Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park is located about a three-hour drive north of the capital city of Kampala. The park is also known as Kabarega National Park, named that for Kabarega who was the nineteenth-century Omukama (king) of the Kingdom of Bunyoro. Today, this is one of the subnational kingdoms of Uganda, as is the Kingdom of Buganda with its center in Kampala.

Murchison Falls National Park hugs the northern tip of Lake Albert, just as Kampala hugs the northern shores of Lake Victoria. From Lake Victoria, the Victoria Nile flows north, and exits Lake Albert as the Albert Nile. In South Sudan, it becomes the White Nile. It continues to flow north into Sudan where it joins with the Blue Nile flowing from Ethiopia, and together they continue north. Now called the Nile River, it has become the longest river in the world. While Nile river cruises are extremely popular in Egypt—usually along the stretch of river between Aswan and Luxor—the source of the Nile in Uganda provides some of the best whitewater rafting in Africa. The waters of Lake Albert force themselves through a narrow gorge (23 feet wide) and then plunge more than 140 feet. There is excellent whitewater rafting below this falls, which is primarily for experienced rafters. There is tamer rafting suitable for families along the Jinja portion of the Victoria Nile, and scenic sunset and lunch cruises on Lake Victoria. There are also calm Lake Albert cruises to Murchison Falls.

The falls and the park were named for Sir Roderick Murchison, President of the Royal Geographic Society from 1851 to 1853. Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda’s largest, measuring approximately 1,480 square miles. It is very popular for wildlife safaris, as it is the only park in the country that boasts all of the Big Five animals: the endangered rhinoceros, the temperamental Cape buffalo, the fascinating elephant, the elegant leopard, and the king of African beasts – the majestic lion. All wildlife in Uganda suffered devastating losses under the rule of Idi Amin (1971-1979). Poaching was widespread, both for food and trophies, and in many cases military groups were known to gun down entire herds of large animals for sport. In 1960, there were 30,000 elephants in the country; by Amin’s fall, the number was 2,400. In the 1960s, there were 300 rhinos in Uganda. But the end of Amin’s reign, this great animal had become completely extinct in the country. Beginning in 2005, rhinos were relocated from Kenya and from Disney Animal Kingdom in Orlando Florida – the first ever relocation of rhinos from the United States to Africa. Today, the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary just to the south of the park is successfully breeding these fabulous creatures, and the first baby rhino born in the country since the 1960s entered the world in 2009. It is hoped that by 2040, 40 to 50 of the animals can be released back into the wild. The park is scenically quite beautiful, and also boasts other wildlife, including chimpanzees, giraffes, a variety of antelope, and wonderful water birds, including the rare shoebill stork.

There are a number of Murchison Falls National Park lodging options, including safari lodges. The Red Chilli Rest Camp (sister of the Red Chilli Hideaway Hostel in Kampala) offers a bar and restaurant and basic comfortable bandas. Some of these share bathrooms, and some have en suite baths. There is also a camping area for those who bring their own equipment, and there are some tents furnished with basic beds and linens. If you want something more upscale, you might try the Paraa Safari Lodge, set in the park on the shores of the river; you can actually view hippos in the river from the swimming pool above. Rooms and suites are deluxe, and there are a number of dining options.

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