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Semuliki National Park

Semuliki National Park

‘The only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa’

Semuliki National Park:

Semuliki National Park covers an impressive area of 220square km in Bundibugyo district in western Uganda. The park crawls on the Semuliki valley on the western side of the Rwenzori Mountains. It lies along the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, the Rwenzori mountains to the southeast and Lake Albert to the North. After being upgraded to National Park status in 1993, Semuliki National Park remains one of the newest national parks in Uganda.

Standing at an altitude of 670m – 760m, Semuliki National Park literally lies on the albertine rift of the western arm of the rift valley. This means, consequentially, that many areas of the park may flood during the rainy seasons to a point that there was a time in history when the park sank to the bottom of a lake for millions of years. This unique location however has made it the only lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa.

Semuliki National Park is dominated by an extension of the eastern Congo basin’s Ituri forest. This forest is one of Africa’s oldest forests including Bwindi Impenetrable forest that are believed to have survived the last ice age of about 12 – 18,000 years ago. This alone has boosted the park’s bio diversity especially in the area of vegetation. The eco system in this park is so diverse that you will find a touch of East African flora and fauna, remnants of wildlife from central Africa and a spread of western African flora species.

There are about 441 bird species that have been recorded in Semuliki National Park. These species vary between East, Western and Central African. Some are more common than others. While in the park, some of the birds you might see include; Lyre tailed honey guide, Oberlander’s ground thrush, Long tailed Hawk, African Piculet, Bate’s Nightjar, Sassi’s Olive greenbul and about nine Hornbill species among other birds.

Semuliki National Park is home to over 60 mammal species that you are most likely to see during a game drive in the park. The animals that you might see include; African buffalo, Leopard, Hippos, Mona Monkeys, water chevrotain, bush baby, African civet, African Elephant, Olive Baboon, Bush Pig, Dwarf Antelope, Sitatunga,  pygmy scaly tailed flying squirrel and nine duiker species like the bay duiker among other animals.

Apart from the famous rift valley, Semuliki National Park is endowed with quite a number of eye catching physical features including the Semliki and Lamia rivers. These rivers are the major water points for wildlife. Yu would spot a huge number of animals during the dry season around these rivers since animals move looking for water. There are also some two hot springs in the park that get hot enough, apparently, to boil an egg. These hot springs are an attraction to birds and some animals that enjoy the salt lick found here.

Semuliki National Park is a small pleasure gate-away portal with various fun activities to undertake. While at the park, one can engage in a game drive to track down animals, go bird watching, go hiking or have a nature walk in the natural tropical rain forest of the park. You can also visit the beautiful hot springs in the hot mineral encrusted swamp. With all these attractions and activities, Semuliki National Park is definitely one of the top destinations in Uganda.

Location and how to get there:

Semuliki National Park is located in Bwama county, Bundibugyo district in western Uganda. The park lies in the Semliki valley at 670 – 760 m on the floor of the western Albertine rift valley in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains. It borders the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, the Rwenzori Mountains to the south east and Lake Albert to the North. The Semliki and Lamia rivers border the park and are the major sources of water for the animals in the park.

Semuliki National Park can be accessed by road along the Kampala – Mubende – Fort Portal – Bundibugyo road. This is a 4 – 5 hour’s drive and it is often the shorter route. . The park is just 52km from Fort Portal however one would need a 4*4 vehicle since the terrain can be rough in these parts. Alternatively, you can use the Kampala – Masaka – Mbarara – Kasese – Fort Portal road which is about 510km long. You will drive 7 – 8 hours on this road.

Attractions in Semuliki National Park:

  • Birding:

Semuliki National Park is an entire birding planet on its own. When you visit this park, you are bound to receive quite the birding experience. The park is home to over 441 bird species and most of these birds are found along the Sempaya and Ntandi trail, the Kiruma River trail and the shores of Lake Albert.  Some birds can be spotted while on forest walks.

You are most likely to see the White – crested Hornbill, Yellow throated Nicator, Great blue Turaco, Red rumped Tinkerbird, African Piculet, White throated Blue Swallow, Lemon bellied Crombec, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Brown crowned Eremomela, Grant’s Bluebill, Red eyed Puff back, red bellied Malimbes, Chestnut flanked Goshawk, western Bronze napped Pigeon, Forest Francolin and the rare Shoe bill stork which is a regular along Lake Albert shores.

