Murchison Falls National Park visitor’s guide

Murchison Falls view from the Nile boat cruise

In the hot savanna of northwestern Uganda, elegant giraffes nibble trees and elephants clomp through dry grassland. Hippos splash comically, submerged up to their heads, near the shore of the cool Nile river.

Upstream you can almost hear the rumble of a mighty waterfall as the full power of the Victoria Nile squeezes dramatically through a gorge only seven meters wide.

This is Murchison Falls National Park, the largest national park in Uganda. Visitors to this special corner of East Africa can enjoy game drives, nature walks, river cruises, and dramatic views of Murchison Falls itself.

Wildlife lovers will spot elephants, hippos, giraffes, buffalo, baboons, crocodiles, and many species of birds. The luckiest might even see a lion or leopard. 

With options for overnight accommodation to fit any budget, Murchison Falls is a perfect 2-4 day outing for anyone looking to appreciate Uganda’s wildlife and the majesty of the Nile river.

Top Things to Do in Murchison Falls Park

Elephant family comes down for a drink near Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls National Park offers many ways to explore Uganda’s natural wonders, including:

  • Nile river cruise
  • Hike to the top of the falls
  • Nature walks
  • Game viewing drives
  • Chimpanzee tracking
  • Bird watching
  • Fishing
  • Cultural experiences
  • Hot air balloon rides

More details below!

Best Time to Visit Murchison Falls National Park

It’s possible to visit Murchison Falls National Park year round, but certain times of the year have definite advantages. For the best wildlife viewing, time your visit during the dry months: December – February and June – September.

It’s easier to see animals during this time because they are drawn to water sources, and the dirt roads are more easily traversed when dry.

If bird watching is your priority, time your visit during the wet months of March – May and September – November for the highest bird activity. These months also see fewer tourists and therefore will have lower rates, though do note that some accommodation options may be closed.

Getting to Murchison Falls National Park

Murchison Falls National Park entrance gate

The park lies about 250km from Kampala, where most visitors begin their visit to Uganda. The paved road is good quality and the drive will likely take about 4-5 hours. Most people visit Murchison Falls National Park with a guided tour that includes transportation, making it easy to relax and enjoy the trip.

Murchison Falls Self Drive Tours

It’s possible to visit Murchison Falls National Park independently if you have your own vehicle. Cars can be rented in Kampala and driven to the park for a self-drive visit.

Note that some roads in the park are unpaved, so a 4wd vehicle is recommended. Once inside the park you’ll have the option of hiring a guide to join you in your vehicle for a game drive. 

Keep in mind that driving in Uganda may be very different from your home country. In general traffic is more chaotic and rules are more flexible. If you’re not used to driving in such conditions, you’ll likely find it more pleasant to hire a driver in addition to the car.

Cars and drivers can also be hired in nearby towns of Lira and Masindi if you’re already in northern Uganda. These towns are easy to reach by bus from Kampala, and this may save you some money on the car rental.

One more useful tip if you’re self-driving: be sure to roll up your car windows when you park in Murchison Falls. Monkeys and baboons are known to climb in and steal food!

Where to Stay in Murchison Falls National Park

Bonfire area at a local safari camp in Uganda

There are places to stay in Murchison Falls National Park for every budget. They are dotted throughout the park, so do pay attention to location if you’re planning your own trip and want to be near a particular area.

For budget and mid-range accommodation, check out Red Chilli Rest Camp. Centrally located at Paraa, the Nile ferry crossing point, they have self-camping, safari tents, and en-suite rooms. They also offer packaged safari tours within the park.

For those wanting a bit more comfort and polish, there are a few mid-range options including Murchison River Lodge and Sambiya River Lodge. There are even several luxury options with pools and fancy rooms and price tags to match. Two well-rated options in this category are Baker’s Lodge and Chobe Safari Lodge.

How Much Time to Spend

Two to four days is an ideal length for a visit to Murchison Falls park.

