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Semliki National Park sprawls across the floor of the Semliki 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; one of the few to survive the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago.

The Semliki Valley contains numerous features associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatched huts are shaded by West African oil palms; the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) 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 Semliki’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.

This is the only park in Uganda to be composed primarily of tropical lowland forest. The forest is very dense and quite flat, creating a startling contrast to the rugged Rwenzori Mountains nearby. The Semliki River attracts many animals. The park is home to eight species of primate, 400 birds and 300 butterfly species. Elephant, buffalo, leopard, civet, bush baby and flying squirrels are also found.

Areas of Interest

Sempaya Hot Springs

The Sempaya Hot Springs are Semliki national park’s most famous attraction. The “male” spring, known as Bintente, measures 12m in diameter and is set in a lush swampy clearing. The “female” spring Nyasimbi, meaning “the female ancestors”, is a boiling geyser (103°C) which spurts bubbling water and steam up to two meters high – the steam cloud can be seen from as far as 2km away. Local people used to cook their food in these boiling pools.

Sempaya – Ntandi Road

hot springs in uganda

This 6km section of public road runs through one of the loveliest tracts of forest in Uganda and provides views of birds and monkeys high up in the forest canopy. Birding walks take place in Sempaya, as well as night hikes deep into the forest. In Ntandi, local Batwa dancers put on traditional performances for visitors. Another local attraction is the Mungiro Falls near the hot springs.

Semliki River

The 160km long Semliki River carries runoff from the Rwenzori Mountains to Lake Albert and the Nile, proving ancient geographers’ claims that the Nile flows (in part anyway) from a snow-capped mountain in the heart of Africa. Broad, muddy, forest fringed and home to hippos and crocodiles, the Semliki is a miniature version of the Congo River. Visitors can watch the river meander across the rift valley floor from roadside viewpoints and hike through the forest to its bird-rich banks.

Toro – Semliki Wildlife Reserve

In Uganda’s oldest reserve, tropical rainforest meets grassy savanna and the flat plains are punctuated by deep river valleys. The unique geography is reflected in the diversity of wildlife, which includes the forest mammals of Central Africa, key East African species and a variety of birdlife. Chimp tracking commences here.

Wildlife and Birding Summary

Wildlife

The forest 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-cheeked mangabey, black-and-white colobus, Central African red colobus, blue, red-tailed, de Brazza’s, vervet, and Dent’s mona monkeys. Nocturnal primates include the potto and bushbaby. Hippos and crocodiles are common along the Semuliki River.

Birds

Birdlife is especially spectacular in Semuliki with 441 recorded species, representing 40% of Uganda’s total bird species and 66% (216) of the country’s forest bird species. The list is 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, Black Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattled Horbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, African Piculet, White-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Nicator, Leaf-love, Swamp Palm Bulbul, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Crested Malimbe, Red-bellied Malimbe, Blue-billed malimbe, Chestnut-breasted Negrofinch, Orange-cheeked Waxbill.

Activities in Semliki national park

uganda safaris

Birding

Birders who make it to Semliki will be rewarded with some of Africa’s best forest birding. Sempaya and Ntandi provide excellent viewing of the birds including the White-crested Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue and Ross’s Turacos. The area around Kirumia River is another top birding spot. The shoebill stork is regularly seen at close quarters on Lake Albert and forest walks are good for tracking water birds.

Cultural Encounters

The Batwa’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle means they have always been dependent on Semliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, though this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local communities. Tourism offers an alternative source of income for the Batwa, and gives them the opportunity to maintain and display their rich cultural history through music and dance performances at Ntandi. They also produce intricate handcrafts for sale. A boma, or cultural village, is currently being built so that the Batwa can demonstrate how they used to live in the forest – check back for more details.

Game Drives

Three tracks cross the savannah grassland of Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve. Smaller forest and larger savannah elephants are regularly seen, along with buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile, warthog and Uganda kob. With luck, you may even see pygmy hippopotami, leopards and elusive bushbabies. Game drives in the Wildlife Reserve can take place in the morning, afternoon and at night; after dark, visitors may come across curious nocturnal species such as the white-tailed mongoose.

Hiking and Nature Walks

The 13km KirumiaTrail runs through the heart of the forest to the Semuliki River. This 8 hour round trip starts at 8am and is perfect for birders.

The 11km Red Monkey Track follows the park’s eastern border – a stronghold of the rare deBrazza’s monkey – to the Semliki River.

Along the 8km Sempaya Nature Trail, you can view the hot springs and primates. This 2-4 hour hike can take place in the morning or afternoon.

Hot Springs

The hour-long trail to the outer, “male” spring leads through a patch of forest where red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys and black-and-white colobus monkeys are common. A tree house en route provides an aerial view.

A 30-minute hike through palm forest from the main road leads to the inner, “female” spring, dominated by a boiling geyser. Eggs and matooke (green plantain) can be cooked in these boiling waters and enjoyed by hungry hikers!

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Semliki National Park


Situated in a remote corner of southwestern Uganda, Semliki National Park protects an eastern extension of the vast Ituri Forest and forms part of a forest continuum that stretches across the Democratic Republic Of Congo to the Zaire River. Being a relatively stable forest “refugium” during the climatic upheavals of the Pleistocene, this is one of the richest areas for forest birds in Africa. A large number of predominantly Central African species reach the eastern limit of their distribution here and cannot be found anywhere else in East Africa. These include some of the continent’s most spectacular and sought-after birds such as; Congo Serpent Eagle, Long-tailed Hawk, Nkulengu Rail, Black-wattled Hornbill and Lyre-tailed Honey guide . Although it lies a bumpy three hours’ drive from Fort Portal, birders who take Uganda safaris , Semliki National Park will be richly rewarded with some of the very best forest birding in Uganda.

