Although this post is about top things to do in Murchison Falls National Park, allow me to start off by giving you a summary guide of Uganda – “The Pearl of Africa.”
Uganda is a safe, small country with a perpetually springlike climate but it packs a lot in for its size. It is a real treat when it comes to African travel.
Ten national parks protect over half of the world’s mountain gorillas, along with chimpanzees, rare golden monkeys and a classic safari checklist including leopards, lions, elephants, and hippos. Over 1,000 species of birds – more than 10 percent of all the world’s species – inhabit its mountains, forests, wetlands and the shores of Lake Victoria, the disputed source of the Nile. The rugged ‘Mountains of the Moon’ include Africa’s third highest peak, complete with equatorial snow.
The park is located in the northwestern part of the country about 305 km from Kampala hence approximately a 4 hours drive by road.
Uganda remains very much a tribal nation, and as you travel around this compact country, the music, dance and dress code change almost by the hour – there are over 40 recognized languages.
Why Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls NP is Uganda’s largest national park and also its oldest conservation area. For more than a century it has been visited by British royals (the Queen Mother was a particular fan), Ernest Hemingway (whose survived a plane crash here) and President Theodore Roosevelt (who slaughtered almost 5,000 animals on possibly the most expensive hunting safari of all time). Winston Churchill also visited the park, which may have been what led him to declare Uganda the ‘Pearl of Africa’, and today’s visitors can still see the ruins of former President Idi Amin’s lavish hideaway – stone walls that stand guard, hauntingly, over the savannah.
The park is bisected by the River Nile, which picks up momentum as it crashes over rocks until it reaches its dramatic crescendo – jamming itself through an 8m-wide gap in the stone to create the magnificent waterfall that gives the park its name. From here, the waters widen into a smooth, even flow. Here is where you can board a boat cruise that takes up this lower stretch of the river past huge herds of grazing buffalo and elephants, while storks and crocs jostle for space at the water’s edge.
Within the park, you’re likely to encounter elephants, giraffes, buffalos, baboons, warthogs, and Nile crocodiles – and with a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger in your vehicle, you have a decent chance of spotting lions, too, and perhaps the odd jackal. Amongst the park’s more unusual species are the red hartebeest, with their long flat faces, and the shoebill stork – one of the birding world’s most sought after species.
With the intro out of the way, let’s delve into the 6 things to do at Murchison Falls National Park
1. Visit the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa rhino sanctuary is not in Murchison but en route Murchison FNP. It is just off the main road between Kampala and Murchison Falls National Park; most tours stop here en route. Ziwa shelters Uganda’s only population of white rhinos, which became extinct here in the wild in 1983 following extensive hunting and poaching. Through careful breeding programs, the number of rhinos at Ziwa has grown to almost 20. White rhinos are not aggressive and have very poor eyesight, so you can track them on foot – if you’re lucky, you’ll get heart-poundingly close. Your entry fee supports these endangered animals, plus the other species in the sanctuary, including bushbucks, hartebeest, and monkeys.
2. Visit Murchison Falls and go for the Nile cruises
Every single tour package to Murchison includes a tour to Murchison falls themselves, usually via a three-hour river cruise departing from Paraa Lodge and taking you a short distance from the base of the waterfall. Expect to see the rainbows cast by the spray, but far enough away to stay dry. The journey itself reveals the park’s magnificent wildlife, which is drawn to the river to eat, drink and fish. This is one of Uganda’s most relaxing and magical wildlife encounters.
You could also go for a hike to the top of the falls. It’s a 45-minute scramble through the forest up to the viewpoint at the top. The waterfall itself is pretty much obscured from view due to the huge amount of spray – but the roar and the rush of white water leaves you in no doubt that you are in the presence of a particularly powerful cascade.
3. Gorilla tracking
Budongo forest shelters over 600 chimpanzees, and you can track one of three habituated groups alongside Uganda Wildlife Authority guides. There is an excellent network of trails, so this is a much easier trek than tracking gorillas in Bwindi. However, chimps are much more active, so you could be in for a long – and possibly speedy – walk, and ‘offroading’ may be required.
4. Murchison Falls National Park Game drives
Begin the day with breakfast and set off for an early game drive that will leave you thrilled with amazing savannah plains and wildlife species such as warthogs, lions, leopards, giraffes, hyenas, Uganda kobs among others. Murchison falls is a home to different wildlife species; over 76 mammal and 451 bird species including the Buffaloes, Jackson hartebeests, Antelopes, Lions, Kobs, Giraffes, Hyenas, Bushbucks, and Warthogs among others. 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.
5. Bird Watching (Birding at Murchison Falls NP)
Murchison falls is among Uganda’s best birding spots. The park’s impressive checklist contains more than 451 bird species in total including; Albertine rift endemic birds, water birds, and savannah birds. Viewing birds and raptors in the scenic landscape and amazing wildlife of Murchison is among the most interesting experiences while on a Ugandan safari.
There are very many birds in the park of which some are rare, common, and occasional such as the Gray-crowned crane(Uganda’s National bird), Giant Kingfisher, Giant Heron, Shoebill stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Nightjars, Marabou stork, Black-headed Lapwing, Black-bellied Bustard among others.
Birds in Murchison can be best spotted while on a game drive, nature walks through the savannah grasslands and on the boat cruise along the Nile and on Lake Albert Delta.