Murchison Falls is Uganda’s largest and one of its best and most exciting national parks. Lying at the northern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the bulky Bunyoro escarpment gives way to vast savannah plains of Acholi land, the park covers an area of 3,893 sq km. One of Uganda’s oldest conservation areas it was originally gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 to protect the teeming wildlife savannah and formally declared a National Park in 1952. Today the conservation area extends to include Bugungu, Budongo Forest and Karuma Wildlife reserve making it over 5000 sq km. Having been visited by several European explorers it was named as Murchison Falls by the British explorer, Sir Samuel Baker, in 1863-64 after the then president of the Royal Geographic Society.
The River Nile leaving Lake Victoria and passing through Lake Kyoga makes its way through the park, bisecting it into two halves, towards Lake Albert. In the process the Victoria Nile passes through a rocky opening no more than 7 metres wide and plunges over 40 metres creating the ‘Murchison Falls’ displaying the sheer power and force of water. A spectacle to behold it is said to be amongst one of the best water falls in Africa. No safari to Murchison is complete without a boat trip to the base of the falls and is often the highlight of most visitors’ trip to the park. The boat rides commence at Paraa and last nearly three hours and offer a unique opportunity to view wildlife and birdlife at close quarters. Amongst the frequently seen animals on the boat trip are hippos, crocodiles, elephants, bushbuck, giraffes, different species of antelope, warthogs and occasionally lions or leopard. Numerous birds including Fish Eagles, bee-eaters, kingfishers and storks are also usually seen during boat trips.
The bisection of the park by the Victoria Nile gives it two distinct types of vegetation. The southern part is forested growth while the northern part is open savannah plains. The southern sector is home to chimpanzees and primates of various species while It is in the northern sector that the most of the wildlife is to be found.
In 1998 the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary was founded with the aim of re-introducing rhinos to Uganda. Having brought in four rhinos to start the programme they have successfully multiplied to stand at eighteen currently. The long term intention of the programme is to eventually release these rhinos into the national parks.
Located on the way from Kampala to Murchison Falls National Park it is worthwhile to stop off at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. Having paid the entrance fee and provided one is accompanied by a guide one can go to see the rhinos. Some walking is required to reach the exact location of these magnificent animals. There are armed ranger guards monitoring and protecting the rhinos on a 24/7 basis.
There are some 76 mammal species in Murchison Falls National Park including herds of elephants, buffalo, antelopes, hartebeest and bushbuck. In addition, the park has an incredibly large population of giraffes and the usual predators including lions, leopards, hyena and jackals. Chimpanzees and other primates are found in the Budongo and the Rabongo Forest part of the park.
Murchison is also a bird watchers’ paradise with some of Uganda’ most iconic bird species including the shoebill, Uganda’s national symbol the Crested Crane, various species of herons, storks, weaver birds, fish eagles, bee-eaters and some European migratory birds. Over 450 different species of birds have been recorded in the park.
Activities in the park include launch trips to the base of the falls, drive to the top of the falls, game drives, chimpanzee tracking and birding. It is also possible to go sport fishing within the park in search of the much sought after Nile Perch provided appropriate Uganda Wildlife Authority permits have been obtained.
By Road or Air Charter
By Road – From Kampala via Masindi town and crossing the River Nile by ferry at Paraa is some 305km and takes 4 to 5 hours. Alternately it is possible to go all the way around the park and enter from the Tangi Gate at Pakwach thus avoiding a ferry crossing. Though slightly longer the second option is equally good as the journey is uninterrupted for the ferry and give the opportunity to see Karuma Falls on the way. In both instances the roads are good.
What to do:
- Game drives
- Launch trip to bottom of Murchison Falls
- Trek to top of Murchison Falls
- Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo
- Nature walks
- Bird Watching
- Sport fishing
Best Time to go:
All year round
Outside the Park
Numerous Upmarket and mid range lodges and camps and campsites