Night birding safaris are also available in Semuliki National Park. This is especially done around the hot springs at Sempaya. Nocturnal birding completes the whole bird watching safari as you get the chance to see birds that you have rather not have seen during the day. The cliffs around the ranger station are perfect birding sites as well as the rain forest around Sempaya.

Some nocturnal birds that you are very likely to see include; Crepuscular Freckled Nightjar, Black shouldered Nightjars, Nkulengu Rail, Buff spotted Flufftail, African wood Owl, African Goshawk, Red thighed sparrows, Ayres Hawk Eagle, Great Sparrows and Cassin’s Spinetail among other birds. Along the boundary tail, you can hear the crested Guinea fowl and White spotted Flufftail hoot behind the shrubs.

  • Game drives:

Semuliki National Park is home to over 60 mammal species. This rich diversity of wildlife can be seen while on a game drive through the park. Game drives are usually done along three major tracks along the elusive savannah grasslands through the park to the Toro Semliki wildlife reserve. You can undertake this fun activity early in the morning when animal tracks are still fresh or late in the afternoon.

Some of the animals that you are likely to see include; Uganda Kobs, Waterbucks, Warthogs, Buffalos, Olive Baboons, Bush Pigs, Dwarf Antelope, Sitatunga, Elephants, Blue Monkeys, Vervet Monkeys, Grey cheeked Mangabey, Colobus monkeys, Duikers, Chimpanzees, water Chevrotain Zenker’s flying mouse among other animals.  Water animals like Hippos and Crocodiles are also available.

Night game drives can also be done in the park after dark. Night game drives are totally safe and are done using powerful torches in the company of a trained game ranger. It is the perfect time to see nocturnal animals that are otherwise impossible to see during the day. These include; bush babys, Pottos, Galagos, and White tailed Mongoose. Occasionally Leopards are also spotted.

  • Hot springs:

Semuliki National Park is endowed by natural hot springs that create beautiful scenery in the park. The hot springs have been dubbed the “female” and “male” hot springs. To access them, you would have to hike through the forest which is filled with primates.

The first trail is an hour long through thick forest and leads to the outer or male springs. Enroute, you can easily spot red tailed monkeys, grey cheeked Mangabeys, and black and white Colobus monkeys among others. There is a tree house on this trail where you can enjoy a beautiful elevated view of the springs and the park.

The second trail leads through a fascinating palm dotted part of the forest on a 30 minutes hike off the main road to the “female” hot spring. This inner hot spring is dominated by a boiling geyser. The water in this hot spring usually goes up to 100 degrees Celsius. Hikers can boil eggs and plantain in this water and after enjoy the fully boiled snacks.

  • Sempaya – Ntandi road:

The sempaya – Ntandi road of Semuliki National Park sprawls a 6k stretch of public road through patch of forest. You can undertake plenty of activities in this section. For example, while birding you can see some Great Blue Turaco, African Piculet and Yellow throated Nicator among other birds. There are also plenty of monkeys like the red tailed monkeys, vervet monkeys and Black and white Colobus that you can see in the forest.

You can also go hiking or undertake a natural walk deep into the forest in this section. You may encounter native traditional dancers organizing dance performances for tourists in Ntandi. These performances are meant for your enjoyment. The Mungiro falls located just near the hot springs of the park are also a huge attraction to tourists in this section.

  • Cultural encounters:

The batwa community is found just outside Semuliki National Park. The batwa people originally lived in the Semuliki forest and mainly relied on hunting and gathering wild fruit for their survival. They were a pretty traditional community who used herbs and other elements of the forest to cure diseases. They even used tools made from wood and also put up shelter using natural resources from the forest.

Today, the batwa people with the help of the Uganda Wildlife Authority have come up with better ways to improve their livelihood. Not only have they retreated from the Semuliki forest, they have also undertaken life adjustments that do not harm the forest or its wildlife. They put up performances for tourists displaying their rich culture through dance and music. They also make handcrafts that they sell to tourists. Proceeds from these activities are aimed at improving their lives even further.

  • Semliki River:

The Semliki River, from which the park gets its name, is a 160km long stretch of fresh water running from the Rwenzori Mountains through Lake Albert to the River Nile. River Semliki is surrounded by riverine forest and muddy pools that attract hippos and crocodiles. It joins the congo River basin after meandering across the rift valley floor.

The roadside provides beautiful views of the river, the rift valley floor and also offers spectacular birding views. The banks of the Semuliki River are flooding with beautiful birds like the Grant’s Bluebill, Red eyed puff back, Chestnut flanked Goshawk, Maxwell’s black weaver and Forest Francolin among other birds.

