Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
Queen Elizabeth National Park (QUENP) spans the districts on Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi and Rukungiri in the western region of Uganda. Queen Elizabeth Park covers an area of about 1978 sq. km (764 sq. mi) and it is located about 400km by road south west of Kampala. Queen Elizabeth National Park lines with Kasese Town in the north east, Rubirizi town in the south east and Kigezi game Reserve. It also includes Maramagambo forest, Kyambura Game Reserve and Kibale forest National Park. QENP also borders with Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This park lines with the equator, the memorials on the sides of the road mark the very point where the equator crosses latitude 00. QUENP was initially called Kazinga National Park during its establishment in 1952 but this name was later changed to Queen Elizabeth National Park two years later in commemoration of Queen Elizabeth II who had visited the park.
QENP includes the two lakes namely lake George in the north east and Lake Edward in the south west and the two lakes are connected by the Kazinga Channel.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is the most famous wildlife safari destination in Uganda known for inhabiting 95 species of mammals including African lion, elephant, leopard, buffalo, hippo, Nile crocodile, and also chimpanzees among others and more than 500 species of birds such as fish eagle, Squacco Heron, white-faced whistling, African Jacana, white and pink-backed pelicans, among others. the Ishasha sector in the southern part of queen Elizabeth national park is home to tree climbing lions.
QENP also has volcanic features like the volcanic deep craters and cones with crater lakes such as the craters of lake Katwe from which salt is mined. The ecosystem of the park is diverse with sprawling savannas, sparkling lakes, shady, humid forests, fertile wetlands in which all the above attractions are found.
QENP is a complete UNESCO World Heritage Site and is run by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
QENP in Uganda twins with Queen Elizabeth Country Park in England in a project of “cultural exchange, mutual support and has its main prominence on supporting Conservation by working closely with and empowering local communities.
Attractions & Activities in Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The tree climbing lions in Ishasha sector
Did you know that some lions climb trees? This is not common and actually there are only two destinations in the whole world where lions climb trees as their day to day lifestyle and these 2 populations are only found in Ishasha sector in the south of the famous queen Elizabeth national park and Lake Manyara National park in the southern park Tanzania. There is no clear reason as to why these animals climb up in trees but allegations say that these lions climb to escape away from the bites of tsetse flies on the ground, others say, they escape from heat on the ground looking for a cool breeze. These lions are seen seeming to be lazy while laying on the branches of huge fig trees gazing at the Uganda kobs and other wildlife in the Ishasha plains and they are the main preys of the lions.
How to access Ishasha sector-a region of tree climbing lions
You can enjoy the seclusion of Ishasha in a private vehicle and equipment, the challenge is that you won’t use the park`s staff but will just be by yourself. In the rain season, the direct route to the border post of Ishasha if usually filled with mud and the road from Katunguru may not be reliable. You will need a 4×4 wheel drive vehicle. The most dependable route is through Kihihi, Ishaka and Rukungiri. It is good to first ask the people on the ground and this is possible especially if you are coming from Mweya. You can request for a radio massage from the parks office in Mweya to Ishasha Katookye gate and ask them about the tracks that move from the course of Katunguru.
The Kazinga Channel
This is a long channel with 32km connecting Lake Edward and Lake George. The channel is one of the vibrant features in Queen Elizabeth National Park-the most famous game reserve in Uganda. The Kazinga Channel offers splendid views of wildlife in the park and the banks of Kazinga Channel are often infested with plentiful Nile crocodiles, larger populations of hippos and very many species of aquatic birds.
The common activity on this channel is a boat cruise and it is done mostly at the start of Lake Edward and this activity with absolutely reward you with remarkable views of wildlife. Boat cruising along this channel is one of the and common launch trips in Uganda. The activity starts at 3pm and 5pm local time and it takes two hours. There are also privately managed boat cruises that start at 2pm and 4:15pm. Kazinga Channel has sections like the North Kazinga which includes the Kasenyi plains which offer breathtaking views of wildlife.
Getting to Kazinga Channel
The Mweya peninsula where the boat cruise starts from is 20km away from the west of Kasese-Mbarara main road. All vehicles from Kasese and Mbarara use the Katunguru route to the Kazinga Channel.
The Mweya Peninsula
The Mweya peninsula is on the northern shore of Kazinga channel where the channel converges with Lake Edward. The area of this peninsula features a channel track which stretches down to Katunguru gate and through Kabatoro gate where there plenty of Candelabra Thorn dominating the chunky ground cover with its thick vegetation.
