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Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park is situated in the north-western Uganda sprawling across the districts of; Nwoya, Kiryandongo, Buliisa, and Masindi, spreading inland from the shores of Lake Albert, around the Victoria Nile, till Karuma falls. The park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and stands out as Uganda’s largest national park. The park measures up to 3893 square kilometers. Together with the adjacent Bugungu Wildlife Reserve covering 748 square kilometers, and Karuma Wildlife Reserve covering 720 square kilometers, the park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area.

The park is the location of the outstanding Murchison Falls, a waterfall created as a result of the Victoria Nile plunging 45m over the rift valley wall before transforming into an 80km stretch of rapids. The violent cascade drains the river’s energy, finally transforming it into a wide and placid stream that flows silently, across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile for a distance of about 115km. Also found in the park are the Karuma Falls,  the location of the 600 megawatt Karuma Power Station found near the Masindi – Gulu highway.

History

The present day Murchison Falls National Park was first visited by European explorers; John Speke and James Grant in 1862. Later in 1863 – 1864, the park was more thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence Baker. The couple named the falls they found in the park ‘Murchison Falls, after the then president of the Royal Geographical Society, geologist Roderick Murchison. Between the years 1907 – 1912, the native inhabitants in the area of about 13000 square kilometers were evacuated due to an outbreak of a disease called ‘sleeping sickness’ caused by tsetse flies. Later in 1910, the Bunyoro Game Reserve was founded south of River Nile. The reserve area corresponds to the part of Murchison Falls National Park that is in Kiryandongo, Masindi, and Buliisa. As of 1928, the boundaries of the reserve were extended north of River Nile into the present-day Nwoya district. In the year 1952, the then reigning British government made the area a national park by the National Parks Act of Uganda. As a result, the area described above was formally called Murchison Falls National Park. The park stands out as Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area. Notable visitors to the park include; Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway, and several British royals.

Wildlife

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Murchison Falls National Park is a habitat to over 76 mammal species and 451 bird species. The park stands out as a habitat to Uganda’s largest population of Nile crocodiles which are regularly seen basking at the riverbanks. Elephants, buffaloes, giraffes and hippos can also be sighted by tourists embarking on boat cruises along the Nile. The park is a habitat to four of Africa’s big fives; the elephant, lion, leopard and cape buffalo. The elephants and buffaloes are common. Though many in number, the lions are occasionally seen, the leopards are rare, and the rhinos are absent. The other wildlife species found in the park include; hippos, hyenas, and the various antelope species including; the Uganda kob, grey duiker, bushbuck, oribi, and Jackson’s hartebeest. Also, the park has a surprisingly large population of Rothschild’s giraffes. Besides, Kidepo Valley National Park and Lake Mburo National Park, Murchison Falls is the only other park where giraffes are found in Uganda. Chimpanzees and other primates can be tracked in the adjacent Budongo Forest Reserve.

Birds of Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls National Park has over 451 bird species which can be spotted in its various birding spots. These birds include; Yellow-billed Stork, African Darter, White-faced Whistling Duck, Shoebill, Goliath Heron, Abdim’s Stork, Dark Chanting-Goshawk, Hugli’s Francolin, Denham’s Bustard, Secretary Bird, Osprey, Spotted Thick-knee, Black-billed Wood-Dove, Rock Pratincole, Martial Eagle, Veracious Dove, Long-toed Plover, Senegal Thick-knee, Northern Carmine Bee-eater, Malachite Kingfisher, Black-headed Plover, Red-throated Bee-eater, Black-billed Barbet, Long Tailed Nightjar, Malachite Kingfisher, Swallow-tailed Bee-eater, Yellow-fronted Tinkerbird, Pied Kingfisher and White-fronted Black Chat.

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The other bird species include; Standard-winged Nightjar, Giant Kingfisher, Black Scimitarbill, Pennant-winged Nightjar, Beautiful Sunbird, Speckle-fronted Weaver, Blue-napped Moosebird, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Spur-winger Geese, White-rumped Seedeater, Silver bird, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Bar-breasted Firefinch, Piapiac, Chestnut-crowned Sparrow Weaver, Sacred Ibis, Grey-crowned Crane, Vaseline Masked Weaver, Red-winged Grey Warbler, Blue-naped Moosebird, Saddle-billed Stork, Black Crake, Double-toothed Barbet, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Spotted Morning Thrush, Fawn-breasted Waxbill, Yellow-throated Greenbul, Northern Crombec, Black-faced Waxbill, Black-headed Batis, Black-headed Gondola, Sulphur-breasted Bush Shrike, Grey-headed Bush Shrike, Whistling Cisticola, and Black-lored Babbler.

