What to see and do in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley and it is Uganda’s oldest and largest conservation area, covering 3800 Km² and home to over 451 bird species (including the highly sought after and rare shoebill stork) and 76 different mammal species, including giraffes (which cannot be viewed in Queen Elizabeth National Park). Other game sightings regularly include lions, elephants, hippos, leopards, buffalos, hyenas, warthogs and various antelopes.
The northern section of the Park contains savanna and Borassus palms, acacia trees and riverine woodland, whereas the south area is dominated by woodland and forest patches. The Park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 43 metres over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Falls and a trademark rainbow, where it derives its name, Murchison Falls.
- Activities in the Park
1. Game drive
The mighty Nile River divides the Murchison Falls National Park into its north and south sections and most of the park’s wildlife is found north of the Nile, so all game drives take place on the tracks in the northern section. The Buligi game tracks offer the most amazing game drive experience in Murchison falls, stretching over 160 km and passing through different types of vegetation including savannah grasslands, acacia trees, riverine and woodland vegetation. All of them are well designed targeting various wildlife species like elephants, lions, buffalos, Rothschild’s giraffes, hartebeests, waterbucks, Oribi, bushbucks, reedbucks, hyenas, and on rare cases leopards.
Tip: if your accommodation is in the south section of the park (below the Nile river), keep in mind that you have to take a small ferry at Paraa ferry Terminal to cross the Victoria Nile river and get to the northern section. The first ferry is at 7.00 am, but you must get there at least 40 minutes in advance because the ferry can load around 8 vehicles. The ferry takes about 40 minutes to complete the round trip. If you sleep around the northern boundary of the Park, you can enter through the Wankwar and Tangi gates. Click here to see the location of Paraa ferry crossing.
2. Nile river cruise and trek to the top of the falls
The 2 hrs and a half boat cruise (starting from Paraa ferry terminal) along the Victoria Nile river give you a guarantee to see the falls from the bottom angle. As you make your way upstream through breathtaking sceneries to the thundering base of the falls, you’ll be passing a wide variety of aquatic bird species including goliath herons, Egyptian geese, pelican bee-eaters, kingfishers, Hornbills, cormorants and if you are lucky the rare shoebill stork. Also, Hippos, antelopes and numerous giant Nile crocodiles are easy to be spotted along the Nile river banks.
At the end of your way upstream, on the right side of the river, it starts a trail (called ”top of the falls”) lining the shore through woodland that reaches the top part of the falls. Here, you can enjoy from a few meters the powerful water going through the narrow gorge and its roar, taste the spray on your face and feel the rock shake beneath your feet. It a bit challenging just in a short part and it takes you around 1 hour. Probably the most challenging thing is the strong heat. Ended up your visit, you’ll go back by car; your driver will be waiting for you at the car park next to the top of the falls. If you don’t want to hike to the top, the boat will bring you back to the dock. You can also visit the top of the falls by car. Stop off at the south bank during your game drive, and walk down a set of steps to stand within meters of the rapids.
During the dry season, you can challenge the Nile river and try to catch the big Nile perch, the catfish and various smaller species including the Tigerfish. The fishing is either from the rocks on the bank of the river or slightly lower downstream in the pools from a boat.
Information about Murchison Falls National Park
- When to go
The best time to visit the Park is during the dry season, from December to March when animal sightings are easiest. In this season, the weather is often sunny and very hot. From April, May and from August to October the rains are higher, even if they rarely interfere with the activities of the Park. In general, the best time to visit Uganda is the month of January, February, June and July.
- How to reach the Park
Murchison Falls Park is located approximately 300km north of Kampala. The journey to the south entrance gate takes four to five hours. From here, calculate at least another hour to reach your accommodation. If you are heading to the north gate, the journey time is approximately five to six hours. Coming from the southwest, the 280km journey from Fort Portal takes at least six hours. If you come from Masindi, allow around 3 hours to reach Paraa dock (90 km). The best option is to rely on a local tour operator who can plan your trip through this country in peace and safety.
- Entrance fee
40$ x day.
- Activities reservation
The best option is to travel with a local tour operator and get everything ready. Anyway, if you travel yourself, you can book the boat cruise, the hiking and sport fishing directly at the Paraa Safari Lodge, at the main entrance to the park or directly on the Wildfrontiers Uganda website where you can also find a lot of information. The boat cruise costs USD 30 and the “climb to the top of the falls” USD 15.
- Where to sleep
Murchison Falls Park offers a good choice of accommodations, from campsites to luxury lodges, in both the north and south sections. Since the safaris take place in the northern area of the Park, we opted for the Fort Murchison Lodge, located just 10 km from the Tangi gate.
Important notice: if you opt to sleep in the south area, remember that you will have to take the small ferry at the Paraa dock to cross the Victoria Nile and reach the northern sector. The small boat can carry around 8 vehicles, so it is very important to arrive there in advance.
For those with a decidedly higher budget, inside the Park, is the Paraa Safari Lodge, an expensive and exclusive lodge right in front of the Nile river and the Paraa dock, where it is also possible to have lunch after the safari while waiting for the cruise. At Paraa Lodge you can book the activities in the park.
Many accommodations are not bookable through booking.com, but you will have to do it directly on their website. For example, in the southern part of the Park, not far from the Paraa pier, you will find the Murchison River Lodge, the Kabalega Wilderness Lodge, the Bakers Lodge, the Yebo Safari Lodge & Camp, the Nile Safari Lodge, the Twiga Safari Lodge, the Red chilli Rest camp and the Sambiya Safari Lodge.
In the northern part, not far from the Tangi gate, in addition to the Fort Murchison Lodge, you will find the Bwana Tembo Safari Camp, the Mama Washindi Lodge, the Parkside Safari Lodge, the Heritage Safari Lodge, the Hornbill Bush Lodge, the Bar Lyec Safari Lodge.
You can also use the Tripadvisor search engine to search for accommodations and see reviews by clicking directly here.
- Traveller’s safety
There are currently no security issues. Of course, remember that it is absolutely forbidden to leave the vehicle during game drives except in designated areas. Always follow the instructions your guide/driver will give you.
As for the health situation, malaria is endemic in Uganda; remember to protect yourself especially at night by applying a mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET and also using long-sleeved clothing. Furthermore, for entry into the country, it is mandatory to be vaccinated against yellow fever.
For more information about safety and health, always check the official site of your Foreign Ministry before leaving. In addition, it is always advisable to contact the local health authority – traveller’s diseases section – to find out in detail any vaccinations to be done to visit Uganda and seek the advice of a specialist doctor.
Travel insurance: Remember that in case of need, medical expenses in these countries are always very high; it is very important to take out travel insurance. In our travels, we usually rely on World Nomads.