BIRD WATCHING

Common species in this area are:- Spot-breasted Ibis, Hartlaubs’s Duck, Chestnut-flanked Goshawk, Red-thighed Sparrowhawk, Long-tailed Hawk, Forest Francolin, Nkulengu Rail, Western Bronze-napped Pigeon, Black-collared Lovebird, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Red-chested Owlet, Bates’ Nightjar, Chocolate-backed, White-bellied and African Dwarf Kingfishers, White-crested, Black Dwarf, Red-billed Dwarf, Piping and Black-wattled Hornbills, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, Spotted, Lyre-tailed and Zenker’s Honeyguides, African Piculet, Gabon Woodpecker, Red-sided Broadbill, White-throated Blue Swallow, Green-tailed Bristlebill, Sassi’s Olive, Xavier’s, Swamp, Simple and Eastern Bearded Greenbuls, Yellow-throated Nicator, Capuchin Babbler, Northern Bearded Scrub Robin, Forest and Grey Ground Thrushes, Lemon-bellied Crombec, Brown-crowned Eremomela, Blue-headed Crested Flycatcher, Ituri Batis, Red-billed Helmet -Shrike, Red-eyed Puff-back, Black-winged Starling, Maxwell’s Black Weaver, Blue-billed, Crested and Red-bellied Malimbes, Pale-fronted and Chestnut-breasted Negro finches, Grant’s Bluebill.

NOCUTURNAL BIRD WATCHING

The area around the geothermal hot springs at Sempaya is not only very scenic but also offers some great birding. The cliffs behind the ranger post are home to the crepuscular Freckled Nightjar and these can be seen gliding around the clearing with Black-shouldered Nightjars. In the lush rainforest around here listen for the bizarre dawn and dusk duetting of the elusive Nkulengu Rail. Other nocturnal callers include Buff-spotted Flufftail and African Wood Owl. Around the cleaning and through other light gaps in the area, it is possible to glimpse African Goshawk, Red-thighed and Great Sparrows, Ayres Hawk-Eagle and Cassin’s Spinetail.

From the ranger post, head north (right) along the ” Boundary Trail ” . Crested Guinea fowl skulk in the undergrowth and the hollow hooting of the White-spotted Flufftail is commonly heard near forest creek in this area. Turn left where the trail forks and continue to the ” Female” Hot Springs with boiling hot water squirts and bubbles out of the ground.

OTHER WILDLIFE

53 species of mammal have been recorded from the park, many of which are shy, rare and nocturnal. Conspicuous species include Grey-cheeked Mangabey, Vervet, Red-tailed and Mona, Gentle (Blue) Monkeys, Olive Baboon and Guereza Colobus, De Brazza’s Monkeys are rare and Chimpanzees may seldom be heard than seen. While nocturnal primates include Pottos and Galagos. You are also lucky if you glimpse Elephant, Bush pig, Water Chevrotain, Buffalo, Sitatunga, White-bellied Duiker or Dwarf Antelope, Beecroft’s Anomalure or Zenker’s Flying Mouse. You are far more likely to spot the lively and agile squirrels such as Fire-footed Rope or Red-legged Sun Squirrel. Little collard fruit Bat and Target Rat. 30 species of butterflies have been identified, including 46 species of forest Swallowtails and Charaxes (75% of Uganda’s total) and at least 235 species of moths have been classified as restricted.
There are also 305 species of trees recorded, of which 125 species are restricted to this park alone.

ACCOMMODATION

There is an observation tower and boardwalk to view the geothermal hot springs at Sempaya. Otherwise, there is not much in the way of visitor facilities in the park and trail maintenance has been neglected for a couples of years; a machete ( ” panga” ) can be useful. Bring all your supplies and camping equipment if you plan on spending time in the forest. There are three new but abandoned and unfurnished shelters at Sempaya ranger post that could accommodate a few uncomplicated travellers. Fresh drinking water can be obtained from the creek 0.6 km from Sempaya towards Bundibugyo and a swim in the Mungilo Waterfall here is also highly recommended. It is definitely advisable to boil or purify the water from the oxbow lakes and the Kirumia River prior to consumption. Recommended campsites in the forest are at the first oxbow lake and at the second Kirumia River crossing, and outside the forest at the Sempaya ranger post. Some local produce and drinks can be bought at Ntandi. Porters can be hired at the village of Kirumia at a rate of $ 2-3 per person.

ACCESS

Semliki National Park lies along the main fort Portal to Bundibugyo road, 52 km from Fort Portal. The road can become treacherous, particularly after heavy rains, requiring a 4 WD or a sturdy 2WD with sufficient clearance. The ranger post at Sempaya is well signposted but the park headquarters have been moved to the village of Ntandi, a further 4.4 km along the road to Bundibugyo. The usual National Park fees apply. from Sempaya it is 10.6 km to the village of Kirumia and start of the Kirumia River trail into the forest. It is possible to hitch a ride between Sempaya and Kirumia but bear in mind that most vehicles head towards Fort Portal in the mornings; traffic in the direction of Bundibugyo passes mainly in the late afternoon and evening.