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!

Out and About: Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Formerly known as the Kazinga National Park, the Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest national parks. It spans over 1,900 square kilometres of savanna grassland, riparian wetland and bush that is home to a wide variety of animals. From mammals to birdlife, the diverse array of flora and fauna will please any nature lover who visits the park.

It is located in Western Uganda, about 400Km outside Kampala, on a winding scenic route towards the peak of the Western Rift Valley spotted with various crater lakes and tea plantations.

Fun Fact: The Albertine Rift Valley (as the Rift Valley branch in Uganda is called), is actually longer than the Kenyan Rift Valley.

The park has several key attractions. There are tree climbing lions found in the Ishasa sector (only two kinds of lions are known to do this in the entire world), the beautiful Kazinga Channel that I have posted about here , Lake Katwe, one of the region’s oldest salt mines, the beautiful but foul smelling (due to sulphur deposits) Lake Nyamunuka, as well as other crater lakes and volcanic features present in the area. Another plus is its location at the back of the majestic Ruwenzori range and the presence of chimpanzees too.

The best time to visit the park is well, any time, as the park is open throughout the year. However, the roads may be impassable during the rainy season and this is Uganda, when it rains it pours in the wet seasons of April/May and September/ October. The dry seasons in Jan/Feb and June/August are said to be better to watch the wildlife though as the animals are more visible as they search for water.

You know you are nearing the park when you begin to spot the wildlife right off the highway.

Some of the wildlife you will spot in the park are buffaloes, Ugandan Kob, leopards, waterbucks, lion, elephants, Nile Monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, warthogs, colobus monkeys, baboon giant forest hogs, serval cats. There are however no cheetahs, rhinos, zebras or giraffes.

These antelopes were a bit camera shy.

QENP, as the park is more commonly known, is a favorite for bird watchers too. There are over 600 bird species in this park that is a world registered Important Birding Area (IBA) and the bird variety found here is the biggest of any East African National Park! Amazing, right? If you visit during the wet season, you can be lucky to spot some migratory birds too.

The location of the park and adjacency of the area to the deep Congo forest, its diverse flora, water features among other factors attract various bird species. Some of the birds you are lucky to spot here include the African green broadbill, African Skimmer, pink backed pelican, flamingos (on the crater lakes), ring necked pigeon, red chested warbler, various sunbirds, lapwings, grey herons, marsh harriers, African jacana, cisticolas, crakes, African palm nut vulture, African Kestrel, various sandpiper, oxpecker, woodpecker, bee eater and kingfisher species, the list goes on and on. The bird life is amazing and diverse from one part of the park to another. Just carry your binoculars though spotting them is not that difficult.

We did not get to see the leopards, but spotted a lot of birds, elephants, hippos, buffaloes, antelopes and a couple of lions.

We stayed at Buffalo Springs Lodge within the park, they have a pavilion that looks out onto this watering hole favoured by warthogs, baboons, buffaloes and elephants.
The park has over 1000 buffalos, you will spot them in huge herds or grazing alone.
With an elephant population estimated to be about 3000, these gentle giants may be the biggest but not easiest animals to spot as they graze or head into the water.
The famous cactus climbing lions.
See how well hidden this fellow is?
We spotted these elephants while on the path in the lodge. Exciting!
The total hippo population in the park is said to be the largest in the East African region, at around 5000 hippos found in the various water bodies in the park. The Kazinga Channel is the main water body in the park and is host to many schools of hippos such as these ones in the picture.

There are people living within the park and around it. It is not uncommon to hear of attacks by crocodiles when someone is fetching water, bumping into hippos and even find young boys shooing away elephants coming to graze too close to their compounds. But the existence is generally peaceful.

QENP is a must visit when one is in Uganda, the diversity of both flora and fauna, the crater lakes, the Kazinga Channel and other geographical features will excite any curious visitor. There are various hotel within and around the park that favour different budgets, and of course do not forget your sunscreen, hat, binoculars, and spirit of adventure when you set out to experience the “Medley of Wonders” that is the Kazinga National Park.

Out and About: The Kazinga Channel.

The Kazinga Channel, located in Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda is a must visit when here.

It is a vast channel of water, just over 30 km wide, that is a joining of two lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel is quite big and is said to have one of the highest concentration of hippos and Nile crocodiles in the world.

A school of hippos just basking and splashing.

There are many boat tours that have knowledgeable guides who will take you on the channel for an hours (2-3 hours) long boat ride that will have you come as close to the hippos and Nile crocodiles than you ever thought possible. The boats are safe and sturdy, and life jackets are a must. So you can be assured you are in safe hands. The guides are from the surrounding community, and are well versed in the animals’ behaviour.

I posted this on Twitter and someone said the calf has shifty eyes. LOL.

There is plenty of wildlife to be spotted when on the channel. From numerous schools of hippos, Nile crocodiles basking lazily in the sun, vervet monkeys, Cape buffaloes, Nile Monitor lizards, and a wide range of birdlife. So it is advisable to carry out binoculars too. We spotted many beautiful birds, from the African Fish Eagle, black crake with its bright red feet, grey herons, Egyptian geese, hammerkop, pied and malachite kingfishers to the colourful Madagascar bee eater, among many others. If you are lucky you may spot some elephants on the edge headed for a drink.

Some nest tunnels on the river banks.
Spot the colourful birds?
Beautiful pied kingfisher birds.

The boat cruise has to be booked in advance and the surrounding hotels and tours to the area include the boat ride as one of the activities to be done. You cannot afford to pass this up when you are at the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The kids were so excited to see the animals up close and time passes fast you will not realise an hour or two are up when on the water.

It’s a hippo affair.

