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Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls NP, the largest of Uganda’s ten National Parks is one of the most spectacular parks in all of Africa.

Famous visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, who in 1907 described it as ‘Kew Gardens and the zoo combined on an unlimited scale’. Theodore Roosevelt followed in 1909, the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1930 and the Queen Mother in 1959. In 1951, the Falls provided a backdrop for Humphrey Bogart in the famous movie, The African Queen and in 1954 Ernest Hemingway literally crashed in when his plane clipped an old telegraph wire. Him and his wife were rescued and taken to Butiaba only to have their rescue plane crash on takeoff.

About Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls NP lies in the north-west of Uganda, 90 kms from Masindi town and at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley. The park covers 3,893 sq km and is the core of the even larger Murchison Falls Protected Area (5,072km2) which includes the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu wildlife reserves. One of Uganda’s oldest conservation areas, it was initially gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 and upgraded to a national park in July 1952.

Bisected by the Victoria Nile, the centre piece of the park is undoubtedly the top of them falls. After 80 kms of whitewater rapids this 50 metre wide river narrows dramatically to crash through a 6 metre gorge, plunging 43 metre to the rocks below. The falls were named in 1864 by the explorer Samuel Baker in honour of the Royal Geographical Society president at the time. Baker described it as 'the greatest waterfall of the Nile' and considered it ‘the most important object through the entire course of the river.’

Hippo Launch trip to the base of Murchison Falls Nile Crocodile

Biodiversity

From rolling savannah and tall grasslands to thick bush and woodlands, the bio-diversity of this park never ceases to amaze visitors and residents alike. The park and the Greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area support an abundance of flora and fauna, boasting 76 species of mammals, 10 species of primates, 250 species of butterflies, and more than 465 species of plants.

Large mammals include lion, leopard, elephant, hippopotamus, Rothschild’s giraffe, Cape buffalo, hartebeest, oribi, warthog, and Uganda kob. The Nile corridor provides year-round water for all these animals as well as Uganda’s largest population of Nile crocodile.

The Rabongo and Budongo Forest Reserves provide refuges for chimpanzee and other primates including black-and-white Colobus, Grey-cheeked Mangabeys, Vervet monkeys, Red-tailed monkey and Olive Baboons. The forests are also the home of some 360 species of birds and 290 different types of butterflies.

A total of 460 bird species have been sighted in the park, the most sought after of these being the pre-historic looking shoebill stork which is found along the lower stretch of the river towards the estuary into Lake Albert. More common birds that are seen include Goliath heron, Egyptian geese, pelican, bee-eaters, kingfishers, hornbill, cormorant and saddle-bill stork.

Around the Park

  • Paraa, meaning 'place of hippos' is the main tourist hub of the park. Being bisected by the River Nile convenient access between the north and south sectors of the park can only be made by car ferry boat operated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Upmarket accommodation is available on the north side of Paraa while budget accommodation is available on the south side. It is also from here that boat trips depart and ranger guides can be obtained for game drives.

  • The Nile and Murchison Falls
The stretch of river from below the falls to Lake Albert offers one of Uganda’s most memorable wildlife spectacles and one of the highlights of any visit to Murchison is the 3 hour launch trip upstream to see the base of the falls. Regular visitors include elephant, giraffe and buffalo while hippopotamus and Nile crocodile are permanent residents.

The most dramatic view of Murchison is the ‘Top of the Falls’ where the sight and sound of the Nile crashing through a 6m-wide chasm make an unforgettable assault on the senses. This site may be reached either by vehicle or for the more adventurous, a 45 min climb after leaving the lower falls launch trip.

A less frequented trip but just as enjoyable and a highlight for the avid birdwatcher is a 4-5 hour return boat trip heading downstream from Paraa to the papyrus delta at the river’s entrance into Lake Albert. The marshy channels of the delta and the interspersed islets are the perfect nesting place for the prehistoric looking Shoebill Stork.
 
  • Game Fishing below Murchison Falls is an anglers dream where the record catch of a Nile Perch is 108 kg provides exciting challenges to anglers including the chance to land a massive Nile Perch (the record is 108kg). Other game fish found in the Nile include Barbel, Electric Catfish and Tiger fish.Fishing is restricted to designated sites and best access to the best sites is by boat so prior booking is recommended through a professional operator is advised.

  • Game Drives are mostly conducted in the park’s prime savannah game viewing area north of Paraa in the area called Buligi. This lovely grassland wilderness is sandwiched between the Victoria and Albert Niles with panoramic views towards the western wall of the rift valley beyond Lake Albert in the D.R. Congo. A game drive from Paraa passing Delta Point takes 3-4 hours. Early morning and late afternoon are the optimum times for sighting game. A UWA ranger guide is recommended to help you make the most of your game drive.

  • Rabongo and Budongo Forest Reserves, both located south of Paraa are accessed en-route via Masindi and provide the opportunity to track chimpanzee and other primates beneath Uganda’s largest remaining mahogany trees. Walks start morning or afternoon, but morning walk is usually more reliable. Walks can take from one to four hours, with two hours being the average. The terrain is gently rolling hills with small streams and dense vegetation, but transects are cut across most of the forest, making access relatively easy.

  • Chobe, located on the eastern side of the park and accessed via Karuma Falls on the main Kampala - Gulu highway has for many decades been abandoned due to strife in Northern Uganda. Chobe Safari Lodge was originally constructed in the 1950's and at its peak was a major tourist destination for Uganda. The lodge has recently been refurbished and as a result of this section of the park having been isolated for so long the wildlife has thrived although unfamiliar to human contact. The UWA are in the process of opening up circuits in the vicinity of the Lodge in order to view the superb wildlife in the immediate surrounds.

  • Hot Air Balloon Safari.  Take a one of a kind Hot Air Balloon Safari Tour over Murchison Falls National Park at sunrise seeing  the Nile, Lake Albert and wildlife and scenery below.   It is 1 hour in the air over Murchison Falls Park seeing the park like you would never on a game drive. The Hot Air Balloon Ride is followed by a Champagne Bush Breakfast.  Sunset flights are also available. 

When to go

Any time! Although it should be noted that the Albert Nile corridor is Uganda’s lowest area (612m at Delta Point) and temperatures can be hot with a mean maximum of 29ºC. The hottest times are mid December to mid February and June to July, tempered by rainy seasons in April and November.