In West Uganda there’s one of the most interesting locations of the country: the Murchison Falls National Park. Spreading for almost 4000 km2, this is the largest park in Uganda. It hosts forests, hills and savannah and it’s crossed by the White Nile River, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile.
The Murchison Falls
The Falls are impressive. You can both see them from far away and hear them while getting closer and closer.
They are called ”falls”, plural, because technically there’s more than just one water flow. The White Nile river, after a long sequence of rapids, splits into parallel streams, separated by rocks and small islands. The main section, only 7 meters wide, creates a great and noisy jump almost 50 meters high. A couple of other side sections complete the Murchison Falls.
After the falls, Nile River proceeds quietly towards Lake Albert.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park?
Murchison Falls National Park sits 300 km from the capital Kampala and you can enter it from Masindi, a town with about 100.000 inhabitants that gives name to the district.
The entrance permit lasts 24 hours and costs about 40$ per person and 50$ per car. The main roads that cross the park are right now (2019) under construction and/or improvement, thanks to a big investment made by Chinese companies. Setting aside the reasons why Asians are so interested in these areas, I can honestly say that the infrastructures are clearly benefiting the situation!
Within the National Park there are lodges and camps where the tourists can spend the night. The atmosphere is fairly wild and you can easily encounter animals even only driving around and walking under the trees of the hotels.
On the evening on my arrival, even before starting any activities, I’d already seen hippos, monkeys, a small crocodile and the classic African fauna: geckos, various kinds of insects and colourful birds with the most incredible voices!
One day is enough if you want to do a game drive and see Murchison Falls. I suggest to sleep inside the National Park to be able to spot many animals in the early morning. In the afternoon you can organize a boat ride, the hike on top of the falls or one of the other activities, keeping your presence in the park within the 24 hours of permit. If you want to do all the activities, you’re going to need a second night.
Best time to visit Murchison Falls
The park is open all year round and it’s always a good safari destination, with tons of animals and the White Nile close by. During the dry season, however, it’s easier to spot predators in the early morning because they tend to get closer to the water sources. The best time to visit Murchison Falls National Park are therefore the months between December and February and between June and September. The busiest months are usually June and July.
Activities at Murchison Falls National Park
Game drive safari
The most common tourist activity in Africa, it’s usually a safari. Murchison Falls National Park is the perfect destination for a 4×4 game drive.
The North side of the White Nile is where most of the wild animals live. This natural reserve hosts more than 70 species of mammals, 450 birds and you can find the highest presence of crocodile of the entire Nile River. I’ve seen hundreds of different kinds of antelopes, giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, baboons, boars, crocodiles, 2-3 sorts of monkeys, huge (monitor?) lizards and many birds, including some birds of prey.
To be able to see lions, you need to get to the right area in the early morning. Due to the breakdown of the ferry, I’ve missed them!
Boat ride safari
I’ve found particularly fun and interesting the boat safari. It offers a different and unusual point of view of the environment and the habitat of the animals in this natural reserve.
The tour lasts a couple of hour and rides on the North bank of the White Nile, so the best seats are the ones on the left of the boat! It costs around 30$ and includes a fairly prepared guide, well used to spot the local fauna.
The boat ride is the best chance you’ll have to see the Nile crocodiles. But there are also other mammals coming close to the river shore to drink and monkeys jumping from tree to tree.
The boat gets close to the Murchison Falls and ends its ride at the beginning of the path to reach the top of the falls. For those that don’t want to hike, there’s the possibility to come back the same way with the boat.
“Top of the Falls” hike
From the tiny pier where the safari boat ends its tour, an uphill path starts. The hike in the forest is as humid as beautiful.
Even though a guide is fairly useless, a park ranger will walk you up to the falls. The hike takes 30-60 minutes, depending on how often the group stops for pictures. The price is 15$ per person to be paid to the guide at the end of the hike, probably because he also hopes in a tip. At least he knows the best spot to shoot nice photos!
Towards the end of the path, just next to the Murchison Falls, there’s a beautiful view over the White Nile and a “natural shower” coming from the agitated waters of the falls. After an hour of uphill walk, it’s a fresh relief!
The hike is steep but not difficult. I’ve seen people walking with flip-flop! There’s definitely not the need of technical clothing, but I’d suggest hiking shoes and proper clothing nonetheless. The main difficulty of this hike, however, is the heat and the insane humidity of the environment.
Uganda is famous for the lover of bird watching. With 30$ a guide will guide these tourists in a walk, helping them to spot many species and telling them all about the African birds in Murchison Falls National Park.
In some stretches of the White Nile it’s also possible to try some sports: you can fish and do rafting for about 50$ per person.
You can find more information on the official website of Ugandan national parks, the Uganda Wildlife Authority.