Major attractions in Semuliki National Park Uganda

February 27, 2024
News Journeys Uganda

Uganda’s secret Primate and Birding paradise

Semuliki National Park has numerous tourist attractions and is located in Bwamba County Bundibugyo district in western Uganda. In 1932, the area situated on the western slopes of the Rwenzori mountains was gazette into a forest reserve known as Semuliki forest reserve to conserve the great forest. Years later in 1993, the Forest Reserve was upgraded into a National Park with aims of Tourism and Conservation. At an altitude of 670-760 meters above sea level, Semuliki National Park covers 220 km and is the only lowland tropical rain forest in the East African region. The Park lies on the international border of the Republic of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Semuliki National Park is occupied by the great and ancient Ituri forest of Congo which is known to have existed over 18,000 years ago surviving the last ice age. The Park is furthermore known for its species accumulating for over 25,000 years and this is evidenced by the hot springs which are a result of older geographical processes on the rift valley floor.

Furthermore, the valley contains countless species and features that are associated with Central Africa rather than East Africa hence making it an extremely unique destination with several Central African birds, butterflies and moths, and animal species. Different types of vegetation such as the West African palm oil trees among others. More features such as river Semuliki which also acts as an international boundary between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo and river Lamia which act as sources of water for different wildlife species in the game park.

Semuliki National Park is a distinct ecosystem given its unique location which is a junction of many different ecological and climatic zones. This makes the park home to several diverse Flora and Fauna species including micro habitats most of which are also found in the Congo basin forests in the Central African region and only in this park in the East African region. The vegetation of the park is predominantly medium altitude moist evergreen to semi-deciduous forest and the dominant plants include the Uganda ironwood, wild oil palm, different fig tree species such as ficus vogeliana which are an excellent food for butterflies and moths, and bamboo swampy vegetation, especially mitragyna stipula which is along the Semuliki river, and also there is a small portion of grasslands in the park approximately 75 hectares which are enclosed in the Bwamba forest as locally known.

Semuliki National Park provides shelter to over 120 mammal species such as the African buffalo, the lonely Leopards, the Hippopotamus along the Semuliki River, African Elephants, Antelopes, African Civets, Pygmy Scaly-tailed Squirrels, and several primates such as Mona monkeys, Bush Babies, Baboons and Chimpanzees, nine Duiker species such as the Bay Duiker.

Baboons in Semuliki

Furthermore, the park has over 400 bird species and is popularly known as the “birding haven including the Lyre-tailed Honey Guide, over 350 birds are forest birds such as the Congo Pied, Black Dwarf Hornbill, the canopy-dwelling Red-billed Dwarf and the unique calling Black Casqued Hornbills. Other good birds like Yellow-lored Bristlebill, Yellow-throated Green Cuckoo, Yellow-throated Nicator, Black-headed and African Paradise Flycatchers, Chocolate-backed Kingfisher, Forest Robin, African Piculet, African Dwarf and White-bellied Kingfisher and strking large Hartlaub’s Duck, Yellow-footed Flycatcher, Icterine and Xavier’s Greenbul, Red-tailed Ant-thrush, Blue-billed, Red-bellied and Crested Malimbe, Blue-headed and Dusky-crested Flycatcher, the roadsides are good for the Black-bellied Seedcracker, Chestnut-breasted Nigrita and Orange-cheeked Waxbill and Red-headed Bluebills as you get into the forest watchout for Congo Serpent Eagle, Spot-breasted Ibis always seen late aroung the Bumaga Camp, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, and long-tailed Hawk, Bronze-napped Pigeon are other very unique species one will be looking forward to seeing at Semuliki National Park. Besides the numerous bird and animal species in the park, over 300 species of butterflies and 230 moth species have been identified in Semuliki National Park. This is a new exciting activity in the park.

On the other hand, Semuliki National Park is surrounded by four known ethnic groups in different directions. The Bambuti pygmies inhabit the edges of the great extension of the Ituri forest locally known as the Bwamba forest since they are traditionally hunters and fruit gatherers, the Bamba are farmers and live and cultivate on the base of the Rwenzori mountains, the Bankonzo is another ethnic group around the park and they mainly survive by cultivating the Rwenzori slopes, they come from the Rwenzururu kingdom in western Uganda and their King is titled “ Omumbere”, the fourth ethnic group around the park is of the Batuku who are cattle keepers and occupy the plains which contain grasslands. All these groups of people are naturally hospitable and willing to share their lifestyles, beliefs, culture, and traditions with visitors. Be keen not to miss out on tracking the Bambuti-pygmies (who are the original dwellers of the thick ancient rain forests) in case you’re looking for a satisfying cultural experience around Semuliki National Park. Journeys Uganda offers some of the best guides that will ensure u enjoy a memorable and rewarding cultural experience.

