Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s best-known and biggest nature reserve, and its impressive animal populations and superb activities are further augmented by its location, which straddles the Victoria Nile as it makes its way through multiple rapids and waterfalls (including the enormously impressive Murchison Falls) to Lake Albert. This is an exceptional place to see wildlife and a trip along the Nile should not be missed, not least in order to see the powerful Murchison Falls up close, a simply unforgettable experience.
Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda’s largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds.
Murchison Falls National Park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
Notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals.
Murchison Falls Conservation Area is the largest protected area in Uganda, 5.025kms, including Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Wildlife Reserve, Karuma Wildlife Reserve and, in the South, Budongo Forest. The altitude range from 619m at the delta on Lake Albert and 1.292 m at Rubango hill. The area is traversed by the river Victoria Nile, which connects Lake Kyoga with Lake Albert. The park is named after the marvelous falls on the river, which encounters a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley Escarpment, and then it is transformed into a froth of thunderous white water, with no comparison to any other site in East Africa. The vegetation is characterized by savannah, riverine forest and woodland.
Key Species There are 76 mammal species, the big five and others respectively including giraffes, elephants, lions, leopards, spotted hyenas, Kobs, bushbuck, waterbuck, oribi, jackal. The list of birds counts 450 species.
Activities in Murchison Falls National Park
The famous launch trip from Paraa along the river Nile up to the Murchison Falls (17 km), to see elephants, buffaloes, waterbuck, hippos, crocodiles, water birds like cormorants, pelicans, herons, fish eagle, shoebill stork. Hike to “top of the falls”, to see closer from the top the exciting and spectacular Murchison Falls. Game drives north of river Nile and at Lake Albert Delta (Buligi, Albert and Queen’s tracks). Sport fishing (Nile Perch and tiger fish), on the river Nile above and below the fall. “Chimpanzee tracking” and bird watching in Budongo Forest and Kaniyo Pabidi Forest Reserve.
Recommended safari: 3 Days Murchison Falls Wildlife Tour
How to get there
Murchison Falls Conservation Area with the adjoining Karuma and Bugungu Wildlife Reserves can be accessed through different routes by road to reach Paraa Park headquarters. It can also be reached by air using the daily flights from Entebbe International Airport or chartered aircrafts from Kajjansi airfield to Pakuba airfield, 19km North West of Paraa and south at Bugungu, 13 km from the park headquarters.
The most commonly used route is Kampala via Masindi town and Kichumbanyobo Gate which is about 300km long and takes an average of 4.5 hours. This route is currently considered the shortest and most convenient with 175km of it being tarmac and 125km of fine murram. This route takes you through Kaniyo Pabidi Forest famous for the chimpanzee tracking before encountering the rift valley escarpment that offers a spectacular view of the national park landscape.
The alternative route is via Biso and Bulisa which enables the visitors to enter the park through the Bugungu Gate. Although a bit longer than the Kichumbanyobo Gate corridor, this access route leads through Budongo Forest ,down the rift valley escarpment with a fascinating view over Lake Albert onto the Blue Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo and over the wide open spaces of the massive national park. The adventurous route also leads the visitors through the chimpanzee packed forest before descending to the rift valley escarpment where one can explore the remains of the historical Butiaba Port as well as Wanseko a popular spot south of the Nile delta.
Once in the conservation area, the Nile river crossing at Paraa in the heart of the park is approximately 5hrs drive from Kampala (305km). Paraa is 85km from Masindi town by the direct route. A longer (135km) alternative route passes through Budongo forest and provides scenic views across Lake Albert from the rift valley escarpment above Butiaba.
Paraa can also be approached from the north, via Chobe Gate near Karuma Falls and Tangi Gate near Pakwach (25km to Paraa), and Wankwar Gate near Purongo. A vehicle ferry crosses the Nile at Paraa operating hourly between 07.00 and 19.00 with the exception of 13.00.