Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park is one of Uganda’s top tourist destinations located in the northwestern part of Uganda and managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). The park was established in 1952 and hence the country’s oldest and biggest park covering an area of 3,840 km2 stretching from the shores of Lake Albert, the Karuma falls and around the Victoria Nile. Murchison Falls National Park is divided by the Victoria Nile which stretches a distance of 115km from East to West. It is in this park that you find the popular spectacular Murchison Falls which flows through a 7m wide gorge before it plunges 43m and proceeding with the course along the Victoria Nile. The park is the country’s most famous park, it receives the highest annual number of tourists. It has a diverse ecosystem made up of swamps, rivers, forested areas, savanna grasslands and woodlands. It is home to over 451 bird species, over 76 mammal species, reptile species and primates. The main activities done in the park are game drives, boat cruises to the Murchison falls and the delta, sport fishing, bird watching, night game drives, hiking and guided nature walks.

Getting to Murchison Falls NP

The Park is located north of Kampala in four districts; Buliisa, Masindi, Kiryandongo and Nwoya. The journey time from Kampala (the Capital of Uganda) to Murchison Falls is approximately 5 hours, and approximately 6 hours as you drive from Fort Portal, plus an hour or 2 hours to drive from the main entrance gate to the different lodges. The visitors who don’t want to visit the park by road can fly in to the park. The park has two Airstrips; Bugungu Airstrip and Pakuba Airsrtrip where domestic flights from Entebbe or Kajjansi land. From these Airstrips, it’s made easy to connect to other national parks by air such as Queen Elizabeth and Kidepo Valle National Parks.

When to Visit Murchison Falls NP

Murchison Falls is visited throughout the year, however, the dry season is regarded as the best time for game viewing. The dry season is from June to September and from December to March. This season is regarded as the ‘peak season’, since the park receives high numbers of tourists. In the dry season, most hidden waterholes dry up hence wild animals move closer to the main water sources for water, they are seen along the river bank during the boat cruise. Also in the dry season, grass dries up hence appears to be short making it easy to spot wildlife during the game drive. However, during this season the park has many people/vehicles and the lodging prices are higher than the low season which is the wet season. That is why if you plan to travel to Murchison during the dry season ensure that you make your reservations some months prior to your day of travel to avoid any inconveniences. Visiting the park during the wet/peak season also has its advantages and disadvantages. The wet season begins from late March to May and from October to November. The advantage of visiting in this time of the years is that the park is less congested, the camps and lodges in the park also lower their prices in this season because there is low demand due to the less number of tourists. Sighting of wildlife in this season is lesser than the dry season, however, most wildlife species regarded as the grazers are undergoing calving around this time.  Also the volume of the water increases during the wet season hence making the Murchison Falls stronger as they forcefully go through the gorge and plunge to the bottom, it is so eye-catching. The birder’s can also have a good time doing bird watching during the wet season since there are many birds in the park because there is enough food for them including the migratory birds. Many of the birds can be see along the Nile River banks, the swamps, forests and all over the plains. The disadvantage is that due to the heavy rains, the roads/tracks through the park become very muddy and slippery, however vehicles still go through the roads, this alone adds on the tourists’ experience since some have never had that experience on muddy roads through the wilderness. The water pools are also filled with water and animals can find water anywhere through the park hence making it a little hard to just spot animals anywhere in the park since not many of them will be around the main water sources for water.

Activities to do in Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls is a main tourist destination in Uganda hence there are several activities to do while there. The park is made up of a number of attractions such as the swamps, the Magnificent Murchison falls, Nile River, Wildlife, Birds, Woodland, Savannah grasslands and Forests; hence availing a number of activities to engage in. We have made a list of some of the main activities done in Murchison Falls National Park.

Game drives

On every itinerary designed for Murchison Falls, a game drive is included. A game drive is a sure way to offer a classical safari experience to tourists. A Game drive is an experience that involves viewing of wildlife through the park in a 4x4 open roof safari vehicle. The term ‘game drive’ comes from the word game which means wild animals and the word drive means to drive with a vehicle. There are two types of game drives in Murchison Falls; Day game drives and the Night/Nocturnal game drives. A day game drive is done either early morning of during the course of the day as long as it not past the accorded time. It lasts for 2 to 3 hours and usually guided by the Tour company safari guides. During the drive expect to see elephants, antelopes, buffaloes, giraffes, lions, warthogs, leopards, birds and many more. Usually the day game drives are divided into two; the Early morning game drive which begins by 6am or 6:30am and the other in the evening from 4pm. The night game drive is usually carried out at night after diner. During this drive, it is compulsory to have a skilled and armed UWA ranger guide. The good thing about night game drives is that there is higher chance of seeing predators such as hyenas, serval cats, lions, leopards. During the drive spotlights are used on the vehicles to enable good vision in the dark.