The major tourist activities carried out while at Semuliki National Park include the following;

Chimpanzee Trekking in Tooro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve

The playful Guereza Colobus feeding

Chimp trekking in Tooro-Semuliki Wildlife Reserve is quite different from other chimpanzee trekking experiences from elsewhere around Uganda such as in Kibale National Park, where seeing chimpanzees is so easy and obvious. On the contrary, in Semuliki National Park chimpanzee trekking is an extremely strenuous activity as the chimps around here move far and long distances looking for food. Despite the tiresome and strenuous tracking, the experience is extremely satisfactory and rewarding as you may be lucky to see chimpanzees trying to move on only two legs for short distances. Also, Chimpanzee trekking in Semuliki National Park can only be done by joining researchers on primate walks. This is another added advantage as visitors tend to spend more time with the chimpanzees. The trek lasts 4 hours and it usually starts at 8 am. This activity offers a chance to spot one of the rarest monkey species called the Guereza Colobus.








The Sempaya Hot Springs Trail experience

Sempaya hot springs are one of the most attractive features in Semuliki National Park. The feature also is evidence of the numerous geographical processes that have been occurring in the Eastern Rift Valley for the last 25,000 years. The very high temperatures of the springs that reach 100 degrees Celsius, the force, and strength all demonstrate the might of geographical processes that occured here overtime. Geographically, hot springs are formed by geothermal processes that heat the water underground and force it out through a hot rock onto the surface of the earth. At Semuliki National Park, Sempaya hot springs can be seen and experienced in two very not distant places. According to the locals, one is called Nyasimbi which is the female, and Bintente which is the male Hot Spring. The two similar features differ in temperatures as the female hot spring is extremely hotter than the male one. While on the Sempaya Hot Springs trail, be sure to spot different bird species and primate species such as the famous Red-tailed monkey and the Black and White colobus monkeys the De-Brazza’s is a great add to the Semliki experience along the trail. Furthermore, get ready to boil some eggs and bananas in less than 10 minutes in case anyone gets hungry during the trail or while hiking. The Sempaya hot–spring trail is one of the most attractive features, satisfying and rewarding activity in Semuliki National Park.

Birding in the Semuliki Valley

Semuliki National Park is popularly known as the birder’s haven given the different bird species found in the park. This is among the top activities carried out in the Semuliki Valley. The Park is one of the most rewarding for anyone who is very interested in Africa’s best forest birding. The Park is home to 40%of all the birds in Uganda. It is home to over 450 different bird species; 46 different species are from the Guinea-Congo biome and can only be found in Uganda around the East African region such as the intelligent  Capuchin Babbler, the medium-sized and forest dwelling Akun Eagle-Owl, Ituri Batis,  the alert Congo-serpent Eagle, and Pipping Hornbill, Black and white Casqued Hornbill among others. Other commonly spotted bird species include the Lemon-bellied Crombec, the terrestrial Red-chested Sunbird, the Swamp Palm Bulbul, the Red-bellied Malimbe, Leaf love, Purple-headed Starling, Lyre-tailed Honey Guide, the Orange-cheeked Waxbill, and Maxwell’s Black Weaver among others. Some of the best viewing spots around the park are Ntandi and Sempaya. In case one is interested in Spotting the prehistoric Shoebill stork, he/she should opt for the boat cruise on Lake Albert.

Red-chested Sunbird

Game drives

Around Semuliki National Park, game drives can be carried out three times a day which is in the morning, afternoon, and night time. Game drives are not a very popular activity in the park as they are usually done on three main tracks in the Tooro-Semuliki game reserve which is comprised of a mixture of savannah grasslands and acacia combretum woodland, swamps along the shores of Lake Albert, riparian woodland along the main water sources and spots of Borassus palm forest. During the game drives, one should expect to see the Uganda Kob, Buffaloes, Waterbucks, Elephants, Lions, Leopards, Bush babies, Hares, White-tailed mongoose, Target Rat, Little collard fruit bats, and a slender Mongoose. Night game drives are extremely rewarding with a chance to see nocturnal animals and birds such as the hares and slender mongoose among others.

Boat cruise

This exciting and breathtaking activity takes place on river Semuliki which flows roughly 160 km from the Rwenzori to Lake Albert. One should expect to see some unique animal and bird species such as the Pygmy Hippos, the Shoebill Stork, the famous Nile crocodiles, and Water Bucks among others. Expect spectacular views of the sunset for those taking the evening boat cruise.

What is the best time to visit Semuliki National Park?

The best time to visit Semuliki National Park is during the dry seasons which are usually from December to February and June to July. This is partly because some parts of the park flood limiting visitors from accessing all sections of the game park. Furthermore, animals are easier to see and observe during the dry seasons given the fact that the vegetation gets thin and animals gather at specific few remaining water sources for survival. On the other hand, the wet seasons usually occur during April to May and from August to November and it also comes with migratory birds into the park which is a very good opportunity for birders to spot the different bird species.

How to get to Semuliki National Park?

Since the park is located in western Uganda, one can reach Semuliki National Park by road from Kampala the capital city using the 5–6-hour journey of Kampala- Fort portal via Mubende. By air, one should board a chartered flight from either Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airstrip which will take less than an hour to land at Kasese Airfield then drive on for about 2-3 hours.

Where to find accommodation around Semuliki National Park?

Furthermore, Semuliki National Park is nowadays surrounded by a good number of Safari lodges covering all different types of travelers from luxurious to budget accommodations such as Semuliki Safari Lodge, Yellow Haven Lodge, and Ntoroko Game Lodge, Fortportal has a great selectin of mid-range lodges as well among others.