Queen Elizabeth National Park: Among Uganda’s top destinations for wildlife safaris is Queen Elizabeth national park. It is one of the most attractive nature reserves in Africa with its vast plains covering the biggest area out of the 1,978 sq.kms and hosting interesting big mammals including elephants, buffaloes, waterbucks and tree climbing lions among others. Other vegetation includes savannah woodlands, forests and wetlands. This variety of habitats along with the waterbodies within the park highly contribute to its widest range of wildlife than any other nature reserve in Uganda; over 90 mammals, 5 primates and more than 600 bird species.

A safari to Queen Elizabeth national park gives you an opportunity to see four of the Big Five animals of Africa; the elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard are present in the park except the Rhino.

Queen Elizabeth national park’s southern sector harbor’s an amazing population of the rare tree climbing lions. Named after the Queen of England II after her visit to the park, Queen Elizabeth national park is one of the most enjoyable wildlife Africa safari destinations on the continent. It has an incredible biodiversity rating with many habitats including savannah grassland, bushland, forests and wetlands and these highly contribute to its wide range of mammals and birds.

Covering a total area of 1,978 sq.km, Queen Elizabeth national park is one of Uganda’s most popular savannah parks. This is mainly because of its impressive wildlife including the tree climbing lions and the huge numbers of elephants, hippos and antelopes among others, the gorgeous sceneries such as the hills and valleys, craters and the Rwenzori Mountains backdrops.

Uganda kobs in the plains of QENP

Brief history of Queen Elizabeth national park

The northern part of Lake George was first declared as a game reserve (as Lake George Game Reserve) in 1906 purposely to prevent unregulated hunting and to protect the land from the agricultural plans of cotton and wheat production. By 1912, the area was declared a restricted place and this forced most people that lived in the surrounding to relocate.

In 1952, the government gazetted and declared the area as Kazinga national park. Two years later (in 1954), the Queen of England II visited the park and this thereafter led to change of its name to Queen Elizabeth national park which is abbreviated at QENP. It was done in commemoration of her visit.

Attractions in Queen Elizabeth national park

Wildlife

The park has the highest variety of animal species plus an impressive range of flora. The different types of vegetation host up to 95 mammal species including elephants, hippos, buffaloes, waterbucks, Uganda kobs, lions, leopards, warthogs and 10 primate species; chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys and olive baboons among others. Primates are commonly found in Kyambura gorge and Maramagambo forest while baboons often welcome visitors at the Equator landmark in Kikorongo.

Queen Elizabeth national park records 612 bird species including water birds, savannah birds, birds of prey and woodland birds. It has the highest checklist than any nature reserve in East Africa. Some of the common birds in the park are the palm-nut vulture, swamp fly catcher, cormorants, African mourning dove, pied king fishers, malachite king fisher, Pel’s fishing owl and the collared pratincole among others. Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards are the most spotted types of reptiles in the park.

Kazinga channel

This is a wide natural water way of about 40km long adjoining Lake George and Lake Edward which are part of the park and home to a number of aquatic and semi-aquatic wildlife. It hosts the largest concentration of hippos and is a highlight for hippo census tourism. Kazinga channel’s banks are relaxing spots for huge crocodiles. During the boat cruise on Kazinga channel, tourists have chances of seeing several crocodiles sunbathing at the shores of the waterbody.

Hot hours of the day and more especially during the dry season, Kazinga channel attracts huge numbers of animals. Buffaloes and elephants walk miles to drink and cool their bodies here. The channel banks host an impressive bird list with common species including pied kingfishers, egrets, long tailed cormorants, pink barked pelicans, African fish eagle and Hadada Ibis.

Wildlife lives in harmony along Kazinga Channel

The tree climbing lions in Ishasha

Off the beaten track south of Queen Elizabeth national park in the Ishasha sector reside the Tree climbing lions. As the name goes, the lions are often spotted resting on fig tree branches. Unlike lions in the rest of the locations of the park and other parks in Uganda, climbing trees is a common habit by lions in Ishasha sector.

