Bird watching safari

Semliki National Park and Wildlife Reserve

Semliki National Park and Wildlife Reserve – Things to do and see – Accommodation

Semliki national park, in Uganda is located within the Albertine Rift. It is one of the less visited national parks in Uganda and lies within the Western arm of the famous Great Rift Valley. Semliki national park cuts across Semliki Valley, western of Rwenzori Mountain. The park is largely occupied by the Ituri forests that follow the Congo basin. This unique national park is the only low land tropical forest in East Africa. Unknown to very few people, Semliki national park is divided into two; the national park which protects an extension of Ituri Forest in DRC,  and Tooro wildlife reserve, a mixture of tropical rainforests and grassy savannah plains where chimpanzee tracking takes place. Tooro Wildlife reserve is Uganda’s oldest reserve and it is home to both central African and East African species.

Abundance of wildlife in Semliki National Park

Semliki National park is 220km2 with altitude of 670m-760m above sea level with River Semuliki being the international boundary between Uganda and DR Congo.  The reserve was created in 1932 and was upgraded to a national park status in 1993. It is known as the oldest and most bio diverse forest that survived ice age that happened in 12-18000 years ago.

Although, many people who come for a Uganda safari rarely visit Semliki National park, it is home to 441 recorded bird species, making it a bird watching safari haven for bird watchers. It is also home to 53 mammals that include elephants and buffalos.

When to visit Semliki National park

Semliki National park can be visited throughout the year. It is surrounded by mountains and forests and attracts a lot of rain. Averagely, this national park receives 1,250 mm of rain fall.  March to May and September to December are the peak rainy seasons. A 4 x 4 WD vehicle is highly recommended since the heavy rains come with heavy floods and may make it impassable during activities. The park temperatures range between 18 to 30 degrees C.

Wildlife safaris and Activities of Semliki National park

Semliki National park has got variety of what to offer a tourist on a wildlife and game watching safari. The national park is popular for the amazing wildlife species, the rare bird life, cultural experience that involve a visit to the Batwa also known as the Bambuti people in the Semliki area. During the visit, you learn about their culture and day to day lives. You can also go visiting the amazing hot springs which are associated with lots of legends and many more other attractions. Although all activities are equally great, wildlife game drives and guided nature walks seem to be the most popular activities in the park

Bird watching in Semliki National park:

Semliki National park is surely one of the best birding places in Uganda, Africa. Bird watching of rare species is one of the biggest attractions in this national park’s riverine habitat and grassland. Over 441 bird species are recorded in this conservation area with 40 per cent of the country’s bird species and 60 per cent of the country’s forest birds. There are about five bird species that are endemic to Semliki National Park, forty-six Guinea-Congo biome species found nowhere else in East Africa.
Bird species to look out for here include the bizarre looking Shoe Bill in the mashes of the lake. There is the ground hornbill, the Nkulengu rail, yellow-throated Cuckoo, piping Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued WattledHorbill, Red-rumped Tinker bird, African Piculet, White-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Nicator, Leaf-love, and Swamp Palm Bulbul among others. You will be guided by very professional and knowledgeable bird watching guides who can spot these birds even from a distance or tell by their calls.

Wildlife safari game drives in Semliki National park

Safari game drives using 4 x 4 WD customised safari vehicles is one of the most popular activities in the park. Semliki National park caters for every tourist. Visistors who are not interested in birds can for for early morning game drives since the park is home to 53 mammals 27 being large mammals. Eleven species are endemic to the park and these include the pygmy antelope, two flying squirrel species and the peculiar water “fanged deer”.  On a lucky game drive, you may spot forest elephants which are smaller and darker than the savannah elephants, forest buffaloes, which are also smaller versions of their savannah relatives. Semliki forest is also very rich with primates that include chimpanzees, grey-cheeked mangabey, black-and-white colobus monkey, the Central African red colobus monkey, blue and red-tailed monkeys, among others and, warthogs, baboons. There are also leopards which are really rare to see. Don’t forget to look out for the elusive black wild pig. On the wildlife game drive, with your guide, you will follow 3 tracks in the national park that cut through TooroSemliki Wildlife reserve.

