Semuliki National Park was gazetted in 1993 and covers an area of 220 square kilometers/22,000 hectares. This Park is characterized by the extensive Savannah grasslands, hot springs, Semuliki River, lowland tropical rain forests bordered by the magical Mountains of the Moon. It is a home to over 53 mammal species including several primates such as chimpanzees and over 441 bird species with some species being typical forest bird species. Much as this National park is rich with Biodiversity, it is not usually added on itineraries for safaris.
This park is situated in Bundibugyo district extreme western part of Uganda. It is one of Uganda’s newest national parks gazetted in October 1993.It lies along the Uganda-democratic republic of Congo border within the western arm of the east African rift valley.
Semuliki is a good destination for birders with unique bird species found no where else in Uganda. With 336 tree species recorded of which 24 restricted in the park. Butterflies and birds are many like hornbills, lyre tailed honey guide. Some species of mammals include forest buffaloes, blue duiker, pigmy squirrels and primates like blue monkey, olive baboon, and pottas hence making it a very beautiful national park.
Forest walks and bird watching give a good experience, scenic viewing along the Semuliki River and a visit to the beautiful sempaya hot springs with a pool of boiling water.
HOW TO GET THERE
As the crow flies, Semuliki National Park is just 27km from the regional capital of Fort Portal. However the direct route is complicated by the massive Rwenzori mountain and a detour to the north is required to thread through the rocky Buranga Pass into the Semliki Valley. The 52km drive to the park office at Sempaya provides panoramic views over the rift during the descent from Buranga. In good weather the drive takes about two hours but mountainous sections are muddy in wet weather and a 4WD vehicle is recommended.
Public transport runs daily from Fort Portal and Bundibugyo town, 15km beyond Sempaya. Transport for the return journey can be hard to find later in the day (after 4pm) so be prepared to stay over. Backpackers can enjoy more flexibility by forming a group to hire a vehicle from Kabarole Tours in Fort Portal (behind Don’s Plaza).
Two routes connect Fort Portal to Kampala. These can be combined to create an attractive circuit to and from the capital. The direct option is the 300km 4-hour drive via Mubende.
The alternative through Mbarara to the south is considerably longer but offers stopovers at Lake Mburo and Queen Elizabeth national parks.
Things to Do
The following are the interesting tourist activities conducted within the remote Semuliki National Park;
There are several National parks in Uganda that offer outstanding game drive experiences, but Semuliki National park is among the top. There are currently three well maintained game tracks that stretch across the Savannah plains of the Toro Semuliki Wildlife Reserve. These tracks allow tourists to encounter the residents of the Park that include over 53 mammal species such as smaller Forest and larger savannah elephants that are rarely seen of course, the waterbucks, buffaloes, warthogs, the rare bush babies, Uganda Kobs and if you are lucky, you will come cross the Leopards and the Pygmy hippos. This Park can be visited for both day and night/nocturnal game drives.
This remote National Park is a home to some Chimpanzees that were habituated by the Indiana University. Just like Chimpanzee tracking in other places (Budongo Forest and Kibale Forest Reserve), tourists interested in tracking chimpanzees within Semliki National Park have to first acquire a chimpanzee tracking permit that costs only $30 per person for foreign non residents and foreign residents and Shs 30,000 for East African Community residents, wear long sleeved shirts and long trousers to protect your arms and legs from stinging nettles, thorns and tree branches, wear rain jacket and carry snacks and enough drinking water. Other primates that will be encountered include the grey-cheeked mangabey, de Brazza’s, Dent’s Mona monkeys, Black and white Colobus monkeys, Red-tailed monkeys, Central African red colobus and the Olive baboons among others.
Tourists who visit Semuliki National Park are rewarded with some of the most fascinating forest bird species and other swamp bird species. Some of the notable bird species to look out for in this Park include the elusive shoebill stork and Swamp Palm Bulbul found mainly around Lake Albert. Others include Lemon-bellied Crombec, Black Dwarf Hornbill, African Piculet, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Red-billed Dwarf hornbills, Blue-billed Malimbe, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, White-crested hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, White-throated Blue Swallow, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Red-bellied Malimbe, Nkulengu Rail, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Piping hornbill, Leaf-love, Crested Malimbe, the Ross’ Turaco and Orange-cheeked Waxbill among others especially found ar0ound Ntandi and Sempaya. Apart from the mentioned bird areas, Kirumia River is also an interesting birding spot.
Nature walks and hiking
Nature walks within Semuliki National park are also a must activity that allows tourists to get up-close with the mammals, birds and butterfly species that cannot be explored during game drives. Nature walks within this Park allow tourists to explore animals such as primates, Hippos, Crocodiles birds and butterflies. There are three main hiking trails within this Park and they include the 8 kilometer Sempaya Nature trail, the 11 kilometer Red-monkey track along the Eastern margin of Semuliki National Park and the 13 Kilometer Kirumia Hiking trail that passes the heart of the Semuliki Forest and stretches towards the Semuliki River.
