Located in Bwamba county in Bundibujo district, Semuliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki Valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. Gazetted as a national park in 1993, the park covers 220km² with an altitude of 670-760m above sea level and dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin harboring some of the most intriguing wildlife although sightings are not always easy due to the thick vegetation although its most famous for is the primordial hot springs, sites for traditional rituals for the local Bamaga people. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.
The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
The park is a birding paradise with more than 440 bird species, the central African species in particular, including Congo serpent eagle, a total of 133 of the 144 Guinea Congo forest species have been recorded here and nearly 50 species are endemic to this area in the whole of East Africa, some of the bird species include; African Piculet, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Blue-billed Malimbe, Yellow-throated Nicator, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Nkulengu Rail, Piping Hornbill, blue-billed malimbe, Yellow-throated Cuckoo and Leaf-love. 9 primate species, including De Brazza’s monkey, and about 53 mammals recorded, such as Zenker’s flying mice. Both the resident elephant and buffalo are the forest variety, smaller than their savannah brethren.
What to do/see
These are usually conducted in Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve that contains savannah grass land with over 50 mammal species including elephants, leopards, hippos, bush babies, buffalos, waterbuck, crocodile, warthog and Uganda kob to mention but a few.
The park’s main attraction is bird watching because of its location in the Albertine rift valley, low land forest and its central African species. In fact, it hosts Central African bird species that you cannot find anywhere else in East Africa. Semuliki national park is home to 441 bird species, 46 of Guinea-Congo biome species found nowhere else in East Africa. The species to look out for include; Shoebill, dwarf honeyguide, Yellow throated Cuckoo, yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue and Ross’s turaco, purple breasted sunbird, orange weaver, white crested hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, African Piculet, Swamp Palm Bulbul etc. The Shoebill is often sighted at Lake Albert while in the canoe birding. More areas for birdwatching in the park include – Sempaya, Ntandi, Kirumia trail, Semuliki River etc.
The Semuliki hot springs are the major attraction of the park. The Bamba people use them for rituals when communicating to the gods for blessings and protection. The walk to the male (named Bintente) and female (Nyasimbe) hot springs take you through the forest with a glimpse of quite a good number of primates including red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabey, and black-and-white colobus monkeys jumping from tree branches in search of food. The ‘female’ hot springs have a boiling fountain at over 1000C. Often you have an opportunity to cook plantains and eggs in the boiling waters and eat them as you continue your trekking journey.
Nature walks are also an integral activity that goes deep in the forest accompanied by a ranger guide. This takes about 2-4hrs walking along well-established and maintained trails. Red monkey trail is the nearest east of the park boundary and ending at Semliki River with higher chances of spotting rare DeBrazza monkey. Sempaya nature trail leads you to the Sempaya hot springs. The walk is through a patch of the forest with a glimpse of the black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabey. The Kirumia trail is 13 km is a perfect trail for birders.
Community walks/Cultural encounters
The Batwa lived in the forest before it was made a national park. They now live on the boundaries of the park but often visit the forest in search of medicinal plants. They have demonstrations of how they lived in the forest from gathering food, hunting, tools of how they lived and survived in the forest. Enjoy the music and dance performances and remember to purchase handcrafts they make as a way of supporting them.
There are two major roads from Kampala to Fort Portal, 4WD vehicles are recommended. Kampala-Fort Portal via Mubende is about 180km, or a 4-5-hour drive, making it the shortest route. Whereas Kampala-Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese is longer at 465km (7-8hrs drive).
Semuliki National Park’s Sempaya Gate is 59km from Fort Portal. The park headquarters at Ntandi is 6km further along the road. Historically, the journey was a slow and bumpy 2-3 hours’ drive on a narrow road that winds over the northern Rwenzori. The route is currently being widened and surfaced to make the journey shorter and more comfortable.
Where to Stay
Indistinguishable from Kidepo valley national park, Semuliki is also faced with limited accommodation facilities, this is due to the fact that it receives a few visitors thereby attracting little investment in the accommodation sector. One can slumber in Ntoroko safari lodge, Semuliki safari lodge or UWA bandas at Bumaga for the budget travelers. One can as well spend an overnight in Fort portal as it possesses much of the decent accommodation and it is only 2hrs drive from the park.