Uganda may be more popular for its Gorilla trekking than for its wildlife safari but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do both. If you’re a wildlife and nature buff who loves a good safari, Uganda has plenty to offer, to keep you wanting more.
Like most people, the main reason we visited Uganda was to view the majestic Gorillas in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. Still, we were very surprised to find an abundance of other wildlife in the country which, as keen wildlife photographers, made our time in Uganda even more enjoyable.
Uganda is home to ten National Parks, and all offer incredible wildlife encounters, set amongst some spectacular East African scenery. Our first stop in Uganda (and our first African safari ever) was the Murchison Falls National Park. We hadn’t done a lot of research about it beforehand and it surprised us.
Where is Murchinson Falls?
Murchison Falls National Park is in the north-western part of Uganda, right on the shores of Lake Albert.
From Kampala, the capital of Uganda, it takes roughly five hours by jeep to reach Murchison Falls National Park. Note that if you plan to self-drive to the park, you should use a 4WD because roads inside the park can be quite bumpy.
Why you should visit Murchison Falls National Park?
Murchison Falls National Park is one of the most diverse safari destinations in Uganda. It’s a great place to spot both big game wildlife, enjoy some bird watching, cruise the Nile river, take a nature walk or visit the mighty Murchison Falls themselves.
The top of Murchison Falls
The Murchison Falls are so powerful that you can hear them from a mile away. Murchison Falls is the most powerful waterfalls in the world.
After the water in the Nile forces its way through a seven-metre wide gap in the rocks at the top of the falls, it tumbles 43 metres straight down, before flowing westward into Lake Albert.
Every second, 300 cubic meters of water pours over the falls, all of it squeezing through that seven-metre gap. It’s a pretty impressive sight and if you’re lucky, you might even see a rainbow to add to the experience!
Elephants, Hippos, Giraffes and Water Buffalo are abundant in the park, so be ready to click away. Be sure to bring a good quality zoom lens!
If you’re lucky, you may even spot a Lion or a Leopard but they are a little bit more elusive. While it is possible to come across them, we were just not that lucky. Well, we did spot a Lion cub (or should I say, our guide spotted one) but he was hiding in bushes and too shy to come out and give us a good look at him.
The park is also thriving with all sort of antelopes, such as the Uganda Kobs, Oribis, Bush Bucks and Water Bucks.
Murchison Falls National Park is a haven for birds, so if you’re an avid bird watcher, you’ll be glad you visited the park. Some of the birds you might encounter in the park are the Abyssinian ground hornbill, the Marabou stork, the Senegal thick-knee, the Black-headed lapwing, the Grey-crowned crane and many more.
Bird watching can be enjoyed all year round but the absolute best time for it is during the dry season, especially from January till March.
A cruise on the Nile river
A highlight of your time in the Murchison Falls National Park will be a cruise on the Nile River, up to the falls themselves. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of chunky hippos frolicking in the water. Sometimes you’ll spot their heads and think it’s just a rock poking out of the water until they stick their head back into the water!
Nile Crocodiles also like to sleep on the banks of the river, with their mouths wide open, basking in the sun. Herds of Elephants and Buffalo come down to bathe in the Nile and birdlife is abundant there as well.
The cruise will take you close to the base of the falls, where you have the option to disembark and hike up to the top of the falls, or to return on the boat for more wildlife viewing downstream. As we had seen the falls from the top the day before, we opted for more wildlife spotting and a Nile beer instead. A Nile beer on the river Nile, what a way to relax in Uganda!
Sunrise and sunset
The best part of any day in Africa is the sunrise and the sunset. Not only the colours spectacular but the wildlife comes alive at those times. Although you can still see animals during the day, dusk and dawn are the perfect safari times.
The Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
On your way to the Murchison Falls National Park, be sure to stop at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary. This sanctuary is a non-profit, animal sanctuary and it’s the only place in Uganda that you can see White Rhinos. White Rhinos became extinct in Uganda in 1983 (after years of civil unrest and poaching) but the sanctuary is trying to kickstart the White Rhino population again. At the moment, there are twenty-two southern White Rhinos in the sanctuary.
When we visited, we took part in their Rhino trekking program. This involves following a well-trained ranger through the bush to where the Rhinos are. We were very lucky to see a female Rhino up close with her young one. They were happily munching on grass and both eventually went for a nap! We also saw a much larger male Rhino who looked a lot scarier. Fortunately, he didn’t seem at all disturbed by our presence.
Where to stay in the Murchinson Falls National Park?
We stayed in the Pakuba Safari Lodge which has panoramic views of the mighty River Nile and sweeping vistas of the surrounding riverine forest below.
Driving to the lodge gave us plenty of wildlife sightings. On our way in and out of the lodge, we would always spot Giraffes, Elephants and many types of Antelopes.
Leopard sightings are rare in the Murchison Falls National Park but the nearby ruins close to the lodge are home to a Leopard who can sometimes be seen at dusk or dawn. Unfortunately for us, he was hiding during our visit. I especially enjoyed walking back from the lodge’s restaurant to our room at night, past all the Waterbucks grazing on the front lawn, with the sounds of the Hippos in the distance.