Much are there are several tribes around Semliki National Park, meeting the Batwa people who live within Semuliki Forest is the most riveting cultural encounter within Semuliki National Park. These people were hunter-gatherers who were entirely dependant on the Semliki Forest for food, shelter, firewood and medicine before it was gazzeted into forest reserve in 1932 and a National Park in 1993. With the development of tourism, their livelihood shifted from the forest, but instead they display their fading ancient ways and cultures through dances, music and drama.
Another riveting cultural encounter is the visit to the Bambuti pygmies who inhabit the banks of the Semuliki River and are close relatives of the Basu pygmies within the Democratic Republic of Congo, although some people believe that the Bambuti pygmies are closely related to the Batwa around Mgahinga Gorilla National Park and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. These people are even smaller in number than the Batwa Pygmies and have more interesting activities that include growing and smoking of marijuana. The similarity between the Bambuti Pygmies and the Batwa Pygmies is that they all once lived within Forests, were hunter-gatherers and were all evicted from their ancient homes.
Visit to the Sempaya hot springs
This is the most participated activity within Semuliki National park, and is a must-do for all tourists to this National Park. There are two Hot springs-Male hot spring called Bitende that measures about 12 meters in diameter and the Female hot spring named Nyasimbi and is a boiling geyser that ejects out hot water and steam at about 2 meters into the air. The Temperature of the water can be able to boil at 100 degree Celsius and eggs can boil within 5-10 minutes. What fascinates tourists is not the scientific formation of the feature but the cultural/legendary story that surrounds it. Visit these hot springs and you will be amused by the cultural significance, and there are several mammals such as primates and birds within this site.
Regardless of the Semuliki National park being a remote Savannah Park, it offers interesting activities like Chimpanzee tracking, nature walks, cultural encounters, game drives, bird watching and visit to the Sempaya hot springs that draw wildlife enthusiast to the National Park.
Where to Stay
Semliki Forest National park lies in the extreme side of Western Uganda in the remote district of Bundibugyo. Semliki was established into a Forest Reserve in 1932 and into a National park in 1993 making it one of the new National parks in Uganda. The park covers an area of 220 square kilometers/22000 hectares of forest. The remarkable attractions that draw thousands of wildlife enthusiasts to this park include the breathtaking Sempaya male and female hot springs, over 53 species of mammals with over 8 species of primates, more than 440 species of birds mainly forest bird species and over 300 species of butterflies. There is nothing as disappointing as enjoying such fascinating tourist attractions and lack comfortable accommodation facilities to lay your head after a long tiring day in the jungles. That shouldn’t be your worry when you visit Semliki National park because what it offers is beyond the ordinary. Therefore Semliki National park takes pride in the following exquisite accommodation facilities;
Semliki Safari Lodge
This wonderful luxury Lodge is found in Toro-Semliki Wildlife Reserve, near Semliki National park. It was constructed out of locally sourced materials offering tourists with an authentic African rustic feeling while at the same time offering the most comfortable stay to more than 18 guests on a Safari in the Park. The accommodation in Semliki Safari lodge is inform of Canvas Tents (golden hued tents with shinny wooden floors with adjoining bathrooms with hot and cold showers, morning tea or coffee is served for you in bed (brought to your room) and flush toilets among others. Some of the facilities to enjoy include a well stocked bar, and a restaurant that serves the most delicious meals, swimming pool for relaxation, a main Lodge with grass-thatched roof and a lounge among others. Most importantly, the Lodge rewards tourists with the astonishing views of the Blue Mountains of the Democratic Republic of Congo and other riveting activities to partake while at the Lodge.
Ntoroko Game Lodge
Ntoroko Game Lodge is a luxury Tented Camp situated on the unspoiled shores of Lake Albert and provides tourists with the breathtaking scenery of the wildlife species in the Park. This facility offers tourists with Double rooms, standard double rooms and single rooms. This Lodge is perfect for honeymooners or tourists looking to enjoy a safari in seclusion. Some of the facilities found in their rooms include Fans, comfortable en-suite bedrooms, private balconies overlooking the gardens and Lake Albert, Toiletries, Safes, heaters and hairdryers.
Kirimia Guesthouse is situated at about 100 kilometers from the Kirimia trailhead and around 10 kilometers from Sempaya as you are heading towards Bundibugyo. Tourists who stay at this guest house are rewarded with an up-close encounter with the National Park where you will encounter several wildlife species and bird species, and provide tourists with one of the most comfortable budget accommodation that includes meals.
UWA Bandas and campsites
The UWA Bandas and Campsites are situated at Bumaga, around 3 kilometers from Sempaya-the trail head of various explorations in Semliki National park such as birding, nature walks and hikes to the popular Sempaya male and female hot springs. The Bandas offer comfortable accommodation without meals, which can be arranged on order. Alternatively, you can hire some of the catering equipments if you are interested in self catering while on your Safari in this National park.
In conclusion, Semliki Forest National park is endowed with magnificent wildlife and bird species worth exploring in a Ugandan Safari. However, tourists would not be able to stay longer if not for the accommodation facilities such as the UWA Bandas and campsites, the Semliki Safari Lodge, Kirimia Guesthouse and Ntoroko Game Lodge among others.