Murchison Falls National Park Big 5
In Murchison Falls National Park’s center 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 Royal Geographical Society president, Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is Uganda’s most prominent and top Africa Safari destination attracting thousands of tourists each year. Within this magnificent gem’s boundaries 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 Nile river banks.
Discover Murchison National Park
Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is the largest and oldest national park in Uganda. Gazetted in 1952, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority manages the park. It 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. In this area, the vast Bunyoro escarpment joins together into the extensive Acholi plains and straddles the Ugandan districts of Buliisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo, and Masindi. It spreads inland from Lake Albert’s shores around the Victoria Nile, up to the Karuma Falls. MFNP is also adjacent to the Masindi-Gulu Highway, the Karuma Falls, the 600 megawatts Karuma Power Station location, 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 river channels through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley escarpment. The dramatic Murchison falls created when the Nile squeezes through an 8-meter wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the ‘devil’s cauldron,’ forming a residual water stray that includes 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 boat launch trip. You can also enjoy chimpanzee trekking in the 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 an extensive 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 varied scenery and vast landscapes, starting from the savannah plains, the swamps, the forests, the unique wildlife, rich culture, and the eye-catching magnificent falls on the Victoria Nile.
The very scenic Victoria Nile bisects the park. Africa Safari boat trip on the Victoria Nile waters takes you to the Murchison Falls base, where you can see the Nile squeezing through a narrow gorge before plunging into the ‘Devil’s Cauldron.’ Most visitors revere this particular scene, and you must not miss it. Challenge yourself to a 20-minute hike up the top of the falls, the experience worth every second of your time.
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 harbors many 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 crocodiles and hippo.
Several animals are not present in MFNP, including; zebra, wildebeest, white rhino, black rhino, cheetah, and wild dogs. Occasionally sighted animals are leopard, hyena, patas monkey.
Here you find the savanna-dwelling patas monkey. 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 find the forested sectors habitable.
Travelers can visit Murchison Falls National Park throughout the year. However, 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. Because the park is close to the equator, temperatures are relatively uniform throughout the year. Temperatures are also affected by the wide variation in altitude across the park.
However, it does get hotter during the relatively brief Dry season (December to February). Light rain falls in the Wet season (March to November).
Daytime temperatures of around 31°C/88°F are typical, 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 start, 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 increase by November slowly.
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 tourists 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 home to various wildlife species, over 76 mammals, and 451 bird species widely spread all over the Savannah grasslands. The park’s landscape is so perfect for game viewing/game driving.
The River Nile bisects the park into two parts: the Northern bank and the Southern bank. Africa safari Game drives are best done on the Northern bank since you can find a large concentration of wildlife in the Savannah plains. On the Southern bank, a lesser number of antelope herds and few other animals. Different tracks like Albert, Victoria, and Buligi tracks, each endowed with a diverse eco-system.
On the savannah northern banks, you can marvel at the variety of wildlife in a game drive around the Buligi game tracks, a 7 km track north of Paraa. Animal species here include; buffalo, herds of elephants, warthogs, towering giraffes, bushbucks, reedbuck, duikers, kobs, oribi 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 are home to many water animals that come to get water. Nyamsika cliffs have a higher concentration of buffalos, lions, and 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 Murchison Falls’ foot presents wildlife’s fantastic display. 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 excellent for birders. Take the downstream morning cruise to spot the grotesque archaic Shoebill. Alternatively, a tranquil sundowner cruise offers the classic view of a tropical sunset reflected on the river.
Hiking to the Top of the Falls
Travelers can explore Murchison Falls National Park’s vast landscape and varied scenery on foot. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds.
A boat cruise up the Victoria Nile to the Murchison Falls base leads to a short trail that hikes up to the top of the falls for the magnificent views. The boat lands at the bottom, 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
You can do a hot-air balloon safari in Uganda only at the Murchison Falls and the Queen Elizabeth National Parks (QENP). The Dream Balloons company handles all operations of ballooning. 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. Travelers experience this unique experience of flying in a hot air balloon under the following options;
- Sunrise/post-sunrise hot air balloon safari with/without bush breakfast.
- Sunset hot air balloon safari—this flight starts precisely at 4 pm. However, this one does not come with any special offers like bush meals after the ride. They are short rides for large groups and students.
Please note: only eight 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 70%. Late October, November, December, and January chances are at 50% since trackers move long distances to find them because food, shelter, and water are scarce.
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.
