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.
The 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.
Park at a Glance
- Size: 3,840km2
- Murchison Falls became one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952
- At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through an 8m wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron”, creating a trademark rainbow
- The northern section of the park contains savanna and borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland. The south is dominated by woodland and forest patches
- The 1951 film “The African Queen” starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed on Lake Albert and the Nile in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park sits on the shores of Lake Albert, in the northwest Uganda. It’s known for Murchison Falls where the Victoria Nile River squeezes through a narrow gap over a massive drop. Murchison Falls is Uganda’s largest national park measuring 3,893sq.km home to four of the big five and managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. It is north western Uganda, spreading inland from the shores of Lake Albert around the Victoria Nile up to the Karuma Falls. Together with the adjacent 748 square kilometers, Bugungu wildlife reserve and Karuma wildlife reserve, the park forms the Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA). The park straddles the Uganda districts of Bulisa, Nwoya, Kiryandongo and Masindi.
Brief history about Murchison Falls National Park
The explores John Speke and James Grant were the first Europeans to visit the present day MFCA in 1862. It was more thoroughly explored by Samuel and Florence Baker in 1863-4. Baker named the falls Murchison Falls the geologist Roderick Murchison. In 1952, the British administration established the National Park Act of Uganda. The area described above became Murchison Falls National Park.
Two southerly approaches to Paraa lead out of Masindi town, which is a 4 hour drive from Kampala. Along the way to Masindi is the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary – home to the only wild rhinos in Uganda. The main route from Masindi enters the Conservation Area through Kicumbanyobo Gate to pass through Kaniyo Pabidi Forest to Paraa. The national park is two hours away from Masindi town.
Another longer route runs for 135km from Masindi to the park’s Bugungu gate, the route includes a passage through Budongo Forest and a memorable descent of the rift valley escarpment with views across Lake Albert towards the mountains of the Congo.
Murchison Falls National Park can also be entered via the Chobe, Wankwar, Mubako and Tangi gates north of the Nile. These are reached from the Kampala-Pakwach Road which crosses the Nile at Karuma Falls Bridge in the northeastern corner of the park, 260km from Kampala. These gates are convenient for visitor travelling to/from Gulu town and Kidepo Valley National Park.
Pakuba Airfield, 19km from North Paraa, can be reached using chartered aircraft from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi airfield near Kampala. Other airfields in the park include: Chobe to the east and Bugungu near Murchison Falls to the south.
What to see and do
The game drives are done early in the morning starting at 6:00am around Buligi game tracks on the northern bank with a trained ranger guide will have a good idea where the lions are hiding, and you may even spot a leopard at dusk. On the list of game we have; elephants, buffalos, giraffes, lions and a variety of antelopes.
This is the highlight of any safari in the Murchison Falls National Park. It is a wonderful cruise that takes about 3-4 hours. On this cruise you will see several hippos, waterbucks, Nile crocodiles and buffaloes in addition to numerous birds plus other characteristic African wildlife living in a savanna landscape. The boat ride takes you to the bottom of the Murchison Falls and the best time to enjoy it are in the afternoon when several animals congregate at the banks to cool off. On the Murchison Falls Boat Safari up to the falls you have the choice to go at the bottoms of the falls and hike up to the top of the falls or return on the boat downstream for more wildlife viewing.
Top of the Falls Hike
You may opt to hike to the peak of a cliff near to the thin gorge through which the waters of the mighty Nile squeeze before thunderously dropping to over 45 meters below creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through an 8m wide gorge and plunges with a thunderous roar into the “Devil’s Cauldron”, creating trademark rainbow.
Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo Forest
Budongo Forest a great place for chimpanzee tracking and chimpanzee habituation experience, birding and hiking and nature walks from a few hours to all day hikes on the trails of Budongo Forest. Kaniyo Pabidi is a natural forest within the Budongo Forest Reserve and host to a diversity of wildlife among which are numerous chimps plus birds. It is a perfect alternative to the usual game drives plus boat rides. You may track chimpanzees or do some bird watching.
Birding can be done from a safari vehicle or on a nature walk along the Nile or through one of its forest. The possibilities are endless here and there are numerous spots where with a guide you will make some rewarding discoveries and see why Murchison Falls Park is one of the best birding locations in all of Africa.
The banks of the Nile below Murchison Falls provide exciting challenges to anglers. Living within strong currents and highly oxygenated water is the Nile perch. There is a chance to land a massive catch- the records is 108kg.
Hot Air Balloon Wildlife Safaris
Hot Air Balloon safaris in Uganda can now be taken in Murchison Falls Park. Murchison Falls is the second park in Uganda where you can take a hot air balloon wildlife Safari. Rise at dawn over the savanna and watch the sun rise and then glide over the park above the tree-tops where you can see the most wildlife below. The park is filled with vast herds of buffaloes, elephants, giraffes, antelopes. Watch the predators below as they come home from a night’s hunt.
Cultural Encounters in Murchison Falls
- Mubako Cultural Campfire Performances
The remote community of Mubako is located beside the sprawling Savannah of Murchison Falls National Park. The village is a cluster of traditional thatched huts around a clearing, where villagers gather to escape the midday sun under the shade of a large tree. Mubako’s small craft shop sells carved wooden sculptures and hand-woven items made by community members.
Boomu Women’s Group
The subsistence farmers from the villages of Kihaguzi and Kigaragara in Uganda’s dry northern region had little produce left over to sell, so in 1999 the Boomu Women´s Group was formed, with the aim of reducing poverty and malnutrition, and providing an income for the members to be able to pay their children´s school fees. What began as a craft group has evolved into a wonderful community tourism project, with traditional accommodation, a restaurant, unique guided tours.
The scenic village tour reveals the features of everyday rural life, as well as explaining the hardships facing the community. Your guide will show you various crops as well as taking you to visit the village blacksmith. Storytellers share tales about customs and the local way of life, and a visit to the nursery, a cooking demonstration or a basket weaving class can be arranged on request.