Murchison falls National Park is located in the northwestern region of the country, in the northern part of the Albertine rift valley. This area is where the great Bunyoro escarpment joins Acholi land. The park spreads from inland shores of Lake Albert and around the Victoria Nile up to Karuma falls. The park covers some parts of the modern-day districts like; Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. The nearest large town to the park is Masindi which is about 72 kilometers. The Kibanda area of the park is about 283 kilometers, by road, north-west of Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda.
HISTORY OF MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
John Speke and James grant were the first European explorers to visit the present-day Murchison falls conservation area. It was thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence baker on 1863-1864. Baker named the falls “Murchison” after the geologist Roderick Murchison, the then president of the royal geographical society.
The inhabitants of an area of about 13,000 square kilometres were evacuated due to sleeping sickness spread by tse-tse flies between 1907 and 1912. In 1910, the Bunyoro Game Reserve was created south of the River Nile. That area roughly corresponds to the part of the MFNP that is in the districts of Buliisa, Masindi, and Kiryandongo. In 1928, the boundaries were extended north of the river into the modern-day Nwoya District. In 1952, the British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda. This was when the area got its present name “Murchison Falls National Park”.
The Park is a habitat to over 76 mammal species with 4 species being part of the big five, the lion, the leopards, the elephants, and the Buffaloes. Other species include bushbucks, Uganda kob, waterbucks and warthogs, giraffes, Jackson’s hartebeest, hyenas among others. Along the shores of the Nile and within the waters is a good place to spot lots of hippos and crocodiles. There also several primates in the Murchison falls national park including baboons and several monkey species.
The park is also home to about 450 bird species that range from water birds, savannah birds and forest birds. Some of these include the rare shoe-billed stork, dwarf kingfisher, Goliath heron, white-thighed hornbill and great blue turaco.
River Nile is Africa’s longest river and is about 6650 kilometers long. This physical feature is what divides the park into 2 sections. Boat cruise in Murchison falls national park is some on the Victoria Nile which is part of the great river Nile. The boat trip usually takes about 3 hours and leads to the bottom of the magnificent Murchison falls. The northern bank has a lot of wildlife, you might expect to spot animals like hippos, buffalo, crocodile, monitor lizards, elephants, bush busk as well as various water bird species like pied kingfishers, African fish eagle, African jacana, cormorants, pelican, yellow billed stork, marabou stork among many more. Guided nature walks along both the north and south banks is another exciting activity around the river.
Nile-Lake Albert Delta
The Nile- Lake Albert Delta is a soothing point where the Victoria Nile pours its water into Lake Albert. The vegetation around the banks is a birders paradise since it is a home to various bird species. Some of which include the great egrets, African fish eagle, goliath heron, African jacana, among others. For the lucky ones, there are chances of spotting the rare African shoebill stork.
Buligi Game Tracks
These tracks are found between the Victoria and albert Niles and is one of the places within the park where game drives are usually done. There are various vegetation types around the area that range from open savannah grassland, woodland, acacia to riverine vegetation. Most game is viewed in the early morning hours and in the evenings. Some of the animals around this place include warthogs bush bucks, elephants, lions, giraffes, bush bucks, buffalos, leopards, hyenas, Jackson’s hartebeests, among others and visitors to the area should expect to spot some of them.
Kaniyo Pabidi Forest
This forest is located in the south of the Murchison Falls conservation area and pushes to approximately 8km inside Kichumbanyobo gate. The forest is a good tropical natural forest covered majorly by huge mahogany trees plus ironwood trees. The forest is a home to chimpanzees with one habituated group which is open for tracking. It is also home to black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys and olive baboons. Other wildlife that visits the forest include Elephants, buffalos, lions and leopards. There are also a good number of forest bird species that live in the forest and some of which include the chocolate-backed kingfisher, white-thighed hornbill and Puvel’s illadopsis Kaniyo among many more.
This forest covers an area of about 4 square kilometers and is considered a birders’ paradise because of the endangered species found here. Rabongo is ideal for educational tours as it provides opportunities to identify animals, birds, medicinal plants and trees. Rabongo forest gives you the best camping Safari experience in the safest forest sites, guarded well. Most camping and picnics are done by the Wairingo River. You can enjoy the thrilling nightfall with the sound of the forest dwellers which creates the most epic night in the wild. The sweet melodies from the night birds plus the soothing fresh air in the forest, added to the deeming light rays dropping through the spaces in the broad tall tree canopies and much more, make the most memorable safari camping.
This forest is located southwest of Murchison falls conservation area with a link to some of the communities around. The forest has a wide biodiversity with 24 species of mammals, over 360 birds, 289 butterflies and 465 plants. All the forest’s tree species are on display along the “Royal Mile” which is a beautiful stretch of road highly regarded for its bird watching. Budongo is also known for its primate population, which includes around 800 chimpanzees with some habituated groups that are open for tracking.
THINGS TO DO
Game viewing is one best activity done around the park with various designated areas. Game drives are conducted in the morning to catch up with early raisers and predators returning to their hideouts, in the afternoon and evening. Night game drives can also be arranged with a professional ranger and good lights to catch up with night dwellers. Some of the animals you will expect to see as you drive around include Lion, Leopard, herds of Buffaloes, Elephants, Rothschild’s Giraffes, Warthogs and many antelope species like waterbucks, bush bucks, Jackson’s hartebeests, kobs, dik dik among others. You will as well expect to spot various savannah bird species like; African Darter, Giant Kingfisher, Long-toed Plover, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Veracious Dove, Black-headed Lapwing among many more.
