Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park sprawls across the floor of Semuliki valley on the extreme west of Uganda in Bundibugyo district in the western arm of the Great Rift Valley. Covering an area of 220 square kilometers makes it one of the smallest parks in Uganda, with an altitude range of 670 – 760 meters above sea level.
Initially, in 1932, the park was well known as a forest reserve; however, later in 1993, they upgraded it to the level of a national park. Fort Portal borders Semuliki – Bundibugyo road to the south and the Rwenzori Mountains in the southeast, Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C) in the west, and Semuliki River in the northern part of the park. This river divides the park from the Congo’s Ituri forest and forms an international boundary between Uganda and the D. R.C well.
The park has the eastern extension of the Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin around it. It is among Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests, one of the few surviving the last ice age about 12,000 – 18,000 years ago. The forest is the only lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa with over 336 tree species; ironwood is the most dominant.
The forest is home to 53 mammals inclusive of hippos, leopards, buffalos, elephants and inhabiting 441 bird species like; Yellow-throated Nicator, Congo serpent, white-crested hornbill, red-billed dwarf, hornbill, long-tailed hawk, Great blue, and ross’s Turaco, Ituri batis, alongside over 374 butterfly species and months have been recorded.
These species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years; the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs fizz up from the depths demonstrating the powerful subterranean forces shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
The Semuliki Valley contains numerous features related to Central instead of Eastern Africa. The Semuliki River surrounding a local population of the Batwa pygmy community who originated from the Ituri, all come together to make the uniqueness of this destination.
Activities at Semuliki national park
Birding; the park is home to over 441 bird species, making it one of the country’s most exciting birding sites. The birders who visit Semuliki Park enjoy the best forest birding experience in Sempaya, Ntandi, and the area around the Kirumia river. During this activity, you will be able to spot Yellow-throated Nicator, Congo serpent, white-crested hornbill, red-billed dwarf hornbill, long-tailed hawk, Great blue and ross’s turaco, Ituri batis, and many more species. However, those who love to track the rare shoebill can take a boat ride on the river and explore the swamps.
Game drives; with early morning, evening, and night game-drives in the savannah grassland of Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve, you will enjoy watching the Ugandan kob, forest elephants, buffalos, water-buck. And on a lucky day, you can spot a leopard, pygmy hippopotami, and elusive bushbabies.
On a night game drive, you can’t miss out on the nocturnal species such as the slender mongoose, white-tailed mongoose, bush babies, hare, and many others.
Hiking and nature walk; this activity happens deep in the forest, accompanied by vast wildlife species views. Three marked trails on nature walks are; the Red monkey trail, Sempaya nature trail, and the Kirumia trail, which provide an excellent experience within the park.
Kirumia trail; covers a distance of 13km, and it’s an 8 hours trail passing through the mid of the forest towards river Semuliki. Along this trail, species like birds and butterflies provide the most exciting experience; therefore, this trail is recommendable for birders and those who love butterfly watching.
The red monkey trail; is also known as the primate trail and starts from the Sempaya tourism site extending to the eastern border of the park up to the Semuliki River. It covers a distance of 11 kilometers. This trail provides you a chance to view the endangered de Brazzas monkey species.
Sempaya nature trail is a three-hour trail covering a distance of 8 kilometers, and on this trail, you can view the hot springs, both male and female. The trail to the male springs leads through a patch of forest where red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys, and black-and-white colobus monkeys are common. A treehouse en-route provides an aerial view of the springs and the surroundings.
A 30-minute hike through palm forest from the main road leads to the inner female spring, dominated by a boiling geyser. Eggs and matooke (green plantain) can be cooked in these boiling waters and enjoyed by hungry hikers.
Cultural encounters; interacting with the local communities on the eastern escarpments of the rift valley of the park like the Batwa community who were first hunters and fruit gathers within the forest and the Kyakabaseke community.
The Ntoroko fishing community is located on the southeastern ends of Semuliki valley; a visit to this community will expose you to the local fishing gears. Rwebisengo community is located on the west and north western edge of the park, and these are mainly pastoralists who rare long-horned cattle. Lastly, the Karugutu-kyabandara community is in the south of the park, which farmers mostly occupy.
When to visit the park
Budibugyo is one of the wettest areas in the country, receiving an annual rainfall of up to 1700mm, mostly during March-May and September-November. The climate is generally pleasant, with a mean yearly temperatures range of 14-27oC. Temperatures comprise low rainfall in the south, where the terrain descends onto the hot rift valley floor, and the forest opens into a grassland.
Dry Season: June to September is the driest time, and temperatures average is 80°F (25°C); this is when most animals remain near water areas. Be prepared for afternoon thunderstorms at any time during this period. The hot, dry time is January to February and maybe the best time to visit the park for the best experiences.
Rainy Season: It rains anytime from March to May and October to December. During this period, many roads become challenging to use; an excellent 4×4 vehicle is essential. The rainy season is also low with few visitors, most appealing to those who do not like visiting crowded destinations; however, the park is open and has visitors throughout the year.
How to get to Semliki National park
The park is mainly accessible by road, and two significant routes lead you to the park;
- Kampala – Fort Portal via Mubende route, which is a 5-6 hours drive covering a distance of 180k,m making it the shortest route to Semuliki National Park.
- Kampala-Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara, and Kasese, a 7-8 hours drive covering a distance of 465km. This route lets you see Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Rwenzori Mountains National Park, and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Using this route, you will enter the park through Sempaya gate, about 59 kilometers from Fort Portal, and the park headquarters at Ntandi is 6km further along the road.
The park is accessible by flight; daily scheduled flights operate to Semliki Airstrip from Entebbe by Aerolink Uganda. You will then transfer to Semuliki national park by road. Flights tremendously reduce on-the-road time, especially for those who do not like long drives.
Where to stay
The park offers a wide choice of lodges with ideal accommodation facilities ranging from luxurious lodges to budget accommodation.
Semuliki safari Lodge; is a luxurious lodge located in the Semliki Wildlife Reserve. WildPlaces Africa manages the Lodge with eight permanent tented camps raised on wooden platforms, each with a private veranda. Each tent accommodates two people, and the lodge also offers a family tent that can accommodate 4 four people. The bathrooms have flush toilets, cold and hot running water is available at all times, and larger bucket showers are available on request, the deluxe tents have birth tabs.
Nyati game lodge; is a luxurious tented camp lodge located right at the shores of Lake Albert. Nyati Game Lodge has 5 luxury rooms with a private lounge, dining area, spa bathe and separate shower, enclosed patio. standard double rooms with king or twin beds, bath and
UWA Banda’s and campsites, The Bandas are at Bumaga which is 3km from Sempaya, the bandas provide comfortable accommodation without meals, which are arranged on order however you can hire some to do catering service if you aren’t interested in self-catering.
Hotel Vanilla, it’s a budget hotel located in Bundibugyo near the main market at 25km away from Semuliki Park. The hotel overlooks the Rwenzori Mountains, which gives you a chance to view the Rwenzori ranges, and it consists of 7 self-contained rooms plus rooms using common showers.
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