Semuliki National Park Safari, Uganda
Gazetted in 1993, Semuliki National Park – previously known as Bwamba Forest– protects a virtually unspoilt 220km2 tract of rainforest. The national park is located in western Uganda on the border with DR Congo, and it is one of less visited Uganda safaris parks. Semuliki is an extension of the West African jungle that stretches all the way from Equatorial Guinea through Congo.
It is the only true lowland tropical rainforest in East Africa. It forms a habitat for some special Guinea-Congo biome wildlife species unknown from elsewhere in East Africa, including almost 50 bird species.
Semuliki National Park is an amazing forest for nature walks and birding safaris in Uganda. It is home to around 441 species of birds and 53 mammal species, including 10 species of primates. The park’s most unique feature is the two Sempaya Hot Springs which are very hot – they can hard boil an egg in 10 minutes.
Location of Semiliki National Park
Semiliki National Park is located in the Western in Uganda, on the border with Democratic Republic of Congo. The national park is situated in Bwamba County, Bundibugyo District about 355km from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.
The snowcapped Rwenzori Mountains or the “Mountains of the Moon” are to the east of the park, while Lake Albert is to the north of the park. Semuliki National Park lies on the Albertine Rift Valley floor, the western arm of the East (African Great Rift Valley).
The park is located on a flat to gently undulating landform that ranges from 670 to 760m above sea level. It borders the Semuliki River and Lamia River, which are watering places for many animals. Semuliki National Park is part of a network of protected areas in the Albertine Rift Valley. Other protected areas in this network include:
- Rwenzori Mountains National Park in Uganda
- Kibale National Park in Uganda
- Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda
- Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda
- Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda
- Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda
- Virunga National Park in the DR Congo
- Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda
Semuliki National Park Weather
Semuliki National Park experiences an average rainfall of 1,250 mm, with peaks from March to May and from September to December. During the rainy season, many areas of the park experience flooding.The temperature at the Semuliki National Park ranges from 18 to 30oC – 64 to 86oF, with relatively small daily variations.
Key Attractions in Semuliki National Park
1. Semuliki National Park Hot Springs
The Sempaya Hot Springs are the icon of the Semuliki National Park. Encircled by forest and beautiful palm trees, these hot springs are indeed a primeval, evocative sight.
Visitor on Uganda safaris are usually captivated by the local stories about their formation than the technical scientific explanation. There is a female hot spring known as Bintente and a female hot spring called Nyasimbi.
The idea that they are male and female comes from the Bamaga Clan’s folklore. The Bamaga believe that their female ancestors live under Nyasimbi and their male ancestors under Bintente. The male hot spring is about 12m in diameter and it is a pool of water.
The female hot spring is geyser that spouts up to 2m into the air from an opening in a low salt sculpture. The emerging water has a temperature of over 100 °C and the surrounding pools are hot enough to boil eggs in 10 minutes.
2. Birds in Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is an incredible destination for birding tours in Uganda.
The park has more than 440 bird species. 216 of these (66% of Uganda’s total bird species) are true forest birds, including the rare Oberlaender’s ground thrush, Sassi’s olive greenbul and 9 species of hornbills.
Semuliki National Park also provides a habitat for 131 of the 144 Guinea –Congo forest Biome bird species, including nearly 50 species that cannot be found anywhere else in East Africa!
Here is a list special bird species in Semuliki:
- White-thighed Hornbill
- Red-billed Malimbe
- Lyre-tailed Honeyguide
- Congo Serpent Eagle
- Long-tailed Hawk
- Nkulengu Rail
- Black-wattled Hornbill
- Piping Hornbill
- Red-billed Hornbill
- Black Dwarf Hornbill
- White-crested Hornbill
- Long-tailed hawk
- African piculet
- Maxwell’s black weaver
- Blue-billed malimbe
- Yellow-throated Nicator
- Yellow-throated Cuckoo
- Zenker’s Honeyguide
- Swamp palm bulbul
- Western Green Tinkerbird
- Grey-throated Barbet
- Fine-banded woodpecker
- Gabon woodpecker
- Green-tailed Bristelbill
- Equatorial Akalat
- Forest Robin
- Red-throated Alethe
- Stripe-breasted Tit
- Spotted-breasted ibis
- White-bellied Robin-chat
- Green Hylia
- Hartlaub’s duck
- Black-throated coucal
- Lowland akalat
- Bronze-naped pigeon
- Long-crested eagle
- Great blue turaco
- Klaas’s cuckoo
- African emerald cuckoo
- Banded Prinia
- Scaly-breasted Illadopsis
- Sooty boubou
3. Animals in Semuliki National Park
Semuliki National Park is a habitat to 53 mammal species. This Uganda wildlife safari park also has some special species, including least a dozen of them occur nowhere else in Uganda. Among them are two species of flying squirrel and 6 types of bat, including the Zenker’s flying mice.