Mweya peninsula is a historical place where the human existence at dates far back 50000 years past and it has possibly been occupied for the last thousand years. Henry M Stanley was the first explorer to visit this place in July 1889 and according to his recordings, he didn’t see anything except a formless void. By that time, Mweya had only 18 huts with plenty of sheep and goats. In 1891, Fredrick Lugard arrived at this peninsula and found when the area had been abandoned because of sleeping sickness and rinderpest that has become rampant in the area. Mweya village is currently the main hub for tourist activities within the park and it inhabits a population of over 400 people.
Most of the visitors to this peninsular of Mweya do a boat cruise along the fascination Kazinga Channel. There is a twenty-seater motorized vessel that operates two rides everyday in the morning and afternoon respectively. The trip begins from the docking area down Mweya Safari Lodge, you can opt to drive or take a simple walk to the longing area. Mweya peninsula offers stunning views of Rwenzori Mountains from a distance and the beautiful scenery of the whole of Kazinga Channel.
Mweya is one of the best places to spot leopards that usually live in thick scrubs. It is the main area of the northern part of the park.
Lake Katwe, Explosion Crater
There are various volcanic explosive craters in the western region of Uganda currently, there are 3 major concentrations, namely the Katwe explosion in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the neighboring Bunyaraguru Crater Field of the beautiful Kichwamba escarpment and Ndali-Kasenda Crater Field that is near Kibale National Park. The most impressive among the Katwe Explosion Craters is the Kyemengo Crater.
These explosion craters offer very impressive views and remarkable hiking in the areas close to Queen Elizabeth National Park in the western side of the country.
They formed beautiful and peaceful crater lakes but actually at the time of formation, they caused a lot of damages. These explosion craters themselves reduced lake Edward to a poisonous mess.
These craters are now filled with water and form breathtaking lakes but with certain smells of Sulphur in the water. Most of these craters have frequent views of monkeys, birds and extraordinary scenery points. These crater lakes are lined with verdant forests, grasslands and farms, they offer pretty views
Katwe Crater Lakes in QENP
These craters are sited in the north of Mweya Peninsula and offer the highest elevation in the whole park. The drive along the crater runs on 27km enjoying the impressive sights of crater lakes from the distance en route. Expect to see lots of wildlife during the drive especially buffalos and elephants. Look for lake Kitagata which is fed by the salty hot-springs. Enjoy the sightseeing of the great Western Rift Valley escarpment, Rwenzori Mountain ranges, Lake George, Kazinga channel and Lake Edward. End with a visit to the elegant Lake Katwe and the ago salt works on the lake.
“Maramagambo” means “end of words” and it originated from a folk story of teenage people who got lost from the forest for many days until they had to a trace a route back to the local community they had come from. By the time they came back from the forest, these young people were so tired and could not talk much and hence the word, Maramagambo.
Maramagambo forest is part of Queen Elizabeth national park, stretching from Kichwamba to Lake Edward. This forest in good for hiking and nature walking with high chances of exploring remarkable crater lakes. The experience earned from exploring this verdant forest is different from that of the savannahs. Maramagambo forest inhabits seven primate species that you may encounter on your nature walk in the forest and they include; Chimpanzees, L’Hoest`s Monkeys, Black and white colobus monkeys, Red tailed monkeys, Vervet monkeys and baboons. The forest is also home to two nocturnal species namely Bush-babies and Pottos.
Many forest birds are also found here and the forest is most ideal for birders. Species of birds include; the rare Rwenzori Turaco, Forest Flycatchers and white-naped pigeons among others.
Some of the activities one can undertake in this forest include Kayaking at the stunning Kyasanduka crater lake, guided nature walks and bird watching.
Chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura Gorge
Queen Elizabeth National Park does not only offer remarkable experience of wildlife and birds but it is also a remarkable area for tracking/trekking chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge wit its big number of habituated chimpanzees. The gorge itself offers spectacular sightseeing coupled with a variety of bird species and mammals that one can encounter during the chimpanzee trekking voyage. Chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura Gorge offers full adventure of Queen Elizabeth National Park. These chimps are normally in groups of 30-80 members which from time to time chew leaves.
Uganda is one of the famous birding paradises in Africa with a wide variety of bird species some of which are hard to spot in any other part of the continent. Queen Elizabeth National Park is absolutely one of the areas that have made Uganda among the finest countries for birding in Africa. On a Uganda birding safari, you have chances of enjoying up to 1010 bird species and most of these species are found in most of Uganda`s National Parks. This means, as you look out for birds, you will certainly encounter various wildlife and this is what makes a birdwatching safari in Uganda the most rewarding. Bird watching is best done is the early morning and evening for the best experience.
