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Murchison Falls - A view from our expert author
Murchison Falls National Park harbours a good population of Ugandan kob © Ariadne Van Zandbergen, Africa Image Library
See, hear and feel the Nile explode through a chasm just 6m wide at these impressive falls.
Flanking the 100km stretch of the Victoria Nile that arcs west from Karuma Bridge towards Lake Albert, the 3,840km² Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) is the largest protected area in Uganda, and one of the most exciting. Its centrepiece Murchison Falls is the most electrifying sight of its type in East Africa, with the fast-flowing but wide Nile being transformed into an explosive froth of thunderous white water as it funnels through a narrow cleft in the Rift Valley Escarpment. MFNP offers some superb terrestrial and boat-based game viewing, with lion, elephant, hippo, buffalo and Rothschild’s giraffe being particularly common along the north bank of the Nile. MFNP is the largest component in the greater Murchison Falls Conservation Area (MFCA), which also incorporates the collectively managed 750km² Bugungu and 720km² Karuma wildlife reserves to its south.
From a visitor’s perspective, the most important feature of Bugungu and Karuma is the Kaniyo Pabidi Forest, which harbours an 80-strong chimpanzee community habituated for tourists, as well as a number of localised forest birds. For most birders, however, the star attraction among the 550-plus species recorded in the MFCA is the shoebill, an elusive and bizarre waterbird frequently seen in the delta where the Nile empties into Lake Albert.
From this main viewpoint, a longer footpath, perhaps 20 minutes’ walking time, leads to the so-called Baker’s View on a ridge looking directly towards Murchison Falls and the far broader Uhuru Falls a hundred or so metres to the north. Historical records suggest that this latter falls was an impermanent (possibly seasonal) feature until the great floods of 1962, since when it has been more or less constant, though still subject to dramatic variations in volume. The face-on view of the two cataracts – separated by a lushly forested hillock – is truly inspiring, but surpassed perhaps by following another footpath down to the base of the short gorge below the two waterfalls. If you want to check out all the viewpoints, allow at least two hours – ideally in the afternoon, when temperatures are lower and the sun is better positioned for photography. Another option, which requires a bit of planning, is to ascend from the Paraa launch a few hundred metres downstream and climb to the viewpoints. Alternatively, you could be driven to the top of the falls and walk down to be collected by the boat. In both cases, you’ll pay for a ranger to escort you through the riverine forest between Baker’s View and the landing point.