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Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park

'Uganda's most visited national park – a royal gem'

QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK

Queen Elizabeth National park is undoubtedly the most visited park in Uganda. This is mostly because of its rare tree climbing lions whose males have black manes, found in the Ishasha sector that can only be found in two countries in Africa; Uganda and Tanzania. Spanning over 1978square kilometers of game land, the park indulges four districts, that is; Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi and Rukungiri in the rolling hills of western Uganda. The park was originally named Kazinga National Park after it had been established in 1952 but was later renamed in 1954 to commemorate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II.

Equipped with natural and captivating scenery, Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to immense volcanic features like volcanic cones, and deep craters with crater lakes. One of the crater lakes that a tourist might see is the Katwe Lake which is the main source of salt in Uganda. The park also displays an impressive assortment of vegetation from the undulating savannah grasslands, the acacia woodland, captivating lakes, soggy wetland and beautiful Maramagambo forest.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is a variety of physical features put together. When you visit this park , you not only enjoy viewing wildlife but other stunning features like fresh water lakes Edward and George, the Kazinga Channel joining the two lakes, the equator spot, the Ishasha river and the Maramagambo forest. The park is also home to the Kyambura gorge which is famous for chimpanzee trekking. The northern sector of the park provides a satisfying view of the majestic Rwenzori Mountains. These amazing perks of nature give the park a lush green appearance and cool climate.

Considered a potential lion stronghold in central Africa, Queen Elizabeth National Park together with the neighboring Virunga National Park were combined to form a lion conservation unit. The lions are monitored, taken care of and preserved in their natural habitat to protect them from the danger of poaching that threatens their very existence.

Queen Elizabeth National park is a luscious wildlife portal with endless wildlife to show off. It hosts about 95 mammals, reptiles and 612 bird species. This includes land animals, water animals and birds. Some of the animals that a tourist would see are ; the African bush elephant, African buffalo, Uganda kobs, giant forest hog, warthog, Nile crocodile, Chimpanzee, lions, Leopard, hippopotamus and hyenas.

A blue-headed bee-eater and an African Finfoot are some of the birds that can be spotted while in Queen Elizabeth National Park, especially the Kyambura gorge. The climate and warm weather are conducive breeding elements for the birds. Other birds that you can see while birding in the park are Pink-backed Pelican, Verreaux’s Eagle owl, Papyrus canary, White-winged Warbler, African Broadbill, Papyrus Gonolek and the Black bee-eater among others.

Over the years, Queen Elizabeth National Park has attracted more and more tourists as its fame has spread to almost all countries over the world. This has greatly boosted the tourism sector in Uganda and encouraged conservation of wildlife. Although in 2015 the conservation unit faced a major setback after poachers had killed six elephants in the park, it has since recovered and measures put in place to curb poaching. The park remains popular for its fascinating features and wildlife and is still ranked among the top destinations in Africa.

Location:

Queen Elizabeth National park is located in the south western part of Uganda on the boarders of the Kigezi game reserve, The Kyambura game reserve, The Kibaale game reserve and Viruinga National Park in Congo. The park lies on the floor of the African Western rift valley at an altitude of 884 – 1,337m (2,900 – 4,386 ft) above sea level. The highest point in the park is at the Katwe explosions while the lowest point is at Lake Edward. The Equator passes through the northern sector of the park near Kasenyi and monuments on either side of the road have been placed to mark the spot.

Queen Elizabeth National Park can be accessed by road from Bwindi Impenetrable forest National Park or Kasese town. The Park is about 400 km, a 5 – 6 hours drive from Kampala by road through a rich and hilly landscape. The park lies with Kasese town to the northeastern edge of the park and Rubirizi town to the southeastern boundary. Queen Elizabeth National Park encompasses Maramagambo forest, lakes Edward and George with the Kazinga Channel joining the two lakes and the majestic Mountain Rwenzori in the background.

What to see at Queen Elizabeth National Park:

  • Kyambura gorge:

Located in the far eastern corner of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the Kyambura gorge is a natural 100m deep wonder. It has been dubbed the “valley of apes” due to its huge quantity of primates like the ververt monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys, red tailed monkeys, olive baboons and Chimpanzees. The gorge entails dense tropical rain forest vegetation coupled with adamant riverine forest around the Kyambura River which is the main source of water for the animals.

In contrast to the other sectors of Queen Elizabeth National Park, the gorge has been plunged into wild darkness by the immense tropical canopy making it easier to view a wide range of animals without being blinded by the sun. Some of the animals one would see are; giant forest hogs, Elephants, Buffalos, Lions, hyenas and Antelopes. These animals can be viewed on foot while taking a guided nature walk in the Kyambura gorge.

Chimpanzee Trekking is the heart and soul of the Kyambura Gorge. Being the “valley of apes”, one is sure to find the gorge crawling with quite the number of primates, one being the Chimpanzees. One can spot the chimps as they play on trees swinging from branch to branch on a good day. You will be able to hear their loud hooting which will make it easy for your team to locate them. The Chimpanzee trekking reservations are made at Mweya Visitor Information Centre.

