From Fort Portal, the road winds to the enchanting hills, Bundibugyo District, the home of Sempaya hot springs. Bundibugyo, carved out of Kabarole in 1974, is one of the scenic, but isolated districts positioned beyond the Rwenzori Mountains. The area consists of five tribes: Bamba, Batuku, Babwisi, Batwa and Batooro.
This offers a mosaic of different habitats; from tall grass woodland, acacia savanna, grassland with extensive patches of borassus to wet-lands. Semuliki is dominated by the Eastern most extension of the Ituri Forest of the Congo Basin. Little wonder that telecom signals continue to remind us that we are within or not far away from the DR Congo. To the west is River Semuliki which separates Uganda and DR Congo, to the south up to northeast are the Rwenzori ranges, northern part is Semuliki flats and Lake Albert. It’s a great pleasure to visit these hot springs when you come to Uganda.
Sempaya hot springs is the most activity within Semuliki National park and is a must-do for all tourists to this National Park. There are two Hot springs; The Male hot spring called Bitende that measures about 12 meters in diameter and the Female hot spring named Nyasimbi which is a boiling geyser that ejects out hot water and steam at about 2 meters into the air. Attracting hordes of tourists each year, these hot springs have a geyser that shoots up from a hole at really hot temperatures. In fact, the water is so hot you can boil an egg and eat it in ten minutes. Sempaya Hot Springs’ temperature in both springs reaches 100 degrees Celsius and it is well known in history that you can cook food like fresh vegetables in the springs and you also have this opportunity to boil eggs in the water within 5-10 minutes. If you love a good nature tour, the park does not only offer the hot springs but also hosts primate creatures; the trail to the springs leads through a patch of forest where red-tailed monkey, grey-cheeked mangabey and black-and white colobus are common. Among the most interesting birds regularly seen here are various forest hornbills, blue-breasted kingfisher, red-rumped and yellow throated tinkerbird, Frasier’s ant-thrush and honey guide greenbul.
History behind Sempaya
The name ‘Sempaya’ was derived from builders who could speak Swahili. Most of the locals know the hot springs as Sempaya which originated from a Kiswahili phrase Sehemu mbaya (the difficult side) owing to the steep challenging rocks and terrain during the construction of the Fort Portal Bundibugyo road along the ridges of the Rwenzori Mountains. While on the other hand scientists have a technical explanation to the origins of the hot springs, the indigenous Bamaga clan neighbouring the tourist attraction in Semuliki National Park have their own story from the folk lore.
Sempaya geysers are steeped in a legend of the Bamaga clan, among the Bamba. It is said a man called Bamaga went hunting in the thick forest. The said man who later became known as Biteete, continued hunting but one time never returned home. After three days, the men went out to search for him and at the present day male hot spring they only found a spear but no traces of the man nor his dog. It was assumed he had disappeared from the same spot ad they ran back to tell the wife (Nyansimbi. A few days later, Nyasimbi, Bamaga’s concerned wife mounted the search to clear mysteries around her missing husband. She also disappeared in the forest. In the subsequent search, only her clothes were found at the present day female hot spring. And it was named it Nyasimbi. This was how the two springs became to be known as the male and female hot springs and to-date the Bamaga believe their female ancestors live beneath the female hot spring while their male ancestors live at the male spring. This is why the Bamaga perform annual rituals at the springs to appease their ancestors and the national park allows them access.
How to reach at the springs
It takes approximately 52-kilometre drive from the city centre of Kampala- Uganda on tarmac to reach Sempaya. It can also be reached via a short guided walking trail not more than 500m from the Sempaya Information Office.