrace, barbeque grills and an airport shuttle.

  • Murchison River lodge:

It is set on the southern bank of the Nile overlooking Murchison Falls National Park and the falls. The lodge provides midrange yet comfortable accommodations. It has a restaurant, bar and lounge where you can sit and view the Nile and its hippos. There is a pool, homemade meals and free wifi.

  • Nile safari lodge:

This lodge is located on the southern bank of the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park. It is surrounded by papyrus forest and wilderness. The accommodations at the lodge are eco- friendly, with wooden chalets and tents. Nile safari lodge provides a good view of the park and the Nile.

Best time to visit and what to pack:

Murchison Falls National Park can be visited all year round, however the dry season is particularly good since grass is shorter hence better view of wildlife even from a distance. Game drives are done in the morning and afternoon when the tracks are still fresh. During December, the park is busy and the prices are high. Prices are lower, however, during the low seasons.

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