Murchison Falls National Park lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley, where the sweeping Bunyoro escarpment tumbles into vast, palm-dotted savanna. First gazetted as a game reserve in 1926, it is Uganda's largest and oldest conservation area, hosting 76 species of mammals and 451 birds.
The park is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic Murchison Falls, the centerpiece of the park and the final event in an 80km stretch of rapids. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river's energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley floor into Lake Albert. This stretch of river provides one of Uganda's most remarkable wildlife spectacles. Regular visitors to the riverbanks include elephants, giraffes and buffaloes; while hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds are permanent residents.
Notable visitors to the park include Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British royals.
Between the years of 1907 and 1912, the inhabitants of an area of about 13,000 sq.km were evacuated due to sleeping sickness spread by tse-tse flies. This paved the way for the establishment of the Bunyoro Game Reserve in 1910, which encompassed roughly the area south of the Nile River that is now part of the National Park in Masindi District. In 1928 the boundaries were extended into Gulu District north of the river, and the resulting protected area (PA) became known as the Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve. As the human population had already been evacuated due to sleeping sickness, it was possible to establish this game reserve without displacing any of the local people for the sake of the park. In 1932, the Budongo Forest Reserve was established. This became the first commercial logging concession in Uganda, and to date is one of the most intensively studied “working” forests in the world. The boundaries of this forest continued to expand over the next thirty years until they reached the current size of 825 sq.km. Much animosity was created by this process as locals lost land and never quite knew where the boundaries were due to the frequent changes.
In 1952, the British administration established the National Parks Act of Uganda. After forty years of reduced hunting in the Bunyoro-Gulu Game Reserve, the animal populations had expanded to an extent that justified upgrading the reserve, which became Murchison Falls National Park, one of the first two national parks, along with Queen Elizabeth NP. By the mid-1960’s, Murchison Falls had become the premier safari destination in all of East Africa, with over 60,000 visitors per year.
Geography and climate
The climate in Murchison Falls is tropical and hot. Being close to the equator, temperatures are quite uniform throughout the year. The area around Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) has two rainy seasons. These seasons are not as pronounced as they are at more equatorial regions in Uganda.
The park supports four of the "Big Five", only rhino being absent. Buffalo and elephant are particularly common. There is a very healthy population of lions that like to prey on the abundantly available Uganda kob. Hyena is present but rare but zebra is absent. The Victoria Nile is a magnet for wildlife and it teems with crocodiles and hippos. Chimpanzees can be tracked in neighboring Budongo Forest Reserve. Large herds of the localized Rothschild's giraffe are found in the park. The rare Patas monkey can sometimes be spotted on the grassy plains.
The major tourist activities in the park include game viewing typically around the delta circuit, chimpanzee tracking in the Budongo Forest, Launch cruise along the Nile to the bottom of the falls rewards you with sights of a diversity of bird species as well as wildlife, and there is also an interesting walk to the top of the falls.
Seek advice from your local Uganda safari operator on how best you can access the park as well as how to pay for any of the activities you wish to get involved in. Note that you can book your activities from the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala or at any entry points of the park.