For the more adventurous visitor, there are night game drive activities for the nocturnal animals and primates that include pottos, the bush baby, bats, owls among others

Boat ride on the Semliki River to Lake Albert

Visitors can go for guided boat rides on Semliki River which is a 160km long River that runs off from the Rwenzori mountains also known as the ‘The Mountains of the Moon’ and continues to Lake Albert and the Nile, proving ancient geographers’ claims that the Nile flows (in part anyway) from a snow-capped mountain in the heart of Africa. The River is a miniature version of Congo River and Water bucks, Sitatungas, lizards, Nile crocodiles and pygmy hippos are often seen along the banks of the water. On the way to or from the park, visitors can watch the river meander across the rift valley from roadside viewpoints and hike through the forest to its banks.

Chimpanzee Habituation Experience

Chimpanzee habituation like chimpanzee tracking takes place in Toro-Semliki wildlife reserve and the activity takes a full day.  A chimpanzee habituation permit must be obtained from Uganda Wildlife Authority. Chimpanzee habituation is the process of making chimpanzees feel comfortable with the presence of human beings and once fully habituated; they are ready to be tracked.

Chimpanzee tracking experience

Chimpanzee tracking takes place in Toro-Semliki wildlife reserve and this activity should not be missed on a visit to Uganda. The forest is home to different primate species living in this forest which makes it a great place for primate watching and these primates include the chimpanzee, the black and white colobus monkeys, the baboon, the grey-cheeked mangabey, vervet,  the Central African red colobus, Dent’s mona monkeys, blue, red-tailed and the de Brazza’s, among others. The guide transfers you the research camp for briefing about chimpanzee tracking. After that briefing, you walk towards Kijura observation point, tracking chimpanzees. This can take 4-6 hours and you will follow where the chimpanzees are and where they nested previously. During the tracking, you will also spot several birds and some times forest buffalos and elephants and lion. You will be with the chimpanzee for one hour and later return to the lodge

Sempaya hot springs in Semliki

While in Semliki National park, a visit to the famous Sempaya hot springs is a must. There are two types of hot springs in the park; the female and male hot springs. The male hot spring is known as Bintente is 12m in diameter and is in a lush swampy clearing while the female hot spring is known as Nyasimbi which means female ancestors. The female hot springs are the hottest, most dangerous and still erupting boiling at (103°C) which spurts bubbling water and steam up to two meters high. The steam can be seen from as far as 2km away. Local people used to cook their food in these boiling hot springs and you too have an opportunity to cook green bananas and eggs in the boiling water and consume them. During the walk, look out for birds and red tailed, grey cheeked mangabey and black and white colobus monkeys displaying their monkey acrobats

Nature and Hiking walks in Semliki National park

Visitors can go for guided forest walks on well developed natural trails. There are 3 main trails that visitors follow on a guided nature walk in Semliki National park.

Below are the three main nature trails:

Sempaya nature trail: This leads to the Sempaya hot springs, through a patch of forest. There is a big possibility of coming across the different types of monkeys in the forest like the black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys and grey-cheeked mangabey. On your way to the male hot springs, you will stopover at a tree house where you view the abundant birdlife and beautiful scenery of the forest.

The Kirumia trail: This is a 13 km trail. It is the best trail for bird watching since it ends up to the Semliki River across the forest.

Red monkey trail: The red monkey trail is 11 km long and it follows the park boundary to the east and ends up at the Semliki River. Look out for the rare DeBrazza monkey, only found in this park in Uganda

Batwa Cultural experiences

One of the great opportunities while visiting Semliki is The Batwa trail experience, letting you experience the lives of the pygmies who lived in this forest before it was made a national park, and meet their king; king Nzito and his queen. They now live around the park boundaries but sometimes they visit the forest in search of medicines. They will demonstrate how they lived in the forest, how the hunted, how the got food, the hunting tools they used, how they lived and danced.

Every October, they have an annual Bamaga Cultural festival. The festival gives the visitor a sneak peek into the lives of mountain people which gives you an opportunity to peek into the life of the mountain of Bundibugyo and the special attachment they have to the hot springs.

