Spread over 3840 km2, Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savannah. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and over 451 birds. In 1952, Murchison Falls was gazetted as a national park from game reserve status.
The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of River Nile from Karuma Falls rapids. The mighty river cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through an 7-8m wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron”, creating a trademark rainbow.
This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffalos; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
The northern section of the park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland while the south is dominated by woodland and forest patches.
A number of routes can be used to reach the Nile at Paraa at the heart of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area. The river is crossed using a ferry which runs at intervals throughout the day.
Southern Entrance Gates: Two southerly approaches to Paraa lead out to Masindi town, which is a 4 hour drive (305km) from Kampala. Along the way to Masindi is the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – home to the only wild rhinos in Uganda. You can track them on foot and support this important initiative to reintroduce rhinos to protected areas.
Kichumbanyobo is the main gate along the southern section of the park. It is only 16km from Masindi town and 70km to Paraa the Park Headquarters. The access road passes via the Kanio Pabidi section of Budongo Forest with a lot of Primates, butterflies, bigger game and fabulous scenery enroute.
A longer but more scenic alternative runs for 135km from Masindi via Buliisa to the park’s Bugungu gate. The route includes a passage through Budongo Forest and a memorable descent of the rift valley escarpment with views across Lake Albert towards the Blue Mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Northern Entrance Gates Murchison Falls National Park can also be accessed via the Chobe, Wankwar, Mubako and Tangi gates north of the Nile. These can be reached from the Kampala-Pakwach Road which crosses the Nile at Karuma Falls Bridge in the north-eastern corner of the park, 260km from Kampala. These gates are convenient for visitors travelling to/from Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park.
Pakuba Airfield, 19km from North Paraa, can be reached using chartered aircraft from Entebbe
International Airport or Kajjansi airfield near Kampala. Other airfields in the park include: Chobe to
the east and Bugungu – near Murchison Falls – to the south.
During the day, the temperature is around 25-32°C, making this one of the hottest regions in Uganda. Nights are cooler, dropping to around 18°C, and there is little rain – though when it arrives it can be torrential!
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to visit is during the dry seasons from December to late February and from June to September, as the animals congregate around water bodies making them easier to observe. The best time for bird watching is January-March which tends to have plenty of bird activity with fewer tourists.
A range of accommodation facilities catering for both up-markets, medium range and budget visitors are available. It is advisable to book well in advance.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS / THINGS TO SEE IN MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
Murchison Falls is characterized by eternal war between rock and water. The waters violently compress through a narrow gorge, spraying misty droplets along their wake over a 50m radius. This creates a permanent rainbow over the battleﬁeld and causes a continuous roar. From Baker Point on the southern side, you can also view the Nile splitting into the smaller Uhuru Falls, created in 1962 when the river burst its banks.
A boat ride along the Nile to the foot of Murchison Falls is a rewarding experience for nature lovers, as both the northern and southern banks team with a variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. The ambience oﬀered by the river while on the trip makes the experience enjoyable and memorable.
The River Nile Delta (Victoria Nile joins Lake Albert):
This wide, calm stretch of water, where the tranquil Victoria Nile ﬂows into Lake Albert, is a key area for bird watchers. It’s papyrus lined banks are bursting with birdlife, including the Goliath Heron, Great Egret, African Fish Eagles and many other wetland migrants. The most sought-after species here is the rare Shoebill.
Buligi Game Tracks:
The Buligi game tracks, stretching between the Victoria and Albert Niles, are the Murchison Falls National Park’s most popular safari destination. At around 120-170km in length, they pass through open savannah grassland, woodland, acacia and riverine vegetation. Most of the park’s game can be viewed here such as Elephant, Lions, Rothschild Giraﬀes, herds of buﬀalos especially during early morning and early evening tours.
Paraa, meaning home of the hippo in the local Luo language, is the park’s tourism hub. All the park’s access roads converge here as the northern and southern banks are linked by a passenger ferry, and several accommodations are located nearby. Additionally, a museum and gift shop can be found on the north bank, and most game drives launch trips and nature walks commence here.
The Karuma Falls are located in Chobe, in the northeastern sector of the park. These roaring waterfalls on the Victoria Nile are made up of a series of natural rock formations which cause the waters to ripple and give them a white, foamy appearance. It is an ideal area for sport ﬁshing, game viewing and bird watching as it’s at an area where two ecosystems converge(protected and loosely conserved ecosystems converge).
Kaniyo Pabidi Forest:
In the south of Murchison Falls Conservation Area, this forest ecosystem contains black-and-white Colobus and blue monkeys, olive baboons, and a habituated chimp group which can be tracked and viewed. Elephants, buﬀalos, lions and leopards are also frequent visitors. Many forest birds can be viewed here, including the chocolate-backed kingﬁsher, white-thighed hornbill and Puvel’s Illadopsis which is found nowhere else in East Africa.
Surrounded by savannah and covering just 4km2, Rabongo Forest is considered a birders’ paradise because of the endangered species found here such as the African Finfoot. Rabongo is ideal for educational tours as it provides opportunities to identify animals, birds, medicinal plants and trees.
For relaxation, visitors can camp and enjoy picnics by the Wairingo River.
TOURIST ACTIVITIES/THINGS TO DO IN MURCHISON FALLS NATIONAL PARK
Both the game drives and the launch trips oﬀer an opportunity for one to come across distinct birdlife, including savannah forest birds, water birds and Albertine Rift endemics. The park’s main birding attraction is the Shoebill, best sighted in the dry season from January-March at the delta.
A game drive around the Buligi game tracks on the northern bank with a trained ranger guide is a fantastic way to see and photograph the wide range of animals in the Nile Valley. Your guide will have a good idea where the lions are hiding, and you may even spot a leopard at dusk!
Hiking and Nature Walks:
The vast landscapes and varied scenery of Murchison Falls National Park and the surrounding area can be explored on foot. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds, while around the Nile Delta, 2-4 hour guided swamp walks oﬀer possible Shoebill sightings.Launch
The launch trip upstream from Paraa presents an astonishing display of wildlife and culminates with the memorable frontal view of the Falls. Recommended for birders is a morning cruise downstream to the Delta. Alternatively, a tranquil sundowner cruise oﬀers the classic view of an equatorial sunset reﬂected on the river.
The banks of the Nile below Murchison Falls provide exciting challenges to anglers. Living within strong currents and highly oxygenated water is the Nile perch. There is the chance to land a massive catch – the record is 108kg!