SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK
Semuliki National Park is situated in the distant part of Southwestern Uganda in Bwamba County found in Bundibugyo district on Uganda/Congo border. The park is bordered by Lake Albert in the North and the Rwenzori mountains in the South-east; it is one of Uganda’s newest National Parks and covers 220 square kilometers of the valley that connects Uganda to the rain forests of Central Africa. This makes it an extension of the vast Ituri tropical rainforest found in Congo. It is approximately 340kms around 6 hours drive from Kampala the capital of Uganda.
Semuliki is among the most bio-diversified forests and mainly well-known for its bird population. It is one of Africa’s oldest tropical rainforests that remained after the last ice age 18,000 years ago. The valley has a lot of vegetation making this forest so thick and a habitat for many animals. Initially it was a forest reserve managed by colonial government in 1932, and was later established as a national park in October 1993 to conserve forests and protect wildlife managed by Uganda wildlife Authority.
The park receives an average amount rainfall of 1,250mm; this is in the months of March-May and from September –December. During the wet seasons most places flood with water. The temperature rate in the park usually changes from 18°C to 30°C. The park has Hot springs famously known as the Sempaya Hot springs, giving it a nice scenic look. The Hot springs bubble water up from the lowest point under Sempaya this is an amazing feature to watch. .
Around the park
The Semuliki River forms an international boundary as it makes its way in the park covering a journey of around 140 kilometers; it is shared by the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. It flows from Lake Edward and pours in Lake Albert; there are various vegetation types along the river, various bird species, animals like Hippos and they can be seen while on a boat ride along the river and on the Eastern shores of Lake Albert.
Flora and Fauna
Generally Semuliki National Park has a more distinctive ecosystem in the Albertine rift valley. The park is situated in different ecological and climatic zones, this has caused a high variety of animal and plant species in the park and these are also found in the Congo basin. It is endowed with spectacular scenery starting with the bamboo forests, the tropical lowland rainforests, savannah grasslands and swampy vegetation that has a variety of fauna.
The park is home to various animals with over 60 mammals such as forest elephants, pygmy flying squirrels, civets, hippos, leopards, forest buffaloes and bush babies, around 8 primate species like chimpanzees, De Brazza’s monkeys, the Red tailed monkeys, over 400 bird species such as the white crested, black dwarf, white dwarf, Abyssinian ground hornbill, shoe bill stork and about 300 butterfly species among others. Most of these animals can be seen during the night game drive, Semuliki is a place where you can clearly take a night game drive where you can see different things like Owls, bats, bush babies among others.
The major activity in Semuliki National Park is birding, and this is why it is regarded to as the “True Birders’ Haven “with over 400 bird species, it is the best place to view most of Uganda’s beautiful birds, most birding trails are around the Sempaya hot springs. The different bird species to look out for include; the African Turacos, crested Malimbe, Black dwarf Hornbill, the Piping Hornbill, Leaf-love, the Red-billed and the Blue-billed Malimbe, Red-thighed and Great sparrows, African wool owl, shoe bill stork and many more.
The other activities that can be done in Semiliki unlike birding are Chimpanzee tracking , nature walks, boat rides, games drives(also at night), visiting the hot springs, community walks/visits.
There are two major groups of people living in this area such as the Bakonjo and the Bamba. Others include the Batuku who are pastoral cattle keepers whose animals get water and pasture along the river Semiliki and the Batwa (pygmies) also live in the valley. The Batwa are an indigenous group of people that used to stay in the Semiliki forest and all they used to do was to gather fruits and do hunting in the forest. So while in the park you cannot miss out on a community walk or visit to their villages.
The other locals in the area also practice subsistence farming where they earn a living from; they also use the forest as a source of certain things they need such as fruits, herbal medicines, bush meat, building materials like wood and vegetables. There is also a small group of people that still leaves in the forests called the Basu they still depend on hunting and gathering of fruits, so touring this park also adds own their well being and also tourists who visit their community can learn a lot from them like how they make hand crafts like baskets, mats among others.