The Kyambura gorge is most probably the richest birding site in Queen Elizabeth National Park. This is majorly because of its dense canopy of trees and dark atmosphere. A bird lover will be able to spot birds like the Martial Eagle, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-rumped Buttonquail, Shoebill, African Skimmer, Chapin’s flycatcher among others. The crater lakes in the gorge attract an impressive number of flamingos that will definitely catch your eye.

  • Savannah grasslands:

The plain savannah fields of Queen Elizabeth National Park are a sight to behold. A game drive through this area of the park is a must do. However, while on a game drive, you are advised to take along a guide who will point out the endless wildlife and spots that you would rather have missed on your own. The grass is green and lush during the wet season and abit dry during the dry season. The savannah plains provide an amazing and endless view of wildlife.

Animals that you are most likely to find in the savannah grasslands are; Cape buffalos, Uganda kobs, waterbucks, warthogs, lions, leopards, hyenas, giant forest hogs and African bush elephants. Do not miss out on spectacular birding of African skimmers, Chapins flycatcher, pink –backed pelicans, papyrus canary, shoebill stork, martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail and great flamingos. The savannah plains are not to disappoint any wildlife lover.

  • Mweya sector:

The Mweya sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park is located on the northern bank of the channel where it touches Lake Edward. It consists mainly of an immense cover of chunky grass cover and Candelabra and thorn bushes that makes it tricky to make your way through. There are several animal tracks although it is easy to get confused and lost in this sector thus a game viewing with a guide is necessary. The common animals in this sector are leopards as they like to hide behind the dense shrubby thickets.

Whilst in this sector, one can embark on a planned two hour launch cruise with our travel agency on the Kazinga channel. The motorized water vessel is a 20 seater and runs two rides a day; morning from 11 -1 pm and afternoon from 3 – 5pm. However, during the peak seasons, the rides can be increased to 3 to favor high demand by the tourists. While on the boat cruise, you can spot the Rwenzori Mountains proudly standing out from the rugged background. Booking for the boat cruise can be done at Mweya Uganda Wildlife offices.

The Mweya peninsular of Queen Elizabeth National Park offers plenty of wildlife to see including hippos, elephants, waterbuck, Uganda kobs, hyenas, common warthog, and giant forest hog among others. Mweya safari lodge provides luxurious accommodation at the heart of queen Elizabeth National Park overlooking Lake Edward and the famous Rwenzori Mountains. Mweya village, a local centre, is the heart of trade boosting a souvenir shop with lots of crafts that you can purchase and take home with you.

  • Kazinga channel:

The Kazinga channel is a fresh water canal of 40m long joining lakes Edward and George located in Kasese district. The channel stands at an altitude of 914m above sea level in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Channel cuddles a wetland on its northern shore lining which is a harbor for crocodiles, endless bird species and land statunga antelopes. Almost half of the population of Nile crocodiles can be found living in the channel as they enjoy the fresh water and lots of prey.

The Kazinga Channel is a perfect spot for a boat cruise with our agency to enjoy an endless view of hippos, old buffalos that have been rejected by their herd and other wildlife that come to drink water as well as a massive range of birdlife just perched upon the shores of the channel. Varieties of animals roam around the banks of the channel lazily and wallow in the mud to get rid of ticks and insect bites as the day goes by. One can also spot the giant African monitor lizard on the shores of the channel.

The Kasenyi area:

The Kasenyi area is part of the Kazinga channel of Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is located along the shores of Lake George, a fresh water lake in the western rift valley. It is close to the point where the Kazinga channel joins Lake George. The Kasenyi area is flooding with Uganda kobs and lions that you can easily spot as you drive through this part of the park. The area is also rich in birdlife and one would easily spot a red – throat spurfowls and yellow throated long crow among others.

  • Ishasha sector:

The Ishasha sector is a 100 square km of savannah woodland in the southern part of Queen Elizabeth National park. The main source of water for animals in this sector is the Ishahsa River and Lake Edward. The Ishasha sector is the most visited owing to tree climbing lions that have made the park their abode. Enjoy the rare sight of a lion climbing a tree. The Ishasha sector is also a home to endless Uganda kobs that are prey to the lions as well as Topis and the rare shoebill stork.

  • Maramagambo forest:

This is a natural forest found in southern part of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Bushenyi district. The forest is surrounded by two crater lakes; Lake Kyasanduka and Lake Nyamasingiri. The bat caves are some of the most popular sites in the park. They harbor large magnificent snakes that you might see coming out to bask in the sun. Enjoy viewing wildlife like chimpanzees, the red tailed monkeys, bêtes pygmy antelopes, L’hoest monkeys and two nocturnal primates the Pottos and the bush babies.

The Maramagambo forest is also another beautiful birding spot in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Uncommon bird species like the Rwenzori Turoco, the white napped pigeons and the fly catchers can be found in the forest. One can also see huge groups of matching ants about 100m long and 6m wide on the floor of the forest.

