Known as the Bwamba Forest prior to 1993, the Semliki National Park is located within the Albertine Rift, and is one of the smaller parks in Uganda. At an altitude of 700m the park is made up of almost unspoiled tropical lowland forest. The park is a natural eastern extension of Congo’s Ituri rainforest, save for the Semliki River separating the two, and as a result much of the forest inhabitants are found nowhere else in Uganda.
The park is of particular interest to birdwatchers with almost 400 recorded bird species, about 40 of which are not found anywhere else in Uganda.
Semliki’s most popular attraction is the hot springs at Sempaya. Walking the trail to the hot springs you traverse through a patch of rainforest populated with black-and-white colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey and a number of interesting bird species. Arriving at the springs – fenced by forest and thick with mist, it’s easy to consider the notion that you’ve just been teleported onto some primeval stage.
Although the park is of more ornithological interest it is also home to hippo, crocodile, elephant, and various monkeys and chimpanzees. You’d find better game viewing in the more prominent Ugandan national parks, but Semlinki is worth visiting for the fauna, birdlife and more discrete lowland forest inhabitants – such as the 300 butterfly species documented in the park.
From the mid-1990s regular attacks by a Congolese guerilla faction known as the ADF made the surrounding areas unstable. Due to the park’s proximity to the Congo border it was forced to close between 1997 and 1998. Things have improved significantly since then, and there is no serious threat to those travelling into and within the Semliki valley. However, those wanting to explore towards the eastern border should consult with local authorities before doing so.