The Semliki Valley is hemmed in by Lake Albert to the north, Semliki River along the Congolese border, and protruded into by the Rwenzori foothills to create a great sector of geographical discrete and ecological divergence at the base of the hot floor of the Albertine rift valley. The sector makes the Congo forests meet the East African Savanna starting from Semliki National Park that is joined by the Ituri Forest and then meets the Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve.
The 220km2 park has affinities contiguous to the Congolese rainforest and has affinities contiguous to the Congolese rainforest and has a presence of birds found nowhere else in Uganda and this earned it the tagline “Birders Haven”. The park is less visited but if you are looking for an off-the-beaten-track safari or you are a dedicated birder in search of Uganda’s avian rarities, the park is an excellent place. It is 80km from Fort Portal and 290km from Kampala via Fort Portal and Mubende.
The park was gazetted in 1993 and formerly it was known as Bwamba Forest. It often crops up in ornithological history/literature and is a tropical lowland forest averaging to an altitude of 700m and form an ecological continuum with the Ituri Forest of Congo. Apart from the hot springs that attract many (mostly domestic tourists), the park has a diverse collection of flora and fauna with ironwood dominating trees, a checklist of 60 mammals, that include 11 not anywhere else in Uganda, 8 diurnal primates, hippos, buffaloes, 46 species of swallowtails, butterflies, 235 moths, and over 435 bird species.
To do at the park
Visit Sempaya hot springs
This is the most popular attraction at the park. The hot springs are in a cluster through 2 are major (The male and female ones). These can be reached after a short walk from the park’s visitor’s information offices. They are ringed by palm trees and veiled in a cloud of steamy and hot air. There is a geyser that spouts up to 2m into the air from an opening and the other boiling points of a temperature of over 100oC (103oC is the recorded temperature). The other spring can be reached after a walk on a board path. This is a broad pool than the geyser. The trail is an attractive one through the forest and a tract of swamp and grassland.
As tag lined, Semliki National park is indeed a birders haven. It hosts a number of the central African Bird Species and some of the continents spectacular and most sought after birds like the Black wattled Hornbill, Lyre-tailed Honey Guide, Shoebill, and Long-tailed hawk among the 435 bird species here. If you are a birder, don’t miss experiencing the bird wealth of this park.
For nature lovers that would want to connect with nature, the park has short trails- The Red monkey trail and the Kirimia River trail. These give a chance of exploring the park’s life from primates, butterflies, reptiles, and the flora to the last small details and at a slow pace.
Visitors to the park can also engage in the Batwa community tour around the park. This gives a chance of learning about the hunter-gatherer lifestyle of these people and how they were dependent on the Semliki forest. At Ntandi, the Batwa usually display their cultural history through performances and music. They also do crafts which they sell to visitors.
The park meets the Tooro-Semliki Game Reserve and extension of over 543km2 with a remarkable topography and visitors can engage in more activities at the reserves. They can do game drives and boat trips on the scenic Lake Albert. There are also walks in the vicinity of Ntoroko where the shallow areas of the lake teeming with birdlife.
Visitors can watch birds, primates (including chimpanzees), butterflies, and do walks at the park and additional activities at the Toro Semliki Wildlife reserve.
Getting to the park
The park is 80km by road from Fort Portal. Via the Fort Portal –Mubende road from Kampala, the park is 290km (about 5 hours) and it can be also accessed from Kasese (Queen Elizabeth National park).
By air, visitors can charter flights to an airstrip at Toro Semliki Reserve. Aero link offers daily flights from Entebbe to Semliki National park.