Tourist activities

Murchison Falls National Park offers a wide range of activities for tourists. There are many adventures to enjoy when you visit the park;

Game drives

The park has several routes designated for game viewing drives. These routes lead to the main areas where game can be easily spotted; the Delta – an area where lions can be easily sighted as they wait on their prey, the Buligi peninsula – a grassland bounded viewing area where buffaloes, elephants, antelopes and giraffes can be easily sighted. Occasionally one can see lions and leopards. The viewing trails also lead to the ‘heart of Murchison’ an area which lies 20km east of the Masindi – Paraa road. The area is known for its large population of antelopes and a good number of lions.

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Launch trips

A boat cruise upstream from Paraa offers great wildlife viewing opportunities and spectacular views of the Murchison Falls. The launch departs at 9:00am and 2:00pm everyday. Also, a cruise downstream to the Nile – Lake Albert delta offers an opportunity to see a variety of wildlife; Nile crocodiles, hippos, buffaloes, elephants, and many bird species including the elusive shoebill.

Guided hikes and nature walks

The park has vast attractive landscapes and scenery which can be explored on foot; the trails through Kaniyo-Pabidi and Rabongo forests offer an opportunity to sight primates and birds. Guided swamp walks along the Nile – Lake Albert delta are a chance to see several bird species including the shoebill stork. Avid birders can enjoy treks along; the Sambiya River Lodge, Mubako junction, the north and south banks of the Nile from Paraa, and the Emmy river.

Hot air balloon adventures

Murchison Falls National Park offers the unique opportunity of flying in a hot air balloon. The park offers sunrise and post sunrise hot air balloon adventures, with or without bush breakfast, depending on one’s preference. These excursions give you a chance to behold the breath-taking beauty of Murchison Falls from the top.

Sport fishing

In Murchison Falls, fishing is permitted in designated areas and prior booking is advised. Sport anglers are encouraged to bring their own equipment and to secure a permit from the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The Nile perch is considered the best species for sport fishing. Anglers take on the exciting challenge of hunting down the Nile perch amidst the strong currents of the Victoria Nile.

Bird watching

Murchison Falls National Park has over 451 bird species found in its wealth of birding spots. The park is endowed with a variety of savannah forest birds, water birds, and Albertine Rift endemics. The places to sight these bird species include; the banks of the Nile, Nyamusika cliffs, the various woodlands and thickets.

Best time to visit

Murchison Falls National Park can be visited all year around but the best time for viewing wildlife is during the dry season, between December – February when animals congregate around the Victoria Nile and other reliable water sources in the park.

Getting there

There are several routes which can be taken from Kampala to arrive at Murchison Falls National Park. They include;

The southern entrance gates

There are two southern routes to Paraa, they lead out of Masindi town, which is a 4-hours drive from Kampala – Uganda’s capital. As you approach Masindi, there is the famous Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the only place in Uganda where rhinos are bred. The major route from Masindi goes via the conservation area, through the Kichumbanyobo gate to pass via the Kaniyo Pabidi forest to Paara. Using this route, the distance from Kampala to Masindi is 305km and from Masindi to Paraa is 85km.

The other route goes for 135km from Masindi to the park’s Bugungu gate. This route is longer but more scenic. It includes a passage through Budongo Forest and a thrilling descent via the Rift Valley escarpment, with splendid views across Lake Albert and the mountains of Congo.

The Northern entrance gates

This route takes you via the Wankwar, Chobe, Mubako, and Tangi gates, found north of the Victoria Nile. These gates are reached via the Kampala – Pakwach road which crosses the Nile at Karuma Falls bridge in the north-eastern corner of the park, about 260km from Kampala. These routes are more convenient for travelers coming from or going to Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park.

By air

For those desiring to travel to Murchison Falls National Park by air, chartered aircrafts from Entebbe International Airport and Kajjansi airfield are available. This flight takes you to Pakuba airfield, about 19km from north Paraa. The other airfields in the park include; Chobe to the east, and Bugungu near the Murchison Falls to the South.

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