Semuliki National Park is one of the newest national parks in Uganda located in the western parts of the country. It was created as Semuliki forest reserve in 1932 then made a national park in 1993. The park is found in Bundibugyo district on Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of Congo within the western arm of the Great East African Valley covering an area of 220 kilometers squared.
Semuliki National Park lies across the floor of Semuliki Valley on the western sides of Rwenzori mountain which is snowcapped, since it lies in the low-lying areas, its altitude ranges from 670 to 760m above sea level.
Semuliki National Park boasts of 435 bird species, 53 mammal species, over 300 butterfly species, 336 tree species, and 24 of them are endemic to Semuliki National Park.
Semuliki is the only National Park in Uganda that gives a taste of Central African wildlife without living in Uganda in East Africa. It is dominated by the easternmost of the Congo basin which is one of Africa’s ancient forests.
This is because it inhabits many features associated with central Africa rather than East Africa like Semuliki River which has crocodiles and at the same time an international boundary, central African wildlife within Semuliki forest, and the Batwa people who came from Ituri forest in Congo.
What to see in Semuliki National Park
The Sempaya hot springs
This site in the Park shows our tourists that powerful underground forces have been shaping the Semuliki Valley in the last 14 million years. The evidence is the hot springs in this area which bubble up high from underground with steam.
The female hot springs have a boiling fountain at over 102 degrees Celsius and this water can make an egg ready within 10 minutes.
There are both male and female hot springs in this Sempaya area called Nyasimbi and Bitente respectively.
The Bamba who is one of the indigenous people has been using these hot springs for rituals as they communicate to their small gods as they ask for blessings and protection. Interesting stories about these hot springs will be told when you visit these beautiful hot springs about their formation.
Semuliki National Park has 53 mammal species and of which 11 of them are endemic to Semuliki National Park like a little collard fruit bat, forest buffaloes, pygmy flying squirrel, target rats, and others.
Semuliki National Park is home to 8 primates’ species namely chimpanzees, red-tailed monkey blue monkeys, vervet monkeys, olive baboons, guereza colobus monkey, pottos, bush babies, and galagos.
Other mammals within Semuliki National Park are Uganda kobs, waterbucks, warthogs, pygmy bush pigs, duikers, leopards, crocodiles, hippos, sitatunga, forest elephants, dwarf antelopes, and many others.
Semuliki National Park is one of the best birding destinations in Uganda inhabiting over 435 bird species. Semuliki National Park has 34% of Uganda’s total population of birds and of which some can’t be seen elsewhere in East Africa like lyre-tailed honeyguide.
Semuliki has incredible birds like Ross’s turaco, shoebill storks near Lake Albert, white chested hornbill, yellow-throated nicator, yellow-throated cuckoo, red-sided broadbill, blue-headed flycatcher, chestnut breasted negro-finch, pale fronted ant pecker, and many others.
The Park has various vegetation types which inhabit different wildlife species. This national park has swampy vegetation, montane vegetation, lowland vegetation, and savannah grasslands and forests.
River Semuliki forms an international boundary at Uganda’s border with DR Congo and it is 160km long inhabiting various birds, crocodiles, hippos, and many others.
The Batwa pygmies are one of the oldest people in Africa who lived at the edge of Africa’s ancient forests as fruit gatherers, hunters, made bows, and trained their dogs for hunting. These Batwa people lived in the forests without causing much damage to them and when you visit the Park, they will show you their history in the forest, dances, costumes, and the skills they used to survive. There are other tribes with unique culture and history around Semuliki National Park besides the Batwa and these are the Bakonjo, Bamba, and Batuku.
Tourism activities in the Park
A drive through the open savannah grassland of Semuliki National Park gives you an excellent opportunity for game viewing. The park has various wild animals, birds, and ecosystems that roam within the park. You will see animals like Uganda kobs, baboons, warthogs, hippos, buffalos, elephants, and others, the Park is so scenic and the drive along the park brings you close to the scenic beauty of the park.
Guided nature walks
Nature walks in the Park are led by the park rangers who lead you into the wilderness to identify various features and give more information about what you will encounter.
The park has various trails like the red monkey trail, the Kirimia river trail, and others.
A guided walk from Sempaya information center to Sempaya hot springs.
Sempaya has the largest geyser spouts which form a water fountain with very hot water which boils to over 100 degrees Celsius.
This trail to the hot springs is forested and it gives you the opportunity to see various primates like red-tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, grey checked mangabey, various birds like honeyguide greenbul, yellow-throated tinker bird, red-rumped, and many other birds.
The red monkey trail.
This trail in the eastern part of Park to River Semuliki gives you the opportunity to see a variety of many birds than the trail to the springs. You will see wild animals like various monkeys, buffalos, crocodiles, elephants, and many others.
Kirimia river trail.
It’s a 15km trail from Kirimia in the north to the Semuliki river banks. This trail has various monkeys and different bird species like a long-tailed hawk, black-faced rufous warbler, lemon-bellied crombec, and many others. The Kirimia river trail has 20 to 30 bird species associated with the oxbow lakes environment.
When to visit Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park operates throughout the year and it is open for tourists at any time. This national park experiences two dry seasons, and two rainy seasons per year.
The best time to the Park is during the dry season which occurs in the months of April to June and July to September. This is because the national park is dry with less mud and this makes driving easy and hiking through the park.
The rainy season is not good to visit Semuliki National Park which occurs in the months of December to March and October to November. It’s difficult to move through in the national park because the roads and trails are muddy and slippery with more chances of raining.
How to access Semuliki National Park
There are two main roads that lead you to the Park from Kampala, the best route to the Park is the Kampala-Fort Portal road through Kyenjojo, Mubende, and Mityana which covers a distance of 300 km and it takes about 5 to 6 hours to reach Semuliki National Park. The journey is long but it’s worth it because you get the chance to explore the countryside plus visiting other national parks like Kibale National Park the primate capital, Rwenzori mountain national park – hike the legendary mountains of the moon, Lake Mburo National Park to do game drives and boat trips and Queen Elizabeth National Park to do game drives, chimpanzee tracking, and boat trips.
Then travel from Fort Portal to Sempaya gate which covers a distance of 52km about 2 hours as you cruise on the winding murram road in the lower ranges of Mountain Rwenzori.
You can also charter a flight from Entebbe International Airport to Semuliki Airstrip but advance booking should be done.
Accommodation Facilities in Semuliki National Park
The park has few accommodation facilities but the neighboring districts like Fort Portal and Bundibugyo have many lodges ranging from Luxury, mid-range, and Budget lodges to provide accommodation facilities to tourists.
Semuliki National Park has campsites near the park’s main office and the gate namely
· Luxury – Semuliki Safari Lodge
· Mid-range – Nyati Game Lodge
· Budget – Ntoroko Bandas and Campsite