Semuliki National park is positioned in Bwamba County which is found in Bundibugyo District. Semuliki was first gazette as a forest reserve by the colonialists and in October1993 it was upgraded to the level national park by the government of Uganda. This was done in order to protect the forests as fundamental in the western rift valley thus Semuliki becoming one of the freshest park in western region of Uganda. The park is 220km² in size and has an altitude ranging from 670-760m above the sea level.
The park that is under government management through Uganda Wildlife Authority and lies on DRC borders with Uganda. In the north of the Semuliki park you will find Lake Albert and Rwenzori mountains are found in the South east. The park therefore lies in the Albertine rift which is the western part of the East African rift. The park also borders Lamia and Semliki rivers which are watering places for the diverse fauna and also supports the flora in the area. The park is truly a lowland tropical forest in Uganda and is said to be a habitant of 444 bird species and 53 mammals.
The park has four cultural groups living near the park and these include; Bwamba, Bakonjo, Batuku and Batwa pygmies. Batwa are hunter gatherers who live at the edge of the forest while Bwamba are farmers who live Rwenzori as the Bakonjo cultivate on the slopes of the mountain. Batuku are cattle keepers who stay on the open plains. The park extends to the western side of Rwenzori and dominated by Ituri forest of the Congo Basin. Ituri forest is a bio-diverse forest that survived the last ice age of 12-18,000yrs ago.
The park is made up of 2 hot springs that are in a hot mineral encrusted swamp. Geothermal hot springs at Sempaya and Mumbuga spring which is 0.5 m high fountain. The hot springs bubble up from the depths of the springs to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley in the past 14 million years.
The park is positioned in Budibugyo district in Bwamba county. The park also borders Lamia and Semliki rivers which are watering places for the diverse fauna and also supports the flora in the area. The park is truly a lowland tropical forest in Uganda and is said to be a habitant of 444 bird species and 53 mammals. The park extends to the western side of Rwenzori and dominated by Ituri forest of the Congo Basin. Ituri forest is a bio-diverse forest that survived the last ice age of 12-18,000yrs ago.
In the north of the Semuliki park you will find Lake Albert and Rwenzori mountains are found in the South east. The park therefore lies in the Albertine rift which is the western part of the East African rift.
The wettest area of the park is northern Kibale and receives an estimate of annual rainfall of roughly 1700mm and in months of March to May and September to November. The climate is favorable and the temperature at the park annually is 18 to 30 °C (64 to 86 °F). The temperature is high and rainfall is low in the south and the topography pours down to hot rift valley floor and the forest supplies to the open grounds.
Dry season is the best season to visit the park. The driest months to visit the park is in between June-September and the temperatures average 80°F (25°C). During this period, you find animals drinking water and they remain close due to the high temperatures so that they can experience at least average temperature. Also know that January –February are also best times to visit the park.
Also you can visit the park during the rainy season with 4×4 vehicle as the best recommendation since the roads become hard to use. It commonly rains in October to December and also in-between Mach and May.
The forest is a habitant of 53 mammals and 27 are large mammals with 11 being endemic to the park. The forest has primates ranging from Chimpanzee, black-and-white colobus, blue, Central African red colobus, red-tailed, grey-cheeked mangabey, Dent’s mona monkeys and many more amphibians and reptiles. The nocturnal primates are bush baby and potto. The endemic mammals are pygmy flying Beecroft’s flying squirrel, antelope, squirrel, water chevrotain, bay duiker, little collared fruit bat, forest buffalo, target rat, mona monkey. Hippos and Crocodiles are also spotted across Semuliki river. It is also a habitant for peculiar water chevrotain (fanged deer).
