Expert Reviews – Toro-Semliki WR
Tim is a travel writer who has covered 10 African countries for Lonely Planet's Africa, East Africa and West Africa guidebooks.
Meet the chimpanzees of the savannah
Uganda’s oldest nature preserve (still officially known as Toro-Semliki) is where the Central African rainforest merges into the East African savannah, creating both a lovely landscape and diverse habitat. The beauty and diversity are boosted by the eastern escarpment of the Great Rift Valley running the length of the reserve. Because of the comparatively low wildlife numbers it’s not featured on many safari itineraries and has just one luxury lodge, which means you won’t meet many other vehicles out in the savannah. Despite this, there’s a good chance to see elephants (both the savannah and forest subspecies), buffaloes, lions, leopards, and many of the larger antelope. Lake Albert boat trips let you see hippos, crocodiles, and the so-ugly-it’s-cute shoebill stork plus night drives and bush walks (I recommend the primate-filled Nyaburogo Gorge) are available. Semliki also hosts many chimpanzees and tracking trips head out to the forest to find them, but since the chimps are only partially habituated these are often unsuccessful.
Stephen is a travel writer and avid conservationist whose work appears in prestigious magazines such as Africa Geographic and Travel Africa.
Where Chimpanzees and Shoebills Reside
Situated in the heart of the Albertine rift and bordering onto majestic Lake Albert, this park lies well off-the-beaten-track. Wildlife numbers are generally still low here, although lions recently re-entered the area of their own accord to feast on a burgeoning population of Ugandan kob. Elephant sightings are fairly reliable and I have enjoyed my best Shoebill sightings ever right here. Keen birders will surely twitter when they hear I once sighted 13 shoebills in a single day boating through the reeded islands of Lake Albert. The park also offers energetic safari enthusiasts a chance to join researchers as they track semi-habituated chimps. But, be warned, it’s a long, hard day of walking and you seldom get much more than a glimpse of the elusive primates before they take off deeper into the forest. In summation, I would say that Semliki is a park for the African explorer rather than the wildlife enthusiast.
Philip is an acclaimed travel writer and author of many guidebooks, including the Bradt guides to Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa.
Uganda’s forgotten Valley
This isn’t a reserve for those seeking reliable big five encounters, since it has never recovered from heavy poaching during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s, despite some promising indications at around the turn of the millennium. However, I’d rate the spectacular new tar road from the highland town of Fort Portal to low-lying Semliki as perhaps the most scenic road in Uganda. Once in the park, game drives here are a bit hit-and-miss, but you are sure to see Uganda kob, and buffalo, while elephant and lion are also seen from time to time. Forest walks with an opportunity of seeing semi-habituated chimpanzees are also on offer. My favourite activity is boat trips on Lake Albert, a scenic lake enclosed by the sheer walls of the Rift Valley, and home to a wealth of birdlife, with the eagerly sought shoebill and stunning red-throated bee-eater both conspicuous. The reserve's solitary upmarket lodge also has a great wilderness atmosphere, and offers ready access to the nearby Semliki National Park, an extension of the Congolese Ituri rainforest where a full 35 bird species known from no other locality in East Africa are resident.
Ariadne is a renowned African wildlife photographer whose work is featured in many well-known guidebooks and magazines.
The hot Semliki Valley – a birders paradise
The Semliki Valley is reached by descending the long, windy tar road from Fort Portal. There are several viewpoints on route which are worth stopping at. The hot valley has a real wilderness feel, but unfortunately wildlife is sparse due to abundant poaching in the past. We didn’t see many mammals aside from some skittish elephants, good sized herds of kobs and some warthog tails sticking out of the long grass like little antennas. The birding, on the other hand, is very good, especially if you head out to the forest. Another highlight was a boat trip on Lake Edward. The fishermen are known to direct visitors to good shoebill sightings, but we headed out to see the stunning Nkusi Falls coming down the Rift Valley. Not as impressive as Murchison Falls, but rarely seen by tourists, it felt like a real gem to be discovered by us after a long adventurous journey.
Mark is a travel writer who grew up in Africa and has written over 80 titles for CNN Traveller, Travel Africa, Africa Geographic and more.
Fantastic highland views and thick rainforest
A great place to get a feel for central African jungle – complete with thick rainforest and pigmies. We drove every driveable trail in the park and it can be difficult to drive around Semliki, especially in the areas along the watercourses where tracks are occasionally completely impassable. On the lowland areas you find wide sections of open savannah and we were lucky to see a pride of Semliki lions with young cubs here.