Murchison Falls National Park was established in 1952 and is one of the very first wildlife game parks to be gazetted in Uganda. As its name describes it, the park will excite you with the site of the river Nile as it squeezes its self through an 8-meter-wide gorge, plunging with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron” as it is commonly referred to. The site will look like a rain ball while at the magnificent Murchison falls National Park.
The park is the oldest and largest game park in Uganda as it was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926. It lies in the northern end of the Albertine rift valley positioning it in the western and north western parts of Uganda. The park is characterized by different types of vegetation in the different parts of the park. For example, the northern sectors of the park are dominated by the savannah grasslands, acacia trees, Borassus palms and the riverine woodland. Whereas, the southern sectors are dominated by mainly woodland amidst forest patches.
Given the different available vegetation types and species, the park is a home to 144 mammal species, 51 reptile and 51 amphibians and 556 bird species. According to statistics by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, numbers of animals are continuously increasing for example African elephants have increased from roughly 900 to over 1,330 individuals, Furthermore, in the northern sector of the park, Giraffes have increased and are everywhere in the north of the park. Kob populations have increased to over 35,000 individuals while the Buffalo populations have also spiked to over 10,000.
The park also consists of an exciting portion of the great river Nile which is the longest river in the world. This part of the Nile River is called the Victoria Nile and it plunges forty-five meters over the remaining rift valley wall. This creates the magnificent rapid Murchison Falls which are among the major tourist attractions in the park. After the falls, the last of the river’s energy is drained after the mighty cascade transforming into a broad calm stream that flow quietly to Lake Albert which is found at the floor of the eastern rift valley. The Victoria Nile River banks are often visited by buffaloes, giraffes and elephants. The river also has permanent residents such as Nile crocodiles, Aquatic bird species such as the shoe bill, the swallow-tailed and the red-throated bee-eaters mainly found in the Nyamusika cliff woodlands and hippos.
The park is popularly known for the 1951 film “The African Queen” where Humphrey Borgat starred. This movie was filmed at Murchison Falls National Park. Furthermore, the park has also received notable visitors such as Theadore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Ernest Hemmingway.
The most exciting activities and sites in Murchison Falls National Park include the following
Hiking to the top of the Murchison falls is not as strenuous an activity like other hiking trails in other parts of the country. This is due to the fact that the trail to the top of the falls is not so steep can easily by anyone. This hike is a soft adventure good enough for stressing out your joints and proper blood flow. Hiking to the top of the falls takes roughly 45 minutes. The hike is always a two in one activity for one gets the best time to tick their birding list as they will be able to view different types of birds from aquatic birds like the red –throated bee-eater, the shoe bill is a common sight during the hike to the top of the falls. On the other hand, one should also expect to view the spectacular landscapes, the Victoria Nile. As one approaches the top of the Murchison falls, they experience a tranquil feeling as the water droplets fall on your face to cool you off after hike. Reaching the top of the falls will expose you one of mother nature’s wonders commonly known as the Devil’s cauldron. This gorge is the most exciting view in Murchison falls national park as you will observe the huge masses of water squeezing themselves through the narrow 8-meter gorge. The thunderous roars and vibrations from the force of the water is extremely magnificent, breath-taking and expose the beauty of mother nature in The Pearl of Africa. The trail to the top of the falls is called the Winston Churchill trail so one should get ready for the stories about how Winston Churchill used the same trail in 1907 as he explored the top of the falls. Remember to have the right gear for hiking such as light clothes and sneakers since it’s a tiresome activity to hike.
Game drives in Murchison Falls National Park are among the most enjoyed activities in the park as this exposes visitors to the very many different wildlife species most of which are observed depending on the time one chooses to enjoy the game drive. Game drives occur in three categories and these offer different experiences to the travelers as certain species of wildlife can only be viewed at particular time settings. for example, Leopards are best viewed during Night and morning game drives. One should expect to see the big five such as the lions, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and Rhinos though these are on one’s way to the game park at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. These are as follows
Early morning Game drives- This is one of the most rewarding game drives in the park as one will get a chance to view the wildlife species when they are most active. Also, during this early morning activity, one should be sure to spot the rarely seen Leopards and lions which be up and down in search of the morning hunt. Other commonly seen animals include elephants, buffaloes, Antelopes especially the Uganda Kob, warthogs, Jackson’s hartebeest, waterbucks, giraffes, oribi and bushbucks which will be busy grazing in the savannah plains. Famous bird species to be spotted in the morning are:
After Noon game drives – At this time, the park is experiencing hot temperatures hence game viewing is not as rewarding as at at cooler times of the day. This is because majority of the big five and the big cats be hiding from the sun and therefore, making it difficult to be viewed. Some animals and bird species will be viewed such as the antelopes, elephants, buffaloes among others.
