Things to do in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls is Uganda’s central National Park and one of the wildest parks. Take cruises downriver to see elephant herds; game drives across the grasslands to track lions and buffalo, and walks through the nearby Budongo Forest to spot monkeys and chimps.
It is Uganda’s oldest conservation area, and for more than a century, it has been visited by British royals Ernest Hemingway and President Theodore Roosevelt. Winston Churchill also visited the Park, which may have led him to declare Uganda the ‘Pearl of Africa,’ and today’s visitors can still see the ruins of former President Idi Amin’s lavish hideaway stone walls that stand guard, hauntingly, over the savannah.
The River Nile cuts the Park into two parts, which picks up momentum as it crashes over rocks until it reaches its dramatic crescendo jamming itself through an 8m-wide gap in the stone to create the magnificent waterfall that gives the Park its name. From here, the waters widen into a smooth, even flow. Gentle cruises up this lower stretch of the river take you past vast herds of grazing buffalo and elephants while storks and crocs jostle for space at the water’s edge. You’ll pause a little from the base of the falls, whose sheer power transforms it from a cascade of water into a cloud of spray.
You’re likely to encounter elephants, giraffes, buffalos, baboons, warthogs, and Nile crocodiles within the Park. With a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger in your vehicle, you have a decent chance of spotting lions and perhaps the odd jackal. Amongst the Park’s more unusual species are the red hartebeest, with their long flat faces, and the shoebill stork, a prehistoric relic and one of the birding world’s most fabulous sought-after classes.
History of Murchison Falls Park
Murchison Falls National Park has fallen in and out of favor. In the early 20th century, sleeping sickness was rife in this region, spread by tsetse flies to livestock and humans, causing the area to be evacuated. More recently, northeast Uganda was shaken by a brutal civil war that broke out in the 1980s, left hundreds of thousands dead or disappeared and over a million Ugandans displaced. During the complex conflict, the military battled against rebellious groups containing the notorious Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
As the violence continued through the 1990s and early 2000s, Murchison Falls National Park was a no-go zone, but by the latter half of the decade, the LRA mainly had disappeared over the Congolese border, and peace talks were taking place. The long period of abandonment, and the lack of widespread farming due to the tsetse flies, meant that the wildlife had been left to thrive, and today, particularly in the lesser-visited northern section of the Park, you’ll find some of Uganda’s most giant elephants striding across the wide-open landscape.
Murchison Falls National Park Highlights
Murchison Falls & Nile cruises
Any Uganda Safari holiday to this Park will include a tour to the falls, usually via a three-hour river cruise departing from Paraa Lodge and taking you a short distance from the waterfall’s base. You’ll be close enough to see the rainbows cast by the spray but far enough away to stay dry. The journey reveals the Park’s magnificent wildlife, which is drawn to the river to eat, drink and fish. This is one of Uganda’s most relaxing and magical wildlife encounters.
You may also be able to arrange a trek to the topmost of the falls. It’s a soggy, 45-minute scramble through the forest up to the viewpoint at the top. The waterfall itself is pretty much obscured from view thanks to the angle and the massive amount of spray – but the roar and the rush of white water leave you no doubt that you are in the presence of a mighty cascade.
This mahogany forest is just south of Murchison Falls National Park, near the main gateway town of Masindi. It shelters an astonishing 500-600 chimpanzees, and you can track one of three habituated groups alongside Uganda Wildlife Authority guides. There is an excellent network of trails, so this is a much easier trek than tracking gorillas in Bwindi. However, chimps are much more active so you could be in for a long – and possibly speedy – walk, and ‘off-roading’ may be required. The tall trees mean the chimps can sometimes be found high up in the canopy.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
This sanctuary is just off the main road between Kampala and Murchison Falls National Park; most tours stop here en route. It’s a worthy pause, in every sense; Ziwa shelters Uganda’s only population of white rhinos, which became extinct here in the wild in 1983 following extensive hunting and poaching. Through careful breeding programs, the rhinos at Ziwa has grown to almost 20, and you’ll likely encounter babies alongside their huge mothers and battle-scarred adult males. White rhinos are not aggressive and have very poor eyesight, so you can track them on foot in the company of a wildlife ranger – if you’re lucky, you’ll get heart-poundingly close. Your entry fee supports these endangered animals and other species in the sanctuary, including bushbucks, hartebeest, and monkeys.
