Semliki national park, in Uganda is located within the Albertine Rift. It is one of the less visited national parks in Uganda and lies within the Western arm of the famous Great Rift Valley. Semliki national park cuts across Semliki Valley, western of Rwenzori Mountain. The park is largely occupied by the Ituri forests that follow the Congo basin. This unique national park is the only low land tropical forest in East Africa. Unknown to very few people, Semliki national park is divided into two; the national park which protects an extension of Ituri Forest in DRC, and Tooro wildlife reserve, a mixture of tropical rainforests and grassy savannah plains where chimpanzee tracking takes place. Tooro Wildlife reserve is Uganda’s oldest reserve and it is home to both central African and East African species.
Semliki National park is 220km2 with altitude of 670m-760m above sea level with River Semuliki being the international boundary between Uganda and DR Congo. The reserve was created in 1932 and was upgraded to a national park status in 1993. It is known as the oldest and most bio diverse forest that survived ice age that happened in 12-18000 years ago.
Although, many people who come for a Uganda safari rarely visit Semliki National park, it is home to 441 recorded bird species, making it a bird watching safari haven for bird watchers. It is also home to 53 mammals that include elephants and buffalos.
When to visit Semliki National park
Semliki National park can be visited throughout the year. It is surrounded by mountains and forests and attracts a lot of rain. Averagely, this national park receives 1,250 mm of rain fall. March to May and September to December are the peak rainy seasons. A 4 x 4 WD vehicle is highly recommended since the heavy rains come with heavy floods and may make it impassable during activities. The park temperatures range between 18 to 30 degrees C.
Wildlife safaris and Activities of Semliki National park
Semliki National park has got variety of what to offer a tourist on a wildlife and game watching safari. The national park is popular for the amazing wildlife species, the rare bird life, cultural experience that involve a visit to the Batwa also known as the Bambuti people in the Semliki area. During the visit, you learn about their culture and day to day lives. You can also go visiting the amazing hot springs which are associated with lots of legends and many more other attractions. Although all activities are equally great, wildlife game drives and guided nature walks seem to be the most popular activities in the park
Bird watching in Semliki National park:
Semliki National park is surely one of the best birding places in Uganda, Africa. Bird watching of rare species is one of the biggest attractions in this national park’s riverine habitat and grassland. Over 441 bird species are recorded in this conservation area with 40 per cent of the country’s bird species and 60 per cent of the country’s forest birds. There are about five bird species that are endemic to Semliki National Park, forty-six Guinea-Congo biome species found nowhere else in East Africa.
Bird species to look out for here include the bizarre looking Shoe Bill in the mashes of the lake. There is the ground hornbill, the Nkulengu rail, yellow-throated Cuckoo, piping Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattled Horbill, Red-rumped Tinker bird, African Piculet, White-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Nicator, Leaf-love, and Swamp Palm Bulbul among others. You will be guided by very professional and knowledgeable bird watching guides who can spot these birds even from a distance or tell by their calls.
Wildlife safari game drives in Semliki National park
Safari game drives using 4 x 4 WD customised safari vehicles is one of the most popular activities in the park. Semliki National park caters for every tourist. Visistors who are not interested in birds can for for early morning game drives since the park is home to 53 mammals 27 being large mammals. Eleven species are endemic to the park and these include the pygmy antelope, two flying squirrel species and the peculiar water “fanged deer”. On a lucky game drive, you may spot forest elephants which are smaller and darker than the savannah elephants, forest buffaloes, which are also smaller versions of their savannah relatives. Semliki forest is also very rich with primates that include chimpanzees, grey-cheeked mangabey, black-and-white colobus monkey, the Central African red colobus monkey, blue and red-tailed monkeys, among others and, warthogs, baboons. There are also leopards which are really rare to see. Don’t forget to look out for the elusive black wild pig. On the wildlife game drive, with your guide, you will follow 3 tracks in the national park that cut through Tooro Semliki Wildlife reserve.
For the more adventurous visitor, there are night game drive activities for the nocturnal animals and primates that include pottos, the bush baby, bats, owls among others
Boat ride on the Semliki River to Lake Albert
Visitors can go for guided boat rides on Semliki River which is a 160km long River that runs off from the Rwenzori mountains also known as the ‘The Mountains of the Moon’ and continues to Lake Albert and the Nile, proving ancient geographers’ claims that the Nile flows (in part anyway) from a snow-capped mountain in the heart of Africa. The River is a miniature version of Congo River and Water bucks, Sitatungas, lizards, Nile crocodiles and pygmy hippos are often seen along the banks of the water. On the way to or from the park, visitors can watch the river meander across the rift valley from roadside viewpoints and hike through the forest to its banks.