The best time for a game drive in Ishasha is around mid-morning as the heat from the sun gets hotter during the day. Game drives in this part of the park are conducted mainly to look out for the tree climbing lions.

The Equator

Queen Elizabeth national park is one of the few national parks in Uganda that are crossed by the equator imaginary line. A landmark to show where it crosses is situated in Kikorongo, near the Queens pavilion in the northern part of the park. This is a beautiful spot and one of the major photo highlights for a Uganda safari. Simply pose with one leg in the northern and the other in the southern hemisphere.

Explosion craters

There are numerous explosion craters around Queen Elizabeth national park, many of which are extinct while few still have characteristics of interest. To fully explore QENP, a crater drive should be a must do as part of your Queen Elizabeth safari.

The Katwe explosion craters that are located north of Mweya Peninsula hold an interesting history as well as facts that can still be seen up to date. From salt mining in Katwe to scenic viewing and bird watching in Kyemengo, craters in Queen Elizabeth national park are fascinating. Some craters are filled with water to form crater lakes while others are dry, and others are seasonal lakes, for example Lake Nyamunuka.

Tourists enjoy wonderful crater drive experiences in Queen Elizabeth national park with spectacular views of the craters, wildlife in the craters, landscape of the surrounding including Lakes George and Edward and the towering Rwenzori mountains.

Bat cave  

Situated in the southern sector of the park, Maramagambo forest is mostly famous for the Bat Cave. The site hosts countless bats that sometimes attract pythons. There is a viewing room from where visitors watch the bats, reptiles and other attractions that may appear.

Kyambura gorge

Nicknamed the “Valley of apes”, Kyambura gorge is a breathtaking landscape in the east of queen Elizabeth national park. The somewhat long-forested chasm can be visited for scenic viewing or chimpanzee trekking since it is a natural habitat for a number of man’s close relatives and other primates. While in the park offices in Kyambura, you can head to the raised platform and enjoy stunning views of the gorge, forest canopy, the savannah plains and the Rwenzori mountains at a distant.

Activities in Queen Elizabeth national park

Things to do in Queen Elizabeth national park

Game drives

The best and most popular way to see wildlife in Queen Elizabeth national park is going for game drive. Major game drives are conducted in the morning and evening. There is also the night game drive which is intended to look out for nocturnal animals.

The day game drives offer chances of seeing a variety of large and small mammals including elephants, hippos, waterbucks, buffaloes, warthogs, lions, leopards and hyenas among others. Birds are also normally abundant. The amazing drives are done in Kasenyi plains, northeast of the park where most herbivores roam and also attract predators making it the best place for the activity. Game drives in Queen Elizabeth national park are more rewarding in the morning when grazers are feeding and predators before returning to their hideouts, still feeding on their catch or trying to grab something for a late breakfast.

Game drives in Ishasha to see tree climbing lions normally take place at around 11am to 5pm.

Boat cruise

The two hours launch trip on Kazinga channel is a highlight for every wildlife safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park. UWA and Mweya safari lodge operate the launch cruises at specific schedules and your tour operator can arrange the most suitable depending on your trip. The boat cruise is great for wildlife viewing of the concentration of hippos, crocodiles and other animals that draw to the channel to drink. With the variety of birds here, bird lovers it takes you on the water channel to see the countless hippos, lots of crocodiles and buffaloes. If you are a bird lover, you have plenty of bird species to see here throughout the trip including pink backed pelicans, white backed pelicans, African fish eagles, pied king fishers, African spoonbill, egrets and many others.

Leopards and lions are occasionally spotted in the thickets and acacia trees along the channel.

Bird watching

Queen Elizabeth National Park has about 5 different vegetation types which host various types of birds. With a checklist of 612 bird species, the safari destination makes bird watching a highly interesting experience. In Africa, only the Virunga National park exceeds this total, and indeed it is much larger than QENP. Major birding sites in the park are Mweya peninsular including Kazinga channel, Lake Kikorongo, Maramagamo forest, Kyambura and Kasenyi. Common bird species in Queen Elizabeth national park include the shoebill stork (rare), egrets, pied kingfishers, papyrus gonolek, Black headed gonolek, African finfoot, African fish eagle, hammerkop, black bee-eater, African skimmer and the Martial eagle.

