Semuliki National Park covers 220sqkm of the valley floor connecting Uganda to the steamy jungles of central Africa and harbors some intriguing wildlife, although sightings are not always easy due to the thick vegetation. It’s most famous for its primordial hot springs, sites for traditional rituals for the local Bamaga people.
Birdwatchers come to see more than 440 bird species, such as the Congo serpent eagle, residing at their eastern limits. At least 133 of the 144 Guinea, Congo forest species have been recorded here and nearly 50 species are found nowhere else in East Africa. There are nine primate species, including De Brazza’s monkey, and many mammals not found elsewhere in Uganda, such as Zenker’s flying mice. Both the resident elephants and buffalo are the forest variety, smaller than their savannah brethren.
Most people come here to see Semuliki’s two boiling Sulphur hot springs.
The female hot spring is where women from the Bamaga clan would make sacrifices to the gods before bathing naked in the natural springs. Its soupy atmosphere has a distinct prehistoric feel and features a small burbling geyser. Your guide can demonstrate the water’s temperatures by boiling an egg, you can buy it from the information center; though with the stench of Sulphur it’s probably the last thing you feel like eating.
A half-hour walk from the ‘female’ spring, the male hot spring is where the men carried out their sacrificial rituals. It is accessed via a muddy forest trail with plenty of primates and birdlife along the way. It leads to a verdant clearing of the swamp where a boardwalk passes through sweeping grass and squawking frogs to the hot spring located in a 12m pool.
Birding or hiking requires a UWA ranger guide. The guide will come with an armed guard from the Counter-Terrorism Unit, as this is a border area.
Walking options include the 11km Kirimia Trail, which is a full-day romp through the heart of the forest and the favored destination of birdwatchers, and the somewhat shorter but hillier Red Monkey Trail. Both end at the Semliki River, which forms the border between Uganda and the DRC.
Bumaga is a pleasant, grassy campsite on the edge of the forest with several bandas and a campsite with showers and latrines. There’s a lovely elevated dining area providing meals. You’ll need to arrange accommodation at the UWA office at the Sempaya gate. The campsite is 2km past the gate.
Ntoroko Game Lodge
Sitting directly on the shores of Lake Albert these ample thatched-roof tented camps have wooden floors, some claw-foot tubs, and patios overlooking the water. Full board is available. There’s a good selection of activities including walks, community visits, and biking, as well as trips into the park.
Semliki Wildlife Reserve
Once one of the best-stocked and most popular wildlife parks in East Africa, the Semliki Wildlife Reserve suffered significant poaching during the civil-war years and after the war with Tanzania. However, wildlife is recovering well and you may encounter waterbucks, reedbucks, bushbucks, chimpanzees, pygmy hippos, buffaloes, leopards, elephants, and hyenas. A number of lions have also recently returned to the reserve, which is the oldest protected natural area in Uganda, having first been set aside in 1926.
Likely the best wildlife experience in the park is the morning chimp tracking (primate walk). The hiking is more difficult than in Kibale and you’re less likely to encounter chimps, but if you do, the thinner forest means your views are superior. These are rare ‘dry-habitat chimps’ that spend considerable time in the savannah and so walk upright more than others.
With a line of mountains behind it, the savannah scenery from the main road is often superb, but the wildlife viewing along isn’t: Uganda Kob and baboons are the only sure things. It’s best to get a ranger from the park headquarters to lead you down other tracks.
Rangers lead nature walks in various places around the park, including Nyaburogo Gorge behind the park headquarters (which has lots of primates and butterflies), along the shore of Lake Albert and, via a steep climb to great views atop the mountains on the southeastern edge of the park.
A Lake Albert boat trip will likely reveal hippos and crocodiles, but it’s mostly undertaken by birdwatchers for near-guaranteed shoebill stork sightings. Semliki Safari Lodge arranges the trips. You could also arrange the trip with fishers in Ntoroko village for about half price, in a boat about half the size.
The small Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) campsite at Ntoroko is on the shores of Lake Albert, meaning you often have hippos joining you in the evening. There are three bandas with shared bathrooms and a small canteen where staff prepares your meals.
Semliki Safari Lodge
One of the first luxury lodges in Uganda, with eight luxury tents set under bandas, all with sumptuous Persian carpets and four-poster beds. It’s extremely good value for what you get, as prices include all food, one game drive or boat trip per day, transfers from the airport, and local taxes.