SEMPAYA HOT SPRINGS
SEMPAYA HOT SPRINGS
Each of Uganda’s national parks has a unique feature that usually is its biggest drawcard. In the western part of Uganda, west of Rwenzori Mountains on the floor of the Albertine Rift valley is Uganda’s Semliki National park that joins the Congo forest to the savanna spaces of Eastern Africa. Despite being tag-lined as “The true birder’s Haven” because of the bird specials, they are not the favorites of the many that flock to the park. The Sempaya Hot spring is the main feature that draws most to the park.
Driving from Fort Portal town, the road is a winding one through the enchanting hills above the valley leading to Bundibugyo district that is home to the park and the hot springs. The hot springs are in two areas of the park and one is a boiling geyser that is about 10 minutes’ walk from the UWA offices at the park. It is known as the female hot spring. The geyser spews boing water that is estimated to be 103oC hot from beneath the crust and around it are natural boiling waters where visitors boil eggs and plantain while visiting. The other one is the male hot spring that is about a 2km walk through the forest and then over the swamp on wood board.
Hot springs and geysers are a result of geothermal activities that take place in areas that experience active volcanism or those that experience inactive volcanoes. The subsurface magma heats the groundwater and rocks to create the spewing steam and hot water seen at the surfaces or which rises through the fissures and cracks created in the ground. The geothermal gradient (increase in rock temperatures) percolates the water that comes into contact with the hot rocks forming the springs. For the geysers, the water doesn’t stagnate but is forced to violently flash and expand through a vent.
Despite these geographical theories, the local clan (Bamaga Clan) of Bundibugyo has their storyline from the folklore about the hot springs. The site has a strong history about its clan. Once, they rescued a man who later was initiated as a member of their clans (Biteete), and one day when he went hunting, and never returned. After a careful search, his spear was found at the now male hot spring but he and his dog couldn’t be traced and they believe he disappeared from the same spot. When the wife heard of the news, she also went into the forest and never returned. Her clothes were found at the now female hot spring (Nyansimbi). This is how they came to be named male and female.
The Bamaga clan performs annual rituals at the springs to their ancestors in the belief that they live beneath the hot springs.
Semliki National Park has 8 species of primates, over 400 bird species some from the Ituri forest, and 300 butterfly species. Therefore a walk to the springs is not just a walk, it is an ultimate blend of nature, different features, history, and culture.