Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most visited in Uganda due to its diverse wildlife including big 4 mammals, chimpanzees, over 600 birds, hippos and crocodiles.

The park also takes in beautiful natural landscapes good for photography and sits right on the equator in western Ugandan. Spreading over 1,978 km2 on the rift valley floor between 1350 m to 910 meters above sea level, the park’s habitats includes lush open savannah, rift valley, tropical forests, wetlands, lake George, Kazinga channel and several crater lakes.

The park is divided into two tourism sectors which include the northern includes the main visitor center at Mweya peninsular and Kasenyi plains – the main area for game drives and boat trips on Kazinga channel. One night is really enough for most guests. But, in two nights you could do more.

The Ishasha wilderness in the southwest close to D.R. Congo is famous for tree climbing lions and huge herds of buffaloes. Most people drive through this area going to or coming from Bwindi. Stay one night in Ishasha if you really want to maximize your chances of seeing tree climbing lions.

First gazetteed as Kazinga Game Reserve in 1925, the park was upgraded to a national park in 1952. During that year, the Queen Elizabeth (II) of England visited the park from which its name was derived.

Wildlife

Queen Elizabeth national park is rich in wildlife with 95 mammals, over 612 bird species and several primates including chimpanzees. Giraffes and zebras are not there.

The Kazinga channel which connect lakes George and Edward is home to the largest concentration of hippos in east Africa as well as Nile crocodiles.

Chimpanzees and other primates are found in Kalinzu forest and Kyambura gorge known as the “valley of apes”.

Visitors on game drive in the kasenyi plains plus boat safaris on Kazinga channel can expect to see lion, elephant, Cape buffalo, hippos and Nile crocodiles, water birds, banded mongoose, Uganda kobs, water buck, hyena and leopard.

In the Ishasha sector are huge herds of buffalo, topi, bushbuck and tree climbing lions, the highlight of all. This sector is crossed by Ishasha and Ntungwe rivers and some safari lodges offer breakfast in the bush and walks near the rivers.

With over 600 bird species, Queen Elizabeth National Park is an Important Birding Area and Ramsar site. Notable species include shoebill stork, flamingos, pel’s fishing owl, papyrus gonoleck, black bee-eater and 54 raptor species such as fish eagle, black kite, common buzzard etc.

When to visit?

Queen Elizabeth national park enjoys a tropical warm weather with temperatures range 18 to 28 degrees Celsius. The park can be visited all year round. But, dry season between December to February and June to September is best for game viewing.

Tourist Activities

Discover the activities to do in the park including Kazinga channel boat cruise, game drives, lion tracking, chimpanzee tracking, nature walks and bird watching expeditions.

Game drives

Although spotting tree climbing lions is undoubtedly the highlight, Kasenyi plains offer sightings of Uganda kobs, elephants, buffaloes, hippos, lions, leopards and waterbucks, hyenas among others. Topis are only in the Ishasha wilderness area along with large herds of buffalos and bushbuck.

Boat cruises on Kazinga channel

The waters of Kazinga channel attract a variety of water birds, hippos, Nile crocodiles as well herds of elephants and buffalo coming to drink on the shores. Boat trips in the afternoon or sundowner take visitors along the banks of this channel giving great wildlife encounters.

Chimpanzee tracking

Kyambura gorge and Kalinzu forest reserve are home to a population of 100 chimpanzees along with several primates. Guided forest walks offer visitors a chance to track chimpanzees that have been habituated. Though, the chimp experience not as good as in Kibale forest, there’s a lot to appreciate.

Kyambura gorge is an underground tropical forests in the rift valley escarpment. Several primates can be spotted like colobus monkeys, red tailed monkeys and blue monkeys are spotted.

Bird watching

There are more than 600 birds recorded including central African species. Birding can be done all year round but more rewarding in the wet season November to April. Boat trips on Kazinga channel offer sightings of water birds while forest walks in Maragambo, Kalinzu and Kyambura offer forest birds. Savannah species can be seen during game drives. Notable birds include martial eagle, Chapin’s fly catcher, papyrus gonelock, black bee-eaters, lesser and greater flamingos.

Experiential wildlife research activities

These include lion tracking, mongoose tracking, hippos and bird counts. These activities support Uganda Wildlife database for conservation. Unlike common game drives, the experiential tours such as lion tracking offer up close encounters with lions but also offer a chance to study the behavior and identification of the big cats. Experiential activities should be booked 24 hours before the actual day.

Guided nature walks

In Ishasha sector, visitors can take guided walks along river Ishasha to spot hippos and elephants safely from the river bank. Forest walks are also available in Kyambura gorge as well as at Maramagambo forest in the rift valley escarpments.

Cultural encounters

Tourism helps to promote harmonious living between people and wildlife. Therefore, it’s important to visit some of the communities neighboring the park for cultural experience with local people.

For instance, the Kasoga community near Kasenyi plains offers village walks and canoe rides.

Kikorongo women community and leopard village have local food and banana beer preparation, agro farm tours and visiting the caves.

Katwe village offers salt harvesting salt experience. Lake Katwe is found outside the park about 12 km from Mweya. Visiting Lake Katwe gives a unique insight into the fascinating yet tough process of salt mining. Mostly done by women, who spend their days under the equatorial sun, walking the network of paths that crisscross the lake while harvesting salt from its milky waters.

Crater Lake loop drive

Stretching for about 30 km in the rift valley north of Mweya peninsular to the Queen’s Pavilion. Take a drive there for view of volcanic explosion crater lakes.

Queen’s Pavilion

Located near the Crater Lake drive, the queen’s pavilion is a stopover site with an information center, coffee shop and the equator monument. Opened in November 2007 by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, the pavilion is run by Conservation through Public Health (CTPH). This NGO works to promote wildlife conservation by improving healthcare for people and their livestock in and around Africa’s protected areas.

Getting there

Queen Elizabeth national park is located in western Uganda about 389 km from Kampala city. The journey via Mbarara- Bushenyi high way takes about 5-6 hours. You can access the park from Murchison falls national park which is 410 km about 7-8 hours’ drive via Fort portal town. From Bwindi, Queen Elizabeth national park can be accessed via Ishasha with in about 3 to 4 hours’ drive.

The park’s tourism hub Mweya has a small airstrip making it possible to access the park by charter and daily scheduled flights. 

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