Murchison Falls National Park is located in north-western Uganda. It was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 and later established as a national park by the UWA in 1952 as a Governing body thus becoming Uganda’s first National park. During the regime of Idi Amin Dada in the 1970s, the name was changed to Kabalega Falls, after the Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro, although this was never legally promulgated. The name reverted to Murchison Falls after the downfall of Idi Amin. The explorers John Speke and James Grant were the first Europeans to visit the present-day Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA) in 1862. It was more thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence Baker from 1863 to 1864. Baker named the falls ‘Murchison Falls‘ after the geologist Roderick Murchison, who was the president of the Royal Geographical Society by that time.
Around 1907, the area was attacked by tsetse flies causing sleeping sickness and the people who were staying in the affected area were evacuated. In 1910, the Bunyoro Game Reserve was created south of the River Nile. That area roughly corresponds to the part of the MFNP that is in the districts of Buliisa, Masindi, and Kiryandongo. In 1928, the boundaries were extended north of the river to Nwoya District. In 1952, the British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda and the area became Murchison Falls National Park. Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest national park. It measures approximately 3,893 sq.km. The northern part of the park contains savanna and Borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland while the southern part is dominated by woodland and forest patches.
Attractions in Murchison Falls National Park
- Murchison Falls: The major attractions in this park are the Murchison falls which re also known as the Kabalega falls. These falls were named Kabalega after the king of Bunyoro in the “IDI AMIN’S” regime. These falls are known for several activities including Hiking, launch cruise, and birding sites and in August 2019, Uganda rejected a hydropower project by South Africa’s Bonang Power and Energy. The reason was that Murchison Falls is one of the country’s lucrative tourism sites.
- Big 5 African Animals: The Park is home to over 76 mammal species including four of the “Big Five”, including leopards, lions, elephants and huge herds of buffaloes. Apart from the four of five big five mammals, the park is also home to other several small mammals including bushbucks, giraffes, Uganda kob, waterbucks, warthogs Jackson’s hartebeest, Resident crocodiles, hippos among others
- Primate Species: Murchison falls National park is home to some Primate species including the Olive baboons, the Blue, and red-tailed monkeys, the black-and-white colobus, the savanna-dwelling Patas monkey, and chimpanzees in Budongo Forests.
- Bird Species: Murchison Falls National Park being the biggest park in Uganda, harbors over 451bird species including the Shoebill Stork, the Goliath Heron which is the largest heron in the world, elegant Grey Crowned Cranes which is the Uganda’s National bird, 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.
Activities Launch Trips in Murchison Falls
Birding: The major birding attraction in Murchison falls national park is the rare shoebill which is mainly sighted in the dry season around January to march. However, there are also other bird species including the savannah forest birds, the water birds, the Albertine Rift endemics which are always seen during the Nature walks, the game drive and the launch cruise. The best birding spots include the plains where there is a possibility of sighting out several bird species such as the Black-bellied Bustards, Secretary Birds, Open-billed Storks, Marabou Stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, and Widow Bird.
Also, along the river where there are more thickets and woodlands, several species including the Swallow-tailed Bee Eater, Red-throated Bee-eaters, ducks, geese, stilts and plovers are easily traced by the visitors.
Along the Nyamusika Cliffs visitors have a great opportunity to view the several species including the Kingfishers, Francolin, Hornbills, and Grey heron, Hamerkop, Shrikes, Flycatchers, Cuckoos, Woodpeckers, Crombecs, and Warblers.
Birding is usually done early in the morning where there is a possibility of sighting several bird species.
Game Drives: In Murchison Falls National Park, a game drive is carried out in several areas. The major designated areas are the Delta where there are great chances of encountering the Lions, the Buligi Peninsula which is the prime game-viewing area with the possibility of sighting the elephant, buffalo, antelope, giraffe, lion and leopard, and the southern sector famously known as the heart of Murchison.
Hiking and Nature Walk in Murchison Falls: Hikers through the Kaniyo Pabidi and Rabongo Forests Trails have greater opportunity of spotting several primate species and bird species.
