Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park once had legendary numbers of animals. In the 1960s as many as 15,000 elephants, 27,000 buffalo and 14,000 hippos roamed the park. The turbulent Amin regime of the 1970s, the persistent instability and war in Northern Uganda in the following twenty years and the widespread poaching in these decades took their toll on the wildlife, more so on the park’s rhino population, which was completely wiped out. In the peaceful years since committed conservation efforts have been rewarded by flourishing wildlife once again.

Today Murchison Falls National Park is once again one of Uganda’s finest viewing areas boasting 76 mammal species including Uganda Kobs, lions, elephants, Jackson’s hartebeest, Rothschild’s giraffes, hippos and crocodiles. Blue and red-tailed monkeys and black-and-white colobus monkeys can be found in the forested sectors of the park and the savannah-dwelling patas monkey that is only found elsewhere in Kidepo Valley National Park can be sighted. Around 800 chimpanzees live in the Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo Forests.

Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s oldest, largest and best-known national park. It takes its name from the resplendent Murchison Falls that were themselves named in 1864, after the President of the British Royal Geographical Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.

Murchison Falls National Park is located in the northern part of the Albertine Rift Valley where the massive Bunyoro escarpment meets the vast palm-dotted savannah of the extensive Acholi plain. It spreads inland from the shores of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile, east to the Karuma Falls. The park was once called the Gulu and Bunyoro Game Reserve and was gazetted in 1952 to include the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves.

Murchison Falls National Park is dissected from east to west by the Victoria (White) Nile, which at the Murchison falls forces its way through a narrow 7m gap in the rocks to plunge 50ft into a gorge and flow onwards as the Albert Nile. The northern half of the park contains savannah and is inhabited by 80% of the entire park’s animals including robust populations of Ugandan Kob, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, leopard and lion that roam the wooded savannah in hordes.

Murchison Falls National Park makes for a spectacular safari that offers up three great ways to observe and enjoy the wildlife; game drives in vehicles, the famed boat cruise that leads up to the base of the falls.

Game Viewing

Big Male Elephant

Game Drive – The Buligi grasslands game tracks located between the Victoria Nile and Albert Nile in the north of the park are the most popular game viewing area. They pass through open savannah grassland and woodland and acacia and riverine vegetation with excellent views towards the western rift valley, beyond Lake Albert into the DRC. Most of the park’s game including lions, leopards, herds of buffalos, dozens of elephants, warthogs and towering giraffes, along with bushbucks, reedbuck, duikers, kobs, oribi and the unusual-looking hartebeest can be viewed and photographed here in the early morning and early evening hours. The 3hour game drive starts at Paraa to the Delta Points and visitors can also opt for the 2hour nocturnal game drive to spot night predators like lions, leopards, hyenas and serval cats on the prowl. In the southern part of the park, game drives are done along the new Honeymoon Track.

Safari in the Sky – A sunrise safari that offers unadulterated views of the park’s borassus palm tree-studded savannah and its abundant wildlife as it comes alive for the day, is an experience that is not to be missed. From the air, visitors can gaze upon massive herds of elephants, buffaloes, giraffes, and antelopes and can even spot some lions and leopards feeding. The 8-seater hot air balloon can fly up to 10,000ft above sea level, for 1hour of prime game viewing. The hot air balloon is operated by Dream Balloons.

Bird Watching

Shoebill Stork - Murchison Falls National Park

Birders will love Murchison Falls National Park for its phenomenal variety of over 450 species of savannah, forest, swamp and Albertine Rift endemic birds that can be sighted on a boat cruise, game drives and nature walks. The wide stretch of water in the Nile-Lake Albert Delta with its papyrus-banks where the serene Victoria Nile flows into Lake Albert is a key area that is overflowing with birdlife, including Goliath Herons, Great Egrets, and African Fish Eagles.

The most sought-after species is the elusive and pre-historic looking Shoebill Stork that is best sighted on a 4hour downstream cruise to the Delta in the dry season from January-March. Africa’s largest population of Shoebill Storks inhabits these swamplands as do many water birds like Woodland, Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin, Hornbills, Grey herons, Crombecs and Warblers alongside ducks, geese, stilts and plovers.

Savannah forest birds like the Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, Open-billed Storks and Widow Bird can be spotted on game drives in the plains. In the 4km Rabongo forest visitors can join educational tours that identify endangered bird species as well as medicinal plants and trees. The massive Budongo forest at the park’s southern tip is also a birders haven for spotting both forest and Albertine endemic species including the globally threatened Pallid Harrier, Denham’s Bustard, Papyrus Gonolek, Lesser Kestrel, Lappet faced Vulture and Black-winged Pratincole.

The River Nile

Top of Murchison Falls

The River Nile is the natural oasis for the park’s wildlife and the essence of Murchison Falls National Park. The 3hr boat cruise that starts at Paraa and ends at the bottom of the Murchison Falls is easily the main highlight of a trip to this park because of the sheer number of animals that can be observed from quite close.  The riverbanks are littered with enormous Nile Crocodiles basking in the sun as they lie in wait for the unsuspecting Kob or Antelope that wanders to the river for a drink, along with herds of hippos, elephants, buffaloes and waterbucks.

Hiking & Nature Trails

Kaniyo Pabidi Forest - Murchison Falls National Park

Much of the vast landscapes and varied scenery of Murchison Falls National Park and the surrounding Conservation Area can be explored on foot. Trails run through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests and provide sightings of many primates and birds, while around the Nile Delta 2-4 hour guided swamp walks offer possible Shoebill sightings. A popular hike is a 45minute walk through woodland to the top of Murchison Falls to view the Nile as it crashes through a 6m chasm and ‘devil’s cauldron’ from above. Perfect for birders are the treks that start from the Sambiya River Lodge or the Mubako junction, as well as the Rabongo Forest and Budongo Forest walks. The new Baker Trail cuts through the western section of the park and follows the trail that the discoverers Samuel and Florence Baker took on their maiden journey that led to the discovery of the Murchison Falls.

Murchison Falls National Park - What you need to know

Location And Getting There

Murchison Falls National Park occupies an area of 5,072sq. km in the Northwestern district of Masindi and Nwoya. You can get to the park’s headquaters in Paraa by driving 300kms in 5hours via Masindi, or 260kms to Chobe in 4hours via Pakwach. Alternatively, you can get there using a chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip in Kampala and land at Bugungu airstrip, 19kms North of Paraa. Close to Murchison Falls National Park is Kidepo Valley National Park.

Climate And When To Visit

The Nile corridor below Murchison Falls is the lowest part of Uganda and temperatures are high, with a mean high of 29°C (80°F). Wet seasons occur during mid March – June and August – September.

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