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. Semliki forest reserve was created in 1932 and upgraded to national park status in 1993.
- There are two major roads from Kampala to fort portal, 4WD vehicle are recommended for both; Kampala- fort portal via Mubende is about 180km, or a 4- 5 hour drive, making it the shortest route.
- Kampala- fort portal via Masaka, Mbarara and Kasese is longer at 465km (7-8hrs). This route offers the chance to stop along the way at Lake Mburo national park, Kyambura wildlife reserve, Rwenzori mountains national park or Queen Elizabeth national park.
Semliki national park’s Sempaya gate is 59km from fort portal. The park headquarters at Ntandi is 6km further along the road. Historically, the journey was a slow and bumpy 2-3hour drive on a narrow road that winds over the northern Rwenzori. The route is currently being widened and surface to make the journey shorter and more comfortable.
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 horn bill, red- billed dwarf horn bill, piping horn bill, yellow- throated nicator, great blue and Ross’s turacos. The shoe bill stork is regular seen at close quarters on Lake Albert and forest walks are good for tracking water birds.
Three tracks cross the Savannah grassland of Toro Semliki wildlife reserve. Smaller forest and lager Savannah elephants are regularly seen, along with buffalo, water buck, crocodile, and warthog and Uganda Kobs. With luck, you may even see pygmy hippopotami, leopards and elusive bush babies.
The hour- long trail to the outer, “male” spring leads through a patch of forest where red- tailed monkeys, grey- cheeked manageable 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!
Hiking and nature walks
The 13km Kirumia trail runs through the heart of the forest to the Semliki River. This 8 hour round trip starts at 80:00am and perfect for birders.
Cultural encounters and trails
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.
Accommodation & Camps