Having endured three decades of violence, local communities remain scarred; a whole generation grew up knowing nothing but war. However, the culture in this region is affluent, cut off as it has been from the rest of the country. Local women’s tourism cooperatives, tour guides, musicians, and dancers offer an excellent insight into Acholi traditions and provide vital support to communities recovering from the years of war in Uganda’s poorest region. Some tours include visiting a local community or women’s group, or there may be fireside performances while you relax back at camp in the evening.
How to Visit Murchison Falls National Park
The main entrance to Murchison Falls National Park is around a five-to-six-hour drive from Kampala in a private vehicle on decent roads. Most Uganda holidays follow an anticlockwise circuit starting and ending in Kampala. If Murchison Falls is included, it’s likely to be the first port of call, stopping in at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary and maybe Budongo Forest on the way.
The Park is huge, and wildlife is dispersed, so a private driver-guide or Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger is essential to help you track down the animals. On an organized small group or tailor-made Tour, this will all be arranged for you even if the animals themselves can’t be guaranteed to appear on demand. While giraffes and elephants may be easy to spot, finding a lion sleeping in the sandy grass is a lot trickier, but these guides are real experts. The River Nile bisects the Park, and a ‘car ferry’ (basically a floating platform that can carry around eight cars) travels back and forth between the north and south bank several times a day. The Nile Delta is a safari hotspot as the river widens and fills with papyrus, luring plenty of aquatic birds plus antelopes, giraffes, and more. The further north you go, the wilder the Park gets, and the fewer other vehicles you’ll encounter. It may be harder to see animals up here as they are less habituated to the Jeeps – but it’s all the more thrilling when you do.
Tours generally include a Nile River cruise to Murchison Falls; some lodges and terms will also offer a sunset cruise which might not reveal much wildlife, but the sight of a substantial African sun setting over the glassy waters of the Nile is truly memorable.
There is a variety of accommodation in and around the Park, from community-run cabins and backpacker-friendly tented camps to a Swahili-style ‘fort’ and Paraa Lodge, which is something of a national institution, having hosted the Queen Mother in the 1950s. Some accommodations overlook the river, perfect for sipping a chilled Nile Special beer in the evening as you listen to the hippos’ honking’ below. It’s not unusual for them to wander right through some of the camps at night, carry a torch, and keep well out of their way if you encounter one. Warthogs and baboons are also frequent visitors; for this reason, staying under canvas, you should never store any food in your tent.
When To go to Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park is in Uganda’s arid northeast region, and rainfall rarely stops play. The wettest months in Uganda are March to May, with a shorter rainy season from October to November. Wildlife here is not migratory, and it tends to cluster around the River Nile rather than waterholes, so you’ll enjoy a busy safari whichever time you come. During the rainier months, the falls may be fuller. Still, if you’re trekking in Budongo Forest, or continuing south to track gorillas in Bwindi, the downpours and muddy trails can make the long rainforest treks challenging.
Attractions in Murchison Falls National Park
Following are some of the intriguing sights you can encounter when on safari in the Murchison Falls National Park:
The Powerful Murchison Falls
As per history, the unusual Murchison Falls was unquestionably one of the Park’s greatest charms when it was first founded in 1952, the waterfall is on the river Nile, and rocks display a large volume of water squeezing through a narrow 7m crevice in the rocks. The force of the water results in a roar and a water spray around the fall. Interestingly, tourists prefer accommodation close to the waterfall to hear its roaring water.
The Nile River
the River Nilei is an other major attraction in this Park. The Nile, whose Source is found in Uganda’s tourist town Jinja is popularly known as the extensive river in the creation. This runs over the Murchison Falls Park, crowded with streaming hippos and numerous giant crocodiles seen along the sandbanks, as well as vast numbers of diverse animal classes and birds getting down to drink and bath.
