Park at a Glance
SEMLIKI NATIONAL PARK
Semliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori Mountains. The park is part of the Guinea – Congo biome, the only lowland semi – deciduous forest in Uganda with a spectacular scenic beauty enhanced by the presence of hot springs at Sempaya. It is characterized by several endemic and endangered species dominated by the Eastern most extension of one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin.
While Semuliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
Semliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to National Park status in 1993
THE LOCAL PEOPLE
Four distinct ethnic groups live near the park – Bamba farmers live along the base of the Rwenzori while the Bakonjo cultivate the mountain slopes. Batuku cattle keepers inhabit the open plains on the north of the park while the Batwa traditionally hunter gatherers, live on the edge of the forest.
SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK may be approached using two major roads from Kampala to Fort Portal.
- Kampala-Fort Portal via Mubende is about 290km, or a 4-5 hour drive, making it the shortest route.
- Kampala-Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese is longer at 465km (7-8 hrs). This route offers the chance to stop along the way at Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Queen Elizabeth National Park or Rwenzori Mountains National Park. Semliki National Park’s Sempaya Gate is 59km from Fort Portal. The park headquarters at Ntandi is 6km further along the road.
Rainfall peak season starts in March to May and September to December, with average annual rainfall of 1,250 mm. Annual mean temperatures range from 18° C minimum to 30° C maximum, with relatively small daily variation.
Dry Season June to September is the driest time and temperatures average 80°F (25°C) when most animals remain near water, but be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms at any time. The hot & dry time is January to February and is a good time to visit.
WHEN TO VISIT: All year round
Flora and fauna:
The area that Semuliki National Park covers is a distinct ecosystem within the larger Albertine Rift ecosystem. The park is located at the junction of several climatic and ecological zones and as a result has a high diversity of plant and animal species and many microhabitats. Most of the plant and animal species in the park are also found in the Congo Basin forests, with many of these species reaching the eastern limit of their range in Semuliki
435 bird species (43%) of Ugandan birds are found in Semuliki National Park. Albertine Rift Endemics such as the Dwarf Honey guide and Purple-breasted Sunbird can occasionally be sighted in Semliki National Parl. Also, species with very limited ranges such as White-tailed Hornbill, Capuchin Babbler Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher and the Orange Weaver occur in the Park. The park also has almost 300 butterfly species
A total number of 53 mammal species have been recorded of which 5 species of large mammals and 7 species of small mammals have not been recorded in other parks. Eight species occur no here else in Eastern Africa: Mona monkey, forest buffalo, bay duiker, Bee croft’s flying squirrel, pygmy flying squirrel, little collared fruit bat, water chevrotain and target rat. A further ten mammals are known to occur only in a few other places in East Africa. Reptiles and amphibians are also abundant.
Sempaya Hot Springs:
The Sempaya Hot Springs are Semuliki’s most famous attraction. The “male” spring, known as Bintente, measures 12m in diameter and is set in a lush swampy clearing. The “female” spring Nyasimbi, meaning “the female ancestors”, is a boiling geyser (103°C) which spurts bubbling water and steam up to two meters high – the steam cloud can be seen from as far as 2km away. Local people used to cook their food in these boiling pools.
Sempaya – Ntandi Road:
This 6km section of public road runs along one of the loveliest tracts of forest in Uganda and provides good views of birds and monkeys high up in the forest canopy. Birding walks take place in Sempaya, as well as night hikes deep into the forest. In Ntandi, local Batwa dancers put on traditional performances for visitors. Another local attraction is the Mungiro Falls near the hot springs.
The 160km long Semliki River carries run off from the Rwenzori Mountains to Lake Albert and the Nile, proving ancient geographers’ claims that the Nile flows (in part anyway) from a snow-capped mountain in the heart of Africa. Broad, muddy, forest fringed and home to hippos and crocodiles, the Semliki is a miniature version of the Congo River. Visitors can watch the river meander across the rift valley floor from roadside viewpoints and hike through the forest to its bird-rich banks.
Birders who make it to Semuliki will be rewarded with some of Africa’s best forest birding. Sempaya and Ntandi provide excellent viewing of the birds including the White-crested Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue and Ross’s Turacos. The shoebill stork is regularly seen at close quarters on Lake Albert and forest walks are good for tracking water birds.
Hiking and Nature Walks:
The 13km KirumiaTrail runs through the heart of the forest to the Semuliki River. For this 8 hour round trip starts at 8am and is perfect for birders. A number of short trails have been developed for nature walk lovers and birders alike that may not wish to stay longer.
The hour-long trail to the outer, “male” spring leads through a patch of forest where red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and black-and-white colobus monkeys are common. A tree house en route provides an aerial view. A 30-minute hike through palm forest from the main road leads to the inner, “female” spring, dominated by a boiling geyser. Eggs and matooke (green plantain) can be cooked in these boiling waters and enjoyed by hungry hikers!
Cultural Encounters and Trails:
The Batwa’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle means they have always been dependent on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, though this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local communities.
TORO – SEMLIKI WILDLIFE RESERVE
Close to Semliki is Uganda’s oldest game reserve, Toro-Semliki wildlife reserve, where tropical rainforest meets grassy savannah and the flat plains punctuated by deep river valleys. The unique geography is reflected in the diversity of wildlife, which includes the forest mammals of Central Africa, key East African species and a variety of birdlife.
The area is a transitional zone for three of Africa’s bio-geographical regions (Sudano-sahelian, Guinea-Congolian and Zambezean). Diverse habitats occur in the valley floor of the reserve supporting a variety of vegetation types such as grasslands, riverine forests, scrub woodland, swamp forests, papyrus swamps, and savannah woodland mosaic.
The unique and diverse habitats recounted above support a variety of wildlife animals dominated by the Uganda kob. The reserve is also habitat to lions, elephants, reedbuck, hippopotamus, baboons, bush pigs, giant forest hog, warthog, buffaloes, bushbuck, leopard, chimpanzee, and waterbuck. Several chimp communities live in the lush river valleys of the reserve.
The reserve is also known to host about 400 bird species. The permanent wetland in neighboring Rwangara CWA area is a habitat to the endangered Shoebill Stork. The area can easily be accessed on water through Lake Albert.
The tracks cross the savannah grassland of Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve. Smaller forest and larger savannah elephants are regularly seen, along with buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile, warthog and Uganda Kob. With luck, you may even see pygmy hippopotami, leopards and elusive bush babies.
PRIMATE /FOREST WALKS:
During the enjoyable 4-6hours guided nature walks in the gallery of Mugiri forest you are likely to see chimps and other primates as well as birds, elephants, buffalo and occasionally a lion. Chimps are commonly found during the rainy season when food is abundant.
BOAT TRIPS ON LAKE ALBERT:
Excellent opportunities to see rare shoe bill stork, shore birds, hippos and the rift valley escarpment sharp drop into Lake Albert.
The reserve can be accessed using two major roads from Kampala.
Kampala – Fort Portal via Mubende is about 290 km
Kampala – Fort Portal via Masaka – Mbarara – Kasese is about 465 km.
From Fort Portal up to Karugutu trading center is 27km. The reserve headquarters are about 2km off Fort portal- Bundibugyo road on the Karugutu – Rwebisengo road.
The Semliki Safari Lodge offers accommodation for the luxury market while the UWA bandas and campsite at Ntoroko can provide for the budget clients. However, there is limited capacity.