Introduction to Murchison

The fall of water was snow-white, which had a superb effect as it contrasted with the dark cliffs that walled the water, while the graceful palms of the tropics and wild plantains perfected the beauty of the view. This was the greatest waterfall of the Nile.” – Wrote the explorer Samuel Baker in 1864.

In the 150 years that have passed, the view has remained as impressive and now the wildlife levels in the surrounding national park are recovering well after the depredations of the 1970s and ‘80s, securing the Park’s reputation as one of Uganda’s most popular destinations.

Initially protected as a game reserve in 1926, Murchison was declared as one of Uganda’s first national parks in 1952 and now covers an area of 3,840 square kilometres making it the largest protected area in the country. It lies at the northern end of the Albertine Rift Valley where the Bunyoro Escarpment descends into the lowland plains of the savannah.

In the 1960s, Murchison’s problem was that it had too many animals, which resulted in an elephant and hippo cull to try to manage large herbivore utilisation. The years of civil war provided their own solution and resulted in a massive population drop for all species.

However, peace and an understanding of the value of tourism has greatly helped the recovery of many populations. Elephant are thriving; the park holds the largest global population of Rothschild giraffe (only seen in Murchison and Kidepo); buffalo numbers are growing as are the Ugandan kob. The lion population is estimated to be around 200, split across about 20 prides and even leopard are being seen regularly.

Murchison falls

The Murchison Falls

The park is bisected by the Nile River. As it flows west into Lake Albert, the Nile squeezes through an 8-metre gap to plunge 45 metres over the remnant Rift Valley wall down into the aptly named ‘Devil’s Cauldron’, creating the famous rainbow captured in so many photographs.

The Falls are the final obstruction in an 80 kilometre long reach of rapids from which the Nile transforms into a broad, placid, river destined for Lake Albert and a long journey north.

Top of the falls murchison falls

The Falls are best reached in a two-stage excursion that combines a boat safari on the Nile where you will see elephant, giraffe, buffalo, hippo, Nile crocodile and aquatic birds on the shoreline or in the shallows, followed by a 30-minute walk around the cliffs to the head of the Falls. 

Sailing west, rather than east to the Falls, takes you to the Lake Albert delta, one of the best places in Uganda to see the famous Shoebill storks. If you prefer to be more active on the water, then Murchison is also a great place for fishing. Specialised excursions are available across various locations.

Wildlife in Murchison Falls

game drive in murchison falla

Game drives in the savannah grasslands and riverine woodland of the Buligi Peninsula provide excellent sightings of lion, elephant, buffalo, giraffe and Ugandan kob antelope. Leopard are increasingly seen; only rhino are missing, but the plan is to reintroduce them from the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

In the wooded south of the park, the Budongo Forest Reserve is a haven for birders and a great chimpanzee tracking location.

Although most visitors spend just two or three nights in Murchison, it is possible to stay for much longer and still leave wanting more.

Seeing wildlife from the river is delightful, but it can’t beat the excitement of a game drive. The feeling that comes from placing yourself in the middle of a resting pride of lion; watching a tower of giraffe browse peacefully from acacia tops; or the excitement of rolling slowly through thick bush never sure when you will meet the next elephant.

The majority of game drives in Murchison are enjoyed on the Buligi Peninsula where 170km of tracks cross through open savanna grassland, woodland, acacia and riverine vegetation.  Driving in the early morning (first south/north ferry crossing at Paraa is at 07:00) and late afternoon, you can expect to see elephant, buffalo, antelopes and giraffe.

Lion are increasingly seen with the majority of the Park’s prides found here predating on Ugandan kob. You may even see a leopard. The tracks converge at Delta Point where the Nile flows north out of Lake Albert. This is a convenient place to stop for refreshments whilst viewing waterbirds and distant hippos offshore.

Less visited, but available for intrepid explorers is the southern ‘Heart of Murchison’. This is a recently opened section of the Park, developed with the intention of easing visitor pressure on Buligi. While much of the southern part of Murchison is covered by bush and forest, a lovely tract of savanna rolls down to the river from the Rabongo road in the very centre of the park.

Substantial herds of Uganda kob have made this a prime location for lions. In January 2016, 15 giraffes were translocated to this area making it now possible to spot these giants on the Honey Moon track.