Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, approximately 300 kilometers (by road) northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, MFNP is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area. It hosts over 76 species of mammals, 451 species birds, and was named after the magnificent Murchison Falls (known to locals as Kabalega Falls), the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids.
Life in the park is dominated by the Victoria Nile, whose waters force their way through a narrow slit in the rift valley wall, plunging 45 metres below with a thunderous roar. Here, a residual water spray forms a breathtaking rainbow over the falls as the Nile stretches lazily toward the serene Lake Albert, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into a vast savannah dotted by shrubs.
Along this stretch of river are spectacular views of multi-shaped beasts that have drawn wildlife lovers from every corner of the world to the park since 1926, including Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents. Being close to the equator, temperatures are quite uniform throughout the year.
The park is home to 76 species of mammals including four of the “Big Five”, huge herds of buffaloes and elephants, well-camouflaged leopards, and a healthy population of lions. It is also known for its giraffes; in Uganda these can only be viewed here and in Kidepo Valley. Other species viewed regularly along the game tracks include Jackson’s hartebeest, bushbucks, Uganda kob, waterbucks and warthogs. Resident crocodiles and hippos as well as other, visiting wildlife are found along the river.
The Victoria Nile is a magnet for wildlife and it teems with crocodiles and hippos. Chimpanzees can be tracked in neighbouring Budongo Forest Reserve. Large herds of the localized Rothschild’s giraffe are found in the park.
Olive baboons are common along the roadsides– be sure to keep car windows and doors shut if you don’t want to lose your lunch! Blue and red-tailed monkeys and black-and-white colobus can be found in the forested sectors. The savannah-dwelling patas monkey is only found here and in Kidepo Valley National Park. Around 800 chimpanzees live in the Kaniyo Pabidi and Budongo Forests.
The park’s impressive checklist contains more than 450 bird species, and with 53 species recorded, raptors are also very well represented. The boat trip on the Victoria Nile is a great start for many water-associated birds. Migratory birds are present from November to April.
The list includes the Shoebill Stork, the Goliath Heron (the largest heron in the world), and pairs of elegant Grey Crowned Cranes, Uganda’s national bird. MFNP is one of the best places in Africa to find the shoebill stork.
Also seen along the banks of the Nile are the Blue-headed Coucal, Swamp Flycatcher, Squacco Heron, African Jacana, Sandpipers, Denham’s Bustard, Abyssinian Ground-Hornbill, Black-billed Barbet, Black-headed Gonolek, Eastern Grey Plantain-eater, Piapiac, Silverbird, Weaver Birds, Pied, Giant and Malachite Kingfishers, Red-throated Bee-eater, White-browed Sparrow Weaver, Speckle-fronted Weaver and African Quail-Finch.
The most popular activities in the park are wildlife safaris, typically around the Nile delta circuit, boat safaris on the Nile, and chimpanzee tracking in the Budongo Forest. But there is so much more to do.
Wildlife Safaris: A game drive around the Buligi game tracks on the northern bank with a trained ranger guide is a fantastic way to see and photograph the wide range of animals in the Nile Valley. Visitors will marvel at herds of buffalos, dozens of elephants, warthogs and towering giraffes, along with bushbucks, reedbuck, duikers, kobs, oribi and the unusual-looking hartebeest. Your guide will have a good idea where the lions are hiding, and you may even spot a leopard at dusk!
Birding Safaris: Both the game drives and the launch trips offer an opportunity for one to come across distinct birdlife, including savannah forest birds, water birds and Albertine Rift endemics. The commonest species found in the plains include the Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, Secretary Birds, Black-bellied Bustards, Open-billed Storks and Widow Bird. The park’s main birding attraction is the Shoebill, best sighted in the dry season from January-March.
Culture Experiences: Energetic dancers from Mubako perform around lodge campfires, making for a magical African experience at dusk. Boomu Women’s Group offers accommodation, a craft shop and village tours, revealing the realities of life in this rural community.
Nature Trekking: The vast landscapes and varied scenery of Murchison Falls National Park and the surrounding Conservation Area can be explored on foot. Trails through Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests provide sightings of many primates and birds, while around the Nile-Lake Albert Delta, two- to four-hour guided swamp walks offer possible sightings of the Shoebill when the water level is low. After an afternoon boating upriver, you can also hike 45 minutes through woodland to the top of Murchison Falls for a completely different experience of this magnificent waterfall.
Balloon Safaris: Enjoy the unique experience of flying in a hot air balloon. Bookings are made in advance.
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