There are various lodges or hotels around the park that range from up market to budget, such as the Semiliki safari lodge, there are some cottages in Bumaga and they are located around 2.5km from Sempaya gate. In general all hotels and lodges are accessible; there is nothing to worry about accommodation.
Concerning the tariffs especially those for activities and park entry fees, it important to contact UWA on their tariff sheet concerning such information since the charges vary over time.
Please note that of the funds collected 20% is shared in the communities that stay in the park, this helps to show them the benefits of tourism and also it supports the local’s at large.
GETTING THERE- Semiliki National Park
Semuliki National Park found in the south western corner of Uganda in Bundibugyo district can be accessed by road on two routes especially when you are coming from Kampala Uganda’s capital, for these two routes it is advisable to use 4WD vehicles;
- Route 1: Kampala-Fortportal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese. This is approximately 465 km and it takes between 7 and 8 hours to reach, which makes it a longer route but it’s on this same route where you can visit some other places along the way such as Queen Elizabeth National park, Lake Mburo National park and other places.
- Route 2: Kampala-Fortportal via Mubende, this route is approximately a 4-5hour drive about 180km; this makes it a shorter route.
The park is situated in Bundibugyo about 59 km from Fortportal which takes between 2 and 3 hours on the bumpy road to reach the Sempaya Gate. Along the way there is a lot to see like the different Rwenzori ranges, the beautiful view of the floor of the Albertine Rift valley, Some times in the rainy season the road especially in the mountainous region are bad hence would need more time to access the park. But currently the road is being widened to quicken transport.
The park headquarters found at Ntandi are located 6 km from the Sempaya gate though still on the same route.
Semuliki can also be accessed by use of Public means;
- Get a taxi/bus from Kampala to Fortportal, when you reach the taxi park board a taxi or pickup truck heading to Bundibugyo which is still the same journey time just that there could be a few stopovers, reach at the Sempaya gate. On return use the similar means and make sure you don’t head back to Fortportal later than 4 pm. In fact since it is a bit a long journey it would be advisable to spend a night and travel back the next day.
Please note that, during rainy seasons the roads can be so bad hence a 4WD or a good 2WD is highly recommendable.
WHEN TO GO- Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National park can be visited at any time throughout the year. It is advisable to visit the park in dry seasons like from June to early September than during the rainy season because some places flood with water since it is the park is in the valley, this can give some difficulty to do certain activities.
The park receives an average amount rainfall of 1,250mm; this is in the months of March up to May and from September up to December. As earlier said, during the wet seasons most places flood with water. The temperature rate in the park usually changes from 18°C to 30°C, temperatures in the southern part of Semuliki are higher. The park has Hot springs famously known as the Sempaya Hot springs, giving it a nice scenic look. The Hot springs bubble water up from the lowest point under Sempaya this is an amazing feature to watch.
Before travel you should make sure for whatever activity you are to do in Semuliki National park is booked in advance, and concerning the tariffs especially for activities and park entry fees, it important to contact UWA on their tariff sheet since the prices might vary over time.
Make sure as you set off for your trip, you have all the equipments needed for various activities such as binoculars for birding, other requirements include; light rain coats, bottled water, hats, sturdy shoes, sun glasses, long-sleeved shirts especially if you are to do hiking and chimpanzee tracking.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE- SEMULIKI NATIONAL PARK
There is a lot to see and do while in Semuliki- While moving down the Western Rift valley escarpment, there is are a lot of amazing views such as the vast forests, savannah grasslands which are bordered by Lake Albert, Mountain Rwenzori and the DR Congo. Most birders opt for birding safaris to Semuliki National Park, there are other things it has a lot to offer such as the hot springs, Semuliki river, culture, primates, mammals, flowers, butterflies, trees, and a lot more of its vast beauty. It is a park you cannot miss out on your Ugandan Safari.
