Murchison Falls National Park Big 5
In the center of Murchison Falls National Park lies the most beautiful and powerful cataract on the continent of Africa, the Murchison Falls. Named by Sir Samuel Bake in 1862 after the geologist Roderick Murchison, then the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is Uganda’s largest and top Africa Safari destination attracting thousands of tourists each year. Within the boundaries of this magnificent gem are the famous Big 5 animals, small ones and some of the best savannah scenes on the African continent. Most popular is the boat ride on the Nile that showcases a plethora of animal species on the banks on of the Nile river.
Discover Murchison National Park
Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is the largest and oldest national park in Uganda. It was established in 1952 and is managed by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority. The park is part of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA). The MFCA is the largest conservation area in Uganda measuring 3,840 sq km combining MFNP, Bugugu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Wildlife Reserve. This African savanna park is excellent for game viewing while Kaniyo Pabidi is great for chimpanzee trekking.
The park is located in the northern region of the Albertine Rift Valley, the area where the huge Bunyoro escarpment joins together into the vast Acholi plains, and straddles the Ugandan districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. It spreads inland from the shores of Lake Albert, around the Victoria Nile, up to the Karuma Falls. MFNP is also adjacent to the Masindi-Gulu Highway, the Karuma Falls, the location of the 600 megawatt Karuma Power Station, which will be Uganda’s largest power station.
It is bisected by the Victoria Nile from east to west for about 115 km. At Murchison Falls also known as Kabarega Falls, the Nile is channeled through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment. The dramatic Murchison falls is created when the Nile squeezes through and 8 meter wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the ‘devil’s cauldron’ forming a residual water stray that forms a beautiful rainbow. From here it continues westward into the stunning Lake Albert.
The park contains riverine woodland, wetland, savannah, tropical forest, borassus palms, and acacia trees. The park hosts 76 mammals and 451 bird species. Many wildlife species are found here, including four of the Africa Big Five animals. You can enjoy and appreciate the impressive waterfall by hiking up to the top of the falls and taking the launch boat trip. You can also enjoy chimpanzee trekking in Budongo forest. Permanent residents at the riverbanks include hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds while regular visitors are elephants, giraffes and buffalos. The park has a big collection of water birds such as the rare shoebill stork.
Notable historical visitors to the park include Sir Samuel Baker and his wife, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Kanye West and his wife Kim, among several others.
The Park’s Scenery
Murchison falls has varied scenery and vast landscapes starting from the savannah plains, to the swamps, to the forests, the amazing wildlife, rich culture and the eye-catching magnificent falls on the Victoria Nile.
The park is bisected by the very scenic Victoria Nile. Africa Safari boat trip on the Victoria Nile waters takes you to the base of the Murchison Falls where you can see the Nile squeezing through a narrow gorge before plunging down into the ‘Devil’s Cauldron’. This particular scene is revered by most visitors and you must not miss it. Also, take a challenge and hike up to the top of the falls, a 20 minute hike that’s worth every second.
North of the river is a savannah habitat dominated by grassland dotted with Borassus palms. South of the river, the habitat changes to woodland with forest patches.
The park harbours a lot of wildlife, plant species like the whistling acacia, sausage trees, bird species, butterflies, and many more.
Murchison Falls Conservation Area has 76 species of mammals as well as Uganda’s largest population of crocodiles. The park hosts four of the Big Five; only rhino is absent. You will find many different animal species like crocodiles, hippos, buffaloes, Rothschild’s giraffes, Jackson’s heartbeats, waterbucks, warthogs, oribis, Uganda kob, grey duiker in Murchison’s Falls and chimpanzees in Budongo forest. The Victoria Nile is a magnet for wildlife, and it teems with crocodile and hippo.
There are several animals not present in MFNP including; zebra, wildebeest, white rhino, black rhino, cheetah and wild dogs. Occasionally sighted animals are leopard, hyena, patas monkey.
The savanna-dwelling patas monkey is only found here. Around 800 chimpanzees live in the Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo Forests. Olive baboons are common along the roadside. Blue and red-tailed monkeys and black-and-white colobus can be found in the forested sectors.
Murchison Falls National Park can be visited throughout the year, but the best time for wildlife viewing is the dry season (from December to February) when animals congregate around the Victoria Nile and other reliable water sources.
Best Time To Visit—Weather and Climate
Murchison Falls has a consistently tropical hot climate. Being close to the equator, temperatures are quite uniform throughout the year. Temperatures are also affected by the wide variation in altitude across the park.
However, it does gets hotter during the relatively brief Dry season (December to February). Light rain is experienced in the Wet season (March to November).
Daytime temperatures of around 31°C/88°F are common, with it cooling down at night to around 18°C/64°F. The altitude ranges from 615-1, 187 meters, so climatic variations occur within the park as temperatures drop by about 6.5°C for every 1,000m you climb.