The common species in the park to be watched are, Hartlaubs’s Duck, Spot-breasted Ibis, , Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Chestnut-flanked Goshawk, Long-tailed Hawk, Nkulengu Rail, Western Bronze-napped Pigeon, Forest Francolin, Black-collared Lovebird, , Red-chested Owlet, Bates’ Nightjar, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, White-bellied and African Dwarf Kingfishers, Chocolate-backed, White-crested, Red-billed Dwarf, Black Dwarf, Piping and Black-wattled Hornbills, Spotted, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Lyre-tailed and Zenker’s Honeyguides, African Piculet, Gabon Woodpecker, Red-sided Broadbill, Green-tailed Bristlebill, White-throated Blue Swallow, , Xavier’s, Swamp, Sassi’s Olive, Simple and Eastern Bearded Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Nicator, Capuchin Babbler, Northern Bearded Scrub Robin, Forest and Grey -bellied Crombec, Ground Thrushes, Lemon Brown-crowned, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Eremomela, Ituri Batis, Red-eyed Puff-back, Red-billed Helmet -Shrike, Black-winged Starling, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Blue-billed, Pale-fronted and Chestnut-breasted Negro finches, Crested and Red-bellied Malimbes and Grant’s Bluebill.
The place within the geothermal hot springs at Sempaya is scenic and birders can enjoy great birding. The cliffs that are behind the ranger post are habitants for crepuscular Freckled Nightjar. They can be watched gliding all over with Black-shouldered Nightjars. The rainforest can allow you to listen to Dusk duetting and bizarre dawn of Nkulengu Rail. Also nocturnal callers comprise of African Wood Owl and Buff-spotted Flufftail. On a clear day you can possibly spot Red-thighed and Great Sparrows, African Goshawk, Cassin’s Spinetail, Ayres Hawk-Eagle.
When coming from the ranger post as you are heading to the right north of the Boundary Trail, you will hear Crested Guinea fowl skulk and White-spotted Flufftail which is heard close to forest creek in the park. When you turn left on the trail forks as you are continuing to the female hot springs, you will see water boiling, squirting and bubbling out of the ground of the female hot springs.
The 53 mammal species in the park are somehow shy thus rare and nocturnal. The conspicuous species include Red-tailed and Mona, De Brazza’s Monkeys, Guereza Colobus and Olive Baboon, Gentle (Blue) Monkeys, Grey-cheeked Mangabey and Vervet. Ckimpanzees are more likely to be heard rather than being seen. You will be lucky if you see Elephant, Water Chevrotain, Bush pig, Sitatunga, Buffalo, Beecroft’s Anomalure or Zenker’s Flying Mouse and White-bellied Duiker or Dwarf Antelope. Galagos and Pottos are the nocturnal primates that can be met along. You can also be lucky if you meet Fire-footed Rope or Red-legged Sun Squirrel, Target Rat and Little collard. You can also spot 30 butterfly species in the park and also 46 forest swallowtails species and Charaxes which sum up a total of 75% in Uganda. 235 moth species are classified as restricted.
The park has almost 305 tree species archived but with 125 species restricted within the park alone. Therefore, Semuliki park has a variety of ecosystem around the Albertine Rift. The park is well positioned in the middle of climatic and ecological zones thus having a diverse of plant species and microhabitats plus animal species. The plant species in the park also reach Congo basin forest. The vegetation in Semuliki National Park is mainly medium altitude and moist green up to semi deciduous forest. You will also find evergreen tree species in nature alongside swampy forest communities in the park. Uganda ironwood (Cynometra alexandri) is the leading plant species in the forest.
Birders in the Semuliki National park will be rewarded with some of Africa’s best forest birding. The best parts for birding are Ntandi and Sempaya, they provide good viewing of the birds for example Piping Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Great blue and Ross’s Turacos. Kirumia river is also the best place for spotting birds, the shoebill can be seen around the quarters of L. Albert and Nature walks are best for tracking water birds.
Semuliki forest is the source of income for Batwa hunter since they depend on shelter, food, medicine and the tools of semuliki forest. This results into interaction with other local communities.
Accessing income for Batwa culture, this enables them to maintain their rich cultural history through dance and music at Ntandi. Batwa hunters also practice handcrafts for sale.
Hot spring is the best attraction activity done in Semuliki National park. Hiking through, the monkey visitors in Semuliki also cook matooke and eggs in the bubbling waters.
On the trail to the male outer springs leading to the patch of forest where visitors spot grey-cheeked red-tailed monkeys, mangabeys, black-and-white colobus monkeys. There is a tree house that provides the best aerial view. While hiking from the main road via palm forest you reach the inner female springs. Hungry hikers enjoy cooking eggs and matooke in these boiling waters. The hike is of 30 minutes and the inner female spring is over run by boiling geyser.
