Murchison Falls National Park is arguably the largest national park in Uganda as it inhabits a total land area of 3840 square kilometers in the north-western Uganda; spreading inland from the shores of Lake Albert, around the Victoria Nile, up to the Karuma Falls. The Park is dominated by woodland and forest patches in the southern section, well as the northern section of the Park is covered by savannah and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland.
The Park’s very existence is determined by the dramatic Murchison Falls which are formed after the Victoria Nile plunging 45 meters over the remnant rift valley wall, hence bisecting the Park too. The Murchison Falls provide one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles, of which the regular visitors at the shores include; giraffes, buffaloes and elephants, well as Nile crocodiles, Hippos, and the aquatic birds are permanent residents there. In this guide, you are given some tips and useful information to help you plan an exciting wildlife safari to the mighty Murchison Falls National Park;
The Murchison Falls
The Murchison falls locally referred to as the Kabalega Falls are a spectacular feature along the course of the river Nile. These stunning falls break the Victoria Nile that flows through the northern part of Uganda from Lake Victoria the largest fresh water lake in the whole of East Africa to Lake Kyoga and further on towards lake Albert located within the western arm of the Great East Africa Rift Valley. at the peak of these impressive Murchison falls the waters of the great Nile forcefully make their way through a small gorge within the rocks that is just 7 meters or 23 feet wide, and drops with a thunderous roar to 43 meters or 141 feet below. The great falls form a spectacular water spray the form small beautiful rainbows and creates a very cool ambience around it.
The waters of the Nile then flow on to the north western part of Uganda into Lake Albert. The lake Victoria vent send an amount of water approximated to 300 cubic meters each second which is (11,000 ft³/s) through these Murchison Falls. The sight of seeing liters and liters of water flowing over this gorge as well as the imagination that this water flows every day each passing second without stopping is very heartrending.
This falls where actually named after Sir Roderick Murchison then president of the Royal Geographical Society by Sir Samuel Baker a British explorer. The surrounding area which actually was demarcated as a national park by the Ugandan government was also named after these spectacular falls and is known as the Murchison Falls National Park.
For the period of Idi Amin’s rule back in the 1970s, the name of the Murchison falls was changed and they were named after the king (the omukama) of Bunyoro kingdom; King Kabalega to the Kabalega Falls. However this name was not legally disseminated in Uganda. after the collapse of Idi Amin’s rule, the name was changed back to Murchison Falls. However it should be noted that the name Kabalega Falls is still being used by some people.
There is a launch cruise that starts every day from 1400hrs from Paraa landing sight to the the bottom of the falls this gives visitors to enjoy a ride on the great nile all the way to the foot of these 43 meters high falls. The launch cruise is a very exciting experience that rewards you with opportunities to see some of the wildlife living on the banks of river Nile among which are the giant crocodiles, hundreds and hundreds of hippos, buffaloes, elephants plus other animals that come to drink water and also cool off the heat of the day. In addition you will be able to see various bird species on this launch cruise as you sail to the falls among which are: the shoebill, herons, bee-eaters, comrants, fish Eagles, king Fishers, Egyptian plovers, red-winged grey warbler, the Secretary bird, Pels fishing owl, Vinaceous dove, bruces green pigeon, Night jars, Denham’s bustard and the white crested turaco. This exciting water cruise takes about three hours and it is one of the best ways to experience these waterfalls.
Alternatively you can experience the falls by driving to the peak of the falls. This point of view will offer you a wholesome view of the beautiful Murchison falls. As you drive to the falls you will drive through the large Murchison falls national park. Along the way you will come across a variety of wildlife among which are the Uganda kobs, buffaloes, giraffes, lions, large herd of buffaloes plus numerous solitary buffaloes, antelopes, hartebeests and elephants in addition to a profusion of birdlife.
How to get to the Murchison falls
The falls can be accessed after entering the Murchison falls National Park. This can be done by road, and it takes about 5 hours drive from the capital Kampala.
