Uganda’s largest national park, Murchison Falls National Park is one of its very best; animals are in plentiful supply and the raging Murchison Falls, Where the Victoria Nile crashes through the rock and descends dramatically towards Lake Albert, is an unforgettable sight. This is an exceptional place to see wildlife and a trip along the Nile should not be missed, not least in order to see the powerful Murchison Falls up close, a simply unforgettable experience.
Once one of Africa’s most famous parks, Murchison had legendary numbers of animals, including as many as 15,000 Elephants. Unfortunately, during the war years, 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, Rothschild giraffes, Lions, Antelope, Waterbucks, Buffaloes, Hippos, and Crocodiles can all be seen with ease today.
During the 1960s, Murchison Falls National Park (3893sqkm; 5081sqkm with the adjoining Bugungu and Karuma Wildlife Reserves) was one of Africa’s most famous parks; as many as 12 launches filled with eager tourists would fill up the river to the Falls every day. The park also had some of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa, including an estimate of 15,000 Elephants. Though wildlife has recovered fast since peace was restored to Uganda, don’t come to Murchison Falls N.P expecting a scene from the Serengeti. That said, even if there were no animals, the awesome power of the Murchison Falls would make this park worth a visit.
In recent years, oil explorations within the park have caused concern in some quarters. With more than 40% of Uganda’s oil reserves here, Murchison Falls has a struggle ahead of it, and a consortium of British, French and Chinese oil companies are now engaged in drilling, though at present the sites are in isolated sections of the park distanced from the game drives.
Top of the falls
Once described as the most spectacular thing to happen to the Nile along its 6700km length, the 50m wide Victoria Nile is squeezed here through a 6m gap in the rock and crashes through this narrow gorge with thunderous power. The 45m waterfall was featured in the Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart movie The African queen. Murchison Falls was even stronger back then before the 1962 massive floods created a second channel creating a similar Uhuru Falls 200m to the north.
There’s a beautiful walking trail from the top to the river, and the upper stretch of this path offers views of Uhuru Falls, which a boat cruise will not bring you close enough to appreciate. Though it’s straightforward, a ranger guide is required. If you take the launch trip, the captain will let you off at the trailhead and a ranger will meet you there. The boat can then pick you up later if there’s an afternoon launch, or you can prearrange a car to take you out. This is also a good way for campers to get to the campsite at the top of the falls before returning to paraa the next morning. The hike takes about 45 minutes from the bottom.
There is a number of activities to choose from here, the most popular of which are Nile boat trips, wildlife drives, and nature walks. Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo Forest Reserve.
Nile Boat Trips
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 seasons even shoebills might make an appearance. The trip climaxes with fantastic frontal views of Murchison Falls around 500m from its base. Trips depart at 8 am and 2 pm. Cold drinks (including beers) are available, but no food. Bring sunscreen. Amore cushy option is to take the same trip with Wild Frontiers.
Another option, run by both Wild Frontiers and the UWA 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. Tour companies often book the UWA boat so you should be able to join for a fraction of the cost- ask at any park office.
Pretty much all wildlife watching on land happens in the Buligi area, on the point between the Albert and Victoria Nile. Just about all the park’s resident species might be seen in the savannah on the Albertine Rift, Queen and Victoria tracks, and the chances of spotting lions and leopards are quite many. 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 vehicles should definitely take a UWA ranger-guide to boost their chances of sightings. Night game drives [from 6 pm to 10 pm] enable travelers to see nocturnal animals. 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 7 pm [get there 10 minutes earlier]. On the off-chance you haven’t organized a vehicle, budget travelers sometimes have luck hanging out at ferry dock and finding space in someone’s vehicle.
The 1.5km guided nature walk along the north bank of the Nile run by Paraa Safari Lodge is popular with birdwatchers, but you are not likely to see many other animals.
Murchison is one of the world’s best places to fish for the gargantuan Nile perch. The normal catch ranges from 20kg to 60kg, but the record haul is 108kg. You can fish from the shore or get a boat, but be mindful of crocodiles and hippos. Catfish and tiger fish are other popular catches. Being a national park, fishing here is strictly catching and release. The best months are December to March and June to October.
Red Chilli Rest Camp
With good tours and buoyant staff, this is the most popular budget option in Murchison. Basic bandas are a good value though not perfectly grime-free, while safari tents get the job done. The restaurant-bar is set under a thatched roof with good river views and a roaring evening fire. Meals, all extras, are good value. Book well in advance.
Hippos regularly graze here at night, so bring a torch and give them a very wide berth.
Dutch-owned Nature lodges’ most ambitious venture takes the form of an ambient Islamic fort in a commanding location overlooking the Albert Nile. It has fine dining, good service and rooms are safari styled, for great views upstairs is the best option. The gorgeous rooftop deck has loungers shared with darting multi-colored agama lizards. There are a swimming pool and wi-fi in the works.
If you are looking for a more classic safari-style accommodation, there’s tented camping set up on an expansive campsite. The rooftop bar is another perk.
Paraa Safari Lodge
On the northern bank of the Nile, this classic African park lodge has a great location and stellar views, even if it has definitely aged in many respects since it opened in 1954. The rooms are well furnished and have marble bathrooms and terraces, though only the deluxe rooms are air-conditioned. Go for a room upstairs for the best views.
Murchison Tree House
This new locally owned lodge on 18 hectares occupies some cool real estate at the end of the road on a breezy riverside spot. The treehouse is actually a stilted waterfront cabin near the hippos. Tucked into the forest are pleasant cottages and safari tents with chemical toilets. Beware the marauding baboons, you’ll be given an escort to avoid them.
It’s 6.6km from the Mubako gate.