Murchison falls national park
Uganda is a country that is richly blessed, especially in terms of nature. The country has 10 national parks and about 12 wildlife reserves; with plenty of wildlife to view, savannah woodlands, stunning lakes and rivers, mountains, and tropical rainforests to explore. Surely, there is plenty to see and do for tourists visiting the country. In addition to this, when it comes to tourism, a Uganda Safari is not complete minus visiting one of the top national parks in the country, Murchison Falls National Park.
Murchison Falls National Park is the largest national park in Uganda, covering a total surface area of 3,840km². It is was first established as a national park in 1952, making it among one of the oldest national parks in the country.
The national park is situated in the northern part of Uganda in Masindi district. It was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, and is split into two by the Victoria Nile. The park is home to 76 species of mammals and 451 species of birds. There are plenty of attractions for visitors to see at the park such as; African bush elephants, buffaloes, eland, antelope, hippos, duikers, Nile crocodiles, giraffes and aquatic birds like the rare Shoebill stock.
Murchison Falls national park gets its name from the Murchison falls which were named by Sir Samuel Baker after Sir Roderick Murchison, the president of the Royal Geographical Society. Previously, in the 1970s, former Ugandan President Idi Amin Dada renamed the falls ‘Kabarega,’ after the Omukama/ King of Bunyoro Kingdom. Later the name was changed back to Murchison falls following his downfall in 1979.
The highlight of Murchison Falls national park is a hike to the majestic, stunning and powerful Murchison falls. The falls are literally the centerpiece of the park climaxing an 80km stretch of rapids, which start from the Victoria Nile.
The northern section of Murchison falls national park is characterized by savanna and borassus palms, acacia tree and marshy woodland; while the southern part of the national park is dominated by woodland and forests.
Currently Murchison Falls national park in Uganda is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, under the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
Attractions in Murchison Falls National Park.
These dramatic water falls are one of the highlights of a visit to Murchison Falls national park. The falls are characterized by waters gashing violently through a narrow gorge, thus creating a permanent rainbow. From baker’s point on the southern side of the national park, visitors can view the famous Nile River split into smaller Uhuru Falls. The Uhuru falls were created in 1962 when the river burst its banks.
Murchison Falls national park is the ideal place to be for the best sightings of wildlife animals in Uganda, and any visitor who has been to this national park will attest to this fact. There are over 76 wildlife species that reside within the park and these include; elephants, giraffes, hippos, buffaloes, Nile crocodiles, impala, topi, waterbucks, bush pigs, baboons to mention but a few. The park also has over 451 species of birds such as; the Giant Kingfisher, the Giant Heron, Marabou stork, Nightjars, and the well sought after Shoebill stork.
Visitors visiting the national park can explore the Nile River on a boat cruise. The boat cruise takes visitors to the base of Murchison Falls, rewarding cruisers with lovely sights. A boat cruise on the northern bank rewards visitors with stunning views of wildlife animals comprising mammals, birds and reptiles. Visitors can also engage in hiking and nature walks along both the north and south banks of River Nile, as well as do sport fishing and white water rafting activities on the Nile.
The Nile Delta-Lake Albert:
The Nile delta marks the point where Victoria Nile flows into Lake Albert. This area in the national park is a key spot for birders, with its papyrus banks graced with abundant birdlife such as; Goliath Herons, Great Egrets, African Fish Eagles and the rare Shoebill stork among others. This is the place to be for bird lovers. Visitors can also sight wildlife animals in the delta like; elephants, giraffes, waterbucks and even lions if you search carefully.
Paraa is a tourism hub in Murchison Falls national park. The word ‘Paraa’ means home of the hippo in the native Luo language. This is where all boat trips and nature walks in the park start from; using a passenger ferry to link visitors to the northern and southern river banks.
The Karuma Falls are situated in the northeastern part of Murchison Falls national park, and are located in Chobe. The Karuma falls are one of the many roaring waterfalls strategically situated on Victoria Nile. The falls are an ideal spot for sport fishing activities in the park.
The Rabongo forest is one of the attractions in the national park. This forest covers four square kilometers of land, and is considered by many to be a birders’ paradise due to the fact that it shelters many endangered bird species.
