Queen Elizabeth National Park "Lakes and Mountains in an extraordinary setting"
At the size of 1,978sqkm the park is Uganda’s second biggest national park after Murchison Falls National Park. Queen Elizabeth National Park being a World bio-sphere reserve with a RAMSAR wetland site, is sometimes referred to as the pearl of Africa. The park is situated astride the equator and located in southwestern Uganda lying on the base of the rift valley between Lakes George and Edward and borders Democratic Republic of Congo on its western side.
The park’s conservation can be traced back in 1925, when a department was setup to stop Elephants from raiding villages and destroying cultivation with the overall aim being protecting both Elephants and people within to keep the certain boundaries. At the same time series of game reserves, sanctuaries and national parks were established over the years across the border in Zaire, Parc national des Virunga by the Belgian colonial authorities. This resulted in pressure to protect the adjoining ecosystem in Uganda hence the establishment of L. George game reserve and L. Edward game reserve in the in the late 1920’s later in 1952 it was gazetted into a national park known as Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park together with the Kyambura and Kigezi wildlife reserves covers 2475 square kilometers. Its temperatures range from 18ºc to 28ºc. The wettest seasons in this Park are usually incurred in March to May and September to November receiving rains ranging from 750mm to 1250mm with an altitude of 910m above sea level at Lake Edward vicinity to 1,390 m above sea level in the crater area.
This park can be accessed most easily from the south from Kampala via Mbarara town-Bushenyi via Katunguru covering a distance of 420km while the north through Fort Portal-Kasese via Katunguru covers a total of 410km. The park can also be accessed from the south from Kabale or Bwindi Impenetrable National Park via Kihihi to Ishasha gate. Charter flights can be arranged to a choice of airstrips at Kasese, Mweya and Ishasha.
En-route to Queen Elizabeth, visitors have the chance to enjoy short stopover tours to Lake Mburo National Park, Kibale Forest National park renowned for chimpanzee tracking and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park via Kihihi to Ishasha gate.
Things to see at Queen Elizabeth National Park:
Queen Elizabeth National Park is basically known for the big four animals that is the Elephants, Lions, Buffaloes and the Leopards. Other animals in the park include warthog, giant forest hog, topi, bushbuck, civet, hyena, aardvark, Uganda kob, bushbabies, chimpanzee, baboon, Columbus monkeys, hippo to mention. It is also classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birdlife International with 500+ species of birds including fish eagle, bee eater, 11 kingfishers, shoebill stork, falcons, eagles, vultures, flamingos and glorious butterflies are everywhere.
Imagine a terrain that includes a myriad of lakes of all types and sizes, from great freshwater lakes and inland salt lakes to mirror surfaced crater lakes. A terrain that includes marshland and broad savannah, mountains and mysterious unexplored wooded valleys. A terrain that provides a magnificent home for a breathtakingly wide variety of exotic creatures of all kinds, in the air, on the land in the water. Set in the west of the Great East African Rift Valley and bordered by mist-capped “Mountains of the Moon”, the Queen Elizabeth National Park is all this, and more.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is sometimes referred to as the pearl of Africa. Sir Andrew Cohen wrote about it that; “the grandest view I have ever seen, looking north from Ankole escarpment, with lakes Edward and George and the Kazinga Channel in the foreground and the whole snow capped range of the Rwenzori as a backdrop.”
Things to do at Queen Elizabeth National Park - Uganda
Launch trip or Kazinga Channel
This is the most popular activity to the mouth of the Kazinga Channel. The 40km-long channel that connects Lake George to Lake Edward provides the park’s prime wildlife spectacle and its shoreline attracts large numbers of birds, mammals and reptiles year round. These can be seen from two covered launches, Topi and Simba that cruise between Mweya Jetty and the channel’s entrance into Lake Edward. The launches run at 1500 hrs and 1700hrs, Additional voyages run at 1100hrs and 1300hrs subject to demand.
These are usually done very early in the morning and late in the evening hours. Over 200km of well maintained tracks give visitor access to the park’s game and slower you drive the more you will see. Some tracks pass through large mating grounds of great herds of Uganda Kob. There are basically three game drives in Queen Elizabeth national park including: The Northern crater area game drive, Kasenyi area game drive and the Ishasha sector game drive.
One of Uganda’s largest tracts of tropical forest, Maramagambo is notable for its primate and bird populations. Trails explore the forest around Lake Nyamusingire. Wildlife sightings vary from day to day, but guaranteed events include the Bat Cave with a resident bat-hungry Python, and the copper-rich Blue Lake.
