Looking for the ideal place to go on safari in Uganda? Look no further than Murchison Falls National Park. This park is the best place to see Big 5 wildlife in the country. It has game drives, boat trips, hiking, chimpanzee tracking, and one of the best budget camps I’ve ever stayed at. A 3 day Murchison Falls safari will be the highlight of your trip.
Planning a safari in Murchison Falls National Park can be daunting. In this post, I’ll share all the details with you to make your trip go smoothly — from how to get there to how to plan your activities. Let’s get started!
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Why do a 3 day Murchison Falls safari?
Before getting into the practicalities, you might be wondering, is Murchison Falls worth it? After all, it’s a really long drive from Kampala and there isn’t really anywhere else interesting in the vicinity. Queen Elizabeth National Park is a lot more convenient, and you can see wildlife on a much tighter budget in Lake Mburo National Park.
While I enjoyed my safaris in both those other parks, I still believe Murchison Falls is worth the time and expense. It was my favorite wildlife safari in Uganda. The landscape was very different from the southern parks — the waterfalls themselves are spectacular. And I saw much more wildlife in Murchison Falls, including a few new species.
Plus Murchison Falls was the least crowded of all the Ugandan national parks I visited. Granted, none of the parks in Uganda are anywhere near as crowded as the ones in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa. But in Murchison Falls, when we found a lioness in a tree, my car was one of only three around. This made it far easier to get good views and photo spots.
The travelers you meet in Murchison Falls are also more adventurous and less party-focused than folks you meet elsewhere in Uganda. Overland tours don’t come up to this part of the country, so nearly everyone is either traveling independently or on a break from a volunteer or work project. The camps have a more laid-back, everyone-asleep-by-10-pm vibe.
And if all that doesn’t convince you — Murchison Falls Park is one of only three parks in Uganda that has giraffes. And it has lots of them.
How to get to Murchison Falls National Park
The one downside to a Murchison Falls safari is there is no realistic way to reach the park on public transport. The park is six-eight hours from Kampala in a private vehicle.
Travelers on an extreme shoestring budget could theoretically get a bus from Kampala to Masindi and pick up a special hire there. The special hire would cost at least $50 to the south bank lodges. Theoretically you could take a boda instead for more like $20, but it would be a miserably dusty and potentially dangerous journey. You’d then have to hire a vehicle for game drives at a cost of around $150 a day.
All in all, the best way to get to Murchison Falls on a budget is to take a tour with Red Chilli Hideaway in Kampala. Red Chilli offers a 3 day Murchison Falls safari for just over $300. You can add rhino tracking at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for another $50, or chimp tracking for around the same price. Costs include everything except meals (you’ll pay around $20 total for food).
The Red Chilli tours are extremely good value for money. You’ll see all the wildlife you’ve dreamed about, sleep in comfortable permanent tents with proper beds, eat well, and learn about the animals from the expert guides they contract. Your group might be as many as six people, but four is more common. All tours run in 8-person minivans, so you won’t be scrunched in.
The mid-range alternative to a Red Chilli tour is to hire a private driver. This costs around $150/person/day in a group of two for the vehicle and driver alone. The advantage is you can run on your own schedule, but the downside is it’s much more expensive. 3 days in Murchison Falls will cost you more like $600/person if you choose this option.
What kinds of wildlife will you see on your safari?
Murchison Falls has most of the typical East African wildlife. It’s also a phenomenal bird-watching destination. And since large swaths of the park are covered with forest, you can see forest primates more typical of Central Africa as well.
Three of the Big 5 are very common in Murchison Falls National Park: lions, elephants, and buffalo. You’d have to be pretty lucky to see a leopard, but they’re around. Rhinos have been completely wiped out of all Ugandan parks.
Other plains wildlife you’ll spot include Jackson’s hartebeest, oribi, bushbuck, warthog, and the ever-present Ugandan kob. A small population of jackals inhabits the savanna areas. Murchison Falls is also the best place in East Africa to see the highly endangered Rothschild’s Giraffe. In fact, you’ll see these giraffes in large herds here, which is quite unusual.
Hippos and crocodiles are common along the riverbanks. The forested areas contain vervet monkeys, black and white colobus and chimpanzees.
