Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP), is the largest protected area situated in the northwestern part of Uganda covering 3840 sq km. It covers Bugungu, Karuma wildlife reserves, and the Budongo Forest.
It derives its name from the Murchison Falls where the mighty River Nile explodes through a narrow gorge in the Rift Valley Escarpment and flows down to become a placid river.
Victoria Nile flows in the western direction between Lake Kyoga and Lake Albert and dissects the park into the north and south protecting a large section of untamed African savanna divided by the mighty Nile.
The Victoria Nile tumbles down through 80 kilometers (50 miles) of rapids and pours through a narrow 7-meter (23 feet) gap into the Devil’s Cauldron.
The mist rising from the falls creates a breathtakingly beautiful rainbow floating in the sunshine. Murchison Falls National Park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority.
In the southeast of the park lies the Budongo Forest Reserve protected within the Budongo and Kanyiyo Pabidi reserves, an extension of the park covering 790 sq km comprising the largest mahogany forest in East Africa!
This reserve supports 465 different plant species and about 800 chimpanzees. The Royal Mile located 14kms from Busingiro is one of the best birding areas in Uganda.
The reserve is famous for birding excursions where 366 different species have been recorded. The park has 76 mammal species and 460 bird species.
Top things to do in Murchison Falls National Park
Nile Launch Cruises
A 3-hour launch trip from Paraa to the base of the falls offers amazing views of wildlife and the frontal part of the waterfalls. The Delta Cruise down Lake Albert is a rewarding experience for bird watchers and offers a chance to view the rare shoe bill stork.
The sundowner cruise offers magnificent views of the equatorial sunset reflected on the river. Most launch rides start at the Paraa ferry base and take you along the river to the foot of the breathtaking Murchison Falls, in the Fajao Gorge.
This can be done during the game drives, nature walks, and launch trips along the Victoia Nile and Lake Albert Delta. Over 451 bird species are recorded in the park and they include Albertine rift endemic birds, water birds, and savannah birds.
The area around the delta has a walking trail that can be explored in two to four hours. Look out for bird species such as Chestnut-crowned Sparrow-weaver, Long-toed Plover, Vitelline Masked Weaver, Saddle-billed Stork, Spotted Morning-Thrush, Spotted and Verreaux’s Owls, Long-tailed and Pennant-winged Nightjars, standard-winged Nightjar, White-backed Night Heron and Pel’s Fishing Owl.
As the placid Victoria Nile merges with Lake Albert in the western sector of Murchison Falls National Park, it spreads out to create a fabulous delta that abounds with papyrus reeds and a striking variety of avian life. The best spot for sightings of the elusive shoebill stork is along the delta cruise.
Fishing expeditions from the shore or boats are also done along the mighty Nile River upon acquiring a fishing permit. Murchison Falls’s turbulent waters are famed for its large Nile Perch as well as several species of catfish and tigerfish.
A catch-and-release method is used with the help of experienced guides for day or multi-day excursions. The recommended months are from December to March and June to October.
Game viewing / Wildlife Drives
The northern region that borders the Victoria Nile from the Paraa region leading to Lake Albert is a superb game drive destination, boasting lush acacia forests, riverside vegetation, savannah grasslands, and various other trees and undergrowth.
Expect to see elephants, buffalo, antelopes giraffes, lions, and leopards. The game track network converges at Delta Point where the Nile flows north out of Lake Albert.
Game tracks include the Queen Track 10km and Albert Nile Track which passes through dense acacia forest patches and is ideal for birding. There is the 13km Victoria Nile Track towards the delta that supports a high concentration of game as well.
Towards the eastern Chobe section, about 2 hours away; there are chances of a game safari though the habitat is denser and wildlife is skittish due to the alternate Karuma tarmac road running through the northeastern section of the park with more human activities and settlements.
Hot Air Ballon Safaris
This activity starts at 05:00 am with pick-up places at Paraa entrances in the north and the south using UWA speed boats to transfer guests to the northern bank where they are picked up at the river where they are taken to the takeoff position.
The 1-hour balloon safaris accommodate 8 passengers and can fly up to 10,000 ft. above sea level. Bush breakfast may be provided at the end of the trip after that guests are transferred back to their pick-up locations.
Community-Based Tourism – Boomu Women’s Group
was formed in 1999, in the village of Kihaguzi, to fight poverty in the area by creating economic and social development. This was done by starting a community tourism project through the help of the Uganda Community Tourism Association that involves; handcraft production, cultural performances, accommodation, and guided walks that are showcased to visitors.
Budongo Forest Reserve – Southern part of Murchison Falls National Park
Budongo Forest Reserve is a 793 sq km classified as a medium-altitude semi-deciduous tropical rainforest in the southern part of Murchison Falls National Park.
The reserve has a high biodiversity with 24 species of small mammals; nine being primates; 465 species of trees and shrubs; 359 species of birds; 289 species of butterflies; and 130 species of moths.
