Located in Ntandi town council in the Western district of Bundibugyo, Sempaya Hot Springs are one of the most locally toured sites in Uganda.
It is about 70kms from Fort Portal to the Sempaya Hot Springs which are also part of the Toro-Semliki game reserve.
It is a one and a half hour drive to Sempaya through the districts of Kabarole and Ntoroko.
The traffic on the smooth tarmac road to Bundibugyo is comprised of tourist vehicles, taxis and heavy trucks that ferry Cocoa from Bundibugyo district.
Traders ply to and from the busy trading centres of Karago, Bukuku, Kazingo and Kicwamba in Kabarole district.
However, despite the smooth road, the driver is compelled to use the brake pedal to reduce speed while negotiating the snake – like sharp corners of Musandama hills which are part of the greater Mt Rwenzori ranges shared by both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A number of tributaries flow downstream through the valleys of Musandama hills. The green – covered hills and slopes serve a breathtaking picturesque for visitors.
The hills are home to some of Uganda’s communities – the Bakonjo and Bamba – and their homesteads are seen standing on the hilltops and down the valley.
After about 35kms of negotiating the sharp corners, we sloped down to the low land of Karugutu in Ntoroko district.
The road through the busy centres of Bulondo, Rwamabale, Itojo that leads to the Sempaya hot springs is carpet – smooth.
At the reception of the Sempaya Hot Springs, involvement of women in environmental conservation catches my eye.
I’m welcomed by a smiling female warden officer who thereafter introduces me to Moses Tumuhimbise, a guide, to take me through the nature walk to the Hot Springs.
“It’s a 15 minute walk from here to the Hot Springs,” he says.
He tells me that the Hot Springs boil at 96 degrees celcius and that it would take only 10 minutes to boil an egg.
“Not only an egg, but any vegetables that you drop in boils fast and is ready for eating in just 10 minutes or less,” he said.
Temperatures rise as we get closer to the hot springs. Wind blows the vapour from the boiling water to different directions while water flows to the swampy area adjacent to the south eastern edge of the National Park.
Since I had flat shoes, i am advised to change to gumboots that are offered by the guide. There are several boots at the reception, so if you are visiting, do not bother yourself to carry a pair unless you must.
Because of the algae and slippery rock surface, a temporary raised walkway made out of wood has been erected along which tourists walk to get closer to the Hot Springs.
The Sempaya hot springs are the most outstanding and well known feature of Uganda’s Semliki National Park.
The Hot Springs that boil up from the rock bottom of the earth exhibit great underground geographical forces that have many centuries ago formed the Rift Valley.
Semliki National Park covering 220 square kilometres is among Uganda’s latest National Parks and was gazetted in October 1993.
Sempaya hot springs are gendered – one is referred to as the male while the other is the female hot springs.
“Scientifically, hot springs are a spiral formed by an appearance of geothermal – heated underground water from the earth’s layer,” the guide narrates.
He explains that the hotness of rocks inside the earth upsurges.
“When water infiltrates plentifully deep into the crust, it is heated as it gets into contact with the very hot rocks. Hot springs are made by fissures spreading deep towards the exceptionally hot temperatures of the earth layer, and water trickling down is heated and enforced back up with much pressure to produce bubbles,” he said.
At the end of the day’s ecounters at Sempaya, it is clear that the experience is more than just hot springs. It’s the people, the landscape, the women who are defying odds, the curvy road trip, the trek and lots more.
But it’s all an affirmation of the diverse portfolio of natural features that Uganda has to offer.