The one bird everyone wants to spot in Murchison Falls National Park is the shoebill. Your best chance of seeing them is along the river. The full bird checklist is 53 species, including several kingfisher and bee-eater species.
Activities in Murchison Falls National Park
Murchison Falls has a diverse set of activities on offer. This isn’t a safari park where you’ll spend 12 hours a day in a vehicle. In fact, even with three days in the park, you’ll only have time for two game drives.
To make the most of your Murchison Falls safari, I recommend doing the waterfall hike on your first day. Do a morning game drive on Day 2, followed by an afternoon boat trip. Then, you can finish on your last day with another morning game drive or chimpanzee trek.
The Waterfall Hike
One of the highlights of Murchison Falls isn’t wildlife-related at all. It’s the magnificent waterfall that is the park’s namesake. At the top of the falls, the entire Nile River squeezes through a 6-meter-wide gap in the rocks — unleashing immense force as it drops, swirls, and splashes down a 120-meter cascade. It may not be Victoria or Niagara Falls, but you’ve never seen a waterfall like this before.
.The best way to take in the landscape is on the two-hour Top of the Falls hike. The hike departs from a parking area a 45-minute drive from Paraa (where most camps are). You’ll first climb for 15 minutes to Baker’s Viewpoint — where you can see both Murchison Falls and its sister cascade, Uhuru Falls.
From here, continue down along the side of the gorge. It’s another 15 minutes — with lots of great lookouts along the way — to the base of the falls. This is the best view you’ll get during your entire time in the national park. You can venture out on some rocks into the middle of the river, but keep an eye out for crocodiles!
It’s a steep, hot hike back up to Baker’s Viewpoint. Allow 30 minutes. From here, continue to the Top of the Falls Viewpoint itself (the trail branches off to the left).
The views from directly on top of the waterfall are mind-boggling. Be very, very careful as you traverse the slippery rocks. There aren’t exactly tons of guardrails. It’s a short walk back to the parking lot after you’ve been drenched by the Falls’ spray.
In total, allow two hours for the Top of the Falls hike. It costs $10 (pay in Paraa in advance) and you must go with a guide.
Game Drives on the Delta Circuit
The best game driving in Murchison Falls National Park is on the Delta Circuit, a series of tracks in the Buligi area. The landscape here is classic East African savanna (with a little extra green for good measure). Little vegetation means you can see elephants wandering across the plains up to a kilometer away.
To reach the Delta Circuit from most of the Murchison Falls lodges, you’ll have to take a short ferry ride across the Victoria Nile. Get in line by 6:30 am so you can be on the first boat at 7.
From the ferry dock, it’s about a 7 km drive to the best game tracks. You’ll pass an airstrip on the way. The Queen’s Track branches through the center from the airstrip and has the best game viewing. Plenty of smaller tracks branch off — follow them anywhere you see large concentrations of kob to increase your odds of finding lions. You’ll see more Jackson’s hartebeest than you can count in this area as well.
Elephants and giraffes are extremely common in the area between the Victoria Nile and the airstrip, as well as along the Victoria Nile delta. The lions in Murchison Falls climb trees, and you have a much better chance of finding them if you take a UWA guide from the booking office in Paraa.
You’ll inevitably stop at the delta for a few photos with hippos. You can also get very close to giraffes on foot in this area. Elephants sometimes come a little too close for comfort, so don’t get out of your vehicle if they’re hanging around. There are clean restrooms here, but no food stalls.
Double back along the Albert Nile Track to see large numbers of waterbuck, oribi, and vervet monkeys. You’ll also cover some prime elephant and giraffe territory here. It’ll eventually lead you back to the ferry crossing, where you can wrap up by around 11 am.
Boat Trips on the Victoria Nile
The absolute highlight of a 3 day Murchison Falls safari, and of all wildlife-watching in Uganda, is the boat trip from Paraa up the Victoria Nile. The three-hour trip runs along the north bank of the river. You’re pretty much guaranteed close encounters with hippos and crocs. You’ll see lots of bird life (although probably not any shoebill). And you have a good chance of spotting herds of elephants.
