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The View Of The Top Of Murchison Falls, Uganda

Uganda: Murchison Falls National Park

The drive from Entebbe to Murchison Falls National Park takes about 4 and a half hours. This was our first journey out in Uganda, in fact, our premier road trip on our 6-month grand tour of Africa.

For Uganda, we decided to use a tour company, Matoke Tours, which we highly recommend to anyone planning to visit Uganda. Matoke provided a car and driver for our 12-day itinerary. We decided to not self-drive in Uganda to give us some time to adjust to what being on the road in Africa might be like. It turned out to be a good decision!

Uganda is not a small country but it has a huge population – around 68 million people. So, as you drive along it seems you come to a village or town every 5km or so, which are always bustling with people. Also, it seems every man has a cheap Chinese motorcycle, which they use to carry everything from people (could be 3 or 4 on a bike), livestock (including large pigs), or just about anything else you could imagine. It feels quite scary driving around surrounded by motorbikes and people.

To break up the long journey we stopped at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which is well worth the detour, and Masindi for lunch along the way. 

After entering Murchison Falls National Park we passed many kilometres of primary rainforest, which is home to baboons, monkeys, and chimpanzees. We were not here to see these on this part of the trip so we sadly passed by and onto Murchison River Lodge, which would be our home for the next two days.

The entrance gate of Murchison Falls National Park

GAME DRIVE

We woke early the next day around dawn (which was to become our routine for the coming months) for our early morning game drive. 

We travelled about 5km leaving our lodge, and we picked up a park ranger who would be joining us for the four-hour drive. Being joined by a ranger was not disconcerting in itself, but the fact he sat in the front with a semi-automatic rifle resting between his legs was! Despite living in the United States for 19 years seeing someone with a firearm is still very unsettling! 

We ventured into the National Park, which unlike most of the landscape we travelled through the day before, which had been rainforest, was flat and savannah-like, with long, pale yellow grasses and the occasional bush and trees. It was exactly as we expected an African landscape to look.

Along the way, we saw plenty of antelope. There were some antelopes we’d never seen before including the stange and gangly-looking Jackson’s Hartebeest and the Ugandan kob.This antelope is similar in appearance to the impala, but the two species are not related. The Ugandan kob generally is reddish-brown, but other subspecies range from light brown to almost black. The underside of the body is white, a white ring appears around each eye, and a white patch or chevron appears on the throat; a black stripe runs down the front of each foreleg. Horns occur only in males and though lyre-shaped, they are shorter, thicker, and ringed almost to the tip.

A Ugandan kob
Jackson's hartebeest

We were very excited to see our first giraffes in Africa. Uganda is home to 1650 Nubian (also known as Rothschild giraffes). The Nubian was listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN in 2018 for the first time due to a 95% decline in the past three decades. The Nubian giraffe has sharply defined chestnut-colored spots surrounded by mostly white lines, while its undersides lack spotting. The median lump is particularly developed in the male giraffe. The most extraordinary characteristic of the Nubian giraffe is that the extreme length of the forelegs gives the animal a huge stride so that in spite of a rather slow galloping rhythm it can move at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.

A nubian (Rothschild's) giraffe
A nubian (Rothschild) giraffe nibbling on an acacia bush

Elephants and giraffes are not the only large animals in the park, you will almost certainly come across a herd of cape buffalo. These beasts can be dangerous so be careful if you come across them, even in a car, as they can be unpredictable. Most animals will generally not confront people, but a cape buffalo is likely to charge anything, including lions and elephants!

Cape buffalos

One of the biggest excitements on a safari is to see the largest animal on land the elephant. We hadn’t seen the elephants, but as we passed by an area of large bushes, they suddenly appeared – right next to us. This was a little scary, but these elephants did not seem bothered by our being there, so we were able to safely stop and spend some time admiring these beautiful animals.

An elephant staring out of the bush at us

Whilst much of the wildlife is easy to spot, the challenge is always to find the big cats. At Murchison Falls you can find lions and leopards – but having a ranger or guide with you really helps track them down. The rangers and guides are usually in touch with one another and will share the location of any interesting sighting. Leopards are particularly hard to spot as they often hide in trees or bushes.

