If the question is whether a weekend getaway to Murchison is worthwhile – the answer is a definitive ‘yes’. If the question is if you can see all that Murchison has to offer in that weekend – the answer is a definitive ‘no’. This shouldn’t discourage you, however from making the trip and your small taste of Murchison will leave you wanting to go back again for a longer excursion.
Kabarega National Park, also known as Murchison National Park, is the largest national park in Uganda and contains some of the most magnificent views and wildlife in the country. Murchison Falls is the other draw often called the ‘most spectacular thing that happens to the Nile’ in its 6,700 km journey’. The entire Nile River is squeezed through a gorge 7m (23 ft) wide and makes a wild and awesome plunge 43m (141 ft) to the base below.
But how to make the most of just two days? Here’s an itinerary that will let you see and experience the most in just one weekend.
Saturday, Depart Kampala – 6am:
“What’s that now? Before dawn!?” I can already hear the howls of despair from those craving their Saturday morning lie-in. But Murchison awaits! Get out of bed, grab your coffee and get out of Kampala before the traffic ensnares you! Head northwest out of Kampala and you’ll be feeling more awake in no time. The road is good and the scenery calming and beautiful. It will take you approximately three hours to get to Masindi – the jumping off point for most headed into the park.
Saturday, Arrive Masindi – 9am:
Masindi’s a sleepy town and you should make a stop here for petrol, ensure that your spare tyre is in good condition, that you’ve got engine fluids topped up and a stop at the bank or mini-markets for snacks. These things aren’t to be found easily in the park. The park’s roads can be hard on vehicles and flats are not uncommon so be prepared!
Saturday, Drive through the Park – 10am-12pm:
You’re going to be spending most of your time along the Nile which can be a two hour drive from Masindi so get moving! You’ll pay your entrance fee at this side of the park which ranges from $20-$50 (depending on your residency) and a vehicle fee of $6-40 (depending on your vehicle). From there, the drive is gorgeous and you should be on the lookout for baboons, monkeys, birds, warthogs, and other wildlife that routinely cross the road. Be careful in the rainy season as the roads can get muddy and slippery.
Saturday, Arrive at your Lodge, 12.30-1:30pm:
Places to stay are plentiful and I suggest you pick a camp or lodge with a Nile view. Prices are generally in the $100 per night range for a tent or banda but this varies greatly and some lodges also offer campsites. Head straight to your chosen accommodation, check-in and have a bit of lunch. In the dry season you’ll welcome a break from the heat and it’s a good time to regroup and take in the beautiful surroundings after your long car journey.
Sunday, Launch Trip – 2pm:
Leave your lodge in time to get to the Paraa ferry crossing for a relaxing launch trip up the Nile to the base of the Falls. The cost is approximately $20 per person. You’ll spend several hours leisurely meandering up the river and see plenty more wildlife along the way. Massive crocodiles lasing on the banks and hippo herds are a-plenty!
Saturday, Evening – 6pm:
Head back to your camp to watch the sunset over the Nile and put your feet up. Spend some time chatting with friends, enjoying a bonfire, or playing card/board games. On clear nights, after dinner, plan to spend some time stargazing. Remember to order your breakfast early as you’ll be up again before dawn.
Sunday, Morning – 5.30am:
Up and at ‘em! Rise and shine for an early breakfast and to get that coffee into your veins. You need to be in the car and to the Paraa ferry at 6.30am to be the first in line for a 7am crossing. Miss it and you’ll miss the best game viewing on the other side of the Nile! Wondering if your car will make it or want a guide – you can rent a vehicle with driver and guide from the Wild Frontiers office at Paraa for $150 for five hours. The sunrise on the ferry ride is a highlight.
Sunday, Game Drive: 7am-11am:
Four of the big five are in the park so you’ll often see elephants, water buffalo and lions. Leopards are there but a bit more elusive. Add to this the hippos, a crocodile or two, giraffe, kobs, warthogs, more birds than can be counted and by 11am you’ll be exhausted. Make sure you return to the ferry for the 11am crossing.
Sunday, Lunch – 12-1.30pm:
Return to your lodge, pack your bags and store them in the car and have a bite to eat.
Saturday, Drive up to the top of Murchison Falls – 2pm:
There a road that takes you directly to the top of the falls where you can have a meander and take some photos. From there can you get a sense of the height, power and majesty of the Falls. Watch your footing though!
Sunday, Depart – 4pm:
It’s time to head home. Sure, you’ll be exhausted when you get there but you’ll be guaranteed to have more to tell your colleagues on Monday!
For official park fees and tariffs go to: http://ugandawildlife.org/pdfs/Tariffs-2011-2013.pdf.