DISCOVER THE KEW GARDENS AND THE ZOO ON AN UNLIMITED SCALE
Over a century has gone by since Winston Churchill famously described the game rich plains around Murchison falls as ‘kew gardens and the zoo on an unlimited scale’- and his words still hold true today.
Although wild life was hit hard by poachers in the 1970’s and 1980’s, the 5000 sq km wilderness of Uganda’s largest conservation area now contains healthy population of its 76 mammal species , including elephant, giraffe, hartebeest, buffalo, lion ,leopard Uganda kob and hippo. Varied habitats such as savanna, open water, papyrus swamp, woodland and tropical forest, are also home to 450 bird species.
The Nile is the life blood of Murchison falls national park, sustaining large numbers of resident hippo, crocodiles and water birds as well as other regularly visiting animals. Approaching from the east, it races down 80km of rapids onto the rift valley floor over the thunderous Murchison falls and flowing sedately towards lake albert. On the broad, tranquil river below the falls, river craft offer a reliable and comfortable means of game viewing. Traditional game drives are also available as well as forest walks in search for birds and primates. Outside the park, the rich history of the ancient Bunyoro kingdom can be explored at a number of cultural sites.
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 air field to Pakuba air field, 19km North West of Paraa and south at Bugungu, 13km from the park headquarters. The most used route is Kampala via Masindi town and Kichumbanyobo Gate which is about 300 km long and takesan average of 4.5 hours. This route is currently considerd the shortest and most convenient with 175 km of it being tarmac and 125 of fine marrum. This route takes you through Kaniyo Pabidi forest famous for the chimpanzee tracking before encountering the rift valley escarpments that offer 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 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 south of the Nile delta.
Once in the conservation area, the Nile river crossing at Paraa in the heart of the park is approximately 5 hrs drive from Kampala (305 km). Paraa is 85 km from Masindi town by the direct route. A longer (135 km) after native 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.
CLIMATE: The Nile corridor below Murchison falls is the lowest part of Uganda and temperatures are hot with a mean high of 29 C (80 F). wet seasons occur during mid march – june and august – September.
LAND SCAPE: Beyond Masindi town , the terrain drops over an escarpment to lake lake albert on the floor of the riftvaley. Beyond the Nile, the landscape is flat and increasingly dry. Tropical forest behind the rift valley escarpment give way to savanna and bush on the hotter plains below.
CULTURE AND PEOPLE: The Murchison Nile separates two distinct ethnic groups, the Bantu speaking-BANYORO and the Nilotic peoples of northern Uganda. South of the river, the bunyoro kingdom was once one of africa’s greatest empires. More recently thousands of Acholi and Langi people living north of the Nile were displaced during a prolonged rebellion. Though the region has been at peace since, 2006, these societies are struggling to return to normal.
The park contains three virtually mandatory visitor activities. The most popular of these is at the boat trip past impressive populations of hippo and to the bottom of 40 metre (130 ft) Murchison falls. Though the view from the boat is memorable enough- it provided a back drop for Humphrey Borgat and Katharine Hepburn in the ‘ The African Queen’ – it should certainly supplemented by a visit to the top of the falls to see, hear and feel all the waters of the mighty Nile exploding through a 6 metre gap in the cliffs.
The third activity is a drive through the game – rich Buligi grasslands to the shores of the Albert Nile. Birders will be keen to seek water birds, especially the shoe bill, along the river,while there are 59 ‘restricted range’ species –among them Albertine rift endemics and rare central African species – to find in the Budongo and Kaniyo Pabidi forests. Primates including chimpanzee, can also be tracked in Kaniyo Pabidi forests.
CULTURAL SITES: Hoima town, south of the park contains three cultural attractions related to the Bunyoro kingdom: Mparo tombs, Hoima Palace and Katasiha fort. North-west of Hoima, salt has been produced beside lake Albert at Kibero salt gardens and hot springs since the 13th century.
BRINGING RHINOS HOME: The Ziwa rhino sanctuary, on the road between kampala and Murchison falls, is a secure setting for the re –introduction of rhinos to Uganda, the last wild animals having been poached in the 1980’s.guided walks in the 70 sq km ranch provide the only chance to encounter rhinos in the wild in Uganda.
ACCOMMODATION: Murchison falls National Park has three up market hotels and a tented camp on the banks of the Nile as well as more moderately priced accommodation.
TRAVEL: Masindi town, on the main route to Murchison falls, lies 225km from Kampala on a good tarmac road. The most direct route from Masindi to Paraa, the park’s main tourism hub is 85km on a good quality dirt road.