Murchison Fall National Park

Also called Kabalega Falls National Park, Murchison Falls National Park is popularly known for having the world’s most powerful waterfall that emits large volumes of water about 300 cubic meters per second or 11,000 ft³/s at a very powerful pressure that cause the surrounding to tremble. Murchison Falls National Park is located in northern Uganda, northwest of the capital Kampala, and extends its boundaries to a number of districts within and beyond the Bunyoro escarpment including Nwoya, Masindi, Kiryandongo and Buyisa. The park covers an area of about 3,893km2 and its known to be one of Uganda’s well protected area. This area is an addition to Murchison falls thus covering an area of about 5,072km2 including Bugungu as well as Karuma wildlife reserves.

Murchison Falls National park houses a combination of grasslands, wooded savannah, tropical forests, wetlands and open water. The park is endowed with several attractions including over 76 mammals such as hippopotamus, Giraffes, Oribi, Uganda kob, antelopes, hyenas and hartebeest among others. The park supports four members of the big five, only Rhino being absent. Elephants and Buffaloes are particularly common. There is a very healthy population of lions that like to prey on the abundantly available Uganda kob.

The Murchison falls, Uganda’s second largest national park is also home to over 145 tree species and over 450-recorded bird’s species including the rare shoebill stork. The park is also home to 23 Albertine rift endemics given its location in the western arm of the east African rift valley. The boat trip on the Victoria Nile is a great start for many water-associated birds with 53 species recorded, raptors are also well represented. Migratory birds are present from November to April.

The Victoria Nile is a magnet for wildlife and it teems with crocodiles and hippos. The park hosts primates such as chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, and baboons among others, which can be seen in neighbouring Budongo Forest Reserve.

There are different cultural set ups around the park and cultural walks to these unique cultures always offer insight into the different cultures in Uganda.

Murchison Falls National park is thus, the most inclusive park, which offers best of wildlife safari in Uganda, which can be combined in three days.

What to do in Murchison Fall National Park

Murchison Falls National park offers different fascinating ventures in which visitors can engage in when they visit the park premises during their safari. Below are some of the most interesting activities the park offers:

 

Game Drives

Game drives are the highlight of all safaris to Murchison falls national park, just like any other national park or protected area. It’s with the game drives that one is able to see and appreciate the rich diversity of Wildlife in the Park. This park is home to different wildlife species including 451 bird species and over 76 types of mammal including the Buffaloes, Jackson hartebeests, Antelopes, Lions, Kobs, Giraffes, Hyenas, Bushbucks, and Warthogs among others. They are widely spread all over the Savannah grasslands, grazing or hunting for prey. This makes the park’s landscape so amazing for a game drives while on a Uganda Wildlife Safari.

Game drives in the park are mainly done in the northern side of the park since it is dominated with open savannah grasslands and short woodlands. Some are also done in the southern side of the park despite how forested it is. They are mainly done from the Buligi track a triangular grassland girded by the River Nile. The bugli track gives you a chance to spot a lot of wild animals like the crocodiles, hartebeests along the shoreline of River Nile, Jackals, hyenas, lions. Leopards, buffaloes, Rothschild’s giraffes, hippos, bush bucks among others.

Other game drive tracks include the Victoria truck near Victoria Nile; the area offers an ideal opportunity to have a glance of the wildlife that gather around the water sources. There is also the Albert delta where one can spot a number of water birds and animals such as the herds of buffaloes, crocodiles, Lions, Rothschild giraffes among others.

One can also spot a number of animals at the Nyamsika cliff such as buffaloes and antelopes, which attract predators like lions. The cliff is also an ideal place for birding since it offers an opportunity to spot birds like the bee-eater, Nahan’s Francolin, Egyptian plover among others.

The best time to enjoy game drives is during the dry season from December to February; this is when animals gather around the main springs to quench their thirst. The dry season is also characterized with short dry grass of the open savannah of Buligi game drive tracks hence making game viewing possible than in the tall grass of the wet season. Game drives can be enjoyed in two shifts; morning and evening game drive, the morning game drive starts at 7am, as it’s the most rewarding, one has a chance to see the big cats stretching out of their hideouts and getting ready for the day hunt. The evening game drive starts at 4pm and can last for 3 to 4hrs, one has a chance to view animals grazing such as the buffaloes, elephants and antelopes among others.