Kaniyo Pabidi Forest:
The Kaniyo Pabidi forest is located south of Murchison Falls Conservation Area. The forest has quite a number of tourist attractions such as Black and White colobus monkeys, olive baboons, blue monkeys, a habituated chimpanzee group, savannah elephants, buffalos, lions and leopards among others. The forest also harbors bird species like; the white-thighed hornbill, Puvel’s illadopsis and the chocolate-backed Kingfisher to mention but a few. Kaniyo Pabidi is located on the Masindi-Paraa road, just 8kms from the Kichumbanyobo gate in Murchison Falls national park.
Areas of interest outside Murchison Falls National Park.
There are other places of interest just outside the national park, and visitors can travel to these places before or after visiting Murchison Falls national park. These include;
The famous Budongo Forest is close the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, and lies south west of the Murchison Falls Conservational Area. It is here where visitors can do chimpanzees trekking after a game drive in Murchison Falls national park. Chimpanzee trekking in Budongo Forest is such a thrilling and adventurous activity, which has tremendously grown over the recent years. Budongo Forest is also home to 24 mammal species, 465 plant species, 289 butterflies, and over 360 species of birds.
Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Sanctuary:
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is located just 125km from Murchison Falls National Park. The rhino sanctuary is the only place in Uganda where visitors can sight rhinoceros. Visitors can visit the rhino sanctuary enroute to the national park.
Activities in Murchison Falls National Park.
Hiking and Nature Walks:
Travelers visiting Murchison Falls national park can enjoy guided hiking expeditions and nature walks. The park offers visitors guided nature walks to the top of the falls, Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests. Visitors who wish to explore Rabongo Forest, can visit the Rabongo Forest Ecotourism Centre, where you will be given a guide. Guided nature walks in the forest give visitors an opportunity to view wildlife like; the Red tailed monkeys, Black & White colobus monkeys, chimpanzees, birds, tree species and medicinal plants among others. There is also a lot for visitors to see in Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo forests such as; the rare Shoebill stork, chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest and numerous bird species.
Boat cruises on the Nile River in Murchison Falls national park are a MUST do for any traveler visiting the national park. All launch trips in the national park commence at Paraa landing area. While on a boat cruise in the park, visitors are assured of sighting wildlife animals like; elephants, buffaloes, Nile crocodiles, hippos and waterbucks. Visitors who are bird lovers can also use this opportunity to look out for bird species like; the shoebill stork, cormorants, Kingfishers among others. Launch trips in the national park start at 9am in the morning and 2pm in the afternoon. The boat cruises last three hours.
The national park offers visitors boat cruises downstream to the Nile Delta, giving visitors better chances of sight the rare and highly sought after Shoebill stork and other animals like hippos, elephants and crocodiles. A round trip to the Nile delta and back to Paraa takes between 4-5 hours. There are also sundowner boat cruises at 5.30pm offering visitors classic views of an equatorial sunset reflected on the river.
Birding activities in Murchison Falls national park are best done in the dry season, which is between January to March. Birders can sight common bird species like; the Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Widow Bird, Open-billed Storks, the Black-bellied Bustards and Secretary birds. Visitors can spot other species of birds such as; the Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, the Francolin Hornbill, the Grey Heron, the Hamerkop, Flycatchers, woodpeckers, Cuckoos, the Crombec and Warblers, when closer to areas like the river, thickets and woodlands. The highlight of any bird watching activity in the national park is sighting the rare shoebill stork.
Sport fishing in Murchison Falls national park is not for the faint hearted. This activity rewards visitors with the biggest catch from the Nile River. There are quite a variety of fish species for visitors to catch such as; the Nile Perch, Cat Fish, Tilapia, Tiger fish, Electric cat-fish, and Ngara, a local delicacy in the northern region of Uganda. On record, the largest Nile Perch that was ever caught in Murchison Falls weighed 113kgs, and the largest cat-fish weighed 45Kgs.