Fishing on River Semliki 

Another activity visitors can do is fishing on river semliki which is a major river, 140 kilometres long, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Uganda in Central and East Africa. Fish to catch and release is Lung fish, cat fish, and salty fish among others

Accommodation      in     Semliki     National  park

Semliki Safari lodge– Luxury lodge- The oldest lodge in the Semliki area

Ntoroko Game Lodge– Mid range lodge located in the reserve side

It is only 3 hours from Fort Town to Semliki, visitors can visit Semliki and stay overnight in Fort Portal town.

Accommodation in Fort Portal

Kyaninga Lodge– High end

Mountains of the moon Hotel– Semi-luxury

Rwenzori View Guest house- Budget

Transport to Semliki national Park

By road transport

You can reach the park from Kampala – Fortportal and then Semuliki national park. It takes 55km from Fort Portal town and 8 hours from Kampala

By air transport

You can take scheduled or chartered flight from Entebbe to Kasese with our partners Aerolink

Recommended safaris to Semliki National park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park   (Gorilla tracking and Habituation, Top Things to do and see – Accommodation)

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is famous for gorilla tracking, gorilla habituation and birding safaris. There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the whole world and half of these gentle Mountain gorillas call Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and Mgahinga Gorilla National park their home which was made a wildlife Reserve in 1932 and gazetted as a national park in 1991. The forest located in South Western Uganda bordering Rwanda and Congo. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is a world UNESCO heritage is close to other national parks in Uganda that include Queen Elizabeth National park, Kibale National park, Rwenzori Mountain National park and Semliki National park. This makes it easy for visitors on a Uganda – Rwanda safari to easily combine gorilla tours with chimpanzee and wildlife safaris in the national parks mentioned above.

How Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park got its name according to locals

The name Bwindi derives from a local phrase “Mubwindibwanyinamuraki”. 500 years ago, Bwindi Impenetrable National park and Mgahinga Gorilla National park were one forest. People who came from Rwanda to settle in Kigezi highlands or gorilla highlands regions separated the two forests. One clan called Abarenjesettled in Rubuguri, the Southern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest who shifted from place to place looking for fertile soils to cultivate since they were cultivators. One day they were shifting from Rubuguri to Kayonza in the Northern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, through the forest until when they got to a boggy swamp in Ruhija (the Eastern part of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest). They tried to cross the swamp, and when they crossed it half way, it started moving with them. This movement of the swamp made them realize that they were going to die.      They asked the swamp spirits for guidance and they were told if only they sacrificed their most beautiful virgin daughter Nyinamukari, the family would cross the river peacefully. After two days of deliberation, the family decided that they could not turn back to Rubuguri in the South and so they threw the girl into the water to drown, the swamp accepted them to cross safely to the other side. When other people heard about the news of the sacrifice, they began to avoid the swamp calling it Mubwindibwanyinamukari – dark place of Nyinamuraki. The swap is still known as Mubwindi although the whole forest area is referred to as Bwindi- Thus the name Bwindi.

Mountain Gorilla families in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park:

In April 1993, the Mubare gorilla family in Buhoma, the Northern sector of Bwindi was the first family to be habituated for gorilla tracking in Uganda

In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, there are about eleven habituated gorilla families which include Mubare, Habinyanja and Rushegura (In Buhoma the Northern sector), in the Eastern Sector also known as Ruhija which is by the way the highest point of Bwindi impenetrable forest at approximately 2000 Meters above sea level are Bitukura, Oruzogo and Kyaguriro,  and Nshongi, Mishaya, Busingye, Bweza, Kahungye in Rushaga and finally Nkuringo Gorilla Family all in the southern sector of the park.

Bird life in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park.

Bwindi Impenetrable National park is one of the hottest birding spots in Africa with about 350 bird species that include 23 Albertine Rift endemics, 14 of these only recorded here. The park is home to some of the globally endangered species like the African Green Broadbill, Shelley’s Crimson wind and Chapin’s flycatcher. Others are Mountain Masked and Collared Apalis, handsome Francolin, white bellied Robin chat, black billed Turaco, Regal sun birds among others.

Animal kingdom of Bwindi Impenetrable national park.

Apart from mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest hosts 120 mammal species that include primates (chimpanzees and different types of monkeys) of which 7 are diurnal, forest elephants which are darker and smaller than their Savannah counterparts, forest buffalo, duikers, golden cat, giant forest hogs among others. There are also reptile species and amphibians that include frog specie which is still being researched about by scientists.