Dry season (December to February)
December, January & February—These are the driest months. It is mostly sunny with clear skies. These are also the hottest months, with average temperatures of 33°C/91°F during the afternoon. It cools off at night to about 18°C/64°F. live baboons.
Wet season (March to November)
March, April & May—By March the rains are starting, and there are more overcast skies. April and May experience more rainfall. Daytime temperatures average 31°C/88°F, while at night they average 20°C/68°F.
June & July—This is a bit of a drier spell, but rain should still be expected. Average daytime temperatures are around 30°C/86°F.
August, September, October & November — These are the wettest months, reaching a peak in October. It doesn’t rain every day, but when it does, it tends to be torrential storms. Temperatures start to slowly increase by November.
The best time to visit Murchison Falls National Park is between December and February during the dry season because you can easily view wildlife coming to the river bank and water points. There is also little undergrowth for the animals to hide. Chimp trekking trails are also dry making trekking easier.
The High Season in Uganda is from June to September and most tourist prefer this time because it is cooler and the rain isn’t bothersome. During the wet season, some paths can be impassable.
Activities in Murchison
Wildlife Viewing Game Drives
Murchison falls is home to a variety of wildlife species; over 76 mammals and 451 bird species. They are widely spread all over the Savannah grasslands, grazing or hunting for prey. This makes the park’s landscape so amazing for game viewing/game driving. The park is bisected by the River Nile into two parts such as the Northern bank and the Southern bank. Africa safari Game drives are best done the Northern bank since that’s where you can find a large concentration of wildlife in the Savannah plains whereas the Southern bank a lesser number of antelope herds and other few animals. There are different tracks, each endowed with various eco-system, such as Albert, Victoria and Buligi tracks.
On the northern bank which is covered by savannah, you can marvel at the variety of wildlife in a game drive around the Buligi game tracks which is a 7 km track north of Paraa. Animal species here include; buffalo, herds of elephants, warthogs and towering giraffes, bushbucks, reedbuck, duikers, kobs, oribi and the unusual-looking hartebeest, lions and you may spot a leopard at dusk.
In the southern bank, a new track, the Honey Moon track was opened and to boost the drive 15 giraffes were trans-located from the northern bank to this area in January 2016.
Areas like Nyamsika gorge is home to a big number of water animals which come to get water and Nyamsika cliffs have a higher concentration of buffalos, lions as well as different birds like the Egyptian plover and the bee-eaters.
Game drives are an all-year-round activity though during the rainy season the grass is a bit tall making it harder to spot wildlife. You can easily watch a lion hunt during the dry season because the grass is shorter. Game viewing can be done in the morning from 6:30 am. Evening game drives start at 4 pm and last between 3 to 4 hours.
Boat Safari Launch Trips
The boat safari launch trip upstream from Paraa to the foot of Murchison Falls presents an amazing display of wildlife. Hippos and crocodiles are abundant and you will see elephants, buffalos, waterbucks and many bird species. The launch departs at 9 am and 2 pm daily and takes three hours.
A boat trip to the Nile-Lake Albert Delta is a four- to five-hour return voyage. This voyage is great for birders. To sight the elusive Shoebill a downstream morning cruise is recommended. Alternatively, a tranquil sundowner cruise offers the classic view of an equatorial sunset reflected on the river.
Hiking to the Top of the Falls
Murchison Falls National Park’s vast landscape and varied scenery can be explored on foot. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds.
The hike to the top of the magnificent Murchison fall is combined with a boat cruise on the Nile to the base of the falls. The boat lands at the base and you hike up for a 45-minute guided hike. While on this hike, you will have a great time admiring rolling hills, varied vegetation, birds, and getting a closer view of the narrow gorge.
Hot Air Balloon
In Uganda, hot air ballooning can only be found at the Murchison Falls and the Queen Elizabeth National Parks (QENP) and are handled by the Dream Balloons. Hot air ballooning is perfect for those on a honeymoon, adrenaline junkies and those seeking a once in a lifetime adventure. The scenes up there are spectacular and the air is fresh and soothing. This unique experience of flying in a hot air balloon can be done with one of the following options;
- Sunrise/post-sunrise hot air balloon safari with/without bush breakfast.
- Sunset hot air balloon safari—this flight starts exactly at 4 pm however, this one does not come with any special offers like the bush meals after the ride. They are short rides for large groups and students.
Please note: only 8 passengers are permitted to fly up in the balloon at a time. Children below the age of 6 and below are not allowed.
As part of the ballooning you will experience: a unique view of the park, the Lake Albert and Victoria Nile views, hidden animals, the bush breakfast experience in the wild, the participation certificates, destination pick up, crossings by ferry and, of course, the ride on the hot air balloon. The hot air balloon safari costs $380 per person. The ride lasts for one hour.