Three or four days would allow plenty of time for activities in different areas of the park, and maximize your chance of seeing as much wildlife as possible, including early morning and evening game viewing.

Two days would be a bit rushed, especially if starting in Kampala, but would allow time to sample what the park has to offer; perhaps a half-day game drive plus a Nile boat cruise and hike to the falls.

It’s possible to visit in one day if starting from a nearby town like Masindi or Lira, but it will be a very full and long day. You’ll have time for a short game drive or nature walk, a boat cruise, and maybe a hike, but not much else.

Two antelopes walk in front of the road in Murchison Falls National Park

What to Pack

This is one of the hottest parts of Uganda, especially from December to February, so plan for hot weather. Bring plenty of drinking water!

Wear light comfortable safari clothing that protects you from the sun, and don’t forget to bring sunscreen, sunglasses, and insect repellent. A small backpack will be helpful for carrying essentials on nature walks.

It’s not easy or cheap to find food and snacks in the park, so if you’re visiting on your own, stock up beforehand. Some of the lodges operate restaurants where you can stop in for a meal even if you’re not staying there, but otherwise, plan to bring all your own food (or make sure your guided tour includes meals).

If you haven’t traveled in Uganda before, you may not realize that clothing styles are more conservative than in many western countries, especially for women.

Inside the tourist areas of the park it’s common to see western style clothes. But when away from tourist areas, or if you want to respect local cultural norms, consider covering up more than you normally would in hot weather.

This means wearing pants or shorts that reach at least to your knee, and avoiding strappy or especially low-cut shirts for women.

Of course, don’t forget your camera! Binoculars are also extremely helpful for wildlife viewing.

If you are camping, you should also consider other Africa travel essentials like a headlamp, power bank, and light sleeping bag liner.

Cost of Visiting Murchison Falls National Park

Welcome sign to Murchison Falls National Park

If you’re traveling with a packaged tour, be sure you know what’s already included in your fee. Otherwise, if traveling independently, you’ll need to pay for park entrance fees and each activity separately.

The park uses a tiered pricing structure with foreigners paying considerably higher rates than locals, and the costs can add up.

For planning purposes, here are some example prices from 2018:

  • Park entrance, 1 day: $40 USD foreigner, 20,000 UGX local, car 30,000 UGX
  • Guide for short self-drive safari: $20 USD
  • Ferry across Nile: 20,000 UGX for a car, 5000 UGX per passenger
  • Nile boat cruise: $30 USD foreigner, 60,000 UGX local
  • Hike to top of waterfall: $15 USD foreigner, 10,000 UGX local

While some areas of the park accept credit card (the ticket office at Paraa for example), it’s smart to bring extra cash. You never know when the credit card machine, if there is one, might not be working.

If you’re traveling in Uganda independently and on a budget, these costs can make Murchison Falls feel like a bit of a touristy splurge. Our advice: it’s worthwhile if you can get into the right mindset.

If you’re going to make the trip, set aside enough funds to fully enjoy the park, including a game drive, boat cruise, and perhaps the hike to the top of the falls.

If you’re looking to save money, do it by camping and bringing your own food, not by skipping the attractions that make the park interesting.

Areas of the Park

Earth globe showing where Murchison Falls National Park is located

Murchison Falls National Park covers over 1500 square miles, bisected by the Victoria Nile river flowing east to west. Popular areas of the park include:

Paraa: This is the location of the ferry across the river, the launch point of the Nile boat cruises, and a tourist focal point with several accommodations, a museum, and gift shop.

Murchison Falls: The point where the Nile is compressed dramatically into a narrow gorge. The falls can be viewed from a lookout point on the southern bank, or from a boat cruise, with an optional hike up to the lookout point from near the base of the falls.

Rabongo Forest: A small area with excellent bird watching and nature walks.

Buligi Game Tracks: In the northwest of the park, this is where most game safaris take place.