Visit the top of the falls

Why the park is called Murchison falls is simply because it was named after the spectacular falls. Most visitors visit the top of these amazing waterfalls on the first day of arrival in the park or the second day basing on their itinerary. To be able to see the top of the falls, you either drive there or take a boat to the bottom of the falls and go for a 45 minute hike to the top of the falls, hiking is possible when the water levels are low, so many simply drive to the falls.

Launch/Boat Cruises

The boat cruise is also a highlight activity since it enables tourists to see what they couldn’t see during the game drive, sailing on a boat along the Nile River which bisects the park into two parts; the northern and southern bank offers an unforgettable experience. Boat cruises operate in the morning and afternoon hours, it is a 2 or 3 hours boat ride. Expect to have great views of landscape, buffaloes, elephants, antelopes and Nile crocodiles, birds like the kingfishers, herons, African fish eagle, flycatchers and African Jacana. When you get to the bottom of the falls during the boat cruise, you could decide to hike to the top for about 45 minutes or choose to return with boat. There is also an option of taking a boat to the Nile Delta, at the Nile delta is where the Nile meets and pours into Lake Albert. If you want to see more birds and wildlife species, you can take this boat following the flow of the Nile River.

Bird Watching

The park hosts over 451 recorded species of bird including the Savanah birds, Albertine Rift endemics, Migratory birds and Water birds hence being a great spot for bird watching. Birds can be seen during the nature walk, boat cruises, game drives and hiking. Also note that, the migratory birds can be seen around April and November. The species of birds that can be seen include; the Martial Eagle, Veracious dove, Abyssinian ground hornbill, giant kingfishers, black billed barbets, long-toed plovers, weaver birds, silver birds, yellow-billed stork, shoebill stork, black headed lapwing, tinker birds, grey-crowned cranes, Senegal thick-knee, long-tales nightjars and many more. This means that Murchison is among the top birding sites in Uganda.

Hiking/Guided Nature walks

Visitors who would love to explore the park on foot, hiking or nature walks are the best activities. The nature walks are mainly done in Rabongo Forest and Kaniyo Pabidi, where visitors move on foot guided by armed ranger guides to get to a closer range with some wildlife species such as mammals, bird species, and primates like the red tailed monkeys, black and white colobus and chimpanzees. Another thrilling nature walk or hike is what is referred to as the hike to the top of the magnificent waterfalls. This hike requires the visitor to be physically fit since it takes 45minutes or more as you climb up the rocks surrounded by scenic views to find the Murchison falls.

Hot Air Balloon Safaris

This activity is among the most recent activities in the park, it was introduced by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The hot air balloon safari offers an opportunity to have the aerial view of the park plus its wildlife, it’s a very exciting and adventurous activity.

Sport Fishing

This is also a common activity for those interested in fish, it is on catch and release basis. You need a sport fishing permit to be able to engage in this activity. Expect to catch Tilapia Fish, Mud Fish, Nile Perch, Tiger Fish and Catfish.

Chimpanzee Tracking in Budongo Forest

Tracking of chimpanzees is done in Budongo forest, a very famous and large Mahogany forest. Budongo forest is not far from the premises of Murchison Falls, which is why in case one is visiting Murchison Falls, they can add tracking of chimpanzees on their itinerary to have a great time with these primates. Tracking starts with briefing, after which visitors are allocated into groups and then enter into the forest, it can take 1 hour up to 4 hours depending on where the chimpanzees are. Meeting chimpanzees is worth your time since you will have a good time with them seeing how they behave and live. During the trek you will see other primate species plus birds, butterflies, plants, flowers and tree species.

What to Carry for the Safari to Murchison Falls

Your ultimate packing list for a safari to Murchison Falls is usually standard, so you park just the same as you would do for any other adventure safari experience. Ensure that you pack the following things as listed as you plan to travel to Murchison, some of the requirements will be required of you to present at the airport and others you just need them as you head to Murchison for the best experience. Some of the things to pack include; Passport, Airline ticket, Visa, Yellow fever Card, a good camera, clothes, binoculars (especially if you are a birder), shoes, sun glasses, hat and other items for personal use.

Where to Stay in Murchison Falls NP

Just like other National Parks, Murchison also has a number of accommodation facilities ranging from Budget to Luxury and also exclusively luxurious facilities. So where to day usually depends on the interests of the client and their budget. The lodging options in Murchison include; Chobe Safari lodge, Paraa safari Lodge, Heritage Safari Lodge, Nile Safari Lodge, Fort Murchison, Pakuba Safari Lodge, Budongo eco-lodge, Twiga Lodge and Murchison River Lodge.