Out and About: Murchison Falls National Park.

Murchison Falls National Park, is one of Uganda’s largest and beautiful game parks. It was established in 1952 and gets its name from the majestic Murchison Falls found within the park.

The park is located in North West Uganda, it covers over 3,800 square km of abundant wildlife, grassland, forests, water features and birdlife to name just a few. This place is not short of attractions to amaze any one who visits.

Located on the Albert Nile, you experience Africa’s largest and longest river, get to hear and see the thundering roar of the World’s most powerful waterfall, and let it drench you. See hundreds of palm nut trees, brought via elephant dung years ago when the elephants began migrating back to the area. Spot giraffes in the savanna grassland, buffalos grazing, elephants headed to the water, lions basking after a successful hunt and feed, come across hyenas in the thickets, spot leopards in the trees, and little oribi antelopes grazing. Visit chimpanzees and enjoy a swim in a lodge as the baboons and warthogs watch on. Enjoy beautiful sunrise and sunset views as you listen to birdsong from the many birds in the area. To name just a few. It is an amazing place that is definitely worth a visit when one is in the Pearl of Africa.

These palms are all over the park, thanks to the elephants’ movement and love for the tasty fruit.

The park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and their rangers are the best guides when one visits. Murchison Falls N.P is not a one day visit, with so much to see, you can take at least a minimum of three days to be able to enjoy most of its attractions.

Once you head out of Kampala, the first attraction is the Karuma Falls on the Kampala Gulu highway that is on one of the park’s extreme ends. Because it is on a busy stretch of road with some hairpin turns, and due to security reasons, one may not stop on the side of the road, but you will see and hear the water roar, it is a sight to behold. Because of the rock formations and the direction /speed of the water flow, there is so much foam, crashing waves and huge roaring sound that will just amaze you and trust me, I am unable to describe what an incredible sight it is to behold. You will spot some baboons on the road side and various bird species as you head off the bridge over the Nile.

This is the “calm” side of the Karuma Falls.

There are several lodges and camping sights located around the park outskirts, as well as a rhino sanctuary, which is closed to visitors at the moment due to Covid pandemic. There are also a few lodges located right inside the park if you want the full bush experience. This entails baboons, warthogs and waterbucks grazing outside your room door, or hearing hyenas at night as they scavenge after a big cat’s kill. If your lodge overlooks the Albert Nile, you have an amazing view of the water, and hippos and crocs chilling as the other animals head for a drink of water. And if you are in a lodge near the Murchison Falls, you get to hear the water roaring down the whole time.

The must dos are an early morning game drive, you get to see the sun rise over the savanna, as the animals are still grazing and roaming around.

The other must dos are the trip to see the Falls. The top of the falls is just a boat and car trip away, and the bottom of the falls is a 2 hour boat trip, see why you need at least three days? You will only have time at the lodge to eat, sleep and maybe squeeze in a dip in the pool.

Night game drives are also possible, but we opted to do the morning ones. It took us 4 hours and we did not get to cover as much as the park as we wanted to, it is that vast.

We were however lucky to spot patas monkeys, giraffes, hyenas, buffalos, a lone leopard, warthogs, oribi antelopes, Jacksons’ hartebeests, lions, Abyssinian hornbills, elephants, side striped jackal, water bucks, bush bucks, guinea fowl, Ugandan Kob, harrier hawks, Abdim’s storks, grasshopper’s buzzard, palm nut vultures, lilac breasted roller, lapwings, sandpiper, monitor lizards, to name just a few.

How many oribi antelopes can you spot? They are small antelopes that are swift, gazelle like with small horns and a black tail, and apparently a delectable leopard treat.

Our early morning game drive began by a visit to some old ruins of the old Pakuba lodge, that is a known leopard lair, we did not spot any unfortunately but found some antelopes and waterbucks grazing in the vicinity. You will need a 4 wheel drive to manoeuvre some of the road trails due to the heavy rains, some trails and even bridges have been washed away. It was fun seeing who should spot what first. From a lone elephant grazing in the distance, a shy bush buck in a thicket, water bucks in the swampy areas to the birds, all with the sun rising beautifully in the distance.

We came across Abyssinian Hornbills, also known as “pedestrian birds” as they prefer staying on ground rather than the air, Jacksons’s Hartebeest, which I had never seen before, and our ranger guide informed us is quite the forgetful animal.

It is a large antelope with a beautiful golden brown hide and grey horns. They are many dotting the park. We spotted the Patas monkey that is a ground dwelling monkey native to the savanna and woodlands, and the fastest primate when running, going up to speeds of 55km per hour.

The Patas monkey.

Spot the leopard?

We also came across a leopard chilling out in a tree, coming up slowly till it sensed us and climbed down to the long grass and disappeared. Also came across a pride of lions with several cute cubs that were frolicking in the Savannah grassland, such a sight to behold. The ranger informed us they had been born during the lockdown so were not used to the vehicles yet, or human presence. Buffalos spot the landscape, as well Rothschild giraffes.

This calf was not more than three days old. Such a beautiful sight.

Unfortunately, this calf did not survive the day, thanks to a pack of hyenas hiding in a nearby thicket.

They were so well hidden, calculating and waiting for the perfect moment to strike and capture the giraffe calf.
It may look away now, but this hyena was part of the pack that descended on the poor giraffe calf.

As we drove on, we came to another thicket that had tracks leading to it, indicating a carcass had been drawn inside. We drove around the thicket and found this lioness resting after the heavy meal.

The lioness seemed quite unbothered by our presence, guess a heavy meal does take a toll and all she wanted to do was nap in the shade in peace.

Other animals spotted were warthogs grazing peacefully, different birds, buffalos and elephants.

There are earmarked places one can stop to use the restroom and view the Nile up close. This is where we got to see various bird such as African jacana, common sandpiper, lilac breasted roller, lapwings, storks, among others. A Nile monitor lizard and a school of hippos in the water.

Water bucks minding their own business.

The park’s main attraction however are the majestic Murchison Falls. Must do is a boat ride to the bottom of the falls. This takes about 2-3 hours on the calm waters. You will see African fish eagles, Nile crocodiles, many hippos various birdlife and animals headed to the water for a drink.

Such a beautiful sight.
These rock walls are covered by numerous tiny holes that are the kingfisher and bee eater birds’ tunnel nests.

The kingfisher and bee eaters’ tunnel nests are a sight to behold.

An African Fish Eagle.

Apparently years ago, one could get off the boat as you neared the bottom and hike to the top, but this is no longer possible. Heavy rains in recent years have seen water levels rise and the currents get stronger. There are many parts of the park that were accessible a few years ago but now under water.

You know you are nearing the falls when you see the water begin to get foamy and will even feel the boat rock with the heavy currents. Because of rising water levels, we could not get too close.

The visit to the top of the falls was my best experience. Seeing the water, rushing deep and roaring wild, it does something to you. To say the falls are amazing, magnificent and amazing to behold are an understatement to be honest. It is something you just have to experience, and soak in. We were lucky to be the only ones there with our guide and sitting there in silence just watching the water and listening to the thundering roar, is a magical experience.

There are steps you can climb to view the falls from the top and enjoy the water spray as well as a lovely full rainbow that is always there.

I did not want to leave!

The only thing we didn’t do is go to see the chimpanzees but that’s the perfect excuse for a return visit.

If you are in Uganda, and have not visited Murchison Falls, what are you waiting for?

If you are planning a visit to the region, spare a day or two, to experience the beautiful Murchison Falls National Park. It is worth it!

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