Expert Reviews – Murchison Falls NP

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Murchison Falls National Park – where the Nile tumbles down the Rift Valley escarpment
Overall rating

Although the wildlife viewing is excellent in this park, it is the scenery that really gets to me: the rolling grassy hills studded with borassus palms teeming with plains animals, the paparus swamps home to the sought after shoebill stork and forests inhabited by chimpanzees. But, the main feature in the park is the Victoria Nile. A highlight to any visit is a boat trip up the Nile to one of the most spectacular sights of water pushing through a cleft in the escarpment: Murchison Falls. Gliding on this mighty river is an unforgettable experience: hippos snorting everywhere, elephants playing in the water and lots of water birds along the shore. The afternoon boat trip is great for spotting animals coming to drink. Once we even spotted a leopard from the boat. The main antelope in the park is the Uganda kob and big herds of them inhabit the grassy plains north of the river. If you watch these antelopes carefully, you won’t have any problems spotting lions. The kob’s alarm signal, a high-pitched whistle is unmissable. Then it’s just a matter of following their gaze.

Safari along the wild Nile River
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Uganda’s largest national park features on most safari itineraries because of its mix of beauty and wildlife. Four of the Big Five are here (only rhinos are absent, but they can be seen at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary on the drive from Kampala) and lions and leopards sightings are pretty common. Cheetahs are rare, and thus rarely seen, but they’re here too, as are most of the other typical large safari animals and an impressive 450 species of bird. You can even visit habituated wild chimps in the adjacent Budongo Forest Reserve. Besides wildlife drives north of the river (There isn’t much wildlife to the south.) there are two things every visitor should do at the park. First is take a boat trip up the Nile River. You’ll travel past plentiful hippos, crocodiles, and buffaloes stopping near the base of the park’s awesome namesake waterfall. But you can only really appreciate the power of the falls from the top, and going there is the other must-do. The mighty river explodes through a tiny gap in the rock and drops 45 meters down a narrow gorge. It’s far from one of the world’s biggest waterfalls, but it’s definitely one of the most impressive.

Thundering Waterfalls and Decent Wildlife
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Like Kidepo, this north Ugandan park was largely a no go area until six years ago due to the presence of the notorious LRA, but with the timely demise of the rebels, it has opened up to tourists once more. It is a beautiful and wild place with plenty of wildlife still remaining. In my opinion the ultimate highlight must surely be the boat cruise up Africa’s longest river to view the mighty Nile as it thunders through a narrow cleft in the rock and tumbles down the waterfall from which the park takes its name. En route to the falls I’ve seen lions, elephants, huge crocodiles and innumerable pods of hippos, not to mention an outstanding array of waterbirds strewn across the riverbanks. Game drives can also be productive, although animals across the north bank tend to be more skittish and poaching is still a problem away from the tourist areas. While the site of an old buffalo bull supporting a thick wire snare leaves a sour aftertaste, I try to remind myself that my presence (along with other likeminded tourists) is bringing in valuable revenue and slowly helping to safeguard the future of this stunning park and its wild denizens.

Thundering waters and smirking shoebills
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I don’t recall who it was that described Murchison Falls as the most spectacular thing to happen to the world’s longest river en route from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean, but I’d have to agree with them. This truly spectacular waterfall sees the Nile funnelled explosively through a narrow cleft in the rift escarpment to form a plume of foaming white water so loud you can barely hear yourself think. Mind you, the launch trip from the park headquarters at Paraa to the base of the waterfall is pretty spectacular in its own right: giant crocodiles lurk menacingly from the sandbars, hippos grunt away in the shallows, and more often than not you’ll see a few elephants or buffalos come down to drink. I’ve had mixed luck with game drives through the undulating borassus grassland north of the river, but buffalo, Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, Uganda kob, and the localised Rothschild’s giraffe and the unusual patas monkey are more-or-less certain, and more often than not I’ve seen lion and elephant. Like most Ugandan parks, Murchison Falls is a wonderful bird destination, with pride of place going to the oddball shoebill, a large and eagerly sought slate-grey papyrus dweller that I've seen perhaps a dozen times along the Nile here. The far south of the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area now incorporates the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, a reliable chimpanzee-tracking site that also hosts several unusual forest birds. Between the Nile and Kaniyo Pabidi, a southern game-drive circuit has also recently opened to tourism, but the low wildlife densities and high level of tsetse fly activity make it far less enjoyable than the northern game-viewing circuit.

A thunderous waterfall on the mighty River Nile
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To see the Nile squeeze through an impossibly narrow seven-metre gap, a requisite of this park is to take the three-hour boat trip. At first the sludgy brown river was placid and we were steered from shore to shore through hippo pods and past sandbanks with some pretty contented-looking crocodiles (thanks to an ever-resent menu of Nile Perch). But the river soon gathered momentum and we were faced with the sight of a ferocious wall of white water dropping some 40 metres into the deservedly named Boiling Pot. I didn’t find game viewing in the rest of the park especially rewarding, but nevertheless, saw plenty of Uganda kob, as well as hartebeest, giraffe and buffalo in the park’s palm-dotted hills, and I imagine wildlife is naturally drawn to the river in the dry season. It’s the fury of the Nile that is the park’s greatest appeal.

A good minibreak option from Kampala
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Murchison Falls National Park is a nice destination for a road trip from Kampala – I self-drove up with a group of friends in a rattly old hired Land Rover. There are all sorts of mini-safari packages available from the various tour companies and hotels in Kampala too. The park is worth two days or thereabouts – enough for a couple of game drives and a boat trip to the extremely spectacular Murchison Falls themselves.

I’d also recommend a trip to the top of the Falls, with a very impressive and vertigo-inducing view. Hippos are the signature species here – my guide told me that Idi Amin and his friend Colonel Gadafi used to use them for target practice with their AK47s. Thankfully the population has now recovered and I was thrilled to peep out at the portly waterhorses grazing just centimeters from my tent flap each night.

Nile wildlife watching at its finest!
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Murchison Falls is guaranteed to offer everything you could ask for from a safari destination. It is mostly free of crowds and wildlife spotting is fantastic. We were working at mapping the national park for MAPA project so were also able to explore the remote north-eastern bank of the Nile. I will never forget uploading data at night to the satellite server on our Defender while photographer Eric Nathan sat on the roof watching for signs of trouble from the very feisty and nervous buffalo herd we could hear snorting all around us.

Spectacular falls & diverse wildlife
Overall rating

While the boat trip to the base of the magnificent falls at this park is touted as the best way to see them, in fact the falls are better viewed from on top. Roaring through a narrow cleft in the rock, it is the best waterfall I saw in East Africa. You can drive there or catch the boat and hike up. Another option would be to do a balloon safari which some lodges offer.

Apart from the falls, there is plenty of wildlife to see, including four of the Big Five (no rhino). There are also a lot of antelope easily seen, including Uganda kob, hartebeest, duiker and bushbuck. And there are extensive driving tracks allowing you to explore large areas of the park.

A decent array of accommodation in or near the park caters for most budgets.

Average User Rating

  • 3.8/5
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