Semliki National Park is situated in western Uganda in Bundibugyo district, sitting across the base of the Semuliki Valley. It is bordered by the Rwenzori Mountains to the south east, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, and to the north by the Semuliki flats and Lake Albert. Semuliki National Park is largely covered by a dense forest which is an eastern extension of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo basin. It is one of Africa's most bio-diverse forests, immersed with lots of species of flora and fauna that have accumulated over very long period of time. It is one of Africa's oldest and most ancient forests that survived the last ice age of about 12 - 18000 years ago. The last ice age saw most of Africa's forest shrink and disappear during the dry conditions - the arid apocalypse. Only a few survived like Uganda's Bwindi and Semuliki protecting a number of forest species. Today the Semuliki Valley is a hothouse of vegetation growth. Temperatures rise to a humid 30oc doused by an annual rainfall of 1250ml of rain, mostly between March-May and September-December.
Semuliki is a tropical lowland rainforest, classified as moist - deciduous. It contains about 336 species of trees, some of which are specific to Semuliki and a few neighboring forests while some like Lovoa swynnertonii and Cordia millenii are considered to be endangered in Semuliki National Park. The center is dominated by Cynometra trees while the edges are beautifully varied with the riverine swamp forests along the Semuliki River and a beautiful mix of several tree species around Sempaya.
The age of the forest, its transition of location between the central and eastern Africa and the variety of habitats notably forest, savanna woodland and swamp accounts for the exceptional diversity of animals, birds and butterflies. The park has an amazing birdlife of about 441 recorded species, accounting for about 40% of Uganda's total bird species (1,007) and 66% (216) of forest bird species. Some of the birds include Nkulengu Rail, Yellow-throated Cuckoo, Piping Hornbill, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Black Dwarf Hornbill, White-crested Hornbill, Black-casqued Wattled Hornbill, Red-rumped Tinkerbird, African Piculet, Whited-throated Blue Swallow, Yellow-throated Nicator, and Leaf-love.
Semuliki National Park is home to 53 species of mammals 27 of which are large mammals. 11 species have been identified to be endemic to Semuliki including the pygmy antelope and 2 species of the flying squirrel. Other animals are forest elephants, forest buffalos, hippos and crocodiles found in the Semuliki River, blue duiker, and the water chevrotain, known as the "fanged deer". The forest is home to a number of primates that include Chimpanzees, grey-cheeked Mangabey, baboon, black-and-white Colobus, central African red Colobus, vervet monkeys, and Dent mona monkeys. Pottos, and bushbabies are nocturnal primates.
The Sempaya Hot Springs are an iconic feature of Semuliki National Park and the park's most popular feature. The two main springs are set in a lush swampy clearing close to the southern corner of the forest. The outer spring known as Nyasimbi meaning the "female ancestors" is a few minutes reach from the Sempuya park office. It is dominated by a boiling geyser which spurs up to 2m high. Steam from the boiling geyser can be seen from as far as 2 kilometers. The inner spring, Bintente ("Male") is a 30 minutes walk from the Sempaya park office through a trail that leads through a beautiful palm forest. It is a broad, steaming pool measuring 12meters in diameter. The locals hold a belief that these springs possess healing powers. On your visit you should see many of them locals in the springs who want to be healed of various ailments.
The are four distinct tribes living close to the park, they are, the Bwamba and Bakonzo who are are both farmers, with the former living along the base of the Rwenzori Mountains while the latter cultivate the slopes of the Rwenzori mountains. The Batuku are cattle keepers and these inhibit the on the open plains. The most interesting and most popular group is the Batwa pygmies living close to the forest. These are traditionally hunters and gatherers that depend on the forest for their livelihoods. They formerly occupied the Ituri forest but were forced out when the park was gazetted for tourism activities. Their small/short physical appearance, history, culture and ways of life are not to be missed.
Semuliki National Park is located 27km from the region capital of Fort Portal. There are two major routes (roads) from the
capital Kampala to Fortportal:
- Kampala - Mubende - Fort Portal, which is 300km and about 4-5 hours drive
- Kampala - Masaka - Mbarara - Kasese - Fort Portal, which is about 510km and about 7-8 hours drive.
From Fort Portal, it is about 52km to the Sempaya gate, which is about 2 hours of drive on a dirt road through the fringes of the Rwenzori Mountains with great views of the rift valley floor, and a verdant country side.