Murchison Falls National Park at 3840km2 is the largest park in Uganda and is named after the Murchison falls where the mighty river Nile is forced through a narrow gorge of 7m into the ‘Devils Cauldron’ creating an ever present rainbow. Samuel Baker the explorer considered the Murchison falls as “the most important object of the entire course of the river” named the waterfall in 1864. The park is only 4 hours away from Kampala the capital and with all the attractions is a perfect destination for an exciting Uganda safari. The habitats range from forest, savanna, riverine woodland, borassus palms, and several acacia trees.
It lies in the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley giving it great views of the plains and forested areas and the Victoria Nile that pours into Lake Albert. The Albert Nile Corridor is Uganda’s lowest area at 612msl at the Delta. You have opportunity to view the falls from up as the Nile squeezes through the gorge and from below while on the boat safari on Victoria Nile. The Launch trip on Victoria Nile gives you an opportunity to experience the Nile like the actors of the 1951 film “The African Queen.”
Murchison Falls NP has 76 species of mammals that call this their home including four of the big five. To have a complete big 5 list, you would need to pass by the Rhino Sanctuary on the way to the park.
Animals are often seen while on a boat safari and during game drives in the park. The more common animals often seen are; Elephants, Giraffes, Buffaloes, Uganda Kobs, Bushbucks, Jacksons Hartebeests, Oribi, waterbucks and warthogs to mentions but a few. The big cats of Leopards and Lions have higher chances of being seen when you early morning for a game drive before the sun is too much to force then into hiding. It is also home to several primates including Baboons, Patas monkeys, Blue monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys and Black-and-white Colobus monkeys and Chimpanzees are found in the forested area of Kaniyo Pabidi which is part of Budongo forest.
Murchison falls national park has varied habitats for birds making bird watching a famous activity in this park which has over 450 species of birds. The park is home to many migrant birds and those that are there all year round. The park has forested, swampy areas, riverine woodland, Savannah and acacia trees which all provide habitats for the birds. You will enjoy the waterbirds when you take a boat safari towards the delta or towards the Murchison falls. Some bird species found here include; the elusive Shoebill, Swamp flycatcher, papyrus Gonolek, Goliath Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Northern red bishop, Squacco heron, Red-throated Bee-eater and African-Quail Finch etc.
Uganda Wildlife Authority has demarcated tracks on the northern bank of river Nile for game drives. On your safari in Murchison falls national park, you will take the game drives in the custom-made tour vehicles with open roof so that you can easily spot the animals. Everyone should have access to a window for easy viewing.
The game drives takes anything from 4 hours to an entire day depending on your interests, amount of time in the park and the different activities you are interested in. Have your cameras to shoot photos of the different animals, birds and landscape but most importantly use the time to enjoy nature. The animals to look out for include; Bushbucks, Waterbucks, hartebeest, Oribi, Uganda Kobs, giraffes, Patas monkeys, Warthogs, Elephants, Buffaloes, Leopards and Lions etc.
The boat safaris in Murchison Falls national park are on the Victoria Nile towards the falls. The Nile boat safari is your ultimate experience of water, animals, birds, and great scenery. Here you look out for animals coming to water and those resident/semi residents in water; Crocodiles, Hippos, monitor lizards. Watch out for herds of Buffalo, Elephants and antelopes that come for water.
The opportunities for water birds are high as you take this trip. The launch trip happens twice a day with a morning trip starting at 9am and afternoon at 2pm; however, one can rent a boat and take trip at their leisure. For those most interested in bird watching we recommend the boat ride to the delta where you have chances of sighting the Shoebill as it fishes.
Kaniyo Pabidi is a section of Budongo forest located in the boundaries of Murchison falls national park. You can track chimpanzees from Kaniyo Pabidi a section of Budongo forest, which is home to numerous other primates like baboons, red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys, lots of rare bird species and big game like Buffaloes, Elephants, and bush pigs with magnificent scenery.
The chimpanzee trek normally takes 3-4 hours depending on where the chimps nested the previous night, once located the people are can stay in the presence of chimps for an hour watching them eat, play, rest and groom each other. This needs to be booked in advance with Uganda wildlife authority or Budongo Eco Lodge.
There is also an opportunity for a full day Chimpanzee habituation experience which gives more time learning and watching the chimpanzees – this also has to be booked prior to your safari.
Sport fishing is allowed on the Nile after obtaining the permit from Uganda Wildlife authority through your tour operator. The waters after the falls on Victoria Nile provide some of the most exciting challenge to anglers with presence of Nile Perch. The largest Nile perch recorded is 108kg. Fishing is permitted in designated sites and places which require prior booking. You are encouraged to bring your own equipment.
Murchison falls National Park with 450 bird species was named No. 9 best birding spot in Africa by the Africa Bird Guide. Bird watching can be done while on game drive, launch trips and nature walks with a ranger guide. Because of the varied habitats, you have opportunities of watching forest birds, Savannah, water and a few of Albertine rift endemics.
Birds in Murchison Falls national park are easy to find because of the its Savannah grassland. However some woodlands and forested areas make it difficult but still possible to locate the birds. The highlights will be the numerous birds by the waters and swamp areas like the; open-billed stork, Red-throated bee–eaters (nests in the cliff by the river), Pied, malachite and Giant Kingfishers, Grey, night, commom Squacco, Striated and Goliath herons, Egyptian ducks, Spur winged lapwings, Intermediate, Great and Little Egrets. While on game drive do not miss the Abyssian ground hornbills, Black and Northern Red Bishop etc.
Most of the nature walks happen through the forests, Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo forest where you have opportunities of watching the primates such as Chimpanzees, black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkey, and numerous bird life.
The Hike up the top of Murchison falls is another exciting walk that everyone should take. Once on the boat trip from Paraa toward the ‘Devils cauldron’, stop a few meters from the bottom of the falls and take hike through the vegetation to experience the top the falls. The hike is fulfilling as you watch the waters of the Nile be squeezed through a 7m gorge. This hike takes any thing between 45 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on the interests of the people and their speed at hiking.
The Boomu women’s Group right outside the park is a worthy visit for someone who wants to engage with the local community. Take the scenic village tour as you learn about the residents everyday lives, farming, visit the black smith, demonstration of basket weaving, cooking and visit to a local school. You can choose to stay over night in this place or just visit for a few hours and continue to the park or when leaving for Kampala. The activities will depend on how much time you have to in the area.
You can access the park by taking scheduled/chartered flights from Entebbe International Airport or drive from Kampala, which takes approximately 5 hours. The park has access gates from the south for people traveling from Kampala through Masindi or those traveling from Fort portal. It also has access gates in the north for people traveling from Kampala via Karuma or those traveling from Gulu or Kidepo valley national park.