Butterflies of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.

Bwindi Impenetrable rain forest is home to approximately 300 species of butterflies that include swallowtails, one of the two endangered butterfly species

Trees of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park.

Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the Afro-montane forest is characterized by fern, vines and shrubs. The park has approximately 324 tree species, 10 of which are only found in Uganda

Activities to do in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park.

There are many activities visitors can do while in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park but gorilla tracking and gorilla habitation are the most popular activities:

Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park:

Gorilla tracking of the different habituated gorilla families ranks among one of the highlights of a safari to Africa for almost all travelers on a safari to Uganda. Tracking the endangered mountain gorillas gives one a feeling that is had to describe. Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national park, a UNESCO World heritage is home to half the Mountain gorillas. It is estimated that there are only 880 mountain gorillas left in world shared between Rwanda and Congo with half of them in Uganda.

A traveler needs a gorilla tracking permit to be able to track the gorillas. The permits are on first come first serve with a very high demand and can sell out many months ahead.

Permits can sell out months ahead. Bird’s Nest Safaris  will help you book your permits.

Gorilla Habituation:
Gorilla habituation is a process where wild mountain gorillas are made comfortable with the presence of man without charging. Instead of being with the gorillas for 1 hour as it is with gorilla tracking, one is with gorillas for 4 hours starting from where the gorillas nested the previous night.  You can only be part of the habituation process in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable forest, in Rushaga in the Southern sector. Two gorilla families Bikyingi and Bushaho are being habituated and visitors can part of the process with researchers. Gorilla habituation process takes three years to be completed and researchers keep visiting the wild family being habituated learning about each individual gorilla and how they behave. The research you will make with the researchers will be added into the data base, and if you like, you will get constant updates about the gorillas you habituated while you back home.

Bird watching safari in Bwindi Impenetrable National park:
With a size of 321sq.kms, and at an elevation of 1190 – 2607 meters above sea level, about 357 bird species have been recorded in Bwindi Impenetrable and birding watching in this forest should be on every birder’s itinerary on a birding safari to Uganda. Bwindi Forest is home to 10 of the 26 globally threatened bird species, with 5 vulnerable ones. It has 23 local Albertine Rift endemic species in the country like the Africa Green Broadbill, Chapin’s flycatcher and Shelley’s Crimson-wing found no where else in Uganda. The Forest was also named as Africa’s number one birding spot by Africa Bird Club. Gorilla Link Tours has specialized bird guides for a traveler birding needs and there are also bird guides on sites.

Forest walk to waterfall trail:
Apart from gorilla tracking and birding watching, a visitor in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park can go for guided forest walks to the beautiful waterfalls.
During the waterfall trail, you will learn about Bwindi Forest’s trees, butterflies and the amazing bird life that decorate the forest. The forest nature walks normally take 3 hours or longer and may be moderately difficult. One can also go for the Buhoma – Nkuringo trail which takes about 3-4 hours, through Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park with an armed ranger guide from Uganda Wildlife Authority. The time taken to get to Nkuringo depends on the pace of the traveler. The other one is the Rushura waterfall walk, a 14 km walk that takes approximately 7 hours and this too depends on the pace of the traveler. This walk goes through a forest which is shared between Uganda and Congo. And lastly, one can go for Muzubijiro loop that is 6km and takes place around Rukubira hill and offers amazing views of some of the Volcano Mountains

Buhoma Community Walk and Cultural Experiences
Travelers can go for optional guided community walks and cultural experiences after their gorilla trek or the next day. One needs at least two days in Buhoma to go for this village trail.

You will visit a hand craft place, learn how to brew Uganda waragi (war gin) and visit a traditional healer who will show you some of the traditional herbs used to as medicines and the natural Viagra plant.

The walk goes on to Mukono community school where you will meet the children and the teacher, proceeding to Bwindi Community hospital

Lastly, you will visit the Batwa Pygmy community who are the original people of Bwindi Forest. They lost their forest home when Bwindi Impenetrable National park was created. They will perform their traditional dances, show you forest survival skills like making fire and tell you stories about their lives in the forest

Mountain Hikes and bike rides
Most lodges around Bwindi Impenetrable Forest which is located on a hilly area can rent out bikes to you to be able to enjoy biking through some of the developed trails with a beautiful scenery of the area. Ride for A Woman, a community run project rents out bikes for Ivi River trail that starts from Buhoma park offices and takes you up to toIvi River.

