You know those childhood dreams you have but doubt you'll ever get the chance to live out? That's what safari was like for me.
As a kid, I was obsessed with African animals. I spent hours watching The Lion King and drawing safari animals on Drawing Discoveries, an amazing 90s computer game. (Anyone else play that? Just me?)
So when I had the opportunity to go on a real-life safari at Murchison Falls National Park with my aunt and uncle, I jumped at the chance.
What is Murchison Falls National Park?
Never heard of Murchison Falls? Murchison Falls National Park is Uganda's largest national park. It's located in Masindi, in the northeast corner of Uganda.
Murchison is known two things: its sprawling safari park and its waterfall (hence the ‘Falls' part of the name.)
At Murchison Falls you can see four out of the Big Five: lions, elephants, leopards, and Cape buffalos. The only member of the Big Five you won't see? Rhinos. You'll need to go to nearby Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary to see them.
We set out from Kampala early in the morning. We drove for about three and a half hours before reaching the park on surprisingly good roads. (Sometimes driving in Uganda involves so many potholes you wonder if you've had brain trauma.)
That night, we hunkered down for the night at Red Chilli Rest Camp, a budget lodge that is popular with the younger crowd. Dinner was delicious, though several beetles dropped from the ceiling and into my hair. Then after swatting away even more creepy crawlies in my room, I was fast asleep in my cabin.
The Game Drive
The next morning we awoke at 5:30 for our game drive. We grabbed our packed lunches and coffees, and jumped in the car to get in line for the ferry.
Something unique about Murchison Falls is that you can self-drive the safari, meaning you can bring your own car. I loved having our own car as it gave us more freedom, privacy, and DJ control.
Once aboard the ferry, we got out to watch the sun rise over the Nile. Needless to say, it was stunning.
Once we crossed the river, we decided to hire a safari guide. Due to our poor planning (#procrastinator), we hadn't hired one. But luckily, finding a guide didn't take long. Then we we were off.
First we saw an antelope with long face. In all my years watching NatGeo, I had never seen this antelope. Apparently it’s a Jackon's Hartebeest. Isn't it weird looking?
Next, we saw a group of spotted hyenas. As we drove closer, we realized it was mother hyena and her six babies. D'aww.
I really wanted a picture of the mama hyena. But as we approached, I debated if putting the window down was wise. Cool photo or savage hyena attack?
After getting the go-ahead from our guide, I rolled down the window to take a photo of the mother hyena who was less than ten feet of the car. A jolt of adrenaline rushed down my spine as I quickly snapped a few photos.
I know hyenas are part of Africa's Ugly Five but is it just me or are they actually cute?
Next we stopped by the lake to spot some hippos. Through the binoculars, I saw a pod of about ten hippos blowing water through their noses.
We saw a few more animals; warthogs and waterbucks, which look like caribou with even bigger horns.
But it was the herd of giraffe that made me get out of the car to take photos. I crouched in savannah grass to get these photos, while watching them nibble leaves from the tree tops. Aren't they beautiful animals?
After I got back in the car, we saw a commotion up ahead with tons of parked safari vehicles. “Must be lions,” our guide said.
Indeed it was. Through the binoculars, I saw several female lions lounging in the sun. Unfortunately, they were too far away to get good photos.
Though I was super excited to see lions, the animal I really wanted to see was an elephant. But towards the end of the game drive, I started to lose hope. I reminded myself to count my blessings – after all, we had already seen hyenas, hippos, and lions.
So we couldn’t believe our luck when we saw a mother elephant and her baby crossing the road. What a moment.
As we drove back to the starting point, I couldn't stop smiling. My first safari was overall one of the best days of my travels, and something I'll never forget.
My overall experience at Murchison
My first safari completely exceeded my expectations – I've been raving about it ever since. And now that I've been on safari in several countries, I can see how special Murchison Falls National Park is. There aren't many other tourists, it's not ritzy, and you can't see cities on the edge of the park (cough, cough, Kruger).
Safari at Murchison Falls is an un-touristy, authentic, low-key experience that I highly recommend all visitors to Uganda experience.
Admission to Murchison Falls National Park costs $40 USD for tourists. Residents of East Africa and Ugandan citizens pay less. See more information here.
Leave for your game drive early in the morning (i.e. six a.m.) as you’ll see more animals and get better photos. The game drive usually lasts 4-5 hours. As mentioned, you can take your own car on the game drive or hire a tour company.
What to wear on safari – I wore athletic top, shorts, and flip flops – because you’re in the car for most of the journey you don’t need honestly athletic shoes.
What to bring on safari – eye drops, as your eyes get dry due to the dust. Also bring your camera with an extra SD card, an extra camera battery, and ideally, a telephoto lens – this is what I use. You'll be somewhat far from the animals so you'll want to be able to zoom.
Murchison Falls is a malarial area, so DEFINITELY pack bug spray.
Where to stay at Murchison Falls – I stayed at Red Chilli Rest Camp, a budget lodge where rates start at $8 (tent) and standard double ($35). I recommend it as long as you’re not scared of bugs! If you're staying there, pack a portable charger – there are no outlets in the rooms.
Tip – the night before you leave on safari, tell Red Chili Hideaway you'd like a packed breakfast. They're delicious!
Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to Uganda. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.
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