 

Chimpanzee tracking

 The 100m deep forested Kyambura gorge is home to a number of primates including chimps, black and white colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys and olive baboons and you can go chimpanzee tracking with a ranger guide. There are two chimpanzee tracking sessions; the morning trek which starts at 8am and the afternoon trek that starts at 2pm and they last for 2 to 4 hours. Although the walks are often unfruitful, the experience of exploring this forest is thrilling; you’ll come across some primates like monkeys and enjoy the sounds of the rapidly flowing river. From the viewing platform, you get the overview of the beautiful gorge and forest plus have a chance to spot several attractive birds. A permit to track chimps in Kyambura gorge costs US$50 per person.

Nature walk

A number of animals and birds can be seen on guided nature walks at Mweya peninsular. The activity costs US$15 per person for foreign tourists and UGX 10,000 for East African citizens. The two hours walk involves watching scenic landscapes including the waterbodies around Mweya plus seeing and learning about birds. You could as come across a buffalo, waterbuck or hippo. A trip on the trails of Maramagambo forest is ideal for bird lovers while there’s also a chance to see pythons that often hunt for bats at the bat cave and some primates at the forest. If you are staying in the south of the park, you can walk around Ishasha and watch the hippos at the river, lots of birds and a great chance to sight the forest hog if it is an early morning nature walk.

Lion tracking

Uganda Wildlife Authority introduced an initiative of experiential tourism that allows tourists to search for lions from wherever they could have moved and spend some time in their presence.   Lion tracking in Queen Elizabeth national park is more of research and the money collected from the activity is used to help in the research activities that are run by Uganda Carnivore Program. Just like the normal game drive, lion tracking is also done in the morning. You move with an assigned researcher in the vehicle so that he helps you to find the lions using locator devices and radio collars. Once you encounter the lions, you learn about their behaviors in the wild.

Crater drive

Also known as the Katwe Explosion Crater drive, the exploration takes place on a ridge which is the highest point of the park at 1,350m above sea level. It is a scenic drive that takes visitors around the famous explosion craters in Katwe areas. Remember to charge and carry your camera to capture the beautiful landscape. The best time to do it is in the morning and late afternoon when the lighting conditions are appropriate for photography. You might as well spot different kinds of animals around the craters with vegetation and those with water.

Accommodation in Queen Elizabeth national park

Being the second largest park and one of the most visited destinations in Uganda, QENP has many safari lodges ranging from budget to luxury. Some of these accommodation infrastructure is built to fit in the locality; grass thatched and others with wooden material to blend with the environment. Notable lodges at the park include;

  • Budget: Simba Safari Camp, Pumba Safari Cottages, Mweya Hostels, Tembo Safari Lodge
  • Midrange: Bush Lodge, Enganzi Game Lodge, Park View Lodge and Marafiki Lodge
  • Luxury: Mweya Safari Lodge, Kyambura Game Lodge, Ishasha Wilderness Camp, Hippos Safari Lodge, Jacana Lodge and Elephnat Plains Lodge

Accessing Queen Elizabeth national park

The park can be reached by both road and air

By road

To get to Queen Elizabeth national park from Kampala or Entebbe, you can use the Mbarara-Ishaka route which is about 420km long or Mubende-Fort Portal Kasese route which is approximately 410km. The routes are an easy connection from Lake Mburo national park and Kibale national park respectively.

You can also access it through Ishasha sector if you are traveling from Bwindi Impenetrable national park.

By air

Charter flights are conducted daily from Kajjansi airstrip or Entebbe airport direct to Mweya airstrip with in the park or to Kasese airfield where you are picked up by your safari driver or hotel representatives and transferred to the park (less than an hours drive).

If you are planning to visit Queen Elizabeth national park this season and are looking to have a tailor made private safari, feel free to send in your inquiry and Dolphin Tours and travel we will be glad to take you around the Pearl of Africa.

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