Over 550 species of birds have been recorded in Queen Elizabeth National Park and that has made the park a birders paradise. The park comprises of rivers, open woodlands, open grassland, permanent and seasonal swamps, as well as lakes. All these act as havens for birds such as Spur-winged Plovers, White-faced Whistling, Squacco Heron, Long tailed Cormorants, Fish Eagle, African Jacana, open-billed Stork, Pink and white backed Pelicans, Water-Thick knee, Yellow backed Weavers, Wattled Plovers, Knob-billed Ducks, Pied kingfishers among other aquatic birds along the shores of the mighty Kazinga Channel and other prominent species like malachite, black-ramped buttonquail, Verreaux’s eagle-owl, African skimmer, White winged terns, , Verreaux’s Eagle-owl, shoebill, thin-tailed Nightjars, Black- rumped Buttonquail, White-winged Warbler, papyrus gonolek, among others whose stout calls are normally heard in tree branches in the morning and evening.
Look out for Grey Wood peckers, Hairy breasted Barbet, black & African Emerals Cuckoos, the purple-headed starling, speckled Tinker bird and Green Hylia down in the verdant gorge with its diverse forest species. These birds are however most commonly seen in Maramagambo forest.
Bird watching in Queen Elizabeth National park is best done in the months from December to January and a 2 or 3 days birdwatching safari in this park is recommended to enable one explore the 550 and plus species of birds in this park.
Wildlife Viewing and Game Drives
Game driving is one of the most rewarding activities that are done in Queen Elizabeth National Park, game drives involves driving through the park as you experience the close and clear views of animals. QENP comprises of many well-maintained game viewing tracks of over 200km. Wildlife Viewing game drives are best done in the early morning and it rewards with chances of seeing lions, buffaloes and of course a diversity of antelopes, among other wildlife.
Accommodation / Safari lodges in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth national park has a variety of comfortable accommodation that fits all visitors from budget to luxury travelers. Mweya safari lodge and Jacana Lodge and Ishasha wilderness camp provide luxurious accommodation. The Ishasha bandas and Mweya hotels also offer budget accommodation with average standards that can as well make your safari memorable. There are also comping sites in the park like Mweya, Maramagambo and Ishasha, one may also opt for Hippo Hill Camp next to Katwe and the kingfisher camp nestled on the fascination Kichwamba escarpment. Mweya has an upmarket lodge, budget hostel and a campsite. At the crater lake in Maramagambo forest is also another up-market lodge and then a low-key camp in the Ishasha Sector.
Mweya safari lodge
This is a luxury accommodation facility nestled at Mweya peninsular in the park overseeing Kazinga Channel. The lodge has numerous self-contained rooms, with private and spacious verandas. The balconies offer remarkable views of Kazinga Channel and Lake Albert.
The lodge also features a poolside bar, swimming pool, Kazinga restaurant with its daily sumptuous global cuisine and souvenir shop, among others.
Jacana Safari Lodge
This luxurious and pretty comfortable safari lodge is set on the outskirts of the park between the calm crater lake and the rolling hills. A number of facilities at this lodge include; well-equipped restaurant and bar, swimming pool, public areas like various decks, sauna and a floating pontoon (guests can enjoy picnic mean in the middle of the crater lake).
Kitandara Hippo Hill Camp
Kitandara Hippo Hill Camp is located in the buffer zone of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Katwe town with clear views of Kitako and Kabazimu Islands in the Centre of Munyanyange crater, Lake Edward, and Katwe Salt Lake. The camp features 10 luxury tents, spacious dining where excellent standards of cuisine are served, well stocked bar among others.
Ishasha Wilderness Camp
Ishasha wildness camp is nestled the heart of Queen Elizabeth National park near Ntungwe River. It’s the only luxury camp in the Ishasha sector-a haven for tree climbing lions. The camp is set in a strategic location that suits visitors with interest to undertake both Gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Queen Elizabeth Forest and visits to Kibale Forest National Park.
The camp has self-contained luxury tent, each tent with an African style. Meru tents are set in the wooded area overlooking the river. All tents are en suite.
- Restaurants offering both local and international cuisines
- A well planned and Dining area lounge
- Solar power for lighting and charging simple gadgets.
- Wake up calls
- A fully stocked bar.
Simba Safari Camp
Simba Safari Camp is a budget safari accommodation facility located at the border of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Camp offers various comfortable and affordable guest rooms, dormitory rooms and camp site that is well-established. Samba safari camp is set on a hill overlooking lake George the savanna plans and Lake Kikorongo. It provides clear views of elephants and buffalos direct from the camp.