 

Hot Air Balloon

Hot Air Balloon is an interesting and exciting activity that was recently introduced by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in the Murchison Falls National Park. Hot Air balloon in Murchison Falls National Park is handled by Dream Balloons who were registered and certified fully in 2011 by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.

Hot Air Balloons have different sizes and the bigger the volume of the air the more the number of passengers it is supposed to carry. In the park, there is a medium sized balloon that carries about 8 passengers and can fly up to 10,000 feet above the sea level. This capacity is suitable for private use, honeymooners and weeding proposals. The activity is done in two sessions; the sunrise session starts at 5am and the sunset session starts at 4pm and 6:30pm. During the ride, visitors are rewarded with spectacular views of the park, sunrise, animals, birds, savannah vegetation, tree tops, Lake Albert, Murchison falls among others where after you will land on the ground and later receive a certificate for participating in the hot air activity. After the activity, you will have a bush breakfast with a bottle of champagne, which is prepared by Parra Safari Lodge Chef then will be transported back to your lodge or opt for a game drive or launch trip in the park.

This adventurous activity in the park can be done throughout the year though the best time is in the dry season during the months of June to August and December to February; this is the time when animals are gathering around the main water springs to quench their thirst. The dry season is also characterized with short dry grass of the open savannah of bugli game drive tracks, making game viewing so possible than in the tall grass of the wet season.

 

Hiking to the top of the falls

This is considered as the most remarkable activity in Murchison Falls National Park. The adventure begins with a boat ride on the Nile to the base of the falls at a point known as ‘The Baker Point’. It is alleged to be the exact spot that early explore Sir Samuel Baker back in 1864 stood as he admired and appreciated the splendour  mighty of the waterfalls, which he named after the then serving president of the Royal Geographical Society – RGS, who sponsored his expedition in Africa.

The boat leaves you at the base and you head for a 45-minute guided hike that will require some bit of physical fitness, while on this hike you will have a great time watching rolling hills, vegetation types, hear the thunderous roar of the falls and see different birds in Murchison Falls National Park. Once you are at the top you will be able to watch the waters of the River Nile make their way through a small gap in the rocks about 8m wide hence forming a 45m fall as it drops down to continue with its course.

 

Hiking and Nature Walks

Hiking and nature walks in Murchison Falls National park provide the ultimate opportunity for visitors to explore the African wilderness of the park on foot. This involves walking on foot while enjoying the beautiful scenery of Murchison falls national park, studying about the different bird species, plants as well as other wildlife species in the park.

The nature walks in the park go through Kaniyo Pabidi, Rabongo Forest and the Albert Delta areas. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo forest provide sightings of many primates like vervet monkeys, black and white colobus, baboons, red-tailed monkeys, chimpanzees and birds among others. The Lake Albert Delta swamp walks offer possible sightings of the shoebill when the water level is low. After an afternoon boating upriver, you can also hike 45 minutes through woodland to the top of Murchison Falls for a completely different experience of this magnificent waterfall. This experience brings all the senses into play; watch water waves of white water tumble hypnotically though this six metre chasm, listen to the roar, taste the spray of water on your face and feel the rock shake beneath your feet.

Hiking and nature walks are hard and sometimes a tough adventure activity, which however comes along with interesting benefits like burning some calories, offer impressive sights and sounds of the water birds during the top of the falls hike.

There are short hikes and nature walks and these take about one and half to two hours. These start around simbya river lodge and at Mubako junction on the southern side of the river. One can also decide to walk along the northern bank of the River Nile.

 

Boat Cruise

It has always proved the most entertaining among the activities done in the park. It is no offence if one refers the Murchison Falls National Park boat cruise as a switch for other activities such as; the hike to the top of the falls and birding at the Albert delta are only possible if one books a boat cruise too.

There are two boat cruises; the Albert Delta Boat cruise and the Bottom of the falls boat Cruise.