The best way to explore the river is by taking an elevation tour up the stream to the bottom of the waterfall, where you will see various animals and birds. Every daily lunch starts at 09:00 am and to14:00 pm. It takes roughly 3 hours to travel both ways. From Paraa, a different boat journey departs for the papyrus delta at the spot where the river meets Lake Albert.
Top of the Murchison Falls View
The peak of the Nile is where you would see and hear the Nile rushing through a narrow aperture, providing the most breathtaking perspective of the cascade. Visitors can drive to the destination from the boats at the base of the falls or hike there for 30 minutes.
Buligi Game Area
This is the best game viewing area in the Park, famous for game drives, and it comprises open savanna grasslands, riverine vegetation, woodland, and acacia. On the three-day Murchison Falls safari, game drives are typically done in the morning and late in the afternoon in the Buligi area. A ranger’s guide from UWA is advised to accompany you on most of your jeep safari. The region has excellent views of the western valleys that extend past Lake Albert into the DRC and is situated among the Victoria and Albert Niles. Driving over the 170 km from Paraa to Delta Points requires three to four hours.
The creature in Murchison Falls National Park
Large mammals: The Park comprises tropical rainforests, wetland habitats, savannahs, and woodlands, which are home to approximately 450 unique bird varieties and 76 distinct mammal kinds. The Rothschild’s giraffes, warthogs, cape buffalos, hartebeest, and elephants are a few of the large species in the Park.
Birds: more than 450 bird species, the Nile corridor of the Murchison has an extensive array of water birds like erratic shoebill stork. Other species include the Goliath Heron, African Quail-Finch, the elegant Grey Crowned Cranes, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Swamp Flycatcher, Squacco Heron, Silver bird, African Jacana, Piapiac, Denham’s Bustard, Weaver Birds, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Malachite Kingfishers and the Black-billed Barbet: in addition, there are various primates in this Park over 800 chimpanzees, olive baboons, black & white colobus monkeys, the red tailed monkeys and many others found in Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo forest.
Another critical area worth exploring in Murchison Falls National Park is the Paraa area found close to the banks of the river Nile. According to the local language, Paraa means the ‘home of hippos,’ a word that well depicts the large number of hippos found in this area. While in Paraa, you can appreciate a variety of events such as game drives in the early morning and afternoon, hot air balloon rides, cultural visits, birding tours, fishing trips, guided nature walks, and launch boat trips. The launch cruise will offer you a chance to see various animals in the shallows of the Nile. During the guided walks, you can also visit the native Luo people and get an opportunity to learn about their culture and way of life. In addition, you can also visit the museum with a gift shop in the northern part of para. Within this area, there is a luxury accommodation facility – the Paraa Safari Lodge that offers excellent accommodation, a fine restaurant operated by professional chefs, a well-stocked bar, and very hospitable and experienced staff.
Another critical area worth exploring on your trip to Murchison Falls is the Budongo Forest found in the southwestern part of this conservation Area located close to the Park, continuous with Kniyo Pabidi forest, and encompassed by farmlands and villages on the other side. The forest boasts of a vast diversity of wildlife, among which are over287 butterfly species, 24 mammals, over 460 tree species, and about 360 types of birds. Here you will be able to explore the ‘Royal Mile,” a well-maintained road stretch displaying the various tree species and famous for its good bird watching opportunities. The forest also offers excellent primate watching opportunities.
Kaniyo Pabidi Forests
Found in the southern part of the Murchison Falls Conservation Zone, the trails via Kaniyo Pabidi forest that stretch for about 8 km inside Kichumbar Gate give a chance for Chimpanzee Tracking and seeing other primates such as the blue monkeys, olive baboons, as well as the black and white colobus living under Uganda’s primary remaining mahogany forest. Watching the Birds is outstanding, with opportunities of noticing various species like the yellow-footed flycatcher, white thighed hornbill, and Ituri batis during the guided countryside gaits offered in this forest. Buffaloes, elephants, and lions are some of the other species living in this forest. There is accommodation provided in cottages, a campsite as well as Lodges like the Murchison Falls Lodge from where you can base to enjoy the guided nature walks in the forest in the mornings and evenings.
