There are two major roads from Kampala to Fort Portal, 4WD vehicles 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 (7-8 hrs). 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.
Semuliki 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 2-3 hour drive on a narrow road that winds over the northern Rwenzori. The route is currently being widened and surfaced to make the journey shorter and more comfortable.
Semuliki 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 Semuliki’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.
BIRDING IN SEMULIKI
Birders who make it to Semuliki will be rewarded with some of Africa’s best forest birding. Sempaya and Ntandi provide excellent viewing of the birds including the White-crested Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Piping Hornbill, Yellow-throated Nicator, Great blue and Ross’s Turacos. The area around Kirumia River is another top birding spot. The shoebill stork is regularly seen at close quarters on Lake Albert and forest walks are good for tracking water birds.
CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN SEMULIKI
The Batwa’s hunter-gatherer lifestyle means they have always been dependent on Semuliki forest for food, shelter, medicine and tools, though this is beginning to change as a result of interaction with other local communities.
Tourism offers an alternative source of income for the Batwa, and gives them the opportunity to maintain and display their rich cultural history through music and dance performances at Ntandi. They also produce intricate handcrafts for sale.
A boma, or cultural village, is currently being built so that the Batwa can demonstrate how they used to live in the forest – check back for more details.
HOT SPRINGS IN SEMULIKI
The hour-long trail to the outer, “male” spring leads through a patch of forest where red-tailed monkeys, grey-cheeked mangabeys 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!
GAME DRIVES IN SEMULIKI
Three tracks cross the savannah grassland of Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve. Smaller forest and larger savannah elephants are regularly seen, along with buffalo, waterbuck, crocodile, warthog and Uganda kob. With luck, you may even see pygmy hippopotami, leopards and elusive bushbabies. Game drives in the Wildlife Reserve can take place in the morning, afternoon and at night; after dark, visitors may come across curious nocturnal species such as the white-tailed mongoose.
HIKING AND NATURE WALKS IN SEMULIKI
The 13km KirumiaTrail runs through the heart of the forest to the Semuliki River. This 8 hour round trip starts at 8am and is perfect for birders.
The 11km Red Monkey Track follows the park’s eastern border – a stronghold of the rare deBrazza’s monkey – to the Semliki River.
Along the 8km Sempaya Nature Trail, you can view the hot springs and primates. This 2-4 hour hike can take place in the morning or afternoon.