Kigezi region where Bwindi impenetrable forest is located is a mountainous area with beautiful scenery. Most lodges have bikes you can rent per day to take on the special trails created in the community otherwise ask them for a project you can rent from. Ivi river trail from Buhoma park headquarters to Ivi river organized by ‘ride for a woman’.

How to book your permit for the gorilla trek and habituation experience
Get in touch with us to book your gorilla permits. Gorilla tracking and habituation permits are issued out by Uganda Wildlife Authority and we do recommend that you book your permits way in advance since there are on a high demand based on first come first serve basis but also they are very limited. Passport details are required in order to get the permits

A gorilla tracking permit costs 600 US Dollars and a gorilla habituation permit costs $1500 US Dollars. You don’t have to book a whole safari with us for us to book these permits for you. You will only pay us handling fees.

Only persons who are 15 years and above can go for gorilla tracking and habitation

What to bring for the gorilla tracking and habituation experience

  • Light rain jacket
  • Packed lunch and drinks (provided)
  • Camera and extra batteries
  • Long pants, long sleeved shirts, hats
  • Garden hand gloves
  • Hiking boots
  • Walking stick (provided)

Accommodation in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
There are many accommodations in Bwindi for every traveler. One can choose from luxury, mid range or budget accommodations in the different sectors of the park

Accommodation in Buhoma- Northern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

  • Buhoma Lodge– Luxury
  • Bwindi Lodge- Luxury
  • Gorilla Forest Camp- Luxury
  • Mahogany Springs- Semi luxury
  • Silver Back Lodge- Mid range
  • The Haven Buhoma Lodge- Mid range
  • Engagi Lodge- Mid range
  • Buhoma community camp- Budget

Accommodation in Ruhija- Eastern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

  • Gorilla Ruhija Lodge- Mid range
  • Gorilla Mist Camp- Mid range
  • Broadbill Forest Camp- Budget
  • Trekkers Haven- Budget

Accommodation in Rushaga- Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

  • Chameleon Hill Lodge- Semi-Luxury
  • Mutanda Lake Resort- Mid range
  • Ichumbi Gorilla Lodge- Mid range
  • Gorilla Safari Lodge- Mid range
  • Bwindi Jungle Lodge- Mid range
  • Rushaga Gorilla camp- Mid range
  • Gorilla Valley Lodge- Budget
  • Nshongi camp- Budget

Accommodation in Nkuringo, Southern Sector of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

  • Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge- High end
  • Nkuringo gorilla Lodge- Mid range


Gorilla Tracking Ethics

  • You must go for briefing at the park offices before the trek begins. Make sure to be in good health since gorillas get diseases from humans because of the DNA (97%) we share
  • When gorillas are seen, you will be required to leave all your bags and food. You will only get closer with your camera.
  • No flash photography is allowed. Make sure the camera you are using does not need a flash since there is no much light in the forest
  • Keep a distance from the gorillas, at least 7 meters away from the gorillas
  • Stay closer in your group when near the gorillas
  • Keep your voices low, although you can still ask your guide questions
  • Do not litter the forest and make sure you take your garbage
  • Do not reach out to try and touch the gorillas, it is not allowed to have any physical contact with them
  • Some times the gorillas may charge, do not run away and follow instructions from your guide as you crouch down slowly. Please do not look the gorilla in the eye
  • Children below 15 years are not allowed to track gorillas

How to Access Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National park is easily accessed and accessibility is from Entebbe or Kampala and even via Kigali

By road transport:
It takes about 8 or 9 hours respectively on road to get to Bwindi forest. The park can also be accessed from Rwanda and this takes about 3.5 hours from Kigali to the Southern Sector (Rushaga) of Bwindi

By Air transport:
Through our partners Aerolink, one can get to the park by scheduled and charter flights from Entebbe International airport to Kihihi  that connects to the Northern and Eastern sectors and to Kisoro airstrip to connect to Rushaga and Nkuringo; both in the Southern sector of the park

Suggested itineraries to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park