Chimpanzees in Budongo forest can be tracked any time of the year through the best time to visit would be from May to August where the chance of viewing chimps is at 90%. In months; February, March, April, September and early October the chances are at 70%. Late October, November, December, and January chances are at 50% since trackers move long distances to find them because there is a scarcity of food, shelter and water.
Murchison Falls National Park is home to a variety of birds. 451 different species have been recorded, including; the Shoebill Stork, the Goliath Heron, Grey Crowned Cranes, Blue-headed Coucal, Swamp Flycatcher, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, Open-billed Storks, Widow Bird and many more. You get an opportunity to see these birds during game drives, nature walks, and boat cruises.
At the river banks, there are more thickets and woodlands, and you will find Swallow-tailed and Red-throated Bee-eaters. In the Nyamusika Cliffs, you will find Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin, Hornbills, Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers; Cuckoos; Woodpeckers; Crombecs and Warblers, ducks, geese, stilts and plovers.
Bird watching can be done all year round though the dry season – January to March – is the best time. Birding during the rainy season – April to May – and from August to October is difficult since the hiking trails become slippery and roads in the park become impassable. The Shoebill is best sighted in the dry season from January to March. Migratory birds can be seen between November and April.
It is recommended for birders to carry a birder’s guidebook, a pointer, a pair of binoculars, Sunglasses, hats, sturdy hiking shoes, and enough water.
Murchison falls National Park permits sports fishing along the River Niles rocky surfaces, the bottom of the falls, at the Devil’s Cauldron, and at the banks of the Nile. The two fishing sites are at Murchison Falls and below Karuma Falls. Nile perch and some catfish provide exciting challenges to anglers using casting lures. Smaller fish like the tiger fish can be caught using live bait or the spinning method. Fishing spots can either be accessed by boat or by walking down from the top of the falls to the gorge which can take 45 minutes.
Fishing in Murchison can be done any time of the year through the best catches are seen early in the morning and late in the day. When the water level is low and clearer from mid-January to early-April you can catch more due to the fish feeding more thanks to the dramatic variation of weather conditions.
You are advised to carry your fishing equipment, enough sun protection equipment, wear long socks, long sleeved trousers and don’t’ forget insect repellent to help avoid tsetse fly bites. All anglers are advised to have rods that are between 8 ft. and 11ft. with a multiplier reel and 7” spinning rod for smaller fish. Be cautious of the Hippos and Nile crocodiles while fishing at the Riverbanks.
Community and Cultural Encounters
Mubako Cultural Campfire Performances
Mubako community is located beside the MFNP savannah. There are few economic opportunities in this region and the climate makes farming hard, but revenue generated through tourism by the sale of wooden sculptures and hand-woven items, cultural song and dance performance helps improve their livelihood.
Boomu Women’s Group
The group from Kihaguzi and Kigaragara was formed to reduce poverty and malnutrition. It has now grown from a craft group to a community tourism project, guided tours and a well-tended garden. You can experience everyday rural life, stories of customs and culture, cooking demonstration, blacksmith workmanship and basket weaving.
Paraa is located on the northern side of the Nile river. This is the heart of Murchison Falls with a lot of activities taking place. Here, you can start game drives, nature walks and bird watching along the bank. There are many bird species found here. The ferry crossing between the south and north is found here. Air balloon, launch and boat trips proceed from here. You will find the tourism information office at the ferry point. There are several lodges, campsites and restaurants around this area.
River Nile, the longest river, is approximately 6,696 km long flowing through 9 countries (Uganda, Sudan, Ethiopia Burundi, Tanzania, Rwanda, Egypt, Kenya) with its source beginning in Jinja. This river has 2 major branches; the Blue Nile that comprises of Cataract Nile and the Egyptian Nile, and the White Nile which is the longest and separates into 3 parts; the lake plateau area, the sudd and the central Sudan area.
The Nile is invaluable to both man and mammal. It provides water to animals and the banks are fertile for agriculture. It also offers power to Uganda as a form of hydro-electricity at Owen Falls dam. Many tourism activities such as white water rafting, boat rides, bungee jumping, fishing, bird watching and Kayaking are done on the Nile.
Lake Kyoga which feeds the Nile with fresh water, flows through Murchison falls through Lake Albert on through northern Uganda, to Sudan through to Egypt where it pours into the Mediterranean Sea.
The stunning Karuma Falls are located on the eastern border of MFNP, and just an hour drive from Gulu in north-western Uganda at the Masindi-Gulu bridge. The Falls comprise a sequence of natural rock formations that result in the waters of River Nile to ripple, offering an appearance of stunning white foam.
The Karuma falls are habitat to the Karuma Power Station, which is a 750 Megawatts hydropower development. The falls is 110 km northeast of Masindi and 70 km south of Gulu Traveling from Kampala, board buses heading to Gulu at Baganda Bus Station or Nakivubo terminal.
