Murchison falls National Park is the largest wildlife national park in Uganda also known as Kabalega falls national park falling under the Murchison falls conservation area (MFCA). The MFCA is made up of Murchison falls national park, Bungugu wildlife reserve, and Karuma falls reserve. Murchison falls is one of the oldest and first national parks in Uganda located in the northwestern region of Uganda that is approximately 15.6 kilometers and a 5-6 hours’ drive from Kampala the capital city of Uganda. At the altitude variation of 615 meters – 1187 meters above the sea level Murchison falls is situated in the districts of Amuru, Nwoya, Buliisa, Kiryandongo, and Masindi covering the area of 3840 square kilometers.
Murchison falls national park harbors the Murchison falls which is the major tourist attraction in the park because of its magnificent scenery as it forms a trademark rainbow as river Nile squeezes through an 8-meter wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar. Murchison falls is also known as Kabalega falls which is situated between Lake Kyoga and Albert on the Victoria Nile. These falls tumble at 141 feet as the river flows westward into Lake Albert. John Speke and James Grant were the first Europeans to visit the Murchison falls conservation area but Sir Samuel Baker and his wife Florence Baker were the first Europeans to explorer the falls hence baptizing them Murchison falls after Sir Roderick Murchison the president of the Royal Geographical Society.
Murchison falls national park lies in the northern end of the Albertine rift valley a spot where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment falls to form vast palm-dotted savannah. The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile into two sections i.e. northern section and the southern section. The northern section is made up of up of more wildlife than the southern section because it suffered more from poaching which was practiced limitlessly by the locals.
Murchison falls was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1926 by the British administration primarily to save the wildlife from poachers. In 1951 the park most especially around Lake Albert and the Nile was used in the filming of “the African queen” movie. In 1952 the park was declared a national park under national park act of Uganda by the British administration. During the regime of the late Idi Amin in 1970, the falls’ name was changed to Kabalega falls after Omukama (King) of Bunyoro and so is the park to Kabalega falls national park but after the overthrow of his regime, the falls and park regained their former name.
Murchison falls, chimpanzees and the big five are the major attractions in the national park which is filled with savannah woodland and riverine forest. Murchison falls also harbors a variety of wildlife which includes the primates like chimpanzees, 76 species of mammals for example lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, Oribis, Uganda kob, hartebeests, antelopes and many bird species of approximately 451 in number including Gray crowned crane(Uganda’s National bird), Giant Kingfisher, Giant Heron, Shoebill stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Nightjars, Marabou stork, Black-headed Lapwing, Back-bellied Bustard, there is also river Nile crocodiles in the Nile River in the park. By 1983 the park was home to rhinos and due to poaching and endless guerrilla wars of the 1970s and early 1980s of Uganda.
Murchison falls national park with the main gate at Kichumbanyobo gate is a famous tourist destination of Uganda offering different wonderful fun-filled activities which are of interest to tourists, these activities include:
- Top falls hike: hiking to the top of falls is most prominent amazing activity in Murchison falls national park which involves climbing to the peak of the cliff which is adjacent to a thin gorge through which river Nile forms a thunderous sound before dropping to over 40 meters above. The 45 hikes are headed by a professional guide from the bottom to the top of Murchison falls, while on the hike you encounter the refreshing misty spraying all over river Nile pouring down at 43 meters in what is termed as devil’s cauldron.
- Game drive: Murchison falls national park is the best destination for any tourist intending for game drives as the park has many drive tracks, these tracks include Albert, Victoria and buligi tracks which give tourists different experience as the rare gifted various attractions. The buligi track situated north of Paraa which is of 7 kilometers and is the most used tracks in Murchison falls national park purposely for game viewing. While on the Victoria track you get a chance to view various bird species, animals and primates that is chimpanzees. On game drives of a minimum of our hours a tourist gets to see wildlife including animals like lions, leopards, elephants and many more and game drive costs US$20, there is also night derives taking place between 6 pm to 10 pm were a tourist gets a chance to see nocturnal animals costing S$100 per vehicle.
- Nature walks: nature walks in Murchison falls national park of 1.5 kilometers walk in the north bank of river Nile is run by paraa safari lodge, these nature walks offer a great opportunity for bird watching were birds like are spotted Shoe bill, African Darter, Giant Kingfisher, Osprey, Long-toed Plover, Grey-headed Kingfisher, Veracious Dove, Black-headed Lapwing as they rest in their nests and play in savannah vegetation. Nature walks costs US$30 per person.
- Boat cruise: boat cruise in Murchison is an amazing launch trip of three to five hours operated by the Uganda Wildlife Authority from paraa. It is a 17 kilometers stretch on river Nile where tourists can enjoy the view of hundreds of bird species, elephants, leopards and in rainy seasons shoe bills surface. The boat cruise trip begins at 7 am and to participate in the cruise a permit costs US$30 per person. This trip leads to papyrus filled delta where river Nile pours into Lake Albert to the bottom of Murchison falls and it is best in the even where many animals are noticed as they gather to cool off.
- Sportfishing: Murchison falls national park is a home to gargantuan Nile perch making it the best spot for fishing games which are best done in the months of December to March and June to October. Sportfishing in Murchison falls national park is only available tourists in possession of permits which cost US$50 for one day or US$150 for four days. While doing sport fishing it is very important to be mindful of wild crocodiles.
- Chimp trekking: Murchison falls national park consists of numerous forest cover, for example, Rabongo, kaniyo pabidi and Budogo forests which harbor chimpanzees making chimpanzee trekking possible. These forests harbor approximately 600 individuals of mountain gorillas and chimpanzee trekking takes place throughout the year through October to January and is the best time as the grass is short and the fruits are ripening which attracts many chimpanzees.
- Birding. Murchison falls national park is a bird haven for birding experience. The park harbors approximately 451 identified species which include Gray crowned crane(Uganda’s National bird), Giant Kingfisher, Giant Heron, Shoebill stork, Abyssinian Ground Hornbills, Nightjars, Marabou stork, Black-headed Lapwing, Black-bellied Bustard Giant Heron, African Jacana, Secretary Bird, Red-throated Bee-eater, Saddle-billed stork. These birds can be spotted while on hiking, game drives. The best time to do bird watching is in the dry season months of January to march but the activity takes place the whole year, while on chimpanzee trekking you can view mammals, birds, and nature which are enjoyable.
Accommodation facilities while on a safari to Murchison falls national park include Baker’s lodge, Red chill rest camp, Murchison River lodge, Sambiya River lodge, Kabalega Wilderness Lodge, Paraa Safari Lodge, Twiga Safari Lodge, Baker’s Lodge, Twiga tales lodge and many more.
There are many routes which can be used to get Murchison falls national park. By road, the southern gate to Paraa region in Masidi is a four-hour drive from Kampala. You can also choose to use the Bugugu gate which is 135 kilometers, and it is longer but has a great scenic view with sights of Budongo forest and rift valley escarpment.
For the northern sector of Murchison falls national park, as a tourist you can access it through Wankwaar gate, Mubaki and Tangi gates north of the river Nile. These gates can be reached using Kampala-Pakwach road which crosses the Nile at Karuma falls bridge.
By air, Murchison falls national park can be accessed from Entebbe airport or Kajjansi airstrip where you get a chartered plane to Pakuba airfield which is 19 kilometers north of Paraa in the southern region of the park and the northern section of the park is accessible through Chobe airfield.