The Bottom of the Falls Boat Cruise. It is the most admired that links to hike to the top of the fall. The launch trip starts from Parra dock as it sails up stream towards the falls. The boat sails through a number of hippos floating on water, the beautiful water birds, herds of buffaloes showering on the riverbank, flocks of warthogs and crocodiles among others. The ride goes on towards the bottom of the falls with a couple of bottles of cold drinks with friends.

The ride offer clear opportunity for one to take beautiful and clear shoots of the animals along the Nile as the boat gets closest to the animals like crocodiles and hippos. Reaching the bottom of the falls is spectacular, although the boat does not get so close to the devil’s cauldron. The rocks are rugged with holes formed from the force with which the water droplets hit the ground from the cliff.

The Albert Delta Cruise. Just like the launch cruise to the bottom of the falls, the Albert delta cruise starts from Paraa and the boat slowly sails on the gently flowing Nile waters. It sails down the stream where the river splits up creating numerous floating islands of papyrus zones. It is here at the Albert delta that one can spy on the sought-after prehistoric shoebill stork. The delta boat cruise is awesome, terrific, and always referred to as the sundowner’s trip downstream, because it is done mostly in the evening. You get caught up in a moment with natures greatness while watching the dusk falling, whilst the sunsets down from the sky; it is ideal time for one to take awesome photos for the sunset at the Nile.

 

Spot Fishing

Murchison falls is among the leading parks where spot fishing in Uganda is conducted. Fishing is mainly done along the Victoria Nile, which involves catching fish along rocky surfaces, the bottom of the falls mainly the Devil’s Cauldron, and at the banks of the Nile by the anglers. Fishing along the Nile is an exciting experience though one is advised to take caution of the Hippos and Nile crocodiles especially while fishing at the Riverbanks.

There are two major fishing sites in Murchison; one near Paraa located below the Murchison falls and another below the Karuma falls (at Chobe safari lodge). However, spot fishing in the park is currently carried out mainly at the base of the falls either from the boat down the stream or from the rocks on the River bank.

Accessing the fishing spots can be either by boat or by walking down from the top of the falls to the gorge, which can take 45 minutes for a physically fit person. With this, one is recommended to move well equipped with their fishing equipment’s. As you enjoy catching fish there is always a chance to land on a huge catch; in terms of length, weight and girth. In fact, record has it that the heaviest fish caught was 113kg and this was a Nile Perch.

Fishing in Murchison Falls can be done anytime of the year, the large catfish and Nile perch can be caught all year round. Anglers say that best catches are seen early in the morning and late in the day. Though best result when the water level is low since the water is clearer, and that is during the dry and shadow season from Mid-January to Early-April. In addition, it is said that fish feed more when weather conditions vary dramatically especially at the start of the rains.

The different fishing methods or techniques used to catch fish in Murchison Falls include casting lures, spinning and catching fish on live bait. The Different types of fish species caught here include The Nile perch, Catfish, Tiger fish among others.

All anglers are advised to have the following equipment: rods that are between 8 feet and 11 feet with a multiplier reel. While catching smaller species: a 7’ spinning rod is recommended.

 

Bird Watching

Murchison falls is among Uganda’s best birding spots with over 451 bird species, which include; Albertine rift endemic birds, water birds, and savannah birds. Viewing birds in the scenic landscape and amazing wildlife of Murchison is among the most interesting experiences while on a safari.

There are very many birds in the park of which some are rare, common, and occasional such as the Grey crowned crane (Uganda’s National bird), Giant Kingfisher, Giant Heron, Shoebill stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Nightjars, Marabou stork, Black headed lapwing, Back-bellied Bustard among others.

Birds in Murchison can be best spotted while on a game drive, nature walks through the savannah grasslands and on the boat cruise along the Nile and on Lake Albert Delta. Birds like the blue napped mouse birds, silver birds, weavers among others can be seen near Paraa and Red chilli through the dry thorn-shrubs. Nocturnal birds like the nightjars can be seen along the Paraa road and while on the boat on the Nile. While on the boat, one can still spot very many birds such as the shoebill, Grey crowned cranes, Goliath herons, and black headed lapwings among others.

