Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s best-known and biggest nature reserve. Its impressive animal populations and superb activities are further augmented by its location which straddles the Victoria Nile as it makes its way through multiple rapids and waterfalls including the enormously impressive Murchison Falls to Lake Albert. This is an exceptional place to see wildlife and a boat cruise along the Nile offers amazing views of the powerful Murchison Falls up close which is a simply unforgettable experience.
Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting about 76 mammals and 451 bird species
Once one of Africa’s most famous parks, Murchison had legendary numbers of animals, including as many as 15,000 elephants. Unfortunately, during the years of wars, poachers and troops wiped out practically all wildlife. However, while the park’s rhino population was wiped out entirely, all other wildlife has recovered fast since peace returned; elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, waterbucks, buffaloes, hippos and crocodiles can all be seen with ease today.
The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls the center piece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy transforming it into a broad placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
There are numerous activities to encounter on a Murchison falls safari with the most popular being the Nile boat trips, wildlife drives and nature walks. Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo Forest Reserve is a highlight.
The launch trip upstream from Paraa presents an astonishing display of wildlife and culminates with the memorable frontal view of the Falls. The three-hour launch trip run by UWA from Paraa that heads up to the base of the falls is a highlight of the park for many visitors. There are abundant hippos, crocodiles and buffaloes, thousands of birds, including many fish eagles; and usually elephants along this 17km stretch of the Nile. In rainy season even shoebills might make an appearance. The trip climaxes with fantastic frontal views of Murchison Falls, around 500m from its base. Trips depart at 8am and 2pm. Recommended for birders is a morning cruise downstream to the Nile-Lake Albert Delta. Alternatively, a tranquil sundowner cruise offers the classic view of an equatorial sunset reflected on the river.
Another option, run by both Wild Frontiers and the is a five-hour Nile Delta boat trip that heads downstream to the papyrus-filled delta where the Nile empties into Lake Albert. While it’s less popular than the trip upstream to the falls, wildlife watching is still very good, though perhaps not as reliable. You may see leopards lounging in trees and shoebill sightings are very common.
In Murchison Falls National Park game viewing can be enjoyed while on a game drive in several designated game drive areas. The main areas are the Delta where there are great chances of seeing the Lions in wait for prey as they go to drink, the Buligi Peninsula and the southern sector famously known as the heart of Murchison. Pretty much all wildlife watching on land happens in the Buligi area, on the point between the Albert and Victoria Niles. Just about all the park’s resident species might be seen in the savannah on the Albert, Queen and Victoria tracks, and the chances of spotting lions and leopard are quite good. There’s very little wildlife south of the river, and driving in from Masindi or Pakwach you’ll probably only see baboons and warthogs.
You’ll want a minimum of four hours to get out there and back. Those with their own vehicle should definitely take a UWA ranger-guide to boost their chances of sightings. Night drives from 6pm to 10pm enable travelers to see nocturnal animals and for self-drivers staying across the river, take note of the Paraa ferry schedule to avoid missing the last boat back in the evening at 7pm get there 10 minutes earlier.
The vast landscapes and varied scenery of Murchison Falls National Park as well as the surrounding Conservation Area can be explored on foot. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds, while around the Nile-Lake Albert Delta, two- to four-hour guided 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 and photogenic moments.
This is an experience that brings all the senses into play: watch waves of white-water tumble hypnotically through this six-meter chasm, listen to the roar, taste the spray on your face and feel the rock shake beneath your feet. Sheer sensory overload! If you don’t fancy the trek to the top, stop off at the north bank during your game drive, and walk down a set of steps to stand within meters of the rapids.
Birders and nature lovers can enjoy short treks starting from Sambiya River Lodge or Mubako Junction, both on the south bank, or a walk along the north bank from Paraa, passing the Emmy River. All walks last from one and a half to two hours.
Sport fishing in Murchison falls National Park is quite rewarding for the avid angler. Murchison is one of the world’s best places to fish with great opportunities to land a large gargantuan Nile perch. Other fish include Tiger fish, Electric cat-fish, Tilapia, “Ngara” (Genus Alestes). The normal catch ranges from 20kg to 60kg, but the record haul is 113kglanded at the water gauge opposite the crocodile pool, and the largest cat-fish was 45 Kgs landed near the Nyamusika Cliffs. You can fish from the shore or get a boat, but be mindful of crocodiles and hippos. Being a national park, fishing here is strictly catch and release. Experienced UWA Guides are available to lead you to the best fishing spots, however, Wild frontiers operates a fishing concession at Murchison falls National Park and they can be contacted privately and a fishing permit is required . The best months are December to March and June to October.
Energetic dancers from Mubako perform around lodge campfires, making for a magical African experience at dusk. Boomu Women’s Group offers accommodation, a craft shop and village tours, revealing the realities of life in this rural community.
Accessing Murchison falls park while on Uganda safaris can be through two routes connecting to MFNP from Masindi. The first goes through the Kichumbayobo gate 85km about 3hrs drive from Masindi town while the second passes through the Lake Albert side 135km about 6hrs drive from Kampala accompanied by great scenic encounters.
MFNP can also be accessed via the northern side. Taking Kampala – Karuma – Pakwarch road branching off from the road to Gulu after a few kilometers from Karuma Bridge. This route opens you to different entry gates of the park including; Chobe gate 2km north of KarumaBridge,Tangi gate 110km west of Karuma bridge, Wankwar gate which is 10 km off the main highway and several Kilometers from Purongo.
MFNP can be accessed by Air travel as well. The park has two Airfields namely; Pakuba Airfield and Bugungu Airstrip. One can get a charter or scheduled flight from Entebbe and Kajjansi to any of the respective Airfields. Aero link operates scheduled flights to Murchison Falls National Park daily.
Murchison Falls National Park is blessed with numerous safari lodges that range from budget to luxury that visitors can choose from should they decide to spend holidays in the wilderness of MFNP. Eco-friendly campsites and budget accommodations are also available to budget travelers offering excellent services. Among these include the following; Nile Safari lodge, Bakers lodge, Chobe safari lodge, Paara safari lodge (Luxury), Pakuba Safari Lodge, Budongo Eco lodge, Sambiya River lodge, Murchison River lodge, Fort Murchison lodge (Mid-range) and Red chill rest camp (Budget accommodation) to mention but a few.