Budongo forest, the largest natural mahogany forest covering an area of 825 sq km is among the best chimpanzee habitats in Uganda with 600 individuals, of which 100 are habituated for tracking at Kaniyo Pabidi. It is home to over 95 different mammals and 360 bird species and takes 3 hours to drive there from Murchison Falls. Chimp tracking can be done to or from Murchison Falls either in the morning or afternoon.
The area is encompassed by savannah grasslands, a tropical riverine forest located in the southeast of the MFCA and is a one-and-a-half-hour drive from Paraa. The forest offers a great place to track chimpanzee and primates. It is also good for bird-watching, hiking and nature walks.
This is an area managed by the Forestry department within Budongo forest composed of natural forest that is located about 8km from Kichumbanyobo gate along Paraa road in Masindi. Kaniyo Pabidi borders Murchison Falls at the southern edge. Kaniyo Pabidi forest is a home to primates, chimpanzees and over 360 bird species though you can also enjoy hikes and nature walks as you venture through big mahogany and ironwood trees.
This is one of the game drive tracks in Murchison Falls Conservation Area located on the northern side of savanna grassland wilderness providing excellent game viewing. It is located between the Victoria Albert Niles with excellent views towards the western rift valley beyond Lake Albert in the DRC. A game drive from Paraa to the Delta Point takes 3 to 4 hours. Morning & late afternoon are the best times to sight wildlife.
Hot springs are situated at Kibiro Salt Gardens at the shores of Kigorobyo sub-county. It is 35km from Hoima town and access is limited. The water boils at 100°C every time, most people visit this area because of adventure and healing.
Mining and Salt Processing
Kibiro Salt Gardens, controlled by the Bunyoro Kingdom, is a small fishing village at the southeastern shores of Lake Albert. The village is 35km from Hoima town, about an hour drive. The area is accessible by boat along Lake Albert, using a 4X4 vehicle or on foot; a hike to the base of the escarpment.
Traditional salt mining and processing is done by the locals. There are many myths and beliefs told of the hot springs and curative power. Visitors are advised to carry enough drinking water, snacks, long-sleeved shirts, long trousers, and hiking boots.
Accommodation—Where To Stay
There is upmarket and budget accommodation offered at the top of the Falls, Rabongo Forest, Paraa and Budongo Forest. Budget accommodations provide showers, toilet or pit latrines. You may find bandas and cottages that offer meals and beverages.
Our top picks for where to stay in Murchison Falls include:
- Bakers Lodge
- Chobe Safari Lodge
- Paraa Safari Lodge
- Murchison River Lodge
- Murchison Falls National Park is safe and secure having security personal present to ensure your safety and comfort
- You should take antimalarial medication as well as pack plenty of mosquito repellent.
- Long sleeves and trousers are good for covering up exposed skin in the evening.
- Ensure you have all the recommended vaccinations for Uganda.
- Avoid wearing dark colours; black and blue that attracts tsetse flies.
- Ensure you limit any dangers when near wildlife and observe all safety precaution. And follow the park rules.
- When tracking chimps, please exercise caution to protect you and the primate.
The Nile river is crossed at Paraa using a vehicle ferry which runs at roughly hourly intervals throughout the day.
Southern Entrance Gates:
- Kampala through Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to Masindi town- 4hours drive -305km
- Shorter route—Masindi to MFCA through Kichumbanyobo Gate to pass through Kaniyo Pabidi Forest to Paraa (85km).
- Kampala through Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to Masindi town- 4hours drive -305km
- Longer route- Masindi to the Bugungu gate, through Budongo Forest, descent of the rift valley escarpment over Butiaba with views across Lake Albert towards the mountains of the Congo.
Northern Entrance Gates:
- Kampala-Pakwach road, at Karuma Falls Bridge via the Chobe, Wankwar, Mubako and Tangi gates north of the Nile. 260km from Kampala.
These gates are convenient for a visitor travelling to/from Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park. The Gate that is close to Pakwach covers an area of about 25km2 to Paraa in addition to Wankwar Gate close to Purongo.
From Entebbe International Airport (EBB) or Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala to Pakuba, Chobe and Bugundu Airfield.
- Pakuba Airfield, north from Paraa- 19km
- Chobe Airfiled, east of Paraa
- Bugungu Airfiled, near Murchison Falls, south of Paraa- 13km.
Murchison Falls National Park is an interesting and exciting park with many activities and attractions to choose from. Visiting here will leave you reminiscing about the marvelous experience.
Nkuringo Safari Tour Consultants have visited all the popular Uganda Destinations and more and would not hesitate to give you first hand information that will help you chose the next best destination for your trip. Contact Nkuringo Safaris team to get you started.