The Karuma Waterfall
Situated in the Chobe area within the northeastern part of the Murchison Falls national park, this thundering waterfall comprises cascading natural rock formations through which the water forces its way, forming a characteristic ‘white foam’ that is very impressive to observe. Because of its prime location, it is a great place to do some sports fishing. The area surrounding these falls is home to various wildlife, including monkeys, buffaloes, hartebeests, antelopes like the Uganda Kobs, lions, giraffes, baboons, and birds.
Cultural Tours in Murchison Falls National Park
At night, a beautiful African sensation is created by the lively performers from Mubako performing in surrounding hotel fire pits. The Boom Women’s Group provides lodging, a craft store, and village visits, highlighting the reality of living in this remote area.
Cultural Campfire Performances in Minako
The vast grassland of Murchison Falls National Park borders the secluded town of Minako. The settlement comprises a collection of traditional tented houses arranged about a clearing where residents congregate to hide from the afternoon sun underneath a big tree. The community’s hand – made goods and sculptured wooden carvings are sold in Mubako’s tiny craft store. Among the fire pits of neighborhood lodges, local ethnic communities play energetic singing and dancing at dusk, complimented by the lovely melody of the adungu. The harmonics of the different-sized adungus against the background of a Nile sunset are incredible. These instruments are indigenous to this area and are made of leather and thread. People are making money from the tourist industry; the society can purchase goods from local shops, pay tuition expenses, and sustain a daycare for 90 children. In this area, agriculture is complex due to the environment.
Outside Murchison Falls National Park
Boomer Women’s Group
This group was founded in 1999 to decrease hunger and inequalities and offer earnings for the participants so they could be capable of paying their kid’s school service charges. The sustenance growers from the countryside of Kihaguzi and Kigaragara in Uganda’s arid northern area had minimal harvest left over to advertise. A vibrant society tourist initiative with conventional lodging, restaurants, initially supervised excursions, and a well-kept garden has grown out of what started as a craft club.
The picturesque village tour highlights aspects of rural living while outlining the challenges society faces. Along with taking you to the local blacksmith, your ranger will display several products. A trip to the nurseries, a culinary display, or a hoop-making workshop can be organized upon demand. Storytellers relate tales about traditions and the way of life in the area.
Murchison Falls sport fishing
For the serious angler, recreational fisheries in Murchison Falls National Park can be very rewarding. There are excellent chances to catch a giant catfish or Nile perch (mputa). Tilapia, Tigerfish, electric catfish, and “Ngara” are further fish (Genus Celestes).
The record-breaking Nile perch was 113 kilograms when it was caught at the water gauge next to the crocodile lagoon, while the heaviest catfish was 45 kilos when it was seen close to the Nyamusika Cliffs. Experienced Sight View Excursion Coaches are accessible to take you to famous fishing locations. A fishing license is necessary, costing $50 per day or $150 for four days as of March 2019. Park entrance costs must be paid individually; for further information and to learn the price of a safari excursion, contact Sight View Safaris. Renowned anglers from around the globe have been fishing the Nile at Murchison in search of the big one, notably Jeremy Wade (presenter of River Monsters), the late John Dennis Wilson MBE (RIP), a prominent UK TV presenter, and Zeb Hogan of Monster Fish National Geographic TV.
Murchison Falls hiking trails and nature walks.
On foot, one can discover the expansive grounds and diverse beauty of Murchison Falls National Park and the adjoining Conservation Area. Numerous animals and birds can be seen on the treks of the Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Rainforests, and 2-4 hour escorted mudflats hikes in the Nile Delta may result in seeing Shoebills. On foot, one can enjoy the expansive grounds and diverse beauty of Murchison Falls National Park and the adjoining Protected Area. Numerous primates and birds can be seen on the Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Woodlands treks. Two to four-hour escorted swamp excursions along the Nile-Lake Albert Delta may result in catching the Shoebill in low water. You may climb 45 minutes to the top of Murchison. An afternoon of rowing up the river for an entirely new perspective of this great cascade. All your sensations will be engaged as you watch white-water waves mesmerizingly plunge through the six-meter abyss, listening to the roaring and feeling the rock tremble under your feet. If you don’t like making the climb on top, you can pause at the north bank and descend several stairs to stand just a few meters from the rapids.