Semuliki is the only East African stronghold of the rare Water chevrotain. The park also hosts Elephant, Buffalo, Bushpig; African civet, Sitatunga, Hippos and Crocodiles. Nine species of duikers are found in the park, including the Bay duiker, and White-bellied duiker. Semuliki National Park also has about 300 species of butterflies, and ten species of diurnal primates, including:
- Vervet monkey
- Olive baboon
- Blue monkey
- Grey-cheeked Mangabey
- Dent’s Mona monkey
- De Brazza’s monkey
- Red-tailed monkey
- Central African red colobus monkey
- Black-and-white colobus monkey
4. People & Culture – Batwa Tribe
Batwa tribe is known as the ‘Keepers of the Forest’. The Batwa were removed from Semuliki National Park in order to conserve the forest and relocated to the nearby community at Ntandi. They are one of the oldest surviving indigenous tribes in Africa and they have a truly unique relationship with the Uganda rainforest.
Hunter gatherer by tradition and utterly dependent on the forest to survive, they had no skills or means to adapt to modern life.They suffered terribly and fell prey to early exploitative tourism. Thankfully, this is changing and albeit ironically, tourism holds the key to the survival of these fascinating people and their ancient culture.
Activities in Semuliki National Park
There are a range of Uganda safari activities to choose from in Semuliki National Park. Nature walks and bird watching tours are popular in Semuliki. You can also choose a boat cruise on Lake Albert.
1. Hiking Sempaya Hot Springs Trail
The Sempaya Hot Springs are the most visited part of the park by visitor on Uganda safari tours.The hot springs boil at a temperature of over 100 degrees celsius, which is enough heat to boil bananas and eggs in less than ten minutes.
You’ll carry out an experiment of cooking eggs in the boiling water. The tour is 2-3 hours long including the experience at the springs. The Sempaya trail goes through forest habitat which harbors many species of birds and monkeys that you’ll enjoy sighting during the trek.
2. Bird Watching Tours
Uganda is a superb destination for birding safaris in Africa and Semuliki National Park is no exception. Birding in Semuliki Park gives you the unique opportunity of viewing birds in different habitats: Forest, Savannah, and Waterbirds.
3. Nature Walks
Semuliki National Park has a variety of good trails for nature walks that offer access to forest, savanna and water habitats. You will take a walk led by a knowledgeable local park ranger guide to observe and learn about plenty of wildlife and access wonderful views across the park.
The nature walk usually lasts 2 to 3 hours long.
4. Boat Trip on Lake Albert
The boat trip on Lake Albert rewards with plenty of wildlife and beautiful scenery. You can see hippos and several bird species during the boat excursion. If you are a bird lover, you can take the early morning boat tour to search for rare, pre-historic looking Shoebill stork.
The boat cruise will also allow you to see many other water birds.
5. Batwa Community Visit
Before or after your Uganda wildlife safari tours in Semuliki National Park, you can visit the Batwa Community.
You’ll learn about their ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle; how they used to forage for and prepare food, their hunting techniques (still using bows and arrows for small game), and their age-old traditions of medicine making.
The Batwa People can also represent performances about their rich culture and customs through music, dance, and drama. This excursion generate direct income for the local Batwa guides, but also build awareness and generate further income for education and generate assistance of the wider community.
Accommodation in Semuliki National Park
You can visit Semuliki National Park even if you are staying in Uganda safari lodges or tented camp (accommodation) in Fort Portal town – or even Kibale Forest National Park if you don’t mind the time on the road.
However, it is best enjoyed by spending a few nights at the wonderful Semuliki Safari Lodge, which is located in the Semuliki Wildlife Reserve near the park. The accommodation ranges from luxury, mid-range, to budget:
- Semliki Safari Lodge – Luxury
- Mountains of the Moon Hotel – Midrange
- Kluges Guest Farm – Midrange
- Rwenzori View Guest House – Budget
How to Get To Semuliki National Park
You access Semuliki via Kampala – Mubende – Fort Portal road which is about 355kms (5-6 hours) drive. Once in Fort Portal town, Sempaya gate is 52kms two 2 hour drive through a winding marram road through the lower ranges of Rwenzori Mountains. Please note that a 4WD safari vehicle is recommended for the entire journey.
Flights can be chartered from Entebbe International Airport or Kajjansi Airfield in Kampala city. It can take about 40 minutes to reach and land at an airstrip in Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve from Entebbe or Kajjansi.
Suggested Uganda Safari Itineraries Featuring Semuliki National Park
- 5 Days Uganda Primate Safari – Semuliki & Kibale National Parks
- 14 Days Uganda Birding Safari, Bird Watching In Uganda