A leopard hiding in the branches of a tree
Lions on the prairie

RIVER SAFARI

A Boat cruise in Murchison Falls National Park is one of the most interesting activities in Murchison Falls Game Park. The boat cruise takes you to the bottom of the Murchison falls along the Victoria Nile. While on this Launch cruise, you will be able to see lots of wildlife, and a close-up look at the world’s most powerful falls.

The boat cruise starts from the Paraa jetty and rides up the Victoria Nile to the bottom of the falls. There are boats leaving in the morning around 9:00 am and the afternoon at 2:30 pm, We recommend the afternoon ride with a sundowner! Several boats leave Paraa, try if you can to get onto the smaller boats, which carry a maximum of about 10 people – these get much close to the banks of the Nile river. Also, try and sit on the left-hand side of the boat as you’ll be on the viewing side as you cruise down the river.

The journey takes about three hours in total. The first two hours upstream are slow as you will see many animals, including giraffes, antelope, warthogs, elephants and hippos in the river and the boat guide will stop to tell you about what you see and allow you to take photos.

A baby hippo in the Victoria Nile in Murhison Falls National Park, Uganda
A water buck
A large Nile crocodile chilling out
A small family gathering of elephants
A large bull elephant enjoying the water of the Nile

In addition to the animals, many birds are attracted to the shores of the Victoria Nile including bee-eaters, fish eagles, kingfishers and various water fowl. The soft light of the afternoon is a perfect time to capture pictures of the stunning birdlife.

An African darter drying out on a tree
A red-throated bee-eater
An African fish eagle preening itself

The final part of the upstream boat cruise brings you to Murchison Falls. As the current is so strong you cannot get very close. To get a close-up view you need to travel to the head of the falls – more on that later in this blog. Even from a distance, you get a real sense of the power of Murchison Falls.

At this point, it is time to turn around and return to Paraa which takes about one hour.

A view of Murchison Falls from the river boat

MURCHISON FALLS

On the day of our departure, we took the 40-minute car ride to the head of Murchison Falls to get a real close-up. 

Murchison Falls, also known as Kabalega Falls. At the top of Murchison Falls, the Nile forces its way through a gap in the rocks, only 7 m (23 ft) wide, and tumbles 43 m (141 ft), before flowing westward into Lake Albert. The English traveller Sir Samuel White Baker visited the falls in the mid-1860s and named them for the geologist Sir Roderick Murchison.

The falls are actually made up of two distinct segments – the primary fall in the narrow gorge is a cascading type drop, with a run of about 320 linear feet, and a portion of the river diverts to the north and plunges over a more vertical fall – known as Uhuru Falls – which can expand to over 200 feet in breadth.Uhuru Falls came into existence in 1962, the same year Uganda got independence.

It is called Uhuru Falls for two reasons. To celebrate Uganda’s Independence Day, 9th October 1962 and because the falls were actually formed in 1962.

In 1962, Uganda received heavy rainfall which forced part of Murchison Falls to create a tributary that formed the second falls, named Uhuru. Since then, the falls has created a spectacular view and are often are referred to as twin falls.

Uhuru Falls to the left and Murchison Falls to the right
The view of the top of Murchison Falls, Uganda
A rainbow over Murchison Falls

In summary …

Murchison Falls is a wonderful place to visit. The waterfalls themselves are a spectacle and the wildlife experience, both on the plains and on the Victoria Nile is amazing!

About Murchison Falls

At the northern edge of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the Bunyoro slopes dip into massive savannahs, the Victoria Nile tumbles down through 80 kilometers (50 miles) of rapids and pours through a narrow 7-meter (23 feet) gap into the Devil’s Cauldron. The mist rising from the falls creates a breathtakingly beautiful rainbow floating in the sunshine. Even more striking than the view from below is the thundering viewpoint from the top of the falls, which can be done as part of your hiking trip in Uganda.

Murchison Falls National Park is part of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA), which encompasses various other woodlands and forests, such as the Budongo Forest Reserve, Karuma Falls Wildlife Reserve and Bugungu Wildlife Reserve. The wholesome wilderness of Murchison Falls received gazetted status in 1926 as a game reserve and in 1952 as a national park, and is not only the country’s first conservation area, but also covers the largest area at 3840 square kilometers (1483 square miles) as a park.

Planning your visit to Murchison Falls

The park can easily be accessed easily by air and road. From Kampala to Murchison Falls it is about 4h 30 mins via Kampala – Masindi route (282 km) or 5h 30min via Kampala-Hoima. There are also charter flights from kajjansi Entebbe to chobe airstrip.

