Murchison Falls: A splash of splendour

The electrifying Murchison Falls remain visually familiar to movie freaks, since it featured in the African Queen in which Toro Kingdom Princess Elizabeth Bagaya starred.

It is part of one of the largest and oldest national parks in the country – the Murchison Falls conservation area.

It comprises Murchison Falls National Park, Bugungu Wildlife Reserve and Karuma Wildlife Reserve.

British explorer Sir Samuel Baker named it Murchison, after the president of the Royal Geographical Society. Baker’s grandson was recently in the area retracing his ancestor’s footsteps.

It is sliced in half by the Victoria Nile, which squeezes through a narrow six-metre gorge to pour out in the spectacular frothing waterfalls.

Murchison is home to lions, giraffe, chimpanzees, hippos and more than 450 species of birds. Safaris can be enjoyed by boat, car, on foot or traditional safari jeep. The park is open all year round.

Sights and sounds

In the northern sector of the park, the grasslands are dotted with herds of elephants, giraffes, buffalos, and warthogs. Lions are regularly sighted as well as the elusive leopard.

The Nile itself is packed with hippos and crocodiles. The bird life is also spectacular, including the shoebill stork.

Chimpanzees live in the south-eastern part of the park in Budongo Forest. They can be tracked at Kaniyo Pabidi site and Busingiro in the Budongo Forest Reserve. But most of all, there is the Murchison and Karuma Falls.

Activities

Most visitors come to Murchison Falls on safari, possibly eyeing the Big 5, birds or chimpanzees. Visitors can also take a boat ride to hear and see the force and beauty of the Murchison Falls. Take a camera and pair of lenses to zoom in on the lazy hippos and crocodiles having a sun bath.

Uganda Wildlife Authority operates three boats namely the Shoe Bill, Kiboko and Mamba for the launch trips, while others are operated by private firms.

There are angling adventures to see who can catch the biggest Nile Perch, which can weigh as much as 80kg. Others include Tiger Fish and Catfish. The annual Murchison Falls Invitational Fishing Tournament is one of the most popular events in the tourism calendar.

Accommodation

There are several accommodation facilities around the park, from the award-winning five-star Chobe Safari Lodge, the luxury Paraa Safari Lodge, to the Nile Safari Camp along the Nile River bank.

One can stay at modest cottages at Sambiya River Lodge or opt for budget bandas or tents at the Red Chilli Hideaway Camp. Uganda Wildlife Authority also operates bandas, a bar and restaurant inside the park. There are other camping sites near Paraa Rest camp, Rabongo Forest next to Wariongo River.

Take along sun glasses, a baseball cap, insect repellents, water and keep your eyes open.
Entrance for East African adults is sh10,000 and sh5,000 for children under 15. School children pay sh2500. Foreign non-residents pay $35, while children pay $20.

Foreign residents in East Africa pay $25 for adults and $10 for children.
Activities within the park, such as game drives, boat ride, nature walk and ferry crossing are paid for separately from the entry fee.

HOW TO GET THERE

The journey to Murchison Falls National Park is a five-hour drive from Kampala. One can rent a car, drive their own or opt for a guided all-package tour.

Some would enjoy the scenic route from Kampala via Budongo Forest and the Rift Valley escarpment. Public transport is available from Masindi to the Paraa Park headquarters.

It is possible to go by air from Entebbe Airport to Pakuba Airfield, 19km northwest of Paraa and Bugungu airfield, 13km south of the park headquarters. Flights can also be chartered from Kajjansi Airfield.

You can also access it from the north, via Chobe Gate, near Karuma Falls and Tangi Gate, near Pakwach, and Wangkwar Gate near Purongo.

Source:The New Vision.

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