Murchison Falls, Uganda

Photo: sarahemcc (Murchison Falls) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: sarahemcc (Murchison Falls) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Uganda was once considered “the pearl of Africa.” It looked like the Garden of Eden, with lush river basins, large lakes, and a virtual catalog of wildlife. Famous politicians, authors, and movie stars flocked to the beautiful, landlocked country. Then practically overnight, everything changed. Military coups, guerrillas, and poachers made Uganda a place no one wanted to visit for 30 years. Infrastructure was destroyed. Tourism ceased to exist. And animals were driven to extinction.

But slowly—and quietly—Uganda has emerged from its instability. Yoweri Museveni has been the president since 1986. Murchison Falls National Park, once believed to be the best park in all of Africa, is receiving visitors again. Even rhinos have been reintroduced to their natural habitat. And right now, during the dry season, it’s the best time to see lots of animals.

Murchison Falls National Park is the country’s largest national park. It’s located in northwestern Uganda in the Albertine Rift valley. It was named after Sir Roderick Murchison, the second president of the Royal Geographical Society, which promotes the understanding of the natural environment. The Nile, the world’s longest river, flows through the park. Its water rushes over Murchison Falls, a passageway where the river narrows from 1,000 feet to just 23 feet. After a 140-foot plunge over a rock cleft, the water continues flowing 20 miles east to Lake Albert.

Photo: Daryona (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Daryona (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
The best way to see the falls is from the water. Board a boat in Paraa, a waterfront village within the park. Along the three-hour trip, you pass through the savannah. Keep an eye out for Rothschild’s giraffes, Uganda Kobs, and Lelwel hartebeests. Lion cubs might be playing in the grassland; their mother isn’t far away. An antelope takes a drink from the riverbank. Monitor lizards blend in to the base of palmyra palms. And that ugly animal is a warthog.

As you glide along the water, you’ll start to hear the falls before you can see them. Enormous Nile crocodiles look like statues until their eyes follow you. Huge boulders ahead turn out to be close to 100 bobbing hippos. The guide points out a rare Shoe-billed Stork. And then you see the Devil’s Cauldron, full of mist and churning water, at the base of Murchison Falls. You’re mesmerized.

Not so long ago, this trip wouldn’t have been possible. Murchison Falls, like the rest of the country, wasn’t a safe place to visit. But now the animals are thriving and tourists are returning. Welcome back, Uganda.

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