The shoebill is the park’s most outstanding attraction though rare but can be spotted from January to March during the dry season. Migratory birds can be seen between months November and April. Birders can watch birds all year round though best time is during the dry season especially from January-March, this time is a low tourist season in Uganda but birding is still plentiful. From December-February, the rains begin and birding can still be done.

From April-May and from August-October there are heavy rains, which makes it difficult for bird watching, the hiking trails are slippery and roads in the park are impassable.

 

Cultural Encounters

One of the unique things about Murchison Falls National Park is that it is surrounded by different ethnical groups like the Alur dominate the northwestern area, Banyoro people dominate the southern part of the park and the Acholi dominate the north eastern part of the park. All these different groups have unique things to offer such as cultural customs, values and beliefs.

The most famous of all the cultural groups at the park is the Boomu women’s group, the group consists of about 40 women. It was formed in order to improve their living standards and raise money to support their children at school.  At Boomu, you will experience and get to know how it feels like to be in an African village setting near Murchison Falls in Kigaragara Village. They not only perform traditional dances, they also make locally handmade crafts like weaved baskets, mats and black smiths. They also offer cooking lessons to tourists. To have this to the fullest one can either have an overnight stay in traditional Bandas or spend a day on a village visit with the Boomu women’s group; with this, you learn how people in the rural areas of Uganda live.

Tourists can also visit Mubako village and be able to see real African architectural village, the villagers perform thrilling local traditional dances and they also have small crafts shops where you can acquire souvenirs to take back home to your loved ones or for remembrance.

Whichever cultural centre you visit, you will learn a lot about people’s ways of lives as well as be part of their day-to-day activities.

WhEN TO VISIT Murchison Fall National Park

The park is open for visitors any time of the year though the best experiences are got during the dry season in the months of December to February and June to September, it’s also considered as the parks’ peak season. During the dry season, it is easy to see animals as they draw out of the dense bushes and closer to the water sources. Trails for trekking chimpanzees in Budongo Forest are also clear, the weather in general is good for sightseeing, and game drives. The dry season is also the time when mosquitoes are most active and back into buildings after breeding in the bushes and the chances of getting malaria are significantly reduced.

Since the dry season is also the parks’ peak season, it is the time most tourists flock to Uganda and the Murchison falls in particular. Most accommodation facilities are usually fully booked especially luxury lodges hence visitors are advised to book in advance.

 

The low season coincides with the rainy seasons of March to May and October to November. During the low season, the rains can go on for most of the day making the park roads muddy, slippery and sometimes impassable even for the best 4X4 vehicles. Overgrown vegetation also makes some parts of the park difficult to access. Many of the animals take shelter during the wet season unlike in the dry season where they can be seen looking for good pasture and water – affecting the quality of some game drives. On the good side, travelers can get discounts from the lodges at this time as hotels charge less because of fewer clients. There are fewer tourists in the park during the low/rainy seasons, allowing visitors time to really reflect and enjoy themselves in a park with fewer crowds. If you are afraid of the heat or wish to see the park in perfect green with a lot of beautiful plants, trees, flowers and newborn babies, then this is the recommended time. It’s also the perfect time to take walks to appreciate the beauty of the park.

HOW TO GET To Murchison Fall National Park

One may be wondering how to get to the park. However, by means of road, it will take you around 5hours from Kampala with about 305 km. Paara covers a distance of about 85km from Masindi town by the shortest route. A direct or longer route will cover an area of about 135km. Alternatively one may decide to take on the Budongo forest route that will provide magnificent views overlooking Lake Albert from the direct position of the rift valley escarpment over Butiaba.

 

You can also access Paara from the north through Chobe Gate, Karuma Falls along with Tangi. The Gate that is close to Pakwach covers an area of about 25km2 to Paara in addition to Wankwar Gate close to Purongo.  People with Vehicles or public means will definitely go through the Nile at Paara. It has a fixed time from 07.00 and 19.00.

Besides road, Murchison can be accessed by air. Pakuba is the landing site for the charter flights and it takes about 19kms from Paraa and Bugungu covers an area of 13kms from Paraa.