Uganda is an amazing destination when it comes to wildlife viewing, and the stunning Murchison Falls National Park is one of the best safari spots in all of East Africa. Gazetted in 1952, it’s the oldest National Park in Uganda and with its area of 3,893 square kilometres or 1,503 square miles, it’s also the country’s largest National Park.
The park is named after the dramatic Murchison Falls, an impressive spot where the mighty Nile River is squeezed through a narrow rocky gorge, making it the most powerful waterfall in the world. Apart from that, the area is known for its super diverse wildlife and quintessentially African scenery.
Going on a safari in Murchison Falls National Park was one of our most memorable experiences in the country. Read on for everything you need to know about exploring Uganda’s biggest National Park.
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Geography and Wildlife of Murchison Falls NP
The park is located in the Albertine Rift Valley, a western arm of the East African Rift Valley, where the Nile River flows through the park from Lake Victoria to Lake Albert. The Nile divides the park into two sections: the southern part is more wooded, while the northern part consists of open grassland that is ideal for wildlife viewing.
Murchison Falls National Park is home to 76 mammal species, including Four of the Big Five (lions, elephants, leopards and buffaloes), as well as over 450 species of birds. Obviously, some animals tend to be more elusive than others – have a look at my description of our Game Drive and the Launch Cruise below to get an idea, which animals you’re likely to see.
Organized Safaris to Murchison Falls National Park
Arguably the best way to visit the National Park is to take part in an organized Safari. Unless you’ve got an off-road vehicle at your disposal, it’s also the only way of visiting Murchison Falls National Park.
There are several companies in Masindi that can sort out a trip into the National Park for you, or you can make sure to get a spot by booking a tour online. Have a look at some different options below.
The Best Activities at Murchison Falls National Park
We spent one activity-packed day exploring the National Park, which was possible because we arrived in camp the night before. On our full day, we got up early for a game drive at dawn, then took the launch cruise on the Nile before hiking to the top of Murchison Falls.
I’m sure it’s worth spending a few days here, but if your time or money is limited, I suggest following the same itinerary, as we felt that this was a very good introduction to what the park has to offer. Here’s what you need to know about the activities.
Game drives through the open grassland to the north of the Nile are the most popular activity, with morning and evening drives offering the best chance to spot wildlife. We started our drive at around 7AM and managed to spot several lions, elephants and giraffes as well as countless hippos, buffaloes, antelope and warthogs.
Coming from the south, we used the ferry to cross the Nile during a beautiful sunrise, before setting off on a drive through the popular Delta Game Viewing Circuit in an open-top safari vehicle. We were surprised by how close the animals actually came to the tracks. I guess, they really must be used to people.
We spotted most of the animals along the so-called Queens-Track running between the Pakwach-Masindi road and the delta. These included Elephants, Rothschild’s Giraffes, Buffalo, Warthogs, Uganda Kobs, Jackson’s Hartebeest and Black-backed Jackals.
Close to the delta, we turned north into a side-track between the Queen’s Track and the Albert Nile Track, where we spotted a pride of young lions, before continuing along the Albert Nile Track. At the delta, where the Victoria Nile and the broader Albert Nile meet, we were met by dozens of Hippos lying languidly in the water.
I have to admit, that we mainly had eyes for the bigger animals, but the drive also offers plenty of opportunities if you’re into bird-watching. During our drive, we spotted plenty of pied kingfishers and red-throated bee-eaters, as well as some enormous Denham’s Bustards.
Launch Cruise on the Victoria Nile
Another massively popular activity in Murchison Falls National Park is a boat cruise on the Victoria Nile, which offers great views of the surrounding meadows and woodland, as well as more opportunities to spot animals. Make sure to sit on the left-hand side of the boat, from where the views are best.
We started our cruise in the afternoon after our morning game drive and spotted countless Hippos, Buffaloes, Hartebeest and Warthogs along the river as well as some freakishly large Nile Crocodiles, which seem to increase in their numbers the closer you get to Murchison Falls.
Again, there are great bird-viewing opportunities as well, and we saw some African Fish Eagles, Saddle-billed Storks as well as plenty of Pied Kingfishers hovering in the air before diving into the river for their prey. If you’re lucky, you might even see one of the elusive Shoebill, although we didn’t succeed there.
The trip ends at the impressive Murchison Falls before returning the same way. If you’ve arranged for a driver to pick you up at the top of the falls, you can disembark here and have a closer look at the Waterfall, which is what we did.
Boats leave from the Paraa Dock (where the ferries cross the Nile) at 8AM and 2PM and the price is 120,000 Shillings for foreign nationals, 30,000 Shillings for Ugandan citizens. The 17 km-trip takes about 3 hours (2 hours on the way to the Falls and one hour on the way back).
Murchison Falls and the Top of the Falls
At 43 m or 141 ft. the Park’s namesake waterfall might not be as tall as Sipi Falls, but what it lacks in height, it makes up in power. Squeezing 300 cubic meters per second through a 10 m or 30ft wide gap, Murchison Falls is the most powerful waterfall in the world.
You can have a close look at the Falls from a Picnic Spot fittingly called Top of the Falls, which can be reached by dirt track branching off the main Pakwach-Masindi Road near the Sambiya Lodge. If you arrange transport in advance, you can also take the Nile Cruise to the falls, disembark and hike up the cliff to the top, like we did.
This gives you the opportunity to have a good look at the falls from below (albeit pretty far away) and to get up close at the top. The roaring spectacle of the water entering the gorge and the splendid view of the Nile below are both equally impressive.
Look out for snakes in the trees on the way to the Top of the Falls. We spotted a Green Tree Snake, which is non-venomous, but apparently poisonous Boomslangs live here, too, so be alert.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park
The small town of Masindi is the main gateway to Murchison Falls National Park. It can be reached in about 4 hours by bus or matatu (shared taxi) from Kampala. There is no public transport going into the park. Without your own transport, your best option is to take an organized Safari Tour from Masindi (see “Organized Safaris” Section above).
Accommodation in Murchison Falls National Park
If you go with an organized tour, they will likely also provide the accommodation. Otherwise, there are camps and lodges for different travel styles in the park, including the budget Red Chili Rest Camp, the midrange Murchison Falls Bamboo Village and the luxury Twiga Safari Lodge.