Chimps Tracking in Chambura Gorge
Habituated Chimpanzees live in the 100m deep gorge carved by the Kyambura River that flows across the rift valley floor towards the Kazinga Channel. Guided walks to search for Chimpanzees start at Kyambura’s Fig Tree Camp at 0800 hrs and 1400 hrs.
Queen Elizabeth National Park boasts 606 bird species. You can encounter them by using experienced guide and they know the most interesting bird spots around swamps, lakes and other interesting habitat of the park.
Around the park and Trail Accommodation:
Mweya Peninsula: Queen’s focal point contains the Visitors Centre, a luxury lodge and restaurant, hostel, campsite, budget food option and also the departure point for the Kazinga Channel launch trip and is still jam-packed with birds and animals. Its elevated position commands gorgeous views of the Kazinga Channel and surrounding savanna. The Peninsula is also in proximity to make an ideal departure point for wildlife-filled morning or evening game drives to northern circuit.
Kazinga Channel: The Kazinga channel launch cruise is the most relaxing way to enjoy a wildlife safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Ready with your camera or binoculars expect to see hippos, elephants, buffalos and water birds, along with caimans, monitor lizards, marabou storks, weaver birds and elegant pairs of fish eagles along the banks of the Kazinga channel.
Katwe and Explosion Craters: There are a number of must-see huge round volcanic basins scattered across the National Park for those with a particular interest in the region’s fascinating geological history. The 27km drive between Kabatoro gate and Queen’s Pavilion takes in views of the enormous craters, circular lakes, the Rift Valley escarpment and the Kazinga channel all in front of the mighty backdrop of the Rwenzori Mountains.
The Katwe-Kabatoro community on Katwe Salt Lake where for century traditional salt mining is practiced is one of the most famous lookout points while at the park. The neighboring Lake Munyanyange is a bird sanctuary, as well as a migratory location for the lesser flamingo from August to November.
Kasenyi Plains and Lake George: Kasenyi Plains stretches from the Kasese road towards Lake George. The vast savannah of Kasenyi is the perfect setting for a classic African safari experience with dream photographic opportunities of the Uganda kob breeding ground that attract prides of lions, warthogs grazing bent down on their knees, guinea fowl scuttle through the grassland and huge dark elephants, buffalo, more skittish pairs of bushbuck, hyenas and grassland birds.
Between Lakes George and Kikorongo lies a track of swamp. The papyrus swamps included on the Ramsar wetland site is home to the semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope. It is also spot for the elusive Shoebill plus other native birds on the lake and papyrus endemics including white winged warbler, papyrus gonolek and papyrus warbler and during the northern winter large concentration of migrant waders and waterfowl. Also the Hamukungu fishing village is worthy visiting.
Mweya Peninsula and the Northern Circuit Lodging options
A variety of accommodation caters for all budgets in this part of the park. Mweya Safari Lodge, and Hippo hill camp offer upmarket accommodation while Queen Elizabeth Bush Camp, Simba Safari camp just out side the park offer moderate accommodation and the Mweya Hostel at Mweya Student camp, Rwenzori Salaam lodge and Excellent lodge provide budget accommodation. You may click on this link for more lodging options at Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The remote Ishasha Plains is 100km southwest of Mweya and is ranked with the most alluring game veiwing areas in the country with two main game circuits the northern and the southern loops. It is most famous with the tree climbing lions. It is also home to many buffalos and elephants, herds of Uganda kob as well as the rare shoebill. The region is convenient to pass through on the way to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
A variety of accommodation that caters for all budgets in this sector of the park provides a true wilderness experience. Upmarket accommodation include Ishasha Wilderness Camp, and Ishasha Ntungwe River Camp while Savanna Resort Hotel provides moderate accommodation and Ishasha Campsite and Simba Miti Camp offers budget and camping accommodation.
Maramagambo forest: The forest harbours primates including chimpanzees, baboons and several monkey species. The forest is also alive with numerous birds including the rare Forest Flycatcher, White-naped Pigeon and the striking Rwenzori Turaco. One can also visit the ‘cormorant house’, a large tree that has been turned white by the birds that roost here at night, crater lakes and a “Bat Cave” with a specially constructed viewing room.
Kyambura Gorge: This is the most popular tourist draw in this part of the park with habituated Chimpazees that can be tracked with in the confines of the forested river gorge carved into the surrounding flat savannah. East of Kyambura Gorge is Kyambura Wildlife Reserve with beautiful crater lakes that offer excellent opportunities to observe many water birds including greater and lesser flamingoes and the great egrets.
A variety of accommodation caters for all budgets in this part of the park. Katara Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge and Kyambura Game Lodge all offer upmarket accommodation while Kingfisher Kichwamba Lodge, offers moderate accommodation and Abbey Guesthouse and Maramagambo Campsite provides budget accommodation.