Top things to do in Budongo Forest
These hikes take about 2 to 4 hours daily on both morning and afternoon sessions depending on the movement of the chimpanzees. You get to spend one hour with the chimps upon sighting them.
Get to spend the entire day with the chimpanzees from nesting to de-nesting.
Learn how to identify the chimps as individuals by their markings, sometimes scars, and other unique features that make them stand apart from rest.
The best months for habituation are March, April, May, and November (low season) when there is less tourist congestion.
Nature walks/forest walks
The reserve has well-developed forest trails offering chances to explore the tropical rainforest. Learn more about the ecosystem, the large Mahogany trees, and different bird species, about 359 bird species are recorded in the reserve on half or full-day excursions guided by keen birding guides.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park
From Kampala, it takes approximately 4-6 hours (305 km) to drive to Murchison Falls National Park headquarters at Paraa (85km from Masidi). The park can be accessed through the northern and southern gates.
The most direct route to Murchison National Park from Kampala is through the southern gate Kichumbanyobo gate that passes through Budongo Forest.
The Northern gates are the Chobe, Wankwar, Mumbako, and Tangi Gates which are across the River Nile. These are ideal if you are transferring from Gulu or Kidepo Valley National Park.
Murchison Falls National Park can also be accessed by air through Pakuba, Chobe, or Bugungu Airfields. Bugungu is a few kilometers from Paara and the most convenient then transfer by road to your accommodation preference.
There are domestic scheduled daily flights operated by Aerolink that depart Entebbe Airport at 12:00hrs and arrive at 13:00hrs in the park. They depart the park at 13:15hrs and arrive at the airport at 16:25hrs.
Where to stay in Murchison Falls National Park
Nile Safari Lodge
The lodge is located on the south bank on an elevation above the iconic Nile River in Murchison Falls National Park. There are 8 traditional luxury bandas constructed using naturally occurring materials categorized into 6 Deluxe Bandas, 1 Family Villa, and 1 Exclusive Banda. The Bandas can host up to 3 people and the family villa has 2 bedrooms and hosts 8 ( 4 adults and 4 children).
Each banda is composed of a thatched roof, a spacious seating area, a day bed, a generous mosquito net, en-suite facilities with indoor and outdoor showers, and a private viewing deck with a swing chair and deck chairs.
Other facilities include private pools, a floating dhow (boat) massage, a bar and lounge area, a dining room, and a gift shop,
Paraa Safari Lodge
The lodge is located inside the park and features 54 rooms at Paraa Safari Lodge complete with a balcony and en-suite private bathroom.
The rooms are categorized into 25 Classic Guest Rooms, 26 Deluxe Guest
Rooms, 2 Wheelchair Guest Rooms (Including classic rooms), 2 Suites, 3 Safari Tents, and the Queen’s Cottage.
Other facilities include a captain’s table restaurant, a Nile Terrace Restaurant a business service center, an explorer bar, a poolside bar, a Swimming pool with views over the Nile River, a Spa and fitness center, and bush dining along the shores of the Nile.
Chobe Safari Lodge
The lodge is located on the majestic River Nile and features 30 Classic Guest Rooms, 6 Deluxe Guest Rooms, 2 Wheelchair Friendly Guests, Rooms (Included Classic rooms), 3 Suites, the Nile suite, 21 Safari Tents, Florence Baker Family Cottage, and the Presidential Cottage.
Other facilities include 3 3-tier swimming pool with views over the Nile River, Marasa Africa Spa & Fitness Centre, and a Pool Bar with views of rapids on the Victoria Nile.
There is a Gift Boutique Store, a Business Centre, 2 Conference rooms, a Karama Restaurant and
Terrace, Karuma Bar, Poolside Bar, Bush Dinning in Murchison Falls National Park, and Viewing deck dining.
Murchison River Lodge
Murchison River Lodge is situated directly on the southern bank of the River Nile overlooking Uganda’s largest national park, Murchison Falls. The lodge features 4 en-suite thatched cottages that are open plan with two single beds downstairs and a double bed on a mezzanine floor. There are also 13 en-suite thatched safari tents nestled amongst the trees and bush around the lodge grounds.
The tents are twin-shared – although a third bed or a baby cot can be added – and have their own porch with a table and chair set. The en-suite River Tents have a view that sets them apart from the rest.
They are located close to the River Nile in a beautiful setting with their own private porch area. There are also 3 comfortable tents and camping grounds with facilities. Other facilities include a restaurant and bar area, a swimming pool, and a campfire area.
Best time to visit Murchison Falls National Park
The best time to visit Murchison Falls National Park is December to February when it’s easy to spot animals as they congregate around water source areas though temperatures can be high.
June to September is still one of the most popular times to visit as well and is considered a high season as temperatures are low and there is less rainfall.
The wet/ green season is from early March to mid-May and October to November and is ideal for birding safaris in the park as most migrant bird species are evident in the park. Most accommodations offer discounted rates for this season.
However, these months are not the most ideal for game safaris as the tracks can get slippery due to heavy rainfall. The wet seasons bring new plant life to the park attracting lower accommodation room rates for travelers.
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