Address:Lolim, Masindi, Uganda
Website:https://www.murchisonfallsnationalpark.com/
Telephone:T: +256 701 575849
Hours:6.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m
Admission Fees

Adults: $40

Children:$20

Vehicle entry: $15

Best time to visit Murchison Falls

Like the rest of Uganda, Murchison Falls National Park experiences a relatively stable climate throughout the year. Being so close to the equator, the weather at Murchison Falls does not offer extreme conditions unlike some of the countries in the northern hemisphere, making it a perfect year-round destination. However, global warming has resulted in unpredictable weather patterns all over the world, and some guests may have to deal with some unexpected conditions during their travels in Uganda.

On average, maximum daytime temperatures range from 29ºC (84 F) to 34ºC (93 F) and drop to 18ºC (64 F) to 21ºC (70 F) during the evening and overnight period. Murchison Falls Park experiences a hot-dry season from January to March, and temperatures range higher — around 33ºC (91 F) to 34ºC (93 F) – during the peak of the day.


Different Monthly Seasons At Murchison Falls – Dry, Hot, Wet Rainy & Cool.

Note On Wet Rainy Season For Murchison Falls National Park: In comparison to other parks like Queen Elizabeth National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, the precipitation in millimeters is less in Murchison Falls National Park. This is primarily due to the hot-humid equatorial climate based on its geographical location in western Uganda. Expect thunderstorms during the rainy season.

  1. Dry Months, Best Time & High Season For Murchison Falls: December, January and February are the driest, most humid and hottest months but not the peak season of travel in Uganda. Expect few guests compared to the peak season.
  2. Dry & Wet Rainy Months, Very Good Time & Mid-Peak Season For Murchison Falls: March, June, and July offer a mixture of dry and wet periods.
  3. Wet Rainy Months, Good Time & Peak Season For Murchison Falls: August and September are both rainy and peak periods with high numbers of visitors into Murchison Falls.
  4. Wet Rainy Season, Least Best Time & Low Season For Murchison Falls: April, May, October, and November. These months are also part of the lush green season.
  5. Hot & Cool Months: There is only 1-4 Celsius degrees variation in temperature in between months at Murchison Falls. January and February are the hottest months with highs of 34 C (93 F) during the day and lows of 21 C (70 F) at night while July to October are the coolest months with highs of 29 C (84 F) during the day and lows of 18 C (64 F) at night. All other months have a range from 30 C (86 F) to 32 C (90 F) during the daytime while nighttime temperatures average from 19 C (66 F) to 20 C (68 F).
  6. Best Time For Birdwatching Safaris In Murchison Falls: The best time for birding safaris in Murchison Falls Park is from January to March when it is the driest. The migratory birds arrive in November and leave by April. The peak rainy months of April and May and August to November brings an abundance of food that leads to a lot of avian activity though trails can be slippery, and also roads and airstrips can be challenging to navigate.

Murchison River Lodge

There are many lodges and places to stay around Murchison Falls. We were booked into the Murchison River Lodge, which as the name suggests is on the Victoria Nile. The lodge offers en-suite thatched cottages that are open plan with two single beds downstairs and a double bed on a mezzanine floor. The cottages are perfect for families or alternatively a maximum of 4 adults who know each other well.

The drinks here are very reasonable. Whilst we are vegan usually we decided that in Africa it would be almost impossible to stick to a strict vegan diet for our 6-month tour. The Murchison River Lodge had a vegetarian option at meal times – which was very good (we had a lot of Indian style dishes!)

The beds were comfortable, but beware there is no fan or air-conditioning so you might get hot at night!

Our safari tent at Murchison RIver Lodge
The sleeping area inside our thatched cottage at Murchison River Lodge
The en-suite bathroom
The shower - Murchison River Lodge, Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda

The lodge is small and intimate so you will not feel overcrowded here. From the bar and dining area, you get spectacular views of the river – a perfect place to relax and enjoy a sundowner or two!

There is also a pool to relax by and a small lounge by the pool, which is the only place where you can get wi-fi (which as you might expect is not great – no streaming Netflix here!)

A view of the river
The open-air bar & restaurant
There are a lot of great areas to relax in
The pool area

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