Semuliki national park is located in the western region of Uganda in Bundibugyo district in Bwamba county established in 1993 covering an area of 219km2. Semuliki national park lies on Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is bordered by the Rwenzori Mountains in the south eastern part of the park and lake Albert in the north side. The park also borders two rivers i.e. semuliki and Lamia rivers. Semuliki national park lies on a relatively flat land making it liable to suffer from flooding when the park rivers receive too much rain fall. Semuliki started as a forest reserve in 1932 and later was upgraded as a national park in 1993 mainly to protect the forests from deforestation.
Semuliki national park is an extension of the vast Ituri forest making it one of the richest areas for Flora and Fauna. It is mainly very dense tropical lowland forest with grassland, wetland and Bamboo forest which provide herbs, vegetables and firewood. There are two main tribes living near the park, the Bamba and Bakonjo. The Bakonjo cultivate the slopes of the mountain while the Bamba grow crops at the Rwenzori mountains. However there also pastoralists like the Batuku and the Batwa hunters at the edge of the forest in the park.
Attractions in Semuliki national park.
Semuliki national park has over 60 mammal species including; African buffalo, leopard, hippopotamus, Mona monkey, water chevrotain, bush babies, African civet, African elephant, Dwarf Antelope, fruit bats, fire-footed rope squirrel, Red-legged sun squirrel, Sitatunga, target rats, water bucks, warthogs, Uganda kob, white-bellied Duiker and the Zenker’s Flying mouse. About 300 species of butterflies like the charaxes and forest swallowstails and 8 primates are found in the park including the chimpanzees, blue monkeys, De brazza’s monkeys, Guereza colobus, vervet monkeys and the olive baboons. It has also got the night primates like the pattos and galagos.
The park is also a home to over 400 species of birds. About 67 species are true forest birds including the Dwarf Honey guide, forest Ground Thrush, purple-breasted sunbird, sassi’s olive Greenbul, blue-headed Flycatcher, Capuchin Babbler among others.
Activities in Semuliki national park.
Visiting the Sempaya hot springs:
Visiting the two Sempaya hot springs both Bintente the male spring which is about 12 meters in diameter and Nyasimbi the female. While visiting the hot springs you get to experience hot water bubbling and steaming up 2 meters’ high and can be seen more than 1 kilometer away. The water gushing out is hot in that you can boil eggs in ten minutes’, tourists and local people practice this.
Visiting the Semuliki river:
Semuliki river is one of the water bodies that supply water to the great river Nile. It is a muddy forest river with about 160km long and is a home to crocodiles, Hippos, and birds. Tourists prefer taking long walks to follow the river as it meanders through the forests and valley flours.
Forest walks and guided nature walks.
Semuliki national park is covered with part of Ituri forest, swamps and savannah grassland in the valley which offer guided nature walks. While on this amazing safari activity you can spot Vegetation, Butterflies, birds and primates such as chimpanzees, Baboons and animals like Uganda kobs and lions. Forest walks usually begin from Sempaya park gate and end at the hot springs. There are three mainly established walking trails in the park namely; Sempaya nature trail, Red-monkey track and kirumia Hiking trail.
In semuliki national park while tracking chimpanzees one should also expect to view other primates like the black and white colobus monkeys, Central African red colobus, Grey-cheeked managabey, Red-tailed monkeys, olive baboons, vervet, the Brazza’s which can be seen playing on the trees among others. The activity takes 4-6 hours tracking down in their habitats. It is always advised to come prepared with the right clothing and equipment to protect against stinging insects, thorns, sharp tree branches and park enough water for drinking water and light snack.
Game drives in semuliki national park are very interesting as they drive through the savannah field in semuliki valley as they provide opportunities to view over 52mammals like lions, leopards, African elephant, pygmy Antelopes and other primates like the chimpanzees, olive baboons as well as beautiful birds including; Yellow-throated Nicator, White –throated blue swallow and leaf-love.
The park has three major tracks ie the kirumia trail, Red monkey trail and Sempaya nature trail. Game drives in the park can only be done using a good four Wheel to pass through the more difficult parts of the park especially during the rainy season. Both day and night game drives are offered in the park where you get a chance to spot nocturnal animals like the bush babies, pottos, bats and owls.
Semuliki national park is the one of the best place to do birding watching in Uganda. Semuliki has over 400 bird species are seen in the forests, swamps and on river semuliki. Birds spoted in semuliki national park include; Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black Dwarf hornbill, piping hornbill, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, he Nkulengu rail, dazzling red-throated bee-eater, Shoebill, white-throated Blue Swallow, White-crested Hornbill among others.
Batwa cultural experience:
Semuliki national park is a home to four indigenous tribes. Visitors can choose to visit any of the four tribes living in the edges of the park. The Batwa pygmies are hunters and forest gatherers who came from Ituri forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo while Bakonjo and Bamba grow crops on the slopes of the mount Rwenzori. The Batuku are pastoralists who live in the northern part of the park.
Tourism and modernization is changing the lives of these tribes especially the Batwa. They have been relocated to areas outside the national parks. The Batwa cultural experience takes the tourist through the ancient life of the Batwa and their ways of life, on this trail you get to experience the batwa ways of constructing houses using local materials, gathering local herbs for medicine and way of making fire.
While in semuliki national park you should never miss a boat ride, it takes place on semuliki river running from the Rwenzori mountains to lake Albert and River Nile. During the ride you get a chance to see the rare shoebill, hippos, Lizards, waterbucks, sitatungars,Nile crocodiles along the river banks and also view the dramatic Nkusi falls which plunges over the steep rift valley escarpment into the lake.
When to visit Semuliki national park:
Semuliki national park can be visited all time the year. However, the best months to visit the park are during the dry seasons of April-June and July- September. During these dry months, driving through the park is easier due to less mad. Also be prepared for afternoon rain during the wet months between March and October to November some sections of the park become flooded as the rain fills up the rivers.
Access to Semuliki national park:
Semuliki national park can be reached by Air or Road. There are two roads from Kampala to the park. one can choose to use a shorter distance from Kampala to Fort portal via Mubende which is 5-6 hours’ drive or Kampala to fort portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese which takes 7-8 hours’ drive. It is in the far west. It is about 52km from fort portal to reach the junction leading to the park. following the road to semuliki national park there is a turn off to the semuliki valley which is signposted 30km along the Bundibugyo road at the small trending center of karugutu.
One can choose to take a chartered flight from kajjansi or Entebbe international Airport and land at an airstrip on Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve.
Accommodation in Semuliki national park:
Semuliki national park offers both luxury, mid-range and budget facilities. There few accommodation facilities within the park. Most of the good ones are outside the park in towns Bundibugyo and fort portal. The Uganda wildlife set up two campsites near the main offices and gate. It is always important to book these hotels early not to miss out on the rooms. They include; Semuliki safari lodge, Ntoroko game lodge, Kirimia guest house, Hotel vanilla among others