Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s biggest national park perched in the Northwestern part of Uganda covering 4 districts namely; Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. It was gazetted as a national park in 1952 making it Uganda’s oldest National park. Idi Amin the former president of Uganda changed its name to Kabalega National Park and it was under the management of Uganda National Parks which later changed to the current Ugandan Wildlife Authority. Since 2005, the protected area is considered a Lion Conservation Unit.
The park is strategically located on the edge of the Albertine Rift Valley covering an area 344km2 and lying at an elevation of 619m and 1292m. It’s part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area which covers an area of 5308km2 consisting of Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, Karuma Wildlife Reserve.
Average annual rainfall received is 1085mm and the park’s vegetation consists of savannah grasslands, acacia woodland and riverine forests on the river banks
Murchison Falls National Park boasts about the world’s magnificent falls the “Murchison Falls” which are found in the center of the park. These falls are formed along the Victoria Nile which divides the park into parts; the south and northern section/bank. The northern bank has vast savannah plains that are rich in wild animals and birds. This is the best section for game viewing whereas the south is gifted with Uganda’s biggest forest known as Budongo. This is where most primates like chimpanzees, monkeys, baboons, bush babies call home, not forgetting the forest birds nest there
The park hosts a total of 76 different mammals and approximately 451 birds species are recorded this with no doubt makes it a birders haven for the birding tourists.
Murchison Falls National Park is the second most visited park in Uganda second to Queen Elizabeth National park. It is a visited all year round destination and can be visited at any time of the year. The best experiences are got during the dry months of the year. Apparently, Uganda has two dry seasons and two wet seasons. The driest begins in December and spans till February whereas the drier one begins in June till mid-September.
The park can be accessed using the road or Air transport. By road, it is approximately 305km from Kampala the capital city of Uganda to the park and approximately 72km from Masindi.
Approximately 367km from Kibale Forest National park in case you have interest in primates and Wildlife Tour which includes Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park which is famous for Gorilla Safaris.
By air: The park has 2 airstrips; Pakuba airstrip on the northern bank and Bugungu Airstrip on the southern bank. Chartered flights to the park are arranged by an aero link from Kajansi Airstrip or Entebbe International Airport.
Some of the park’s main tourist attractions include:
They are strategically located in the center of the park on the Victoria Nile which bisects the area plunging 45m over the remnant rift valley wall. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes, and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
The River Nile
The longest river in the world flows through Murchison Falls National Park as Victoria Nile dividing the park into 2 sections; south and north. A boat cruise along the Nile is breathtaking, nature walks along the banks rewards you with birds, elephants, waterbucks, and buffaloes. Sportfishing is also done along the Nile.
Murchison falls National Park boasts about 76 mammals recording the highest number of Nile crocodiles. It is home to the famous BIG FIVE animals except for the Rhino which is found at Zziwa Rhino Sanctuary where they are being re-introduced in Uganda after extinction during the 1980s. The Sanctuary is 2 hours’ drive to the park. The big five presents in Murchison Falls National Park include Lion, Leopard, Elephants, and Buffalo. Other animals include: Jackson’s hartebeest, bushbucks, Uganda Kob, Oribi, waterbucks, warthogs, crocodiles, hippos, giraffes Monitor lizards, Side Striped Jackals, Spotted Hyenas, warthogs, baboons, monkeys, duikers just to mention but a few
This is Uganda’s biggest surviving rain forest, it is one of the main attractions in the park which lies on the southern banks of the park. Budongo offers an extremely rich biodiversity including 24 species of small mammals, 465 species of plants,9 species of primates which includes more than 600 chimpanzees, the Black-and-White Colobus Monkeys, Olive Baboons, Red-tailed Monkeys, Blue Monkeys, and Grey-cheeked Mangabeys., 59 bird species, dwarf kingfisher, Goliath heron, white-thighed hornbill, and great blue turaco and 280 butterflies
As earlier noted, Murchison falls is home to 450 bird species ranking it a birders paradise. The birds range from savannah, Albertine, forest, water birds and migratory birds from Europe. The rare shoebill stork, blue napped mousebirds, silver birds, weavers, white-eyed seed eater, chestnut crowned sparrow weaver, rare shoebill, silver birds, chestnut napped moosebird, pel’s fishing owl, spotted Verreaux eagle owl, white-bellied night heron, long-toed plover just to mention but a few. Migratory birds from Europe are usually seen in February, April, and November.
TOURIST ACTIVITIES DONE IN MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
This is the most exciting activity done by tourists who visit Murchison Falls National Park. There are marked tracks where game viewing can be enjoyed while on a game. Buligi Tracks have plenty of wildlife like Elephants, giraffes, antelopes, buffaloes. At the Delta this is where there are great chances of seeing the Lions in wait for prey as they go to drink, there are also a number of birds like the rare shoebill stork, White-winged Swamp-warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, Greater Swamp-warbler and Northern Brown-throated Weaver. The game drives are divided into 3 sessions; Morning, evening and night. The morning game drive starts as early as 6 am so as to catch up with the early risers (predators) like lions, leopards, civets, and hyenas. The evening game drive will give you an opportunity to see elephants, warthogs, giraffes, monkeys, buffaloes, and antelopes as they feed in the savannah grasslands.
