Queen Elizabeth National Park is a savannah park found in the western part of Uganda, covering an area of 1,978km2 in four districts; Rukungiri, Rubirizi, Kasese and Kamwengye. The park is governed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, it was established in 1952 as Kazinga National Park, but later after two years renamed after the Queen of England; Queen Elizabeth II. The highest point of the park is 1,350m above sea level at the Katwe craters and the lowest point is 910m at Lake Edward.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s most famous tourist destinations. It has a diverse ecosystem comprised of humid and shady forests, extensive savanna, acacia trees, sparkling lakes, wetlands and the Kazinga channel hosting over 95 species of mammals as well as the Big 4 and these include; the lion, leopard, African elephant and African buffalo, around 10 species of primates including the chimpanzees, Vervet monkeys, Olive Baboons, Black and white colobus monkeys and over 600 bird species.
The park is indeed a Medley of wonders as it hosts around 20 carnivores such as leopards, spotted hyenas, lions, stripped jackals, crocodiles and many more.
The park is renowned for its spectacular views of the Rwenzori Mountains, enormous craters, forested rolling hills and the breathtaking Kazinga Channel views with its banks filled with crocodiles, birds, elephants, hippos and other wildlife species. It is in Queen Elizabeth National Park where you find Climbing Lions which are found in the southern sector of the park known as the Ishasha Sector.
Wildlife and Bird species in Queen Elizabeth National Park
The park is home to over 10,000 buffaloes, 2,500 elephants and 5,000 hippos. These animals are spotted along the savanna plains, Kazinga channel shorelines and the woodlands. This means that tourists enjoy amazing sightings of these mammals in various locations during the game drives and boat cruises.
Other smaller herbivores seen include; waterbucks, warthogs, topis, Uganda kobs and sitatungas.
The Big Cats
A combination of seeing mammals and the big cats in Queen is very exciting. The park hosts a number of big cats and most tourists have had a great opportunity to see one or all of them. Lions are found inside the park in the Kasenyi plains, but most common in Ishasha sector where many of them actually climb trees. Other cats include; leopards, genet, serval cats and civets. Most of these are nocturnal and seen better during night game drives.
As earlier said, the park is home to over 600 bird species and these include the migratory and the rift endemics. The hosts woodlands, wetlands, lakes hence a great birding spot to the bird lovers. The pelican and shoebill stork can be seen and other species such as the swamp flycatchers, black bee-eater, palm-nut vulture, African hobby, papyrus gonolek, spotted redshank, white-backed heron and many more.
On the park’s trees and lush forested areas reside about 10 primate species. The largest species of them is the chimpanzees which live in the Kyambura gorge and Maramagambo forests.
Other common primates include; Red-tailed monkey, blue monkey, Black and white colobus, vervet monkeys, Olive monkeys, olive baboons, L’Hoest’s monkeys and Grey-cheeked mangabeys.
Getting to the Park
The park is situated 410km west off Kampala, Uganda’s capital city. It can be accessed by road; it takes 7 to 8 hours to drive from Kampala to Queen. It is also possible to fly from Kajjansi Airfield or Entebbe International Airport to the different Airstrips near the park such as Kihihi, Kasese or Mweya. There are chartered or scheduled flights to these airstrips.
The park can be accessed as you come from other national Parks in the Western and Southern parts of Uganda like Lake Mburo, Kibale Forest and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks. This means that one can have an itinerary covering all these National Parks for an unforgettable wildlife and primate safari experience.
From Kibale National Park and Fort Portal town, it takes 3 to 4 hours to get to Queen. From Bwindi (Buhoma), it takes around 4 hours on the road to drive to the park.
Entry fees to the park include; USD$40 for foreign non-residents (FNR), USD$30 for foreign residents (FR) and 20,000 Uganda Shillings for the East African Citizens (EAC). Other fees required to the park are for the car entry and all the activities that you wish to do while in the park.
Where to Stay
There are several accommodation facilities inside Queen Elizabeth National Park and Outside the Park, ranging from Budget camps and lodges to exclusively luxurious safari lodges and tented camps.
The park is made up of different sectors or parts which are all open for exciting activities, each of these parts have lodges. These parts include; the Mweya peninsula, the Rift valley escarpment, Ishasha sector, Kyambura Gorge and the Northeast escarpment.
Choosing where to stay also depends on the client’s budget and availability in a particular lodge. In the high season, lodges are on high demand hence travellers are advised to make their safari bookings prior their day of travel.
Lodges in and around the park include; Mweya safari lodge (found inside the park), Elephant plains, Kyambura gorge lodge, Buffalo safari lodge, Engiri lodge, Park view lodge, Enganzi lodge, Katara lodge, Ihamba safari lodge, Bush lodge, Ishasha wilderness camp, Enjojo lodge, Ishasha jungle lodge and many more.
