In 1932, Semuliki started as a forest reserve and in 1993 was established as a national park. It is situated in Western Uganda along the Uganda – DR Congo border in a remote part of Bundibugyo district called Bwama County. It covers 220sqkm and said to be East Africa’s true lowland tropical forest containing various features like River Semuliki, wildlife species and the Hot springs.
This park is among the less visited Parks in Uganda, however, it is biologically diverse with the country’s largest Hot Springs known as Sempaya hot springs. They are classified into two; the male and female hot springs and found in different locations of the park. Well, scientists have an explanation of how the hot springs were formed, but also the indigenous local people living in the area have their story.
The male hot spring is called Bitende and the locals believe it to be a sacred shrine with male gods who offer wealth to them hence they to offer sacrifices in return to please the gods. The female hot spring is called Nyasimbi and the locals say it is a sacred shrine for female gods.
Semuliki is regarded as a ‘birders paradise’ with over 441 bird species. Its species have been increasing in number over the years and currently, it hosts 120 mammals such as elephants, antelopes and hippos, 235 moth species, 300 butterfly species and different primate species such as chimpanzees, monkeys and baboons.
The park is also home to various communities such as the Batwa Pygmies who are hunters and gatherers living along the edge of the forest, the Bwamba farmers living at the bottom of the Rwenzori, the Batuku Cattle keepers settling in the open plains and the Bakonjo who stay and practice farming on the mountain slopes.
Things to do/Activities to do while in Semuliki National Park
Over 441 species of birds have been recorded in the park hence making the park a great birding destination, this made it acquire the name “Birder’s Haven/Paradise” because it is. The park has trails followed by birders to spot various birds. Also areas around Ntandi, Sempaya Hot springs and River Kirumia offer remarkable bird watching experiences. Bird species that can be seen include; the Crested Flycatcher, Simple Green bulls, Pigeons, Forest thrushes, Orange weavers, Red thighed Sparrow hawk, Papyrus Gonolek, Forest Francolins, the Capuchin, Hornbills and many more. The shoebill stork can be seen in the swampy areas of the park, and birders need to go on a boating safari where River Semuliki enters Lake Albert.
Chimpanzee Tracking and other primates
The chimpanzees are tracked from Toro Semuliki reserve; chimpanzee tracking is very thrilling and can’t be missed out while in Semuliki, just like tracking chimpanzees in Kibale, Budongo and Kyambura, the same guidelines are followed in the process. However, the chimpanzees in Semuliki live in a dry forest hence move to far places in search for food meaning tourists have to look for them for some time, but the sight of them is very rewarding. In the process of tracking expect to see other primates like the baboon and monkeys.
Viewing of wildlife also is regarded as game drives is done in the morning hours, afternoon or in the night in Toro Semuliki reserve which is endowed with open savannah grasslands hence making it possible for wildlife viewing. There are various animals such as hippos, buffaloes, warthogs, elephants, antelopes, and the white-tailed mongoose and all these can be seen during a game drive through the park. Semuliki also offers the best night game drives where you can see a number of nocturnal animals such as the mongoose, bush babies, and many more.
Hikes and Nature walks
Of course this activity can be done in other safari destinations but experiencing it in Semuliki is remarkable. The park has 3 available trails for hiking and nature walks. Following these trials offers many amazing sights; the Sempaya Trail is 8km and leads tourists to the fascinating hot springs and during the walk many primates can be spotted around, the Kirumia trail is 13km long and the longest, it takes tourists through the lush forest to River Semuliki, it is also a birders trail, and the Primate/Red monkey trail which is 11km long, it takes hikers towards the park’s eastern border to see the De-braza’s monkeys, it also proceeds to River Semuliki.
Sempaya Hot springs Visit
The park has two hot springs; the male and female hot springs and they are among the highlights of the attractions in the park. Hot springs are a very fascinating feature with a lot of tales told by the locals living in this area. The boiling water and steam from the hot spring is gushed and can be seen from a distance. The water is very hot to the extent that tourists can experiment this by boiling eggs which get ready in less than 10 minutes. As tourists follow the trail that leads to the hot springs they also get a chance to see various bird species and some small primates on the trees. Also the locals in the area usually organize traditional dances as a way of entertaining the tourists.
The park is surrounded by 4 indigenous ethic tribes such as the, Batuku pastoralists, Batwa pygmy hunter-gatherers, Bamba and the Bakonjo farmers. And tourists can choose to visit all these or any of them to experience. Tourists usually visit the fishing community in Ntoroko; the community relies on fishing as a source of income but the tourists can engage in spot fishing to catch some of the amazing fish species such as the cat fish, lung fish and many more.
Also a visit to the Batwa pygmy community is memorable since tourists get to know more about this group of people; they used to live in the forests way back before it was established as a national park. However they were relocated outside the park, and the authorities support them by offering the opportunity to showcase their culture to tourists through traditional music and dancing.
Semuliki can be accessed from Kampala through Fort Portal via Mubende which takes about 4 or 5 hours on road. And while driving from Kampala through Masaka through Mbarara through Kasese, it takes 7 to 8 hours to get there. However, those who don’t want to go for long drives can fly in by booking a scheduled flight from Entebbe which takes about 1hour and a few minutes to get to the park.
Where to Stay
The park is surrounded by a number of lodges where you can stay during your safari. Their services and prices range from Luxury to budget, the choice is yours for which lodge to stay in. And they include; Semuliki Safari Lodge, the Semuliki River camp, UWA cottages and bandas, Hotel Vanilla, Nyati game lodge or choose to explore more by camping inside the park.
When to visit
The park can be visited throughout the year however we advise you to visit during the Dry season; there are two dry seasons one starting from December all through to February and another from June all through to July. In the wet season the rains are very heavy and affect the roads hence making it hard to maneuver through the park during game drives or nature walks.
Since Semuliki is in the western region, you can choose to visit other National Parks and attractions in the region such as Kibale Forest, Bwindi Impenetrable, Queen Elizabeth, Mgahinga, Lake Mburo National Parks and Lake Bunyonyi plus other attractions. You can book with us a combined safari of all the destinations mentioned and we shall readily help you plan your safari.