Visitors who wish to do spot fishing in Murchison Falls national park will have to acquire a fishing permit at USD 50 dollars per day and USD 150 dollars for four days. These fees exclude park entry fees. Visitors are advised to bring along their own fishing equipment.
Visitors can view a variety of wildlife animals while on a guided game drive in Murchison Falls national park. Major sites for game drives in the park include the delta, where visitors have a higher chance of seeing Lions, and at the Buligi Peninsula as well as at the southern sector. Other wildlife animals visitors can view on game drives include; hippos, elephants, antelopes, duikers, impala, zebras, hartebeests, leopards, the side striped jackal and Nile crocodiles among others.
Cultural encounters offer visitors an opportunity to learn more about the various ethnic tribes living within and near the national park. During these cultural tours, visitors get to interact with the local people, learn about their cultures, watch performances from the local dance groups, and also take tours of the local craft shops in the local community. For visitors in Murchison falls national park, cultural encounters include a visit to Mubako Community and Boomu Women’s Group.
Hot air balloons:
Murchison Falls national park offers visitors an opportunity to explore the park in Hot air balloons. Visitors can choose to do the sunrise and post sunrise hot air balloon safaris with or without bush breakfast. There are also short sunset hot air balloon safaris available at the park for large tourist groups and students. Therefore, visitors on a Uganda Safari should try out the Hot air balloons and get to experience this outstanding national park from the sky.
Best Time for Visitors to visit the National Park.
The best time for visitors to visit Murchison Falls National Park is between December- February and from June- September. It is during these months that the park experiences its dry seasons. Visitors can easily view wildlife animals during this time, since the animals spend a lot to time gathered around water pools in the national park. The best time for bird watching activities in the national park is between January-March, which is characterized by a wide variety of bird species and low tourist numbers.
Where to stay when visiting Murchison Falls National Park.
There are plenty of accommodation facilities within the national park, and these offer visitors a wide range of lodging options. Accommodation facilities within Murchison Falls national park include; Paraa Safari Lodge, Chobe Safari Lodge, Murchison Safari Lodge, Red Chill Rest Camp, GeoLodges- Nile Safari Lodge, Sambiya River Lodge, GeoLodges Shoebill Camp Site, Yebo Safari Camp, and UWA Campsite. There are also other accommodation facilities located close to the park and these include; Boomu Women’s Group Bandas, Budongo Ecolodge, Masindi Hotel and New Court View Hotel.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park.
Visitors travelling to the park can access the park by road or air. Visitors accessing the park can either use the southern or northern gates of the national park.
The Southern Gate.
There are two routes which visitors can use to access the southern gate of the park at Paraa. These two southern entrances to Paraa also lead tourists out of Masindi town, which is a 4 hours’ drive from Kampala. Visitors using this route can stop over at Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Sanctuary, where visitors can get to see rhinos in the wild. The main route from Masindi enters the Murchison Falls Conservation Area through Kichumbanyobo Gate, and passes through Kaniyo Pabidi Forest leading to Paraa.
Alternatively, visitors can also use a much longer but more scenic route, which runs for about 135km from Masindi to Bugungu gate in the national park. Travelers using this route can get to drive through the famous Budongo Forest and a rift valley escarpment, with views of Lake Albert and some mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Northern Entrance Gate.
Visitors travelling to Murchison Falls can also access the national park using the northern entrance gates at Chobe, Wankwar, Mubako and Tangi. Travelers can access these gates from Kampala using the Kampala-Packwach road, which is about 260km from Kampala City. Travelers using this route will be able to see stunning attractions such as the Karuma Falls. This route is the best travel option for visitors travelling from Gulu and Kidepo Valley National Park, in the north eastern part of Uganda.
Visitors who wish to cut the long road trip short can travel to Murchison Falls by air. Chartered flights from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airfield can be arranged to transfer visitors to Pakuba Airfield in the park. Other airfields located within the national park include; Chobe and Bugungu near the Murchison Falls.
Murchison Falls National Park in northern Uganda is the number one destination for wildlife safaris in the country. Lots of visitors travel to this national park to get a feel of this wondrous beauty and dramatic Murchison Falls. A Uganda safari is surely not complete without a visit to this national park.
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