There are various trails that you can follow in the forest. The forest trail involves a lot of hiking and exciting things to see. The River trail involves a 1 hour. 2 and a half km walk along River Kajojo through climax trees and primates trails. The palm tree trail takes you on a 5km walk for about 2 hours over relatively flat terrain through amazing tree species like the frame tree, the Raphia palms that sources of raw materials for mat weaving.

The valley trail takes you along a 2 hour long walk for 3 and a half km through the valley of the forest and along its ridge. While on this trail, view a lot of intriguing sites like the Viagra tree. The final trail is the waterfall trail to the hilly parts of the forest through the wet terrain to the fascinating Kilyantama falls. Expect to see various tree species like the backcloth figs which are raw materials for making traditional attires and crafts among other things.

  • Katwe crater lakes:

The Katwe explosion craters are found north of the Mweya Peninsula at the highest altitude in the park. These are part of the explosion craters that have gone extinct over the years. However, three of these lakes have remained; the katwe explosion craters of Queen Elizabeth national Park, the Bunyaraguru crater field on the impressive Kichwamba escarpment and the Ndali-Kasenda crater field close to Kibale National Park. The lakes were formed about 8000 to 10,000 years back after some violent explosions that turned Lake Edward into a poisonous lake.

Currently they have been filled with water forming beautiful scenery and swimming spots. The Katwe lakes are a perfect place to find wild life like Elephants, Buffaloes along with other birds like flamingos. You might also have the chance to see the Kitagata salty hot-springs and the Katwe salt works that you are bound to find fascinating.  The drive to the crater lakes will provide beautiful scenery of the Rwenzori Mountains, the great western rift valley the Kazinga channel, Lakes Edward and George.

 Where to stay:

  • Mweya safari lodge: located in the Mweya sector at the heart of Queen Elizabeth National Park overlooking the Kazinga Channel. Enjoy a view of Lake Albert from the private balcony of your bedroom.
  • Jacana safari lodge: Provides luxurious accommodation on the outskirts of the park nestled between the rolling hills and breathtaking craters. The lodge has plenty of relaxing points like a swimming pool, sauna, numerous decks, a restaurant and bar. Meals on Katwe crater Lake while floating on a pontoon is a must try.
  • Ishasha wilderness camp: located in the southern woodlands, this camp provides accommodations with large twin beds facing Ntungwe River where one can watch Elephants and other animals come to the banks of the river to drink water. The tents are self contained with a central dining area. The camp also has an outdoor lounge area besides the river where you can relax.
  • Kitandara hippo hill camp: This camp is located on a hill in the buffer zone of Queen Elizabeth National Park overlooking kitako and kabazimu islands. It provides a spectacular view of crater lakes Katwe and Munyanyange. Provides luxurious private washrooms, huge dining area and mouthwatering cuisine. The hippo bar overlooks Lake Albert where hippos, buffalos and flamingos can occasionally be spotted.
  • Mweya hostel: Located in the Mweya sector, this hostel provides single and double rooms with communal bathrooms and a self contained guest house that can accommodate 4-6 people. The hostel also has a canteen and restaurant where you can order meals. Self contained guest house for 4-6 people.
  • Bush lodge: This lodge is located 2.2 miles from the Katunguru gate of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Bushenyi. The bush lodge offers both single and double accommodations with a restaurant and a well stocked bar. There is free wifi and 24 hours front desk at your disposal.
  • Katara lodge: Located 16km from the Katunguru gate of the park, the Katara lodge is staged on the Great Rift Valley escarpment with spectacular views of the park, the Majestic Rwenzori and Virunga mountains, and Lake Edward. The lodge offers eco friendly luxury accommodations with toilets and rain water showers, solar power lighting and salty water swimming pool. There is also a restaurant, bar and laundry services at Katara lodge.
  • Baboon safari resort: This lodge is located in Kichwamba in Queen Elizabeth National Park near Kyambura game reserve. The Baboon safari resort offers free wifi, outdoor pool, restaurant and well stocked bar. There are spacious rooms available from twin rooms, double rooms, and triple rooms to family rooms available. There is a marvelous view of the park from the resort.
  • Kyambura gorge lodge: This lodge is located on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park with amazing views of the park, Mountain Rwenzori and the Kyambura gorge. One can easily spot animals as they come by the Kazinga Channel to drink water. There is a pool, restaurant and well stocked bar. The Lodge also offers laundry services, room service and a massage parlor.

Best time to visit:

Uganda has relatively warm weather all year round so one can visit the park at any time. December is the busiest month as most people are planning vacations so booking in advance is very important. The best time to view animals on a game drive is early morning and late afternoons.

During the hot season: The weather is hot so more animals come looking for water to drink which makes wildlife more available to view. The horizons however are hazy and dusty so sunglasses might be necessary to protect eyes from direct sunlight.

During the wet season: Due to the green and lush vegetation, birding is at its best. The animals are also readily available in their natural habitat. However, when the rains intensify, the animals move to higher and drier grounds and might not easily be found along the trails.

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