Since arriving into Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport on October 1st, we’ve been on over 100 buses. This includes the larger Ethiopian buses as well as their 14-seater minibuses, Djibouti mini-vans, Kenyan matatus and Ugandan taxis (both referring to the 14-seater mini-buses that carry at least 20 people and their goats), and the odd coach. They’ve all been brilliant, very affordable and we’ve been able to get everywhere we’ve wanted to go. Aside from the coaches, they’ve also all been overcrowded, hot and driven far too quickly for the condition they’re in!
When researching Murchison Falls, however, we quickly realised it would be very slow going to get to on public transport and tricky to get around so we rented a car in Kampala. Our luck was in as we were upgraded from the booked RAV 4 to a Land Cruiser, safari pop-up roof and all.
Having our own car was a nice change from the bus and it was fun to be independent. We were also excited to cook for ourselves having rented cooking equipment and kitchen supplies along with the car. Our home for two days was the public campsite on the North side of the river. It was more a concrete piece of land with a squat toilet and inhabited by insects, but it had an unbeatable location overlooking the Nile with grazing elephants and sleeping hippos below. As dusk fell, we started hearing the hippos as they made their way out of the water for dinner – a delightfully funny honking noise that was to become a familiar backing track!
We were out on the tracks before the sun was up and we had two amazing early morning game drives where we saw a leopard, lions, giraffe, buffalo (quite intimidating in a herd of 100!), side-striped jackal, the endemic patas monkey, warthog and lots of buck (we’re starting to tell them apart now; the endemic Ugandan kob, Jackson’s hartebeest, water-buck, little oribi and bush-buck).
We also went on a fun boat ride to the falls and enjoyed a couple of beers on the deck in the late afternoon sun. We saw schools of hippo, wading elephants and crocodiles as well as beautiful birds including the red-throated bee-eater and the fish eagle.
While it’s nice to see the falls from the boat, the view from the top is incredible. The noise is deafening and the power is unreal. It’s considered the world’s most powerful waterfall as 300 cubic meters of water per second thunders through a 7m wide gorge in the Rift escarpment. Turn up the video loud!
En route to the top of the falls, we almost lost our back bash plate. Thankfully, the washing line, our trouser belts and Catherine ‘s excellent knot-tieing skills held it together and we slowly, slowly made our way back to Kampala the following day after a phenomenal two days in the park. We had no idea the park was home to so many animals and this combination of lots of animals, a fantastic campsite, a fun boat ride and a spectacularly powerful waterfall makes Murchison Falls National Park, in our opinion, a must-visit in Uganda!
The car rental price of $45/day was very competitive and the service from 4×4 Uganda was good (the car was dropped off for us the night before and collected from the hostel after). Unfortunately we had a couple of car issues but thankfully they didn’t ruin our trip – the battery died overnight in Kampala and not in the middle of the park and the washing line held for the 350 km back to the capital.It cost $9 for car entry into the park.(If you didn’t fancy renting a car, Red Chili run a three-day tour from Kampala).
While virtually all of the animals live on the North side of the river, most of the accommodation is on the South side. This public campsite, however, is on the North bank and while it has very limited facilities it’s very affordable ($6/pp/n) and the setting is unbeatable. It also means you’re not reliant on the ferry to head out on safari.
You’ll need to be self-sufficient to camp here and we hired cooking equipment, a gas stove, cutlery and crockery, camping chairs and a table from the car rental company. This cost us $3/day.
If you’d prefer not to cook, however, there is a canteen just behind the Shell petrol pump on the North side. Head through the Paraa Safari Lodge and then immediately turn left. It’s where the staff eat so we heard prices are very reasonable. There is also a water tap by the garage and petrol can be purchased at slightly inflated prices.
It’s incredibly hot in the park so head out with the sun to see the animals. Once dusk falls, the insects will start arriving in their droves.
The ferry leaves a few times a day and takes no more than five minutes. It’s $6/car plus $1.50/passenger.
We went with Wild Frontiers ($32/person) and loved the trip. It was a very comfy boat and the guide was incredibly knowledgeable.
Top of the Falls
It’s an extra $15 to walk to the top of the falls, which I wouldn’t recommend if you have your own car as it’s free to drive up.
Park fees are $40/person/24 hour period and two periods were enough for us.
Day 1 – Enter via the northern Wankwar gate at 5pm. It’s a 90 minute drive to the campsite and you’ll see lots of buck and warthog en route.
Day 2 – Early morning game drive and an afternoon boat ride to the falls. The boat will collect you on the North side.
Day 3 – Early morning game drive and then a drive to the top of the falls (we were on the 2pm ferry and we would have been out by 5pm had we not nearly lost our bash plate). We exited via the southern Muboko Gate and camped at the lovely Shoebill campsite. (It’s now under new management so it’s worth checking if they still offer camping).
We wanted to drive back along the scenic route to see Lake Albert and the view across into the DRC. It’s a long five-hour drive on dirt roads and in our opinion probably not worth it … although with a clear blue sky we might have thought otherwise. You could cut the car rental to three days if you drive up via the direct south route and head to the top of the falls on day 1. You would then catch the last ferry across the river at 7pm. Day 2 would be the same as above, and on day 3 you’d drive home after your early morning game drive.