Murchison Falls National Park lies in north-western Uganda around the White Nile and east of Lake Albert and is the country’s biggest national park. Over a hundred years ago, the area’s inhabitants had to leave because of the sleeping sickness spread by tse-tse flies. In the 1950s, the area was declared a national park and in the 1960s it was one of the most-visited parks in East Africa. In 1954, Ernest Hemingway flew over the park and his plane crashed; it was the first of two consecutive plain crashes in Africa he survived.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park
Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala has very good offers for three days/two nights safaris to Murchison Falls National Park. More expensive options include chimp and rhino tracking, but we booked the cheapest safari since we were mainly interested in seeing the falls.
The drive to the national park took ages (getting out of Kampala was the hardest part – the city is famous for its horrible traffic jams) but by about 4 pm we finally arrived. A ranger picked us up and we went for a short hike to the falls. The region is one of the hottest in all of Uganda and it’s really, really hot there. A hat, sunscreen, lots of water, and insect repellent are essential. There are tse-tse flies in the park, big, ugly flies, and although – according to the ranger – they don’t carry the sleeping sickness anymore, I wouldn’t risk it. Even if they don’t transmit any illnesses, their bites must be very nasty.
Even in dry season the falls are an impressive sight. Murchison falls tumbles down 43 meters in zig-zag through a narrow gorge, 300 cubic meters of water per second. Water shoots up meters into the air; it’s like a washing machine gone crazy. Sometimes, our guide told us, you can see dead hippos in the water; they fall into the river on top of the falls and of course don’t survive the waterfall.
To the left of Murchison falls is Uhuru falls, a smaller waterfall formed in 1962 after a huge flood. Although still pretty big, Uhuru falls don’t have the same power as Murchison falls – and doesn’t leave the same impression.
Red Chilli’s Murchison Falls camp consists of comfortable safari tents with beds and bungalows. In both it’s hot and sticky, although more so in the bungalows. It’s inevitable here. The restaurant serves pretty good meals and you can see the Nile from the sitting area. Wildlife is not far away, either: I was inside our tent, unpacking my rucksack when I heard a weird, puffing noise from outside. Slowly, I opened the tent and looked outside. Two warthogs were sniffing around the tent and seemed only a tiny bit scared when they spotted me. I prefered to stay inside for a while longer.
The next day we went for a game drive early in the morning. It’s so much better when you stay at a lodge inside the park and don’t have to drive several hours first to reach the park (like we had to in Tanzania). The animals are much more active in the cooler morning hours. We saw lots of wildlife; lions, giraffes, elephants, antelopes, and other many animals but unfortunately none of the elusive leopards that live in the park.
In the afternoon, we went on a cruise on the Nile. Swimming is strictly prohibited – there are lots of hippos and crocodiles (the world’s second largest after the Australian crocodile) in the water. Maybe bilharzia as well, but that’s of a minor concern when you look at the big crocodiles. The cruise was relaxing, again we saw lots of wildlife, beautiful kingfishers and bee-eaters, and there were even (semi)cold drinks for sale on the boat.
We left the park the next morning via a different road than the one we came. A ranger was supposed to drive with us for a few hours but because of who knows what that didn’t happen. Nevertheless, our patient driver James took us on an improvised safari and stopped whenever we wanted to take pictures (meaning: a lot). This seemed to be the day or the hour when all the mamas took their babies for a walk. We saw so many young ones, it was amazing! There was even an elephant family, very close to our car. Of course, James had to stop so we could take pictures and videos. The elephant mom didn’t seem to like that, though. Suddenly, she raised her trunk and started to trumpet loudly, then began running towards us, her baby follwing her. She was incredibly fast and if our driver hadn’t reacted immediately and started the car, she probably would have overthrown the car. Grown up elephants weigh several tons… Some of our group managed to capture amazing videos of the scene but I guess even without that, it’s an experience we all will never forget!
Back to Kampala
The way back to Kampala was very long again. We only stopped once for gas and food and once to buy fruits. For that, you don’t have to leave the car: Just stop at a place where people sell fruit and they come running to the car presenting and loudly advertising their goods. Fruits are delicious and very cheap in Uganda, the avocados are huge, the pinapple sweet, and during mango season you find mangoes of all colors and sizes.
Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala lies at the outskirts of the city, near Lake Vicotria. It really is a hideaway, it feels miles away from the hustle and bustle and the never ending traffic jam of Uganda’s capital. It’s a quiet oasis with a pool, a garden, and wonderful views in the morning of the mist over the lake and the mangroves. Sure, it’s not real Kampala here, and maybe not the real Uganda either. But it’s a nice place to spend a few days and practically every budget traveler in Uganda will sooner or later end up here. And it’s a good place to buy beautiful souvenirs too: Every evening, Evelyn sells amazing souvenirs handmade by a group of women from Kampala.