Part of the valley in Semuliki National park is extended to the remote side of the Rwenzori Mountains in the West. Now the largest part of the park is still virgin with lowland forests which are an extended part of Congo’s Ituri forest. The Ituri forest sits on a large piece of land in Congo whereby it extends up to River Congo. A visit to Semuliki is like visiting Central Africa without crossing Uganda’s borders.
Most of Semiliki’s sights are like those in West and Central Africa such as the huts that are built and thatched like those in West Africa, the Semuliki River is also a smaller version of the Congo River, and the Bwamba forest that is a habitat to birds and different mammals that are also usually found in Central Africa. That is why many travelers that have been in Central and West Africa find these sights more familiar to them. There are also various groups of people that originally stayed in this region and they still stay there such as the Batwa and other people that moved in over the years such as the Bakonzo who cultivate on Rwenzori slopes, the Bambwa farmers and the Batuku who are cattle keepers, they used to live in the plains of the valley.
There are over 400 bird species and around 53 mammals in the Bambwa forest which lies between altitudes 670m to 760m; this makes it the only lowland tropical rain forest in East Africa.
The things to do and see while in Semuliki National Park include the following;
Semuliki valley has over 400 recorded bird species, 40% of the total bird species in Uganda and 66% of Uganda’s forest birds. There are also other birds that are endemics to the Albertine Rift valley and others that are in the valley and also usually found in Congo. Semuliki is place for birders who want to have an amazing time with the birds.
Birders you are not to miss out while in Semuliki are; the Lemon-bellied Crombec, White-crested Hornbill, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Orange-cheeked Waxbill, the white-chested Hornbill, African Piculet, Leaf-love, Black Dwarf Hornbill, Blue-billed Malimbe, Nkulengu Rail, Red-bellied Malimbe, Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Yellow-throated Nicator, a Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Crested Malimbe, Piping Hornbill, White-throated Blue Swallow, Red-rumped Tinkerbird.
There can also be an option of taking a guided boat cruise on Lake Albert looking for the Shoe bill stork.
Sempaya Hot springs
These hot springs are one of the amazing features to see while in Semuliki National Park, they are two hot springs both male and female. The female hot spring is called Nyasimbi which gushes out water approximately 2 meters in the air and the male hot spring called Bitende is approx 12 meters in width.
Those living next to hot springs used to cook food in these hot springs, even today one can still put an egg or matooke in the pools and they can boil and be ready for eating.
Visitors to these hot springs are advised not to get closer to the to the two hot springs since this water is too hot and boiling at a temperature of 100°C. While on this tour you can also see many birds and primates.
Nature Walks and Hiking
This is also an amazing activity to take part in, the nature and hiking trails are many and they are followed basing on what you want to see and do such as birding, to see hippos, monkeys, crocodiles among others also along these trails you are also able to see primates, sometimes buffaloes and forest elephants.
How long these hikes take depends on what activity you are doing and which trail you took, they can take a few hours or a full day. You are advised to have enough drinking water, sturdy shoes/boots, rain jacket, packed lunch, camera, long sleeved shirt, hats and other things as you are briefed while on trip.
They are more like the Basu of Congo other than the Batwa pygmies though most people mistaken them to be the Batwa but their ways of living are somehow different from each other’s, but both have stayed in the jungles for over thousand years.
The Bambuti are fewer than the Batwa and visiting their communities would be an unforgettable experience. These two groups of people were forced to leave the forests, hence making them have limited gathering and hunting rights. You can visit their communities with guides of their own which is an amazing thing, seeing how they dress, cook, dance, and make hand crafts among others.
Semuliki also has chimpanzees though trekking them is not as great as trekking those in Kibale National Park. But still there are some chimpanzees being habituated by the Indiana University, so chances are the more chimpanzees are habituation the more you can see them.