A guided walk towards the Nile Delta through the swamp enables visitors to see the rare Shoebill.
A walk along the north bank from Paraa, passing the Emmy River is the best spot for birders. Nature walks take two hours.
Top of fall hiking: in the process, visitors take the boat safari at the top of the falls and embark downwards. This hike up the fall takes around 45 minutes and it’s a very interesting experience for the visitors.
Hiking takes the Winston Churchill path, baker trail and Uhuru trail which is a Swahili word meaning freedom trail.
Community encounters: In this encounter, you will move outside the park where you will be able to meet the Boomu Women’s Group that was formed in 1999 with the purpose of eradicating poverty, malnutrition and providing education to the children in the community. These members will teach you about their everyday ways of life, how they generate income and the challenging they face. Visit the village’s blacksmith and the Storytellers who share tales about customs and the local way of life. Also, meet the Mubako Cultural Campfire Performances for the best entertainment of your life. These energetic dancers perform vibrant songs and dances around lodge campfires. These people also own small craft shops that sell carved wooden sculptures and hand-woven items such as baskets, mats, among others made by community members.
To perform cultural encounters, visitors must pay a small amount of money that is used by these community members to improve their standards of living and pay school fees for their children since the climatic conditions in this park and the surrounding areas don’t favor Agriculture.
Sport Fishing in Murchison Falls: This activity is very rewarding as it gives visitors an opportunity to lay hands on fishing and once they catch the fish they are free to take it to their lodges where it is prepared for them to enjoy. The fish species caught at Murchison falls include the Nile Perch, tiger fish, Electric cat-fish, Tilapia and Genus Celestes. There are designated fishing spots for the visitors as directed by the UWA guides.
Hot air balloon safari: visitors enjoy this unique experience of flying in a hot air balloon. This activity is mainly done at Murchison falls National Park. This activity can be done in a group or as an individual. In this activity, visitors get an opportunity to explore the plains in North and west Paraa. In Murchison Falls National Park, this activity is organized by the Jobihani Dream Balloons office at Paraa Safari Lodge.
Trip launch: This is an upstream drive from Paraa. It presents an excellent display of several wildlife species that are quenching their thirst along the river. Other aquatic species such as the Hippos and crocodiles. Also, the water birds are easily seen in the process launch trip. A tranquil sundowner cruise offers the classic view of an equatorial sunset reflected on the river and a clear view of the fall.
Visitors have a great opportunity of sighting the Shoebill, and other wildlife including elephants and many bird species during the morning cruise downstream to the Nile-Lake Albert Delta.
A tranquil sundowner evening boat cruise offers the classic view of an equatorial sunset reflected on the river.
Chimpanzee trekking: this activity is rare in this park but it takes place in the most forested areas including the Budongo forest which is the largest mahogany forest in East Africa. Apart from chimpanzee trekking, visitors also come along the other primate species in this forest including the olive baboons, white and black colobus monkeys , red tailed and blue monkey, over 250 butterfly species, over 450 bird species, around 130 moth species, and other mammals and insects that inhabit the forested areas. Chimpanzee trekking can also be done in the Rabongo forest which is the tropical forest and in the Kaniyo Pabidi forests.
Chimpanzee is normally done in the dry season around October to March when the grass is short and there is the availability of ripe fruits which are like by the chimps.
Ziwa Rhino sanctuary: This sanctuary is located in Nakasongola district, and can be visited on the way to Murchison national park since it’s along the way just three hours from Kampala which is half away to Murchison falls National Park. It was established in 2005 with the intention of preserving the white rhinos which were being poached by the poachers. This sanctuary is a non- profit conservation project. This project started with just 6 Rhinos which were introduced in 2005 after the last Rhino was killed by poachers in 1983 and by 2015 they increased to 19 and currently it has 22 Rhinos ready for trekking. In the process of rhino trekking, visitors are also able to view other animals including the antelopes, hippos, crocodiles and the different bird species.
Murchison falls National Park provides the best hike on the Murchison falls. Visitors in this park get the advantage of viewing all the four mammals of the big five mammals without forgetting the best birding in the world.