Famed for its rolling landscapes of tea plantations, undisturbed rainforests, crater lakes and abundant primates, Uganda has certainly earned its reputation as being the Pearl of Africa. Located in the western part of Uganda on Congo’s border, Semuliki is one of the newest parks to receive national park status.
Semuliki’s terrain is a continuum of undulating lowland tropical rainforest stretching across 220 square kilometres of vast valley fringed by the Rwenzori Mountains in the south.
The largest river (Semiliki) inside the national park forms the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo and connects Lake Edward to Lake Albert. Because of its location on the border, topographical features of the park are a unique mix of East and Central African landscapes.
Semuliki’s claim to fame is the Sempya Hot Springs. The bubbling geothermal springs are cocooned by a nutrient-rich swamp that provides a natural salt lick for wildlife and shorebirds. Birding is one of the main highlights of visiting the park and is the perfect place to spot the rare Congo serpent eagle.
Semuliki National Park is remote but accessible. The closest international airport is Entebbe International Airport, and the closest big town is Fort Portal (three hours away). Visitors can fly from Entebbe Airport via light aircraft directly to Semuliki National Park.
Visitors to the park are sure to hear the sounds of the Nkulengu Rail at dusk and at dawn while other nocturnal species include the buff-spotted flufftail and the African wood owl.
There is fresh drinking water available in various creeks as well as the oxbow lakes and the Kirumia River. It is advisable though to boil or purify before consumption.
Semuliki National Park spans several different ecological zones, resulting in an array of habitats. The more unusual fauna and flora species can be found in the denser forested areas on the Congo border. It’s this pocket of East Africa where visitors can witness diverse butterfly populations taking to the skies.
The park is a haven for birdlife and hosts 441 bird species. There are 200 species which are considered true forest birds. A few of these species include the rare Sassi’s olive greenbul, Congo serpent eagle, black-wattled hornbill, and the long-tailed hawk.
The park is known more for its topography and geographical points of interest than its wildlife. However, there are an impressive 53 mammals within the park. Mammal species include hippo, bush babies, civet, elephant, flying squirrels and leopard. Visitors might be lucky enough to spot primates—there are over eight species in the park.
The best time of year to visit the park is during the dry season which runs from December to February and June to July. Vegetation thins out during the winter season, and water sources are scarce. This means that wildlife will flock to available water sources, making them easier to spot.
There is a very definite wet season, which is from March to May and August to November. The wet season sees plenty of flooded landscapes and unnavigable roads, making game drives tricky. Paths and roads are also extremely muddy, making them unpleasant walking and hiking.
The best way to explore Semuliki National Park is on foot. There are a variety of trails within the park, ranging from eight kilometres to 13 kilometres. All trails include a visit to the boiling hot springs. Guided walks on the longer routes are designed to find primates and spot rare birds.
The longer Kirumia trail is ideal for visitors wanting to spot wildlife, take in the views, and learn how to cook plantain in the geothermal spring waters.
Game drives in Semuliki National Park provide another opportunity for visitors to spot wildlife. Game drive activities introduce visitors to the various mammals within the national park—there are over 50 mammal species. Full day, morning and evening game drives are possible, all of which are arranged by park rangers.
Within the national park, there are options to camp. However, the sites are incredibly rustic—and only for the adventurous at heart. Campsites do have access to electricity, but it’s unreliable.
Rural family guesthouses are in abundance on the outskirts of the park. Bandas and lodges can be found in Bundibugayo and neighbouring areas. These lodges are generally mid-range and offer basic amenities. There are also hotels within 30 kilometres of the park.