Semuliki National Park

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Semuliki National Park

Semuliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to national park status in 1993. It is the only tract of true lowland tropical forest in East Africa, hosting 441 recorded bird species and 53 mammals. This biologically diverse region also provides shelter to a further 120 mammals, including several primate species such as baboons and chimpanzees, as well as elephants and antelopes. There are around 350 species of birds hosted in this forest, including 23 Albertine Rift endemics.

Semuliki Reserve is one of Uganda’s oldest wildlife reserves covering 543 sq km laying in the northeast of Bundibugyo and extending to the southern shores of Lake Albert. It is possible to see the rising rift valley escarpment, the Congolese Blue Mountains to the west, and the glacier-clad Rwenzori to the southwest on clear days. Semuliki Reserve is famed for its vast scenery and a birder’s paradise. The now Semuliki National Park is situated within the Albertine Rift on the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo covering 220 sq km and formerly known as Bwamba Forest and sprawls across the floor of the Semuliki Valley. The park is managed and operated by Uganda Wildlife Authority.


Semuliki isn’t about spotting large animals. Buffalo and elephants are present, but rarely seen. Lions visit the area but are more often heard than seen. Leopards can sometimes be spotted on night drives. The park is a real birding hotspot and home to many primate species, including chimpanzees. Unfortunately, the chimps are not yet habituated to humans and encounters are rare. Grey-cheeked mangabey, black-and-white colobus, Central African red colobus, baboons, blue, red-tailed, de Brazza’s, vervet, and Dent’s mona monkeys can all be found along the forest trails. Potto and bushbabies can be found at night.

Wildlife densities in the park are low. Only the Uganda kob is common. Buffalo, elephant, and waterbuck are around, but not regularly seen. All wildlife is quite skittish and is hard to approach by car. Lions and hyenas are around, but are rarely seen; it is much more common to hear them at night. Leopards are sometimes spotted on night drives. Many primate species can be found, including Central African red colobus, black-and-white colobus, Dent’s mona, and De Brazza’s monkey.

Top things to do in Semuliki National Park

Explore Hot Springs

The most popular attraction is the cluster of hot springs – Sempaya Hot Springs consists of the male hotspring, Bitende which is 12 meters in diameter, and the female hotspring Nyaismbi is a boiling geyser that spits out bubbling hot water about 2 meters into the air. The trail to the male hotspring takes about 1 hour and the track to the female hot springs takes about 30 mins through the palm forest.  Eggs and Matooke can be cooked in boiling water.

Game drives / Wildlife Drives

The Semulik Valley has three game tracks that offer opportunities for viewing Elephants, Waterbucks, Pgymy Antelopes, Flying Squirrels, Leopards, Buffaloes, Bushbabies, and Uganda Kobs among others.

Nature walks

There are majorly three trails to follow inside the park; Red monkey trail – this 11 km long trail follows the park boundary to the east and ends up at the Semliki River. You have chances of sighting the rare DeBrazza monkey.

Sempaya nature trail

This trail leads you to the Sempaya hot springs. The walk is through a patch of forest where you are most likely to encounter black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and grey-cheeked mangabey. Along the trail to the male hot springs, you pass a tree house where you view the abundant birdlife and beautiful scenery. The Kirumia trail is 13 km and is perfect for birders, it ends up at the Semliki River and traverses the forest.


Semuliki National Park is a True Birders’ Haven with over 440 bird species recorded in the valley. It is a habitat for 66% of the forest birds found in Uganda.

Along the 13 km Kirumia River Trail, there are opportunities for viewing about 25 species not found elsewhere in Uganda takes about 8 hours. Sempaya and Ntandi areas also offer excellent bird viewings. Look out for the White-crested Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue, Ross’s Turacos, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, and African Piculet, and African Leaflove among others.  The Boat ride along Lake Albert is also a good spot for the Shoebill Stork Sightings.

Chimp tracking/primate walk

There are around 250 chimpanzees in the Toro-Semuliki wildlife reserve. The trek starts at 8 am and can last about 4 hours depending on how far the primates move in search of food. Other primates include the Red Tailed Monkey, Vervet Monkey, black and white colobus monkey, the grey checked mangabey, and de Brazza among others.

Cultural Interactions with the Bambuti

There are 4 ethnic groups of people staying in the region of Semuliki National Park. The Bakonjo and Bamba live on the mountain slopes and in the valley respectively. They are mainly agriculturalists surviving on cash crops like cocoa, rice coffee, and potatoes plus food crops majorly bananas.
The Batuku people live on the floor of the rift valley just north of this park and are mainly pastoralists who depend on products from cattle and trade with their neighbors, those in Uganda and even those from the D.R. of Congo.
The Bambuti pygmies live on both sides of River Semuliki and are closely related to the Basu Pgymies of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Bambuti Communities can be visited to learn more about their way of life. They have demonstrations of how they lived in the forest from gathering food, hunting, and tools to how they lived and survived in the forest.

Where to stay in Semuliki National Park

Semuliki Safari Lodge

The lodge is situated in the Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve in the heart of the Albertine Rift Valley and is the only lodge in the reserve. The reserve is bordered by the foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains and Lake Albert. It features 2 Safari Suites with outdoor bathtubs & private verandas and 6 luxury tents with large verandas. Other facilities include the main lodge perched on a hill overlooking the riverine valley with the
Rwenzori Mountains in the distance. A large dining area, plush seating with stunning views, and unique traditional art are the main features of the lodge. There is also a patio bar and a swimming pool area that includes a breezy shaded lounge and superb forest views, perfect for passing a lazy afternoon.

How to Get to Semuliki National Park

Kampala – Fortportal via Mubende is about 180 km, a 4-5 hour drive is the shortest route. Kampala – Fortportal via Masaka and Kasese takes 7-8 hours.  This route offers opportunities to stop over at Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth NP.

Best Time to Visit

The best time for wildlife viewing in Semuliki National Park is during the dry season (December to February) when animals concentrate around predictable water sources.

Best time to go: December to February and June to July (Dry seasons)
High Season: June to September (More people visit Uganda since it is the peak time for gorilla tracking)
Low Season: March, April, May, October, and November ( Special discounted accommodation rates)
Best Weather: Mid-December to February (Less rainfall)
Worst Weather: Mid-March to May and mid-August to November (High rainfall, roads can become impassable)

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