Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is among the oldest national reserves in Uganda, it was established in 1926 as a game reserve. The reserve is true birders haven as the reserve has an impressive bird checklist with many birding specials. The game reserve is located in the Western region of Uganda alongside the famous Kibale forest national park, Mount Rwenzori and Queen Elizabeth national park. Semuliki National Park was formally called Toro Game Reserve and renamed in 1932. The park is managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
The reserve covers a land total area of 545 square kilometers in the North of Bundibugyo extending to the Ntoroko on the South nearing the shores of Lake Albert. The reserve is covered by the open Acacia woodland mixed with open savannah grassland. In the South, near the shores of Lake Albert there is a dotted forest of Palm trees and riparian woodlands at the swamp. The reserve has a good extended forest where chimpanzee research is currently going on making it another milestone for the reserve.
The two famous attractions at the reserve are over 450 bird species with rare bird species that are not seen in most of the game parks in Uganda. The other second attraction is the Hot springs that is Sempaya hot springs and the pygmy village which surrounds the reserve. Though the reserve is not included in most of the Ugandan safari packages, the reserve has more scenic views to offer to the guests including mammals, primates and many more.
Accessing Semuliki National Park
Located in the Kabarole district in Toro sub-region, Semuliki National Park is found on the floor of the Albertine rift valley. The reserve is a junction of Lake Albert, Kijura escarpments and Mount Rwenzori. The Semuliki National Park spreads to the remote side that is the western part of Mount Rwenzori. The largest part of the reserve is occupied by the lowland forest which is an extension of the Ituri forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The roads to the reserve are very good tarmacked from Uganda capital city Kampala. The driving distance from Kampala to Fort Portal via Mubende is 290 kilometers while the other option route is Kampala to Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara to Kasese which is about 465 kilometers. When one reaches Fort Portal it only takes a short drive of 59 kilometers to reach the Sempaya Gate and 65 kilometers to reach the park headquarters at Ntandi.
For those who are planning to use public means, you can use Kalita bus which operates daily from Kampala to Bundibugyo via Fort Portal and you will be dropped at Karungutu trading centre. You will get Boda boda which will drop you to the lodge inside the park.
Alternatively, there are chattered panes from Kajjansi or Entebbe international airport to Semliki. There are two flights that are Fly Uganda that operate from Kajjansi airfield and Aerolink that flies from Entebbe international airport.
Attractions in Semliki
However much the reserve is not popular, its scenic gifts can never be shadowed. The reserve has more attractions that entice your trip to the park. It is understandable that it should be included for the one-day trip as a brief stop for your trip if your wildlife lover. For birders, one can spend more time exploring the reserve.
Sempaya Hot springs: The twin Hot springs that also termed as male and female are the key attractions that one thinks of when the name Semuliki National Park is mentioned. The male hot spring is called Bitende which covers 12 meters wide while Nyasimbi which is the name of the female hot spring is small measuring 2 meters in diameter. These are unique features of nature where the hot water comes from the underground. Locals with tourists make experimental by taking their banana, eggs and other things roast or boil at the water.
Though the water can burn the locals use several mechanics to make themselves very safe from the hot springs as they boil their foodstuff. The boiling water is at the temperature of 100 degrees Celsius making food staffs ready in every short period of time.
Chimpanzees: The lowland forests that cover the largest part of the park is a home of the primates especially chimpanzees. Still, on deep research and habituation process, the chimpanzees are not easily seen on the ground but take most of their time on the treetops. Thanks to the University of India which is doing their best to habituate the chimpanzees in Semliki game reserve. During your time in the forests, you can also see more other primates like Baboons, central African red colobus monkey, blue, de brazza’s, red-tailed, vervet, and Dent’s Mona Monkey.
Birds: Semuliki National Park is the birding paradise, in fact, it is a one-stop destination for almost all the bird species of Uganda. The reserve diverse vegetation covers have created different habitats for different bird species. The checklist for birds in Semuliki National Park is more impressive and enjoyable. The reserve has over 450 bird species with rarer species like Shoebill found at the reserve. Birding at the reserve is done throughout the year as the weather favors it though the best months are rainy months. The most sighted birds are Shoebills, Piping Hornbill, Nkulengu rail, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, African Piculet, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, White-crested Hornbill, Orange-Cheecked waxbill, Blue-billed Malimbe, Leaf-love, swamp palm Bulbul; mention but a few.