  • Hiking and Nature walks:

Among the many fun activities that you can undertake in Semuliki National Park, Hiking and nature walks is one of the most intriguing one. This activity follows numerous trails in the park with equal possibilities of spotting a large number of birds and animals.

The Kirumia trail is 13km long and leads through the heart of the Semuliki forest to the Semliki River. The trip takes 8 hours on a typical round hike starting at 8.00am early in the morning. This trail is perfect for bird lovers as the Semuliki River banks are particularly swarming with bird life.

The Red Monkey Track leads through the eastern border of the park. This area is famous for its numerous numbers of the rare deBrazza’s monkeys. The trail is 11km long through dense bush to the Semliki River. You will see plenty of primates including the Vervet monkeys on this trail along with hippos at Semliki River.

The last major trail is the Sempaya Nature trial. It follows the Sempaya – Ntandi road through deep forest to the hot springs. This section is perfect for spotting primates like red tailed monkeys, White and black Colobus, and vervet monkeys among others. The hike to the hot springs can be done in the morning and afternoon for 2 – 4 hours. The patch of forest around the hot springs is home to various bird species.

  • Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve:

The Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve is Uganda’s oldest reserve located just outside Semliki National Park. The reserve is dominated by tropical rainforest dotted by wild savannah grassland. The flat plains of the reserve are made of deep river valleys. The reserve is greatly diversified in wildlife as it has central African forest mammals and Key East African species.

Animals you are most likely to see in this reserve include; Chimpanzees, Vervet onkeys, Leopards, Elephants, Warthogs, Bush Pigs, Statungas, Buffalos, Bush baby, Pottos, Red tailed monkeys, grey cheeked Mangabeys, Duikers and Uganda kobs among other animals. Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve is also home to a variety of bird species that any bird lover will surely enjoy viewing.

Where to stay:

  • Semuliki Safari Lodge:

Semuliki safari lodge is a luxury accommodation located in the semuliki valley within the western rift valley. There are large canvas tents with permanent thatched roofs with ensuite bathrooms, running water and private verandas. The facility is made out of natural materials yet comfortable. The meals are high standard with breakfast in your room including muffins with tea or coffee.  The lodge has a swimming pool overlooking the Blue Mountains of Congo.

  • Tooro Resort:

This lodge is a midrange accommodation facility located about 4km away from Fort Portal town. The resort is surrounded by lush green lawns against the Rwenzori Mountains in the background. The guest rooms and cottages are fitted with intercom, satellite television, hot and cold baths and room service.  There is private and public parking on the premises with a wide conference hall and 24 hour armed security guards.

  • Fort Motel:

This is a mid range accommodation facility with spacious well furnished guest rooms fitted with Telephones, wifi, satellite television, mini bar and Laundry services. There is a swimming pool on the premises as well as a spa, sauna, steam bath and indoor games. The meals are prepared by an in house Chef with a diversity of cuisines. Enjoy the view of the Rwenzori Mountain from the comfort of the pool side.

  • Rwenzori Travelers Inn:

This is a mid range accommodation facility that attracts both business and leisure travelers from all over. The Inn is located in Fort Portal close enough to transport and economic activities.   There is parking space on the premises, a bar, restaurant, walk through mall, wifi, conference hall and wedding reception venues. The swimming pool is well maintained so you can relax after your long day of safari.

  • Mountains of the Moon Hotel:

This hotel is located 1.5km from Fort Portal on beautiful gardens overlooking the Rwenzori Mountains. There is a swimming pool on the premises along with a bar, steam bath, fitness center, a restaurant, well furnished conference hall and spa. The rooms are furnished with oriental and French fittings with a private balcony. The hotel also offers wifi, money exchange services, luggage storage services and enough parking spaces.

  • National Park Bandas and Campsites:

This is a self catering campsite with bandas located alongside the Bundibugyo road. You can prepare your own food in the kitchen building or carry your own provisions and hire the camp staff to cook for you. You are advised to carry insect repellants, long sleeved shirts and trousers.

Best time to visit Semuliki National Park:

The park has relatively good weather all year round however; the best time to visit the park would be in the drier months of June – September and December – early February. During this time, animals are concentrated around water sources in a bid to quench their thirst and cool off from the hot sunshine. This makes them easy to locate and view.

During the wet season, some roads may become muddy and slippery thus hindering transport and access to some areas. Also, animals move to higher grounds to find drier places and this makes them a bit harder to track down. In the wet season, pastures are long and the vegetation is wild making vision over the horizon harder.

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