Birdwatchers and other outdoor enthusiasts can experience short hikes from Sambiya River Resort, Mubako Crossing, or Paraa, passing the Emmy River. All treks last between 1.5 and 2 hours.
Game Drives in Murchison Falls
Numerous authorized game drive places in Murchison Falls National Park allow visitors to experience game watching while on a game drive zones. The primary regions are the Buligi Peninsula; the southern part is dubbed the center of Murchison and the Delta; there is a good chance of observing lions waiting for meals as they go for water.
The Buligi Peninsula, a diamond shape of grasslands bordered by the Victoria Nile entering Lake Albert and the Albert Nile flowing out of it, is the best place in the Park to see wildlife. be prepared to witness elephants, buffalos, antelope, and giraffes. The game pathway network comes together at Delta Point, where the Nile emerges from Lake Albert and runs north. This is an ideal location to pause for food and take in the faraway hippos and water birds. A hot air balloon ride above the fields to the north and west of Paraa is another tourist option.
Heart of Murchison
While the majority of the southern portion of the MFNP is protected in bush and woodland, the Rabongo route in the Park’s middle is where a lovely section of savanna flows down to the water. This region, which has become renowned as a top lion destination due to Uganda’s large flocks, has just opened vehicle routes. 20 km east of the Masindi-Paraa highway is where the “Heart of Murchison” is located. After 15 giraffes were relocated here in January 2016, it is now feasible to see these enormous animals on the Honey Moon route.
Birding in Murchison Falls
One can see several bird species, such as savannah woodland birds, waterfowl, and Albertine Rift endemics, on both the game excursions and the launching trips. The Shoebill is the Park’s primary attraction in birdwatching draw, and it may be seen most frequently from Jan to Mar during the dry seasons. The Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Grounds Hornbill, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, Open-billed Storks, and Widow Bird are among the most prevalent creatures observed on the plains.
The most frequent bird species are Swallow-tailed and Red-throated Bee-eaters, especially in the Nyamusika Cliffs, Woodland, Cuckoos, Pied, Hamerkop, Giant, and Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin, Crombecs, Hornbills, Shrikes, Flycatchers, Woodpeckers, Grey heron, and Warblers. There are also more brambles and forests nearer to the river; ducks, stilts, geese, and plovers live along the riverbanks.
Launching Trip to Murchison Falls
The launching voyage upstream from Paraa concludes with a breathtaking front sight of the Falls and an incredible show of animals. Morning sail to the Nile-Lake Albert Delta is suggested for birders. A serene sundowner boat can also see a tropical sunset mirrored on the river.
The Nile-Lake Albert Delta offers Africa’s finest opportunity to see the rare Shoebills. Hippo, elephants, and numerous birds are among the other fauna seen on the four to five-hour return trip.
The traditional vista of a tropical sunset illuminated on the river is available at 5.30 pm during a peaceful sundowner boat tour.
While visiting the Murchison Falls Preservation zone, visitors can go on foot excursions into the jungle. At Paraa, a trail meanders between low slopes, valleys, and the forest surrounding the river. There are nature hikes at the peak of the falls, in KaniyoPabidi, and Rabongo Forest. In the southeast of the protection area, on an island surrounded by tropical river woods, is where you’ll find the Rabongo Forest Outdoor recreation Center. Savannah meadows surround the forest. One can discover primates, including red-tailed monkeys, black-and-white monkeys, chimps, birds, shrubs, and pharmaceutical herbs with a tour operator. Within the Budongo Woodland Reserve, there is a tranquil section of natural forest called Kanio Pabidi, where you can stroll among old Mahogany and ironwood trees.
The most well-known practice is tracking chimpanzees. You undoubtedly encounter a lot of woodland birds, such as the unique East Africa Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, White-thighed Hornbills, and Puvell’s Illadopsis. Eight kilometres from Kichumbanyobo gate, on the Masindi-Paraa route, is Kaniyo Pabidi..
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