Mammals: The population of mammals is not high but most of the mammal species are represented at Semliki game reserve. There are over 53 different species of Mammals found at the reserve with 27 countings for large mammals, 11 are rare mammals only found in Semuliki National Park like Pygmy Antelopes, flying squirrels, fanged deer, and other animals including lions, leopards, kobs, antelopes and many more.
Bambuti Pygmies: Semuliki National Park is surrounded by the unique Bambuti pygmies that live along the River Semliki on both sides. These pygmies are very close to Basu Pygmies of DR Congo far different from the Batwa pygmies of Bwindi Impenetrable forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. They are the least and the smallest pygmy group in the whole of Africa, they were evicted from their Bambuti where they used to live, hunt and gather fruits. They depend on Marijuana growing and exercise unique cultural norms that attract more tourist to them.
Activities done in Semliki National Park
The Semuliki National Park is an extension of the African largest Forest Ituri forest which spreads to the remote parts of the Rwenzori mountains. The largest part of the reserve is covered with the unspoiled low-land forests that cross the Semliki River. visiting the reserve is a wore some as one experiences the Congo climatic fresh airs without crossing the border. The major activities done in the small park lives your Ugandan safari experience wonderful with more unique activities.
Chimpanzee trekking: Chimpanzee trekking is not yet in full gears but the university of India is trying their best to make sure that the habituation of the chimpanzees is achieved very soon. Currently, the chimpanzee trekking is done in low scale in the most tiresome way more of just chasing chimpanzees. The trek takes a minimum of 4 hours hence if planning for this activity is ready with enough drinking water and packed lunch boxes. The chimpanzee trekking is more of fun especially in Semuliki National Park since the chimpanzees still fear people, very remote in their natural set up one can see the true colors of the forest chimpanzee. One can also see other primates like Baboons and different species of monkeys.
Game drives: With its small size, one may wonder whether there are a lot of animals in Semuliki National Park but the fact is the reserve is a hidden treasure of African wildlife. It is not good for African big 5 but has some members of the African big five. Before Semuliki National Park was famous for the largest concentration of lions which were very healthy as the males had the black mane. There are both day game drives and night games at the reserve, the night game drives are specific for increasing your chances to view leopards and other forest nocturnal animals like bush babies, pottos and many more.
Visiting hot springs: Visiting rare unique hot springs in Semuliki National Park is a great experience. Go witness the powers and wonders of the earth seeing boiling water make your egg ready in the shortest time possible. There are two hot springs male and female all named by locals, the male one called Bitende and female one called Nyasimbi. You’re not allowed to get near the hot springs as their temperatures are very high to 100 degrees Celsius.
Birding: The birding paradise as termed by birders, the birding safari in Uganda without visiting Semuliki National Park is incomplete. There are rarer bird species that are found in the reserve and they are not somewhere in Uganda. The checklist is long to have almost half of the Ugandan total bird species. It accounts for 66% of the Ugandan forest bird species and some Congo bird species. The list is long like Nkulengu Rail, Cuckoo, Red-rumped tinkerbird, Yellow-throated Nicator, Lemon-billed Crombec, Maxwell’s black weaver, Crested Malimbe and many more.
Cultural tours: Visting the locals around the park is another experience guests can enjoy. The Bambuti pygmies are the Congo origin which are close cousins of the Basu pygmies of Congo. They have rare traditions and culture that gives you the true picture of the African people. They are among the smallest pygmy tribe that still leaves around the forests of Uganda. They have private guide who will brief you all the details of their history, culture and other aspects of life.
Nature walks: There are numerous hiking trails in Semliki game reserve, the guided walks depend on the preference of the guest. You will be led to the direction according to your activity of interest like hippo pools, crocodile pool, primates, birds and others.
Semuliki National Park has much to offer the guests though not good for big game but an addition to your great safari experience in other neighboring national parks.