Game drive and wildlife viewing can be done in three tracks across the savannah and grassland of Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve. Savannah elephants, buffaloes, Uganda kob, crocodile, waterbuck and warthog are regularly seen. Sometimes, you can also spot leopards and pygmy hippopotami.
Visitors can take morning, afternoon and night game drives, you may also view nocturnal wildlife such as white tailed mongoose and among others.
Sampaya Nature walks is 8km, visitors can view sampaya hot spring and primates such as chimpanzee, vervet monkey, blue monkey and olive baboon. This hike is mostly done in the morning and afternoon hours. It takes 2- 4 hours.
Red Monkey Track is 11km to the eastern border park’s. In this area you sight deBrazza’s monkey while walking towards the Semliki River.
The trail from Kirumia is 13km running via deep forest to the Semuliki river. It is good place for birders. The round trip starts at 8am and takes almost 8hours
You can use the tower and boardwalk to view the geothermal hot springs at Sempaya. Or else, it is good to note that there are no facilities for visitors in the park and the trails need a panga to clear camping sites. You can come with most of your supplies and camping equipment if you are going to sleepover at the park. Three new unfurnished and incomplete buildings at Smpaya ranger post can accommodate few travelers who do not mind. You can also obtain fresh drinking water at Mungilo waterfall and fro a creek which is 0.6km from Sempaya heading to Bundibugyo. It is recommended that the water from Kirumia river and oxbow lake should be boiled before drinking it. The best campsite is at the second Kirumia river and first oxbow lake plus outside the park at Sempaya ranger post. You can buy drinks from Ntandi which are produced by locals. More so, you can hire local porters at $ 2-3 per person in Kirumia village.
Semuliki National Park is situated on fort portal to Bundibugyo main road which is 52 km from Fort Portal. The road is difficult to use during heavy rains and after therefore it is good to use 4WD vehicle. Sempaya ranger post is the well signpost however the park headquarters where shifted to Ntandi village. Its estimate is 4.4km on the Bundibugyo road. When coming from Sempaya, it takes you 10.6km to reach Kirumia village and from there you head to the forest starting from Kirumia River trail. Also have it in mind that you can catch a ride between Kirumia and Sempaya though most vehicles always head to Fort Portal in the morning and pass through Bundibugyo in the late afternoon and evening.
Tour safaris for Semuliki National park have two routes, the first one is from Uganda’s capital Kampala-Fortportal and is approximately 300 kilometers. The Kampala – Fort portal road through Mubende is the shortest route and it takes 4-5 hours if compared to the second one of Masaka, Mbarara and then Kasese which is 510km and it takes 6-7hours.
However, the Kampala-Fortportal route which goes through Masaka, Mbarara and then Kasese gives you a chance to visit or spot Lake Mburo National Park, the Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Rwenzori Mountains National Park and even Queen Elizabeth National Park. However, the Kampala-Fortportal route that goes through Mubende is a shorter route and recommended for travelers going specifically for Semuliki.
After driving 52kms in a marram road from Fort Portal which is about 2hours drive, you will reach Sempaya gate. Visitors can spot the rift valley floor which are found in the Semuliki flats and also spot Toro Semuliki wildlife reserve.
Sempaya gate is 52kms and 2 hours from Fort portal when you drive through a winding muram road through the lower ranges of Rwenzori Mountains. Here visitors can see the rift valley floor in Semuliki flats and Toro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve.
If you are to use public means, it is good to board a bus or a taxi from Kampala and it takes you direct to Fort Portal. Once you reach Fort Portal taxi park, book a bus or a truck and it takes you to Bundibugyo and there get off from Sempaya gate.
The usual National Park fees applies here too.
Rwenzori Mountains, Semuliki National park, Mount Elgon National Park, Tooro Semliki Game Reserve, Katonga Game Reserve and Pian Upe wildlife reserve are grouped in one category by UWA and they pay same fee. Their entrance fee is as follows; Non-residents pay US$35 and residents pay $25, East African nationals Ush15,000, Children aged five to 15 years pay US$5. Under-fives enter all protected areas for free.
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