Trekking starts at 8 am and the trek can go for 4 hours or longer with the skilled guides, while trekking there is also an opportunity to see other primates such as the red tailed monkeys, baboons, de Brazza’s monkey, grey cheeked mangabey, vervet, central Africa colobus, black and white colobus among others.
You are advised to the best clothes for trekking such as, long trousers, long-sleeved shirts, hats, and also carry enough bottled water and snacks
Taking a drive around the park give you a chance to see various species of mammals, in the valley, it consists of around 53 mammals such as forest elephants and buffaloes that are smaller than the savannah elephants, pygmy antelopes, flying squirrels among others.
There is also a chance of seeing the lions and leopards. Concerning the game drives you can do both day and night drives.
Semuliki National Park has a lot to offer to tourists while on their Ugandan Safari such as village visits like to the Batwa and Bambuti people, birding, game drives, hiking and nature walks, chimpanzee tracking, a lot more. Just the amazing scenery of this valley gives an unforgettable experience!
ACCOMMODATION- Semiliki National Park
The accommodation facilities in and near Semuliki National Park are not so many, though there are quite a number of lodges and hotels in Bundibugyo and Fortportal. These types of accommodation range from Luxurious/up market to Budget and camp sites.
Semuliki safari lodge
Semuliki safari lodge is located in the Semuliki valley. It is a luxury/up market lodge built and designed with local materials which gives it an authentic traditional look.
The lodge is comprised of canvas tents that are comfortable and each of the tents has en suite bathrooms with enough water and flush toilets, a private balcony and a nice view. These tents have enough space inside, with comfortable beds, nice blankets which give you a feeling as though you are home. The lodge also has a swimming pool on which one can relax and freshen up as he/she enjoys the beautiful view and the wonderful sound of the birds in the trees.
The lodge has skilled chefs that cook all foods, soups and anything you are in need of starting with breakfast, lunches and dinner, they are just on point. Its staff is good and hospitable and gives attention to anything that concerns you.
While at Semuliki safari lodge you can do all activities that are available in the park. Enjoy the Semuliki valley at this lodge!
It is advisable to book rooms in advance. Other facilities here include; bar and restaurant, swimming pool and the lounge.
Ntoroko game lodge
Ntoroko game lodge is situated on the shores of Lake Albert in the Semuliki forest and wildlife reserve. This lodge has an up market/ luxury setting however it also provides some accommodation for mid range travelers. There is a beautiful view and since it is on the shores one can easily chill on sand beaches of Lake Albert, watching the sunset is one of those amazing moments while here.
The rooms are comfortable with en-suite bathrooms, flush toilets, hand dryers, fans, toiletries, safes and are positioned with a great view of gardens and the lake. The rooms have beds of all sizes such as king beds, queen beds, twins beds, double beds among others.
The meals and the dining area in this lodge are just on point!
Kirumia guest house is located on the Bundibugyo highway that leads to town; 10km from Sempaya gate. It is found in Kirumia village just near the Kirumia trail.
While at this guesthouse you are in line to see various attractions like white and black colobus monkeys, birds, chimpanzees, the green vegetation, spectacular land space among others in the park. Meals are provided on time and also the rooms are good and affordable.
It is very possible to do all the activities such as chimpanzee trekking, birding, nature walks, visiting the Sempaya hot springs and many more while staying at this guest house.
Since Semuliki national park doesn’t have very many accommodation facilities, there is also an a option of camping at Bumuga that is located approx 3km away from the Sempaya gate. While here you can make orders for meals or you can make your own meals, if you are in need of utensils or any other cooking materials they can be hired from the people in charge of the site.
Camping in the wild gives a life time experience since it is not something that is done on a daily basis, while that this site still all activities are accessibly done.
There are also other accommodations that can be used and are located in Fortportal and Bundibugyo away from the park such as Crater safari lodge that is about 30 miles away, mountains of the moon hotel, and Rwenzori view guest house among others.