Murchison Falls National Park got its name from the beautiful waterfalls that are in the park; originally called Kabalega falls. These waterfalls are on the River Nile course which starts from Lake Victoria and ends in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Murchison falls are formed when the river water squeezes through a narrow gorge estimated to be about 7 meters wide and then falls down a distance of about 43 meters. The result is a loud roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron” with a rainbow formation.
The park was established in 1952 with wildlife like chimpanzees, elephants, giraffes, hartebeests, leopards, lions, oribis, Uganda kobs and various bird species.
The 1,503 square mile national park is part of the Murchison conservation area which also includes the Bugungu wildlife reserve and the Karuma wildlife reserve. This is Uganda’s biggest and oldest protected area. The Uganda Wildlife Authority is charged with governing this national park.
Murchison Falls National Park is the biggest and one of the best national parks in Uganda and it is recommended as a must visit for Uganda Safaris.
History of the Park
Sir Samuel Baker was in Uganda in 1863 as an explorer and it was him that named the falls Murchison after the then president of the Royal Geographical Society, Roderick Murchison.
Between the years 1907 and 1912, the dwellers in the area had an attack of sleeping sickness as a result of the spread of tsetse flies. This gave way to the setting up of Bunyoro game reserve in 1910 and in 1928, the reserve was expanded to include parts of Gulu district; thus the name Bunyoro-Gulu game reserve. This helped preserve the Savannah grassland which was ideal for wildlife conservation.
The British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda in 1952 that helped reduce hunting and poaching in the Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve. As a result, the animal population expanded that led to the inevitable upgrading of the reserve to a national park and it was named Murchison Falls National Park, one of the first two national parks, along with Queen Elizabeth National Park. Fifteen years down the road after its establishment, Murchison Falls had become the number one safari destination in East Africa receiving sixty thousand visitors annually.
Location of the Park
Murchison Falls National Park is in the districts of Buliisa, Kiryandongo, Masindi and Nwoya.
The distance from Entebbe airport via Masindi town to the park is approximately 320 kilometers by road. The journey can take 5 to 7 hours depending on driving speed and the duration of the stop overs.
Just after a two-hour drive, approximately 176 kilometers from Kampala city, you can have a refreshing stopover in Nakasongola where Ziwa Rhino and Wildlife Ranch is located. At the ranch you are able to see some 22 southern white rhinoceroses in the wild. If the stopover is to last longer you will also enjoy not only rhino trekking but nature walks, bird watching, shoebill trek and canoe rides as well.
Travel by air to the national park is possible from Entebbe airport or Kajjansi airfield to Pakuba airfield in Nyowa district, Northern Uganda. You are guaranteed of two domestic flight operators with schedules departures to the park but chartered flights as an option are also available.
The Best Time to Visit
The climate is favorable for tourists to visit Murchison Falls National Park at any time of the year. However, it is during the dry season when you can have the best experience. The months of the dry season are December, January, February, June, July, August and September. This is when the animals draw towards the water bodies making them easy to view. The best months are June and July.
The off-peak season – when prices are lowered and even some lodges close – is in the months of March to May and September to November. This is the ideal time for bird watchers due to high bird activity and with few tourists.
To have a memorable safari in Murchison Falls National Park, two days should be set aside to cover the whole park and exhaust its wonders.
Adventure Tourism Activities
The Murchison Falls
This is the number one attraction of the park which has a magnificent view when approached from the top of where the sight and sound of the Nile roaring through a narrow gorge is breathtaking. The site which can be reached by car, or by a boat cruise or by thirty minutes climb.
The Game Drives
A perfect game drive should be accompanied by a tour guide to help you observe the different animals and bird species. During the drive you are able to see buffaloes, giraffes, elephants, hartebeests, hippopotamuses, lions, warthogs and Uganda kobs among many, in the natural habitat, the Savannah woodland, wetland and tropical forest.
The park is a host of many bird species including the bluff-bellied warbler, the blue-napped mouse bird, the spotted mourning thrush, the silver bird, the vitelline masked weaver, the chestnut-crowned sparrow, the white-rumped seed-eater, verreaux’s owls, the long tailed and pennat-winged night jar, the standard-winged night jar; the African skimmer, the white African fish eagle, the long-toed plover, the gray crowned crane, the goliath heron; to mention but a few.
The standard time for the cruise is between 9:00am and 2:00pm daily though exceptional schedules can be arranged with the park management.
At the point where the Victoria Nile enters Lake Albert, is the Paraa landing area, the point where the trip starts. There is the 17 kilometer, 3 hour journey takes us to the bottom of the Murchison falls; and there is the 28 kilometer, 5 hour Paraa to River Delta cruise. Along the river banks, you can catch the sight of crocodiles, buffaloes, elephants hippopotamuses, waterbucks, bee-eaters, cormorants, ducks, fish eagles, kingfishers, and the shoebill.
With the help of an experienced tour guide, tourists get to explore the trail at Paraa winds through gullies, low hills, and forests around the river.
Other places for nature walks are at the top of the Murchison falls, Kaniyo Pabidi (natural forest within Budongo Forest Reserve) and Rabongo Forest Ecotourism Centre.
Tourists can explore primates like the Black & white colored monkeys, Chimpanzees and the Red tailed monkeys.
It is lovely to see forest birds like the chocolate backed Kingfisher, the White-thighed Hornbill, and Puvell’s Illadopsis.
Key Facts to have in Mind
When preparing to have a safari to the wilderness of Murchison Falls National Park, there some key facts you should have in your note book.
The Safari Company of choice should be a member of Association of Uganda Tour Operators, since it maintains a list only credible tour and travel operators. Check reviews of clients that have used their service before you hand them your trust.
If you like hiking, do not leave behind your hiking gear.
If you are into fishing, remember to bring your own fishing equipment. You will be able to catch the Nile perch and the Tiger fish in the River Nile.
The prices for the key activities vary; for foreign nonresidents, entrance fee is USD40 per person to be able to access the national park and USD20 for children; USD30 for Foreign East African residents and USD10 for children.
You need not worry about accommodation at the national park. If your prefer luxury, there is Paraa Safari Lodge. For the mid-range category you can go for Pakuba Safari Lodge while at affordable rates, you can go for Heritage Safari Lodge or Red Chilli Safari Lodge.