Semiliki national park, sprawls across the floor of the Semiliki valley on the remote, western side of the Rwenzori. The park is dominated by the easternmost extension of the great Ituri forest of the Congo Basin. This is one of Africa’s most ancient and bio-diverse forests. It is located in Bwamba Country, a remote part of the Bundibugyo District, in the Western Region of Uganda. It was made a park in October 1993 and is one of Uganda’s newest national parks.
The Semiliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; Semiliki is a miniature version of the Congo River, the forest is home to numerous Central African wildlife species, and the local population includes a Batwa pygmy community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, this park provides a taste of Central Africa without having to leave Uganda.
While Semiliki’s species have been accumulating for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. Hot springs bubble up from the depths to demonstrate the powerful subterranean forces that have been shaping the rift valley during the last 14 million years.
Birdlife is especially spectacular in Semiliki with 441 recorded species, representing 40% of Uganda’s total bird species and 66% of the country’s forest bird species. The list expanded by the riverine habitat and a fringe of grassland in the east of the park.
There are numerous rarities; 46 Guinea-Congo biome species are found nowhere else in East Africa while another 35 can be seen in only two or three other places in Uganda. Five species are endemic to the Albertine Rift ecosystem. Species to look out for here include the Nkulengu Rail, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Piping Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattle Hornbill, Red- rumped Tinker bird, African Piculet among others.
Semiliki is home to 53 mammals of which 27 are large mammals. 11 species are endemic to the park including the pygmy antelope and two flying squirrel species. It is also home to the peculiar water chevrotain, known as the fanged deer The park is home to forest elephant and buffalo which are smaller versions of their savannah-dwelling relatives. The forest is remarkably rich in primates including the chimpanzee, baboon, grey-checked mangabey, black and white colombus,Central African red colombus, blue, red-tailed, d Brazza’s, vervet and Dent’s mona monkeys. Nocturnal primates include the potto and bushbaby. Hippos and crocodiles are common along the Semiliki River.
What to see and do
Scenic drive. Game viewing is excellent in the open Savannah grasses of Semiliki Valley National park. Even without entering inside Semiliki national park, a scenic drive around it brings you closer to the marvelous beauty of the Park’ surrounding. A drive to Sempaya hot springs makes you come across the Rift valley towards Congo, it’s also fringed by forest where you can even stop and have a look at the monkeys and birds.
Sempaya Hot springs. This is the most popular attraction in Semiliki national park and a safari to the national park without visiting the hot springs is surly incomplete. A short guided walk from Sempaya information Centre lead you to the cluster of hot springs at Sempaya. This eye catching site has its largest geyser sprouts up to 2m high from a low salt sculpture opening.
Red monkey trail. This is a wilderness trail through the Eastern margin of the park to the Semiliki river. It also offers exposure to a variety of localized birds than the trail to the springs. In addition to the red monkey trail, you can as well see a variety of monkeys, crocodiles, buffalo, and elephant on the river.
Kirimia River Trail. This runs north from Kirimia on the main Bundibugyo road to the banks of the Semiliki River, crossing the Kirimia river twice as well as passing a succession of forest-fringed oxbow lake. The guided day hike covers the first four kilometers up to the first crossing of the Kirimia river and passes through the secondary and riparian forest which is a resident to several monkey species.
Birding. Excellent bird viewing sites at Sempaya and Ntandi enable the viewing of these incredible birds like white-crested hornbill, red-billed dwarf hornbill, piping hornbill, yellow throated nicator, great blue and ross’ turaco. The close quarters of Lake Albert are always associated with the great shoebill stock.
Cultural trails. The Batwa trail is the main cultural encounter at Semiliki national Park.
How to get there.
From the capital Kampala to Fort Portal, which is the sub regions biggest city, there are two major roads; Kampala-Fort Portal via Mubende and Kampala-Fort Portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese. There are 59km from Fort Portal to Semiliki National Park and further 6km to reach the Park headquarters at Ntandi. The first route via Mubende is shorter from Kampala with 180km driven for about 4-5 hours compared to the second one that has 465km (7-8 hours) though it offers a more adventurous experience even before reaching Semiliki National park as you can have a stop to Lake Mburo National Park, Kyambura Wildlife Reserve, Rwenzori Mountains National Park or Queen Elizabeth National Park around Kasese.
There are a number of accommodation facilities in and around Semuliki National Park including lodges and hotels in Bundibugyo and Fort Portal which are both budget and luxury/up market.
Semuliki safari lodge -one of the luxury lodges.
Ntoroko game lodge at the shores of Lake Albert that can accommodate both luxury and budget guests.
Others include Kirumia guesthouse located 10km from Sempaya gate along the Bundibugyo highway and Bamuga campsite approximately 3km from the Sempaya gate.