Some of the designated areas include.
Buligi Peninsula: This is the parks prime viewing area, a triangle of grassland bounded by the Victoria Nile entering Lake Albert, and the Albert Nile flowing out if it. Expect to see elephant, buffalo, antelopes and giraffe and keep your fingers crossed for lion and leopard. The game track network converges at Delta Point where the Nile flows north out of Lake Albert; this is a convenient place to stop for refreshments and view water birds offshore and distant hippos.
Heart of Murchison: This is in the south and lies 20km east of the Masindi-Paraa road. The area is covered by bush and forest, a delightful tract of savanna rolls down to the river from the Rabongo road in the very centre of the park. Vehicle tracks have recently been opened in this area, and you will expect to spot large numbers of kobs and other animals that live in the park.
Chimpanzee Tracking/ habituation experience
Chimpanzee trekking is another activity done while in Murchison falls national park and is done is either budongo forest or Kaniyo pabidi forest. Chimp tracking takes place from morning to Mid-day, and the afternoon shift starts at 2pm. Chimpanzee habituation is similar to tracking but this involves trekkers following the chimps from the time they get up in the morning to the time they go back to sleep. This is a full day activity and a bit tire some (a good fitness level would be required). You must carry lunch and mineral water for refreshment.
A maximum of 8 persons allowed visiting chimps in each shift and therefore, one must book in advance to avoid disappointment. The activity involves hiking through the forest with trained rangers and guides in search for the habituated group of chimpanzees. As you track the chimps, you shall expect to encounter other primates such as Olive baboons, Red-tailed monkeys, Blue Monkey, Galagoes and Mangabeys among others.
With approximately 451 bird species, Murchison falls national park is definitely one of the great birding destinations of Uganda. These species can be spotted on both game drives and the launch trips. Some of the birds you will expect include; savannah forest birds, water birds and Albertine Rift endemics. The park’s main birding attraction is the Shoebill, which is best sighted in the dry season from January-March.
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. Some are found in the thickets and woodland and the commonly spotted varieties include; the Swallow-tailed and Red-throated Bee-eaters. In the Woodland species include; Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin, Hornbills, Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers, Cuckoos, Woodpeckers; Crombecs and Warblers can be spotted. The riverbanks are also home to ducks, geese, stilts and plovers.
The low season months of November, April to May, Murchison falls bird checklist gets some new members from the other continent, called the migratory birds. The migratory birds fly from Europe to Africa during the cold season, which is, winter and some months of autumn. Therefore, visiting Murchison falls national park in the low season, gives you a chance to spot the migratory birds, along the Nile River.
The boat cruise is a bucket list activity for most tourists to the park. Most launch trips start from the Paraa area (central part of the park) and depart at 9am and 2pm every day. The trips take up to 3 hours and lead to the bottom of the magnificent Murchison falls and tourists shall expect to spot various wildlife on the shores of the river. Some of the animals include schools of hippos, elephants, buffalo, huge smiling crocodiles sunbathing, monitor lizards, among others. You will expect to spot water bird species like, the fish eagles, cormorants, kingfishers, ducks, African jacana, hadada ibis, yellow billed stork, pelican, sacred hadada, malachite kingfishers, pied kingfishers, among others. The beautiful river, surrounding vegetation, the falls (Murchison and Uhuru) all provide a clear platform for photography.
Nature/ forest walk
Nature walks in Murchison falls national park are mostly done in the Kaniyo Pabidi forest, Rabobgo forest and the delta area. There are various trails in the forests that you can follow as you move around the forest. The walks take from 1-4 hours depending on the trekkers inters. All nature walks with in the park are conducted in the company of an armed ranger guide.
The Victoria nile delta walk offers great possibilities of encountering the rare shoebill as well as various water bird species. The forest walks offer impressive sights of forest birds as well as primates like vervet monkeys, baboons, black and white colobus monkeys among others.
Hiking to the Top of Falls
The hike to the top of Murchison falls starts at Paraa jetty with a boat trip for about 2 hours to the bottom of the falls. At the bottom of the falls you leave the boat and start the hike to the top. The hikes about 45 minutes and you will expect to spot some monkeys in the forests along the trail, you will also have beautiful scenery of the Uhuru and Murchison falls plus the surrounding vegetation.
At the top of the falls, you will hear the roar of the falling falls and see the point where river Nile squeezes itself through the 8m wide space and falls off to form Murchison falls.
The distance from Kampala to the centre of the park (Paraa river crossing at Paraa) is about 305 kilometers which is approximately 4-5 hors driving distance. A direct route from Masindi to Paraa is about 855kilomters. An alternative route (longer) passes through Budongo forest and above the Butiaba. This route offers magnificent views of Lake Albert from the rift valley escarpment.
From the north, you can make it to Paraa via Chobe gate which is close to Karuma falls. Other accessible gates include Tangi near Pakwach, and Wankar gate. The park is divided into two sections, the northern and southern sections. There is a vehicle ferry cross at Paraa which makes it much easier to get to both parts. This operates hourly between 07.00am and 19.00pm with the exception of 13.00pm.
There are 2 airstrips in Murchison falls national park; Pakuba (19kms from Paraa) which is in the north and Bugungu (13kms from Paraa) in the south. Charter flights can land to any of the airstrips depending on where your accommodation is located.
Murchison can also be reached by air. Charter flights can land at airstrips north of the Nile at Pakuba (19kms from Paraa) and south at Bugungu (13kms from Paraa).