Evening and Night game drives- These are the most rewarding game drives in the game park. In the evening, you will get a chance to enjoy the beautiful wilderness of Murchison falls National Park while enjoying the sunset too. Night game drives are extremely rewarding and exciting to get involved in. This is mainly because one gets a rare opportunity to view unique nocturnal species both birds and animals such as lions, leopards, genets, hyenas, civets, night jar, porcupines and bush babies. Night game drives are extremely safe and secure to carry out though they are a slightly more expensive than the day game-drives.
Some of the major tracks used for game drives in Murchison Falls National Park are situated in the northern parts of the park mainly because its where largest concentrations of wild animals are situated. The tracks are Buligi track which is commonly most rewarding to birders and its found north of Paraa. Some of the common bird species are weavers, bee-eaters, gonolek, fish eagles, African skimmer, kingfishers, herons and grey crowned cranes. The other track is the Victoria track next to where boat rides take place on the Victoria Nile. Be sure to spot a variety of wild life species along this track as they drink and graze along the shores of the great River Nile. The Albert track is the final track located next to the Albertine Delta.
The Murchison Falls type of boat cruise is quite unique and extremely interesting. The kind of boat cruise experience can only be found in the Murchison Falls National Park in the East African region. This is because of the two different types of boat cruise that are carried out such as The Bottom of the Falls boat cruise which is also the link, to the hike to the top of the falls. During this boat cruise, the trip starts from Paraa and sails up stream, passing through several schools of hippos, the Nile crocodiles and other animals on the river banks like elephants, warthogs, oribis and several bird species such as king fishers among others until it reaches the falls. Although the boat does not go so close to the Devil’s cauldron, reaching the bottom of the falls is such a spectacular experience. The other type of boat cruise is The Albert Delta Launch cruise which also just like the bottom of the falls launches its sailing journey from Paraa. This type of Boat cruise and track is very favorable for those interested in viewing birds such as the prehistoric shoe bill stork. Unlike the bottom of the falls, the cruise boat sails down the river until where it splits into papyrus floating Islands. The cruise is also referred to as the “sun downer’s “trip down the stream. The sailing trip is carried out in the evening which also makes it a perfect romantic cruise as the sun sets down the sky hence a perfect moment for capturing unforgettable memories on the Great River Nile.
Budongo Forest is the largest natural forest in the East African region and is found in Murchison Falls National Park. From Kichumbanyobo gate, it is a 30 minutes’ drive to the forest visitor center. In the forest, the chimpanzees are managed by Jane Goodall institute for research. Apart from chimp tracking, chimp habituation takes place in the forest but this is usually during the low season of tourist arrivals. The forests also attracts other animals such as lions, leopards so every tracker is advised not to isolate themselves while tracking the chimpanzees. Tracking is carried out twice a day that is in the morning at around 7am and in the afternoon at around 3pm.The activity takes place for about three hours and it involves finding/tracking and interacting with the apes. Other primates are also seen around the forest during the activity such as the black and white colobus monkeys among others. Note that chimpanzee tracking permits are few early bookings are advised as only 16 permits are issued a day and only 8 are issued per tracking shift.
Murchison Falls National Park comprises of a wide range of habitats that harbor over 400 different bird species therefore the park is a birders pride given its numerous superb birding spots. Birds of Murchison Falls game park are categorized into three according to their adopted habitats and they include the Albertine birds around the Albert delta such as the martial eagle, African fish eagle usually in the woods and the papyrus Gonolek, the aquatic/ water birds usually around the river Nile and Murchison Falls and the include the swallow-tailed and red-throated bee-eaters, the malachite king fishers, horn bills, grey heron, warblers and crombies and the Savannah birds found in the open savannah grasslands and these include black bellied bustards, secretary birds, widow birds, open billed stork and the Abyssinian ground horn bill. Don’t forget the notable prehistorical shoebill stork only found in the park.
The park can be visited any time throughout the year but it is a more rewarding experience visiting the park during the dry seasons which are usually from June to September and December to January. This is because all parts of the park are accessible during the dry season given any means of transport used. Also, the vegetation will be thin hence a clearer view of the wild animals, furthermore, different animals converge around particular water sources during the dry season which is a great opportunity to view and take pictures of animals in large concentrations. For birding, the best time to visit Murchison Falls National Park is during the wet season between May and November since the park will have less crowds.
Murchison Falls National Park can be accessed by tourists either by road or air. The different entry gates into the park include Wankar gate, Chobe gate, Mubako gate, Tangi gate, Kichumbanyobo gate and the Bugungu gate. By road, the park can be accessed from Kampala via Masindi and also the Kampala –Karuma Pakwach route. By Air, the park contains air strips such as Pakuba air field and Bugungu air strip where domestic and chattered flights are available. Forexample Fly Uganda and Aero link Uganda.
Some of the favorable accommodation choices around the park include the luxurious Chobe safari lodge, Budongo Eco Lodge, Murchison River lodge, Fort Murchison among others. One should note that accommodation around the park caters for all travelers whether luxurious or budget visitors.