We had a wonderful guide Martin, who answered all our questions, gave us interesting facts about the area and the wildlife, and was patient enough to let us take as many photos as we could. You can carry some water or snacks to munch on the ride, as well as a hat and sunglasses and sunscreen of course. The boats are shaded though so the hot glare of the sun will not get to you.

Do you think he is mooning us?
In water all day is quite the life, isn’t it?
Can you spot the croc?
Do you see it now?
These ones had a no nonsense look so we kept our distance.
More mooning.

I was so amazed at how close we got to the animals, especially the hippos and crocodiles, but the guide assured us of our safety and maintained on the importance of staying calm and not making loud noises. The hippos seem used to the human presence, as there are many fishermen in the water in the mornings and there is a thriving fish market on the beach at the same time. Safety however is paramount and we have to remember to be respectful of the animals as we are the ones in their natural habitat.

Here are some fun facts we got to learn from our guide:-

  1. The word “hippo” is greek for “river horse”, perhaps due to how graceful they are when moving in the water.
  2. A group go hippos is called ‘ a school’ and is comprised of 15- 30 members headed by a dominant male. This is the wild, and younger males are perceived as threats by the head, so they leave or hide among the rest.
  3. Hippos are very territorial, and their “yawning”, grunts and snorts are to warn you off.
  4. When evading attack in water, dive/ swim deeper, hippos can’t swim, go deep in the water or hold their breath for too long underwater.

It was fun spotting various birds and animals that were hidden in the marshes. We spotted monitor lizards high above the trees, probably trying to catch some sun rays, female hippos with their calves away from the rest of the school to keep their little males safe from the dominant male hippo that can kill them at an instant. Lone Cape buffaloes that had been driven out of their herds and doomed to live alone, referred to by the locals as “the losers”, pied kingfisher birds swooping down on the water to get some fish, baby crocodiles chilling on the banks as a majestic African fish eagle looks on and numerous “holes” in the high banks that serve as nest tunnels for the kingfisher birds. It was fascinating to experience all this up close.

This elephant was grazing quietly just off the roadside to the channel.

If you are ever in Uganda, be sure to visit the Queen Elizabeth national park and book a boat tour of the Kazinga channel, the experience is worth it.

Weekend Recap: Garuga Resort Beach Hotel.

Garuga Beach on Nam Lolwe (Lake Victoria), is one of our favourite places to take a weekend drive to. It is beautiful, pristine and not so crowded, which makes it perfect for a family getaway.

This is one of the views of the lake as you drive to the resort.

The first time we went there was over a year ago. It was quite empty then, quiet and peaceful. It is nice for a weekend getaway if you long for some silence. There are many vervet monkeys around so you have to make sure your keep your room door locked unless you want some uninvited guests. And do not forget your mosquito repellent and some warm jackets as the mornings can be a bit chilly.

This is the path headed to the beach.

The pros of the place. It is beautiful, quiet and serene. The proximity to the lake is their biggest asset. They have a beautiful beach and one can wade on the sandy shores comfortably. The views of Lake Victoria, the sound of the waves, the cooling breeze, the variety of birdlife, are this place’s best features. There are some stone benches outside the rooms overlooking the lake that are such a pleasure to sit on in the morning as you meditate or pray.

The grounds are not too big but perfect for a picnic and some frolicking around. There are some swings for the kids and a small play area too with some climbing tyres and bars. You can have a picnic or order from their restaurant then play your own family games, which is always so much fun. I love having my son chase me around barefoot on the grassy slopes. There is a small swimming pool too with a baby pool, and a gym though it doesn’t look like it has been in use for a long time. Their pool is small but ok, the first time there the kids and I had the pool to ourselves the whole time. Bliss!

Their food is delicious. Usual hotel fare and freshly caught fish that can be steamed, fried or stewed, and their pork chops are some of the best I have ever tasted.

This is my favorite spot, right under this tree.
It is hard to resist wading into the water and walking around barefoot.
There are some benches and chairs to sit on, or you can carry a mat, but I love the grass as it is. Perfect to sit, walk and run on, even roll and sleep on.

The cons. The road to the resort is rough and very rocky but one can get through with an ordinary vehicle. It is one bumpy ride though. The service is well, slow. Very slow, EXCRUCIATINGLY slow, but their food is great which is such an oxymoron. When we first spent a night there, the breakfast buffet was non existent, the staff made us feel like we were a bother when we should ask for what was supposed to have been ready for us. We had to order hours (I kid you not, HOURS in advance), so the food would be ready by the time we were hungry. Can you imagine having to order after breakfast so that your kids’ food will be ready by lunchtime? I remember on one of the mornings there, my daughter asked for sausages, and we were told that the chef was tired and done making sausages for the morning, never mind that some of us had not had breakfast yet. Sigh. And it was not as if it was busy at the time, we were a party of six adults and four kids, how can you not be prepared for that?

If you are wondering why we would go back to that. We have found a way to go round the poor service- You would rather go for the day, when you have already eaten, or pack some food, instead of having to spend the night there. They charge for having a picnic on their grounds but it is pretty affordable. As a family, we love their beach more than any other here so far. We go for the views, the sound of the water, the feel of the waves lapping on our feet, the cooling lake breeze, the sand that sticks between our toes, and the fact that it is off the beaten path, so does not get crowded.

You will spot some egrets, pied kingfisher, cormorants, weaver and sunbirds, or some fishermen in their canoes in the distance.
Sandplay on the grass.

This is one of my favorite places to hide away. It is about an hour’s drive away for us, so not too far for a weekend drive. The sight of the water never fails to take my breath away, and the kids’ delight at playing in the water gives me so much joy.

This is the life!