Murchison falls National park is Uganda’s largest and most visited national park. It lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift valley where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment merges into a vast, palm dotted savannah. The park was gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 and upgraded to a park status in 1952, making it the oldest protected area in Uganda.
Murchison falls national park is combined with the contiguous Karuma and Bugungu wildlife reserves and it covers 5072 sqkm and is home to 76 species of mammals and over 450 bird species. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile that races westwards 80kms over a series of Rapids before fixing its self in a narrow (7m) gap in the remnant rift valley cliffs forming a the falls which are the major attraction in the park and hence the name. This 45m plunge drains the last of the rivers energy transforming the torrent into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor and pours into Lake Albert.
The river below the falls provides one of Uganda’s finest wildlife spectacles experienced by a boat ride to the bottom of the falls. The regular residents and visitors to the river bank include elephants, hippos, Nile crocs, and aquatic birds like the African Fish Eagle, African Jacana, Egyptian Geese, Long tailed Cormorants among others.
Attractions and Activities
The Nile and the Falls
Paraa is the starting point for boat trips to the falls or the delta and site of the vehicle ferry crossing. Most of the tourist accommodation serving the park are located in the vicinity much of it on the river bank. The launch voyage from Paraa to see the falls exploding through the cliffs at the head of Fajao gorge is the oldest, finest and popular excursion. The 3 hour return trip passes a wealthy riverside wildlife on the way including resident hippos and crocodiles and visiting elephants, buffaloes and other antelopes.
Boats also run down river from Paraa to the Nile delta where a mosaic of papyrus islands chokes the rivers entrance into Lake Albert. These are rich in water birds mostly the most sought after Shoebill.
Top of the falls
You should be sure to visit the top of the falls view point to see, hear and feel the nile thunder through a 7m wide gorge. The site has a permanent rainbow and it can be reached by vehicle but it would be most rewarding to disembark from the boat and take a hike through a designated trail up to the top of the falls through the Fajao Gorge.
The river below Murchison falls provide a great spot and exciting challenge for anglers to catch the Nile perch for sport. The record for the Nile perch landed with rod and line standing at a hefty 108kgs.
Game drives and game viewing
The parks prime game viewing area lies on the Buligi Peninsula, a triangle of grassland bounded by the Victoria Nile entering Lake Albert and the Albert Nile flowing out of the lake. The plains are filled with Elephants, buffaloes, antelopes and giraffes plus predators like lions and leopards. You can also take the exploration to heights and explore the plains north and west of Parra in a hot air balloon.
The southern part of the park is covered by Bush and forest, the heart of the park is covered by a delightful tract of savannah. Vehicle tracks have recently been opened in the area with substantial herds of Uganda kobs and is becoming a prime location for lions.
The different habitats of the park have made it home to a variety of birds from forest, savanna and water birds. Birding activities overlap with wildlife viewing locations. The park has 451 bird species and the highlights include easy sightings of the resident water birds like the African fish eagle, Shoebill at the delta, African Jacana, Bee eaters, all seen while on a cruise on the Nile or on game drives. Care full searches for rare and restricted range forest birds of Kaniyo Pabidi forest or Budongo forest.
Pakuba air field is just 19kms north of Paara and a charter flight from Entebbe International airport or Kajjansi air field near the capital Kampala can take you to the park. Also Chobe airfield in the East and Bugungu in the South of Paraa.
From the South, The park can be reached by two routes that lead to Paraa from Masindi town which is 350km from Kampala about a 5 hours’ drive. The most direct is the 86km approach which enters the park through the Kichumbanyobo gate. With diversions to Budongo forest and the heart of Murchison game viewing area .
A Longer but more scenic route from Masindi to Paraa Via Bulisa in Hoima 136km. The route gives a beautiful descent of the rift valley views across lake Albert and enter the park through Bugungu or Mubako gates.
Murchison falls can also be reached on the north side via Chobe, Wankwar and Tangi gates. Access to these is using the Kampala-Pakwach road which crosses the Nile at Karuma Falls in the North eastern corner of the park just 294kms from Kampala.