Explore the Nile on a morning (9 am) or an afternoon (2:00 pm) launch trip from Paraa to the bottom of the falls. On this 3 hours cruise, you will be able to view some wildlife on the river banks like elephants, waterbucks, buffaloes, crocodiles, hippopotamus, and water birds as you draw closer to the falls. A morning cruise is highly recommended to birders towards the delta. Enjoy a calm sundowner cruise as you sip on a cold drink, take some photos for memories with a spectacular sunset view reflected on the river. Recommended for birders is a morning cruise downstream to the Nile-Lake Albert Delta, providing the best chance in Africa of sighting the elusive Shoebill. This four- to five-hour return voyage also takes in a variety of other wildlife, including hippos, elephants and many birds.
Hiking to the top of the falls
After an afternoon launch trip to the bottom of the falls, you can also hike 45 minutes through woodland to the top of the magnificent Murchison Falls for a completely different experience of this magnificent waterfall. On reaching the top, you will be able to watch waves of white water through this 7-meter gorge, listen to the roar, splashing on your face as you look down to watch the rainbow created by the waters.
The Nature walks last 1 to 2 hours, done on the southern and northern sections of the park. The park is surrounded by beautiful sceneries and a variety of landscapes which can be explored on foot. There are designated trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds, while around the Nile Delta, 2-4 hour guided swamp walks offer possible Shoebill sightings. Birders and nature lovers can enjoy short treks starting from Sambiya River Lodge or Mubako Junction on the southern bank and a walk along the northern bank from Paraa to the student’ center.
The park is garnished with the different bird species that make up an unforgettable birding safari experience. The park’s main birding attraction is the rare Shoebill stork, best sighted in the dry season from January-March. The savannah birds can be seen while on a game drive, water birds and Albertine Rift endemics during boat cruise and the forest birds in Budongo Forest. The commonest species found in the plains include the Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, Open-billed Storks, and Widow Bird.
Closer to the river where there are more thickets and woodlands, the common birds here include the Swallow-tailed and Red-throated Bee-eaters – particularly in the Nyamusika Cliffs, Woodland, Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin; Hornbills, Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers; Cuckoos, Woodpeckers, Crombecs and Warblers. The riverbanks are also home to ducks, geese, stilts, and plovers.
Chimpanzee trekking and Habituation in Budongo Forest.
Apart from Kibale National Park, Murchison Falls National Park also offers chimpanzee trekking experience in Budongo Forest. The forest records about 600 chimpanzees, trekking can be done in the morning or afternoon and habituation is a full day activity. The forest has plenty of fruits that act as food to the chimps and other primates like monkeys. You will meet at the starting point where you will be briefed by a ranger guide about the dos and don’ts while in the forest. During the trek, you will spot some forest birds, different tree species, butterflies and other animals. On encountering the chimpanzees you will be allowed to spend 1 hour with them for the chimpanzee trekking activity however for habituation, you will spend the whole day observing their habits and behaviors.
Cultural Encounters in Murchison Falls
Explore the culture and tradition of the communities around the park. Energetic dancers from the Mubako community perform vibrant songs and dances around the campfires of local lodges while playing the adungu which produces a beautiful sound. The Adungu originates from the park region and is locally made of cowhide and twine. The community is found on the southern bank with a number of traditional thatched huts, it also has a small craft shop that sells locally made traditional wooden items. BOOMU Women’s Group offers budget accommodation, a craft shop and village tours, revealing the realities of life in this rural community. The communities financially benefit from this activity. They are able to buy food, pay school fees and take care of their families. Since there are few economic opportunities in this region, the climate makes farming hard.
Hot air balloons in Murchison Falls National Park
This is one of the newly introduced fun activities where you get a fabulous aerial view of the park. Enjoy a spectacular sunrise/Post sunrise hot air balloon private or group safari. During this activity you have the park at your glance, observing animals as they feed in the savannah grasslands. You will also view the beautiful park scenic landscape.
Sport Fishing in Murchison Falls
This activity is carried out along the Nile which is rich in Nile Perch, Cat-fish. Other fish include Tigerfish, Electric catfish and Tilapia. You will be accompanied by a trained skipper who knows the specific areas where there is plenty of fish. The record’s largest Nile Perch was 113Kgs landed at the water gauge opposite the crocodile pool, and the largest cat-fish was 45Kgs landed near the Nyamusika Cliffs.
A fishing permit is required and currently, it is $50 per day or $150 for four days excluding park entry fees.
ACCOMMODATION FACILITIES AT MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
The park has well-structured accommodation facilities on the southern and northern banks, with trained professional staff who offer good customer service to your satisfaction and the delicious local and international meal. The facilities range from luxury, moderate to budget. There are also other accommodation facilities outside the park in the nearby communities/districts.
Northern bank: Paraa Safari Lodge, Chobe Safari Lodge, Pakuba Lodge, student’s center dormitories
Southern Bank: Bakers Fort, Nile River Lodge, Murchison River Lodge, Red Chili, Bwana Tembo, and UWA Guest House