Budongo Forest and Kaniyo Pabidi: Located in a conservation area just south of the national park, this is a popular place for birding, chimpanzee tracking and guided nature walks.

Wildlife in Murchison Falls Park

Almost all visits include a game drive, a wonderful way to observe Murchison Falls wildlife in its natural habitat. It’s usually easy to spot elephants, buffalo, antelope and giraffe from a safari car, and lion and leopard sightings are rare but possible.

With crocodiles and hippos easily viewed from the Nile boat cruise, lucky visitors to Murchison Falls may be able to check off four of the “big five” African safari animals plus many others.

Ugandan kob and giraffe mingle across the plains of Murchison Falls

The park is also home to several species of primates. Chimpanzees can be tracked in Budongo Forest in the southern part of the conservation area. Baboons and monkeys are easily spotted along the road. In fact, they may steal your lunch if you’re not careful! Roll up the windows on your vehicle when you park.

Bird watchers will enjoy looking for over 451 recorded species of birds including herons, storks and cranes.

Nile River Cruise

A cruise on the Nile River is a highlight of visiting Murchison Falls National Park, and highly recommended! It’s a wonderful way to see wildlife from a different perspective and experience the power of Murchison Falls from below.

Hippo pod in Murchison Falls

Boats leave at 9am and 2pm from Paraa, which is where you buy your tickets. A trip to the base of Murchison Falls takes about 1.5 hours each way and often includes sightings of hippos, elephants, crocodiles, birds, and other animals that gather on the shore. The boat has a bathroom and offers beverages for sale.

As the boat approaches Murchison Falls, you’ll have an excellent view of the Nile river as it plunges through the narrowest point on its journey.

Impressive view of Murchison Falls on the Victoria Nile, northern Uganda

Instead of returning on the boat, you can hike to the top of the falls and be picked up by your vehicle there. Note that you need your own vehicle and driver for this, and the cost for the boat ride is the same regardless of whether you take it one-way or round-trip (plus the hike costs extra – see below).

There’s also a longer boat cruise to the river delta, 4-5 hours round trip, which offers plenty of wildlife sighting opportunities.

Hike to the Top of Murchison Falls

For anyone who likes hiking, the short walk to the top of Murchison Falls is definitely worthwhile. Along the way you’ll see excellent views of the falls, and if you’re lucky, some wildlife.

It’s not overly strenuous, nor is it dangerous. The logistics are a bit complicated though, requiring both a Nile cruise boat and a ferry crossing. Here’s how to arrange it.

First, take the Nile boat cruise (details above) to the dropoff point near the base of the falls. From there, you’ll disembark and walk with a guide for about 45 minutes along the river and up the bluffs to the viewing platform at the top of the falls (south bank). After dropping you off, the boat will leave, so bring all your belongings with you on the hike.

While you’re enjoying the boat and hike, you’ll need your driver and vehicle to cross on the ferry (assuming you approached the river from the north side, as most visitors do). They’ll meet you at the viewpoint on the south bank of the Nile, then drive you back to the ferry crossing at Paraa, where you can cross back to the north bank with your vehicle.

View of Murchison Falls in Uganda

For those who prefer to skip the hike but still want to enjoy dramatic views of the falls, it’s possible to just drive to the viewing platform. However you get there, take care when viewing the falls from above! There aren’t any safety barriers and a slip could be fatal. Enjoy the view from a safe distance.

Tickets for the boat cruise, hike, and ferry all need to be purchased separately and in advance at the Paraa ticket office. See the costs section above for a sense of pricing.

Paraa ferry crossing at Murchison Falls National Park
Ferry crossing at Paraa

Enjoy Your Visit!

Whether you choose to visit Murchison Falls with a guided tour or on your own, hopefully these tips will help you craft the perfect Murchison Falls itinerary.

It’s a special natural gem in a warm and wonderful country, sure to add excitement and natural wonder to any Uganda vacation. We hope you enjoy it!

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