Semliki Forest

The 220 km Semliki National Park lies in the isolated Bundibugyo district, beyond the Rwenzori Mountain on the floor of the Semliki section of the Albertine Rift Valley. This largely forested park represents the eastern most limit of the great Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin and contains numerous species associated with central rather than eastern Africa. Thatch huts are shaded by West African oil palms, the Semliki River (which forms the international boundary) is a miniature version of the Congo River, while the local population includes a Batwa (Pygmy) community that originated from the Ituri. As a result, a visit to Semliki provides a taste of Central Africa just a couple of hours from the comforts of Fort Portal.

The most popular attraction in Semliki Forest National Park is the cluster of hot springs at Sempaya, which can be reached via a short walking trail. Ringed by forest and palm trees and veiled in a cloud of steam, these springs are a primeval, evocative sight with the emerging water. Longer guided walks, taking the best part of the day, can also be arranged.

Semliki is one of Africa's most bio diverse forests and is particularly noted for its varied bird population. This biodiversity is enhanced by its great age, for it is one of Africa's most ancient forests. During the dry conditions of the last ice age, 12-18,000 years ago, most of Africa's forests shrank and disappeared. Only a few patches like Semliki and Bwindi survived, protecting forest species during the arid apocalypse until they could eventually emerge to recolonise a better, wetter world. Today the Semliki valley is a hothouse for vegetation growth, with temperatures rising to a humid 30°C doused by an annual 1250mm of rain, mostly between March-May and September-December. While Semliki's species have been evolving for over 25,000 years, the park contains evidence of even older processes. The low lying park lies on the rift's sinking floor, most of it just 670m above sea level. Large areas may flood during the wet seasons; brief reminders of the time when the entire valley lay at the bottom of a lake for 7 million years. The Semliki Forest Reserve was created in 1932 when forest villages were evacuated as a measure to control sleeping sickness and yellow fever. The reserve was upgraded to national park status in 1993.

Recommended accommodation in Semliki Forest:

Semliki Safari Lodge

The forest is home to 53 mammals, of which 27 are large mammals; duiker-sized and above, several are Central African species found nowhere else in East Africa. Forest elephant and forest buffalo are smaller versions of their savannah relatives. Hippos and crocodiles are found in the Semliki river while the forest is remarkably rich in primates. Chimpanzee, black and white colobus, central African red colobus, blue monkey, red-tailed monkey, de Brazza's monkey, vervet monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey, baboon, and Dent's mona monkey are present. Nocturnal primates include potto and bush baby.

Distances and location: Semliki Forest National Park lies at 53 km from Fort Portal, which is a 2 hour drive.

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