There are more thickets and woodlands at the river banks, and you will find Swallow-tailed and Red-throated Bee-eaters. In the Nyamusika Cliffs, you will discover Pied, Giant, Malachite Kingfishers, Francolin, Hornbills, Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers; Cuckoos; Woodpeckers; Crombecs and Warblers, ducks, geese, stilts, and plovers.
Bird watching in Murchison Falls is perfect all year round. However, the dry season of 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 occur between November and April.
We recommend that birders 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, the Devil’s Cauldron, and the Nile banks.
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. You can catch smaller fish, like the tiger fish, using live bait or the spinning method.
You can access fishing spots either by boat or walking down from the top of the falls to the gorge. The walk takes approximately 45 minutes.
You can take a fishing trip in Murchison Falls National Park any time of the year, although the best catches happen early in the morning and late in the day. When the water level is low and more evident from mid-January to early April, you can catch more due to the fish feeding more thanks to the dramatic 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 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. So, the revenue generated through tourism by the sale of wooden sculptures and hand-woven items, cultural songs, and dance performances helps improve their livelihood.
Boomu Women’s Group
The Kihaguzi and Kigaragara communities came together from the group to reduce poverty and malnutrition within the population. 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 demonstrations, blacksmith artistry, and basket weaving.
Paraa is on the northern side of the Victoria Nile River, the heart of Murchison Falls, where most park activities occur. Here, you can start game drives, nature walks, and bird watching along the bank.
At the base of Paraa, between the south and north, is the ferry crossing jetty. Air balloon, launch, and boat trips proceed from here. You will find the tourist 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 two major branches; the Blue Nile that comprises the Cataract Nile and the Egyptian Nile, and the White Nile, which is the longest and separates into three 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 hydroelectricity at Owen Falls dam. In Uganda, the Nile River provides many tourism activities like white water rafting, boat rides, bungee jumping, fishing, bird watching, and Kayaking.
Lake Kyoga, which feeds the Nile with freshwater, flows through Murchison falls through Lake Albert on through northern Uganda, to Sudan through to Egypt where it pours into the Mediterranean Sea.
On the eastern border of MFNP, you’ll find the stunning Karuma Falls, just an hour’s drive from Gulu in north-western Uganda, at the Masindi-Gulu bridge. The Falls comprise a sequence of natural rock formations that result in River Nile rippling waters, offering an appearance of stunning white foam.
The Karuma falls are habitat to the Karuma Power Station, a 750 Megawatts hydropower development. The falls are 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 contains 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 chimpanzees and primates. It is also suitable for bird-watching, hiking, and nature walk.
Kaniyo Pabidi is an area managed by the Forestry department within the Budongo forest composed of a natural forest located about 8km from Kichumbanyobo gate along Paraa road in Masindi. Kaniyo Pabidi borders Murchison Falls at the southern edge. Kaniyo Pabidi forest is 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 the Murchison Falls Conservation Area located on the northern side of savanna grassland wilderness, providing excellent game viewing. It is situated between the Victoria Albert Niles with fantastic views towards the western rift valley beyond Lake Albert. A game drive from Paraa to the Delta Point takes 3 to 4 hours. Morning & late afternoon are the best times to sight wildlife.
You can see hot springs at Kibiro Salt Gardens at the shores of the Kigorobyo sub-county. It is 35km from Hoima town, and access is limited. The water boils at 100°C every time, and 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’s drive. The area is accessible by boat and Lake Albert, using a 4X4 vehicle or on foot; a hike to the base of the escarpment.
The locals do traditional salt mining and processing. 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
It is upmarket, and budget accommodation offered at the top of the Falls, Rabongo Forest, Paraa, and Budongo Forest. Budget accommodations provide showers, toilets, 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 secures having personal security 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 suitable for covering up exposed skin in the evening.
- Ensure you have all the recommended vaccinations for Uganda.
- Avoid wearing dark colors, black and blue, that attract tsetse flies.
- Ensure you limit any dangers when near wildlife and observe all safety precautions. 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 that runs 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, the descent of the rift valley escarpment over Butiaba with views across Lake Albert towards the Congo’s mountains.
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 traveling to/from Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park. The Pakwach gate 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 Airfield, east of Paraa
- Bugungu Airfield, near Murchison Falls, south of Paraa- 13km.
Murchison Falls National Park is an 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. They would not hesitate to give you first-hand information that will help you chose the next best destination for your trip. Contact the Nkuringo Safaris team to get you started.