Chimpanzee Habituation Experience
Chimpanzee habituation like chimpanzee tracking takes place in Toro-Semliki wildlife reserve and the activity takes a full day. A chimpanzee habituation permit must be obtained from Uganda Wildlife Authority. Chimpanzee habituation is the process of making chimpanzees feel comfortable with the presence of human beings and once fully habituated; they are ready to be tracked.
Chimpanzee tracking experience
Chimpanzee tracking takes place in Toro-Semliki wildlife reserve and this activity should not be missed on a visit to Uganda. The forest is home to different primate species living in this forest which makes it a great place for primate watching and these primates include the chimpanzee, the black and white colobus monkeys, the baboon, the grey-cheeked mangabey, vervet, the Central African red colobus, Dent’s mona monkeys, blue, red-tailed and the de Brazza’s, among others. The guide transfers you the research camp for briefing about chimpanzee tracking. After that briefing, you walk towards Kijura observation point, tracking chimpanzees. This can take 4-6 hours and you will follow where the chimpanzees are and where they nested previously. During the tracking, you will also spot several birds and some times forest buffalos and elephants and lion. You will be with the chimpanzee for one hour and later return to the lodge
Sempaya hot springs in Semliki
While in Semliki National park, a visit to the famous Sempaya hot springs is a must. There are two types of hot springs in the park; the female and male hot springs. The male hot spring is known as Bintente is 12m in diameter and is in a lush swampy clearing while the female hot spring is known as Nyasimbi which means female ancestors. The female hot springs are the hottest, most dangerous and still erupting boiling at (103°C) which spurts bubbling water and steam up to two meters high. The steam can be seen from as far as 2km away. Local people used to cook their food in these boiling hot springs and you too have an opportunity to cook green bananas and eggs in the boiling water and consume them. During the walk, look out for birds and red tailed, grey cheeked mangabey and black and white colobus monkeys displaying their monkey acrobats
Nature and Hiking walks in Semliki National park
Visitors can go for guided forest walks on well developed natural trails. There are 3 main trails that visitors follow on a guided nature walk in Semliki National park.
Below are the three main nature trails:
Sempaya nature trail: This leads to the Sempaya hot springs, through a patch of forest. There is a big possibility of coming across the different types of monkeys in the forest like the black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabey. On your way to the male hot springs, you will stopover at a tree house where you view the abundant birdlife and beautiful scenery of the forest.
The Kirumia trail: This is a 13 km trail. It is the best trail for bird watching since it ends up to the Semliki River across the forest.
Red monkey trail: The red monkey trail is 11 km long and it follows the park boundary to the east and ends up at the Semliki River. Look out for the rare DeBrazza monkey, only found in this park in Uganda
Batwa Cultural experiences
One of the great opportunities while visiting Semliki is The Batwa trail experience, letting you experience the lives of the pygmies who lived in this forest before it was made a national park, and meet their king; king Nzito and his queen. They now live around the park boundaries but sometimes they visit the forest in search of medicines. They will demonstrate how they lived in the forest, how the hunted, how the got food, the hunting tools they used, how they lived and danced.
Every October, they have an annual Bamaga Cultural festival. The festival gives the visitor a sneak peek into the lives of mountain people which gives you an opportunity to peek into the life of the mountain of Bundibugyo and the special attachment they have to the hot springs.
Fishing on River Semliki
Another activity visitors can do is fishing on river semliki which is a major river, 140 kilometres long, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda in Central and East Africa. Fish to catch and release is Lung fish, cat fish, and salty fish among others
Accommodation in Semliki National park
Semliki Safari lodge- Luxury lodge- The oldest lodge in the Semliki area
Ntoroko Game Lodge- Mid range lodge located in the reserve side
It is only 3 hours from Fort Town to Semliki, visitors can visit Semliki and stay overnight in Fort Portal town.
Accommodation in Fort Portal
Kyaninga Lodge- High end
Mountains of the moon Hotel- Semi-luxury
Rwenzori View Guest house- Budget
Transport to Semliki national Park
By road transport
- You can reach the park from Kampala – Fortportal and then Semuliki national park. It takes 55km from Fort Portal town and 8 hours from Kampala
By air transport
- You can take scheduled or chartered flight from Entebbe to Kasese with our partners Aerolink
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