When to Visit
Don’t be limited by the phrase “best time to visit”, it is known that most tourists would love to know the best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. What I can say to you is that the park can be visited at any time of the year.
However, many people opt to visit in the drier months of the year, they are regarded as the dry season and these are; months from June to September, and from Late December all through to early March. This season is known as the peak or high season of Uganda and makes wildlife viewing and chimpanzee tracking easy since the grass is short for game viewing and the tracks are dry or less muddy during chimpanzee tracking.
During the dry season, hotels or lodges are on high demand since many tourists are visiting the park, hence the prices for rooms tend to go high, which is not the case in the wet season.
The wet season (known as the time with higher amounts of rainfall), starts from late October to December and then from March to Late May. The good thing about this season is that the environment is beautifully green with big numbers of migratory birds, hence a good season for birders. It is also a good season for photographic safaris and the accommodation prices are lowered since the demand of tourists is low.
How long to Spend in the Park?
How long one spends in the park is based on their interests and what kind of activities they are going to do in the Park. Most tourists spend a minimum of 2 nights which involve day game drives for wildlife viewing and a boat cruise. The day you arrive in the park is usually for your relaxation or going for an evening game drive. If you would like to go for chimpanzee trekking an extra day is added on your itinerary.
Things to Do in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Game Drives/Wildlife Viewing
Game drives are excursions through the park for wildlife viewing in a vehicle. Usually the vehicles used during game drives are the ones designed for safari, comfortable with a pop-up roof to enable easy game viewing. Game drives in Queen are carried out in the Kasenyi area which has vast savanna grassland, it is popularly known for hosting the big cats such as leopards, lions and also has the biggest mating ground for kobs.
Game drives can be done anytime of them day, however, the early morning and evening hours are the best ones to go for wildlife viewing. This is because in these times the sun is not very hot. Most cats prefer to hunt for their prey in the morning and evening. The drive can last for 2 to 3 hours, during the drive look out for buffaloes, hippos, elephants, birds and many other wildlife species.
Boat/Launch cruises along the Kazinga Channel
Taking a 2 to 3 hours boat ride along the Kazinga channel offers the best game viewing and birding experience in the park. Kazinga channel is a water body that connects Lake George and Lake Edward and it is a great spot for both birds and game such as elephants, crocodiles, hippos, waterbucks, buffaloes, bushbucks, monitor lizards and many others.
The boating session can be done in the morning or in the afternoon. There are available boats which are both shared and private boats. For visitors interested in birding watching, a morning boat ride is advised since there are high chances of seeing numerous bird species.
Chimpanzee Tracking in Kyambura Gorge
Yes apart from Kibale, you can enjoy chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura Gorge. Kyambura Gorge is located in the Eastern part of Queen with spectacular views of the rainforest, it is 100m deep and is commonly referred to as the valley of apes. Kyambura is home to about 16 chimpanzees and other primate species such as black and white colobus monkeys and olive baboons.
In order to track chimpanzees, you need a tracking permit which can be bought at the park headquarters. Chances of seeing chimpanzees in this Gorge and not as high as the ones in Kibale but nevertheless the tracking experience through the forest is rewarding also since there are many other things to see such as other primates, birds, plants and tree species.
Watching birds in the park is relatively easy since it is home to over 600 species of birds, this makes it a great birding destination. Bird species seen include; the shoebill stork, pelicans, swamp flycatchers, black bee-eater, palm-nut vulture, African hobby, papyrus gonolek, spotted redshank, white-backed heron among others.
The main where bird watching can be carried out in the park include, during a boat ride along the Kazinga channel, the Kasenyi plains, Maramagambo forest, Kyambura Gorge, the Katunguru bridge, around different lakes within the park and also on Lake Munyanyange which is adjacent to the park.
Cultural Experiences and Community Visits
After enjoying wildlife and nature in the park, getting a glimpse in the culture of the people living in the park is also something remarkable. The park has a rich culture with many neighboring fishing villages. Visitors can choose to engage with the local people and see how they live or carry out their economic activities, plus a chance to enjoy storytelling, traditional music, dances and drama performed by the local people.
Guided Forest/Nature Walks
The nature walks are done with the guidance by skilled ranger guides who provide safety and security to tourists. They are carried out in various places such as the Mweya Peninsular where you enjoy great bird watching and stunning views of Lake Edward and the Kazinga channel.
In Maramagambo Forest where those that love nature or the birders walk through the forest discovering various bird species, tree and plant species. During the walk you stumble on hidden craters, bat caves and other things.
Also in Ishasha sector nature lovers get a chance to walk along the banks of Ishasha River where they get an opportunity to get close to the Hippos and other things in the ecosystem.