For your convenience, you are advised to contact your agency earlier to reside for you a good-quality tourist vehicle of your choice that you will use for transportation from Kampala to the Park headquarters. It is quite a long day’s journey driving from Kampala via Masindi to Hoima, in the north-western Uganda where the Park lies, thus you are advised to order for a driver-guide who will drive you safely as he/she is jazzing you interesting stories about Uganda and this will let you enjoy your safari fully minus you getting tired and bored on the way. The driver-guide is always friendly and professional, and has a savvy on almost everything that you will need to know as far as your safari is concerned.
From Kampala, it is about a 5 to 6 hours’ drive to the Park, depending on your speed and other conditions on roads such as traffic jam. The route to Murchison Falls National Park is very scenic as you will get fantastic views of various amazing attractions such as; Lake Albert. However, the Park can be accessed through various routes; through Masindi town route (shortest route), Budongo forest route (most scenic), and it can also be accessed from the north through Chobe gate, Karuma falls to the Park headquarters at Paraa. The Park can however also be accessed by air and Pakuba is the landing site for the charter flights.
On your way to Murchison Falls National Park, you will break at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, the only home to the wild rhinos in Uganda and trek them as you support the rhino conservation such that they can be taken to the protected areas.
When to visit Murchison?
The Park can be visited all year round though the best time to visit the Park is during the two dry seasons which are; January to late February and then from June to October, as the animals gather around water bodies making them easier to view. This should however not prohibit you from visiting the Park during the other months of the year because it is not that it is ever raining in those months as it is always a mixture of rain and sunshine. Rains should also be a small factor in choosing when to visit the Park because; due to the unpredictable climate of nowadays, even the rains are sometimes experienced in the dry months and vice versa. The best time for bird watching is January-March which tends to have plenty of bird activity with fewer tourists.
What to do in the Park
Murchison Falls National Park is arguably one of the must-visit places in Uganda and definitely one of the heavily visited ones annually. There are various activities that a traveler will get involved in, such as; Bird watching – the Park is one of the best sites in Uganda ideal for birders as it is a home to over 451 bird species, like shoebills, and the regular launch trips to the base of the of the falls will provide you fantastic views for bird watching in Murchison Falls National Park; Launch trips – the upstream from Paraa showcases a majestic display of wildlife and culminates with the memorable frontal view of the Murchison Falls; Hot-air balloon safaris – this is a unique experience of flying in a hot-air balloon as you enjoy fantastic aerial views of the entire Park and its inhabitants; Game drives & Game viewing – game viewing in the Park can be mostly enjoyed during the game drives in various designated game drive areas, with the main areas being the Delta where there are great chances of seeing the Lions in wait for prey as they go to drink, the Buligi Peninsula and the southern sector famously known as the heart of Murchison.
Other activities include; Hiking and Nature walks – the Park’s vast landscapes and its varied scenery plus the surrounding conservation area can explored on foot where you will have sightings at various bird species and primates; Sport fishing – during this activity, there is a huge chance to get a catch of a huge fish thus the activity is quite rewarding especially to the avid angler. The other amazing activity in the Park is the; cultural encounter, as energetic dancers from the surrounding area perform around the lodge campfires hence making for a magical African experience at dusk. In the Park’s Kaniyo Pabidi forests, you will also be able to track the eastern common chimpanzees, which is an exceptional experience achieved at quite an affordable price.
Where to stay
The Park boasts a variety of accommodations for its guests to base at during their wildlife excursions. There is a variety of accommodation alternatives around the Murchison fall including the luxury facilities, mid-range facilities and the budget facilities.
Some of the Park’s accommodations include; Chobe Safari lodge, Para Safari Lodge, Bakers lodge,
Midrange Lodges include Nile Safari Lodge, Murchison River Lodge, Sambiya River lodge
Budget Lodges include Yebo safari camp, Bwana Tembo Safari Camp, and UWA campsite, among others.
Among these are: Nile Safari Camp. Paraa Safari Lodge, Chobe Safari Lodge, Masindi Hotel, Red Chilli Rest Camp, Global Village guest house among many others.
What to see
During your game drives and game viewing, you will view a myriad of wildlife, including; Cape buffaloes, African elephants, Lions, Hippos, Nile crocodiles, Giraffes, Leopards, common chimpanzees, and Uganda Kob, among others, plus several bird species.