Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park

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 76 species of mammals and 451 birds.

The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece 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.

Notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals.

PARK AT A GLANCE

Size: 3,840km2

Murchison Falls became one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952

At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through an 8m wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the "Devil's Cauldron", creating a trademark rainbow

The northern section of the park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by woodland and forest patches

The 1951 film "The African Queen" starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park

Areas of Interest within the Park

Murchison Falls is characterized by eternal war between rock and water. The waters violently compress through a narrow gorge, spraying misty droplets along their wake over a 50m radius. This creates a permanent rainbow over the battlefield and causes a continuous roar. From Baker Point on the southern side, you can also view the Nile splitting into the smaller Uhuru Falls, created in 1962 when the river burst its banks.

River Nile

A boat ride along the Nile to the foot of Murchison Falls is a rewarding experience for nature lovers, as the northern bank teems with a variety of mammals, birds and reptiles. Guided nature walks along both the north and south banks are another refreshing activity, and sport fishing is also possible here. Rafting will be available starting in 2012.

Nile-Lake Albert Delta

This wide, calm stretch of water, where the tranquil Victoria Nile flows into Lake Albert, is a key area for bird watchers. Its papyrus-lined banks are bursting with birdlife, including Goliath Herons, Great Egrets, and African Fish Eagles. The most sought-after species here is the rare Shoebill.

Buligi Game Tracks

The Buligi game tracks, stretching between the Victoria and Albert Niles, are the Murchison Falls National Park’s most popular safari destination. At around 120-170km in length, they pass through open savannah grassland, woodland, acacia and riverine vegetation. Most of the park’s game can be viewed here, especially during early morning and early evening tours.

Paraa

Paraa, meaning home of the hippo in the local Luo language, is the park’s tourism hub. All the park’s access roads converge here as the northern and southern banks are linked by a passenger ferry, and several accommodations are located nearby. Additionally, a museum and gift shop can be found on the north bank, and most game drives, launch trips and nature walks commence here.

Karuma Falls

The Karuma Falls are located in Chobe, in the northeastern sector of the park. These roaring waterfalls on the Victoria Nile are made up of a series of natural rock formations which cause the waters to ripple and give them a white, foamy appearance. It is an ideal area for sport fishing.

Kaniyo Pabidi Forest

In the south of Murchison Falls Conservation Area, this forest ecosystem contains black-and-white colobus and blue monkeys, olive baboons, and a habituated chimp group which can be tracked. Elephants, buffalos, lions and leopards are also frequent visitors. Many forest birds can be viewed here, including the chocolate-backed kingfisher, white-thighed hornbill and Puvel's illadopsis which is found nowhere else in East Africa.

Kaniyo Pabidi has a campsite, cottage accommodation, forest walks and excellent bird watching.

Rabongo Forest

Surrounded by savanna and covering just 4km2, Rabongo Forest is considered a birders’ paradise because of the endangered species found here. Rabongo is ideal for educational tours as it provides opportunities to identify animals, birds, medicinal plants and trees. For relaxation, visitors can camp and enjoy picnics by the Wairingo River.

Budongo Forest

Budongo Forest, which is contiguous with the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, lies south west of the Murchison Falls Conservation Area. Budongo is astonishingly biodiverse, with 24 mammal species, over 360 birds, 289 butterflies and 465 plants. All the forest’s tree species are on display along the “Royal Mile”, a beautiful stretch of road highly regarded for its bird watching. Budongo is also known for its primate population, which includes around 800 chimpanzees. Forest walks are possible at Busingiro Ecotourism Site on the Masindi-Bugungu route to Murchison Falls National Park.

Wildlife and Birding

Big Game

The park is home to 76 species of mammals including four of the “Big Five”, with huge herds of buffaloes and elephants, well-camouflaged leopards and a healthy population of lions. It is also known for its giraffes; in Uganda these can only be viewed here and in Kidepo Valley. Other species viewed regularly along the game tracks include Jackson’s hartebeest, bushbucks, Uganda kob, waterbucks and warthogs. Resident crocodiles and hippos as well as other, visiting wildlife are found along the river.

Primates

Olive baboons are common along the roadsides – be sure to keep car windows and doors shut if you don’t want to lose your lunch! Blue and red-tailed monkeys and black-and-white colobus can be found in the forested sectors. The savanna-dwelling patas monkey is only found here and in Kidepo Valley National Park. Around 800 chimpanzees live in the Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo Forests. 

Birds

The varied habitats of Uganda’s largest park make it home to a variety of birds with 451 species recorded. The list includes the Shoebill Stork, the Goliath Heron – the largest heron in the world – and pairs of elegant Grey Crowned Cranes - Uganda’s national bird. Also seen along the banks of the Nile are the Blue-headed Coucal, Swamp Flycatcher, Squacco Heron, African Jacana, Sandpipers, Denham’s Bustard, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Black-headed Gonolek, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Piapiac, Silverbird, Weaver Birds, Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Red-throated Bee-eater, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver and African Quail-Finch.

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