There is something wonderful about sensing a country change, finding your way through yet another of the Earth’s folds down into a different world, subtly different from the one left behind.
Uganda’s first protected area, the Semliki Valley lies on the border with the DRC, south of Lake Albert, below the Kijura Escarpment and the northern foothills of the Rwenzori Mountains. It is a wonderfully remote introduction to the habitats of central Africa without having to leave Uganda. The forests of the National Park are the eastern-most extension of the Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin and is the only true lowland tropical forest in East Africa.
The Valley draws those wanting to experience the best of Uganda as well as avoiding the more famous, busier, parts of the country. It is also a prime birding destination. Semuliki National Park has 441 recorded bird species, representing 40% of the species found in Uganda and 66% of the country’s forest species.
The National Park can only be explored on foot, offering a number of guided trails that take visitors through the ancient forests, papyrus swamps and hot springs
Beyond the Park lies the Semliki Wildlife Reserve, a contrasting area of open savanna grassland and riverine forest. Where the Park is dark and tangibly ancient, the Reserve has a gentle beauty, only enhanced by the low number of visitors.
First protected in 1926 due to its important population of Ugandan kob, it is also home to a dry habitat chimpanzee community, colobus monkeys, buffalo and both forest and savannah elephant.
Semliki has suffered from high levels of poaching historically and so mammal numbers are low compared to other savanna parks in Uganda, but it is an excellent example of conservation in action. If you are interested in the challenges of African conservation as well as enjoying wildlife sightings, then Semliki is perfect for you.
The Reserve also has 425 recorded bird species. The boat safaris operated on Lake Albert from the Reserve are one of the best ways to see Shoebill stork in Uganda. Sightings are frequent, the entire experience is beautiful and the only people you are likely to see are fishermen working the waters of Lake Albert.
Finally, Semliki is also a lovely place in which to simply relax, enjoying the peace of the this secluded part of Uganda.
Things to do
Exploring this unique forest habitat is a very special experience for both birders and visitors with looking for atmospheric locations of international scientific importance.
There are three trails that can be explored in the company of a Uganda Wildlife Authority Guide. The longest is the 13km Kirumia Trail, which takes you through the heart of the forest to the Semuliki River. This transect through different habitats makes this perfect for birders. Expect to be out for 8 hours.
Slightly shorter at 11km, the Red Monkey trail follows the park’s eastern border to the Semliki River with the aim of sighting the rare deBrazza’s monkey, which is often seen in this area.
The shortest trail is the 8km (at its full length) Sempaya Nature Trail. It introduces visitors to the forest with its primates and takes you to the hot springs. The hike lasts between 2 to 4 hours and can take place in the morning or afternoon.
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