UGANDA’S RIFT VALLEY TOURISM
What comes to your mind when you hear or come across the word “Rift Valley”? Well, don’t think so hard, it is simply an elongated depression on the earth’s surface with steep sides called escarpments. It is formed by the process of faulting and continuous action of tension forces upon the earth’s crust, these forces pulled apart the piece of block forming fault lines which divided the block into three sections. Their continuous action made the middle section to sink downwards hence forming an elongated depression, erosion acted on its edges leading to formation of steep sides called escarpments. The East African rift valley has two arms the east and western arm, the eastern arm runs through Kenya stretching from lake Turkana down to lakes Nakuru, Naivasha and then crosses to Tanzania covering lakes Manyara, Eyasi, Natron, Rukwa and meets the western arm in Ruaha region. The western arm runs through western Uganda stretching from Lake Albert down to lakes Edward and George at Queen Elizabeth National Park, Lake Kivu in Rwanda and proceeds all the way to Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania.
Uganda’s rift valley has amazing features and attractions that can give you a remarkable tourism experience. Just at the north eastern tip of the Albertine graben is Uganda’s largest National Park Murchison falls National Park covering 3,840 km sq. This park has a lot to offer you ranging from sightseeing of the beautiful cascading waterfalls on Victoria Nile, boat cruises, hot air ballooning safaris, camping adventure, game drives as you observe the grazing herds of Giraffes, families of the giant land mammals the African elephants. This park can also be your number one on your Uganda Birding Safari list, it has 450 recorded bird species including the Abyssinian ground Hornbills and Red necked Falcons which will all make your birding safari a memorable one. On the eastern escarpment of the Albertine graben is the Bunyoro kingdom covering areas of Hoima, Bulisa and Masindi together with Bugungu wildlife reserve. This kingdom is rich in traditional culture and royal regalia. With oil mining taking place on Lake Albert this kingdom is likely to grow economically with port becoming a hub.
Protruding southwards of the Lake Albert graben rift is the enchanting Semuliki National Park which is always described as the true birders’ haven. It covers 568 km sq. and being within the rift valley the park has an elevation ranging between 620-750 metres which favor the flow of Semuliki River. This river has attracted many bird species with the number reaching 350 recorded species, the swampy areas near this river are thriving places for the Shoebills which offers you an opportunity to do your birding. Besides birding you can also watch primates such as the Vervet monkeys, White and blue Colobus monkey, L’hoest’s monkeys and the Bush babies. The Sempaya hot springs with hot water bubbling out of the ground prove to you the result of faulting that also formed the rift valley. This iconic feature is suitable for sightseeing an experience that you shouldn’t miss out when you have an opportunity.
The mountains of the moon commonly known as the Rwenzori Mountains stand on the rift valley south of Semuliki National Park. These mountains are Block Mountains formed through the very process of faulting that formed the rift valley. Rwenzori Mountains are snow capped at their peak called Margherita which is 5,109 metres above sea level. Climbing up to the peak can be a seemingly interesting experience for any tourist who loves adventure. The Rwenzori mountains National Park in this region offers you a variety of activities you can engage in. Mountaineering of course cannot miss out as part of the experience, the Albertine rift endemics such as the handsome Francolin, Rwenzori turaco, Red throated Alethe together with other bird species will give you a great birding experience with 195 recorded species. Spotting the three horned Chameleon climbing tree branches slowly but sure can also be a rewarding experience for your Uganda Safari. Camping at the trails of the Rwenzori Mountains gives you an opportunity to feel nature and discover the secrets of these mountains together with the vegetation that keeps on changing as you climb higher to the summit. On the slopes of the Rwenzori mountains is the Bakonjo community which is hospitable to visitors, take some time off and taste their local cuisine consisting cassava bread and any other sauce.
Queen Elizabeth National Park lies southwards of the Rwenzori Mountains as you continue moving south of the rift valley. This park is one of Uganda’s most visited National Parks and it covers an area of 1978 km sq. The presence of lakes Edward and George makes this park an interesting place to visit because the two lakes are connected by the Kazinga channel which is an habitat to not only reptiles such as crocodiles but also hippos. Boat cruising along this channel while viewing these creatures is an amazing experience for anyone interested in boat rides. Besides, the waters of lake Edward and George together with the Kazinga channel have attracted various bird species both migrants and natives. Their total number reaches 550 recorded bird species of which some of them include; Blue breasted kingfishers, African skimmers, Black bee eaters, African jacana (migrant), Squacco Heron and the Great white and Pick backed Pelicans. With these numerous bird species your birding safari at Queen Elizabeth National Park can be a remarkable experience. Game drives through the savanna grasslands and plains of this park gives you an opportunity to watch the tree climbing lions, elephants, kobs, Giraffes and other land mammals. At the forested Kyambura gorge you have a rare opportunity of tracking the Chimpanzees, primates that have close characteristics with the humans and this will make your primate tracking safari in Uganda unforgettable. To wrap the whole experience, Queen Elizabeth National Park offers you an opportunity to do hot air ballooning safari such that you can view the beautiful scenery of the park while in the air. This can be an extremely rewarding experience you can have!
The rift valley trail continues downwards to the Virunga volcanoes which cover part of DRC, Rwanda and south western parts of Uganda where Mgahinga National Park is located. This park is Uganda’s smallest National Park covering an area of 33 km sq. and it’s well-known for habituating Mountain Gorillas and Golden monkeys. The presence of bamboo vegetation in this forested park attracted this primate to the area. Mountain Gorillas can also be tracked at this park making your primate tracking in Mgahinga Park amazing. The presence of 115 recorded bird species including the Malachite sunbird, White tailed blue Fly catcher, Handsome Francolin can give you a real birding experience on your Uganda safari holiday.
At the edge of the eastern escarpment of the rift valley, north of Mgahinga National Park lies Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park. The park has a dense forest cover covering 321 km sq. and it is Uganda’s number one mountain Gorilla tracking and habituation destination. Apart from mountain gorillas, Bwindi also has other primates like the Blue monkeys, Grey cheeked Mangabey, L’hoest’s monkey, Black and white Colobus monkeys which can make your primate tracking safari interesting in Uganda. The thick forest cover at Bwindi is not only a habitat to primates but also to numerous Albertine rift endemic bird species. Ruhija and Buhoma are the major birding havens in Bwindi with species such as Blue headed sunbird, Black Flycatcher, Strange weaver, forest Ground thrush, wood peckers among others which can give you a memorable birding safari in Uganda. The Batwa trail at Bwindi is another wonderful experience you can have while at Bwindi. It involves walking deep into the thick forest tracing the Pygmy community with its unique culture. Try this out and you will discover what it means penetrating through this impenetrable forest.
Kibale National Park Uganda’s ultimate Chimpanzee tracking destination lies at the edge of the escarpment north of Lake George in the rift valley. The park covers 560 km sq. and the largest percentage is forested making it an ideal habitat to the Chimpanzees. This gives you an opportunity to track Chimpanzees as you walk through the semi deciduous forest. With 335 recorded bird species, Kibale forest National Park offers you an opportunity to do birding. Some of the species you can watch include; Red winged Francolin, Joyful Greenbul, Grey throated Flycatcher among others. All these birds and others will make your Birding safari exciting and remarkable.