Trips launch between 2 and 3 pm from Paraa. They can pick you up on either side of the river. The boats are double-deckers — the best views are from the left side on the upper deck. Wild Frontiers has the more comfortable boats. You can buy cold drinks (a Nile on the Nile) and snacks onboard.
The guides for the boat trips are excellent. They’ll help with spotting, but they’ll also tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how crocodiles hunt, how to spot vultures circling a lioness’s kill, and why a particular elephant is separated from his family.
At the midway point, the boat reaches the base of Murchison Falls. You’ll see lots of crocodiles here waiting for drowned animals that plunged down the falls. If you didn’t do the Top of the Falls hike already, the boat captain can drop you off at the starting point (you need to have a ride back to your camp from the top).
The return journey is a bit faster, but you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to see wildlife. The guides focus more on birds on the way back.
Boat trips cost $32 per person. Book in advance. The 2 pm departures are best for wildlife-watching — you’ll be one of the first boats on the river, which reduces the chance of scaring away shy elephants.
If you have limited time for your Uganda trip, and you won’t be able to visit Kibale Forest, Murchison Falls National Park is a good alternative for chimpanzee trekking.
The trekking occurs outside the park itself, but in a neighboring protected area. You arrive at the meeting spot, spend an hour or so walking through the (flat) forest to reach the chimps, spend another hour following them through the forest, and then walk back to the starting point.
Overall, it’s a great experience, and much, much cheaper than gorilla trekking. Just be aware that you won’t get spectacular photos of the chimps. They move fast, they live in very dense forest with tricky lighting, and you’ll spend most of your time chasing them through the trees. For more on what it’s like to go chimpanzee trekking in Uganda, click here.
You need a permit to go chimpanzee trekking in Murchison Falls National Park. This costs $85. You can usually get permits close to the date you want to trek (book at the UWA office in Kampala). Success rates for seeing the chimps here are around 80%.
The best Murchison Falls accommodation on a budget: Red Chilli Camp
Whether you have a private driver or you’re on a Murchison Falls tour, the best budget camp in the park is Red Chilli Rest Camp.
Prices start at just $8 a night for camping, or $35 a night for a shared tent. Even the simplest tents are very comfortable. The mattresses were the best I had in all of Uganda. Just note that there is no electricity in the tents. They also have more luxurious bandas and permanent tents, some of which have electricity. Typically for Uganda, the camp doesn’t have WiFi — but it does have charging stations for your camera and phone.
The camp has the perfect location on the banks for the Nile in Paraa. It’s a three-minute drive or ten-minute walk to the boat launch point and the ferry crossing. Views over the Nile from the campfire pit are stunning.
The restaurant here is really awesome. They have an extensive menu of local and Western classics for very reasonable prices. I paid just 8,000 shillings for a huge lunch of beans, rice and salad. They also provide packed breakfasts and lunches, which are useful for morning game drives. (Definitely get the samosas!) They’re also one of the few places in the park where you can get a genuinely cold beer or soda.
But the best part about Red Chilli Murchison Falls is that it has resident warthogs and hippos! They wander up from the river at dusk. You’ll never feel more like you’re in Africa than when a hippo grazes just one meter from your tent at night.
A few other random tips for planning a 3 day Murchison Falls safari
- Murchison Falls is at a lower elevation, and therefore a lot warmer, than everywhere else in Uganda.
- If you stay anywhere near the river, always keep a torch/flashlight on you. You don’t want to surprise a hippo.
- Tsetse flies are a serious problem in the park. They no longer carry Sleeping Sickness here, but their bites hurt like hell. Keep windows closed when you’re driving through areas that have them.
- Most locals in the area speak Acholi. It’s a Luo dialect and is not mutually intelligible with Luganda (which is a Bantu dialect).
- Park entrance fee costs $40 per person per 24 hours. For 3 days in Murchison Falls, you’ll need to pay $80 and leave promptly after your last morning game drive.
- Stop at Kalabega Diner for the best meal in Uganda on your way to or from the park!
- Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is another worthwhile diversion on your way back to Kampala.
- Don’t be an idiot — take your antimalarials. Murchison Falls is a high-risk malaria area.
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