Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular safari destination and rightly so, for there are very few places on earth that can rival the scenery of this park, the only one in Uganda crossed by the equator. To its north and south, the Ruwenzori and Virunga mountain ranges form a stunning backdrop. In the centre of the park is the Kazinga Channel connecting two Great Lakes, Edward and George, and the northern section of the park is dotted with serene crater lakes and bubbling hot springs that are carved into rolling green hills.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has the highest number of both mammal species (96) and birds (619) of any Ugandan national park, is divided into 3 sectors: Mweya Peninsula the hub for tourist activity, Kyambura Gorge to the east of Mweya and Ishasha in the remote southwest. The park’s wide savannahs, wetlands and lush lowland forests are inhabited by a diverse spectrum of wildlife; in the Ishasha plains to the south-west, the famous tree-climbing lions are the star attraction and in the breathtaking Kyambura Gorge, habituated chimpanzees steal the show. The Mweya peninsula and the Kasenyi plains provide, visitors with the most chance of seeing game when they visit. Queen Elizabeth National Park has big game in abundance, with about 5000 hippos, 3000 elephants and over 10,000 Cape Buffaloes.
Named in honour of the coronation of the reigning Queen Elizabeth of England in 1964, the park was initially gazetted as a reserve called Kazinga National Park. It is also a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve – a conservation area that is considered typical of the balanced relationship between people and nature.
Queen Elizabeth National Park - Activities
Game Drives – Mweya and Ishasha are popular for classic big game. The game tracks through Kasenyi and the Kazinga plains offer guaranteed cape and forest buffalo, elephant, topi, Uganda Kob and antelope sightings along with baboon hyena and warthog. Pride of lion and occasionally leopards are also common, particularly at sunrise and sunset.
Tree-climbing lions – The 100km Ishasha sector of the park along the border with DRC gives a genuine African wilderness experience and is best known as the home of the tree-climbing lions. No one really knows why the lions in the Ishasha plains prefer to spend their days perched in trees, and not on the ground like other lions in Uganda, or why they prefer the fig trees that conveniently line the roads in this sector. But everyone agrees that the sight of the lions resting in the branches of huge trees is unmatched. Indeed for many visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park, the tree-climbing lions of Ishasha are the most memorable sight
The Uganda Carnivore Program (UCP) is an organisation based in Queen Elizabeth National Park that is dedicated to research and conservation of Uganda’s large carnivores, particularly lions, hyenas and leopards. Using radio-telemetry, UCP wardens are able to track and observe the predators and their movements into conflict “hot zones,” where they face the danger of meeting up with people and their livestock.
Today, working with Uganda Wildlife Authority, UCP offers guided lion-tracking and nocturnal tours for select tour groups who have the unique opportunity to help in monitoring, tracking and researching the ‘King of the Beasts’ in Queen Elizabeth Park. Lion Tracking permits can be reserved at the visitor information centre in Mweya at least a day in advance. Permits cost US$150 per head for foreigners and UGX 150,000 per head for East African Community citizens.
With a variety of habitats on the park from vast savannah woodlands and wetlands to lowland forests and the shores of Lakes Edward and George, birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park is a big treat. The Maramagambo Forest in the south of the park is a favourite with birders. The park is classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International. Home to over 600 species of birds, the park has over a quarter of all African bird species and it also has the highest number in any protected area in Africa. Species of interest include: African skimmers, Lesser flamingos, Great white pelican, Lappet faced vulture, martial eagle, black bee eater, black-rumped buttonquail, broad-billed roller, Pel’s fishing owl, western-banded snake eagle and the Great blue turaco. The park is the best place to see wintering Palaearctic species like the flamingos as it is in the North – South fly way for passing migrant species.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is renowned for its volcanic features including the cluster of extinct volcanic craters that are invariably filled with lakes, savannah and forest. The 2hours 27km explosion Crater drive is one of the most scenic in Uganda and offers incredible views of dozens of enormous explosion craters and crater lakes and the splendid western rift valley, the Rwenzori mountains, Lakes George and Edward, and the Kazinga channel below.
Lake Katwe is a Crater Lake located 30minutes north of Mweya where traditional salt-mining techniques that have been in used by the area locals since the 16th Century. The Katwe Salt lake Tour gives a unique insight into the gruelling process of salt mining can be observed at the Crater Lake. A popular and beautiful sight at the lake is the migrating lesser flamingo with their prominent hooked beaks. The Kyemengo crater that is not filled with water appears like a vast grassy amphitheatre is also a must-see.
The Kazinga Channel
The 32km long Kazinga Channel on the northwestern margin of the Lake Edward joins it with Lake George. It is an oasis for the fascinating wildlife of Queen Elizabeth Park and boat ride from the Mweya Peninsula, along the Kazinga Channel to Lake Edward is the park’s most enduring attraction. Lake Edward’s shores are inhabited and visited by several animals including elephants, crocodiles, lions, buffaloes and hippos and it is also home to various perennial and wandering birds. There are no large human settlements on the lake save for Mweya and Katwe on the Ugandan side.
Queen Elizabeth National Park - Chimpanzee Trekking
Kalinzu Forest situated in the south-east of Queen Elizabeth National Park is well known for Chimpanzee Trekking. There are around 300 Chimpanzees of which 40 were habituated by Japanese researchers which makes the chances of viewing the Chimpanzees high. Kalinzu Forest is run by the National Forestry Agency and not the Uganda Wildlife Authority, but this doesn’t detract from the experience, in fact some people prefer to trek in Kalinzu Forest as it is not as popular as some other Chimpanzee Trekking sites.
The 100m deep Kyambura Gorge that lies in the rift valley east of Mweya Peninsula is the only place in Queen Elizabeth National Park where habituated chimpanzees reside. Although the treks to can be long, once located the fully habituated chimpanzees can be approached quite closely. The gorge that was created by tectonic plate movements is covered by dense tropical forest that is completely cut off from other forested areas of the park, effectively imprisoning the chimpanzees therein.
Queen Elizabeth National Park - What you need to know
Location And Getting There
Queen Elizabeth National Park lies 910m – 1,350m above sea level and occupies an area of 2,000sq. km in Kasese, Bushenyi and Bundibugyo districts in southwestern Uganda. You can get there by driving 5hours over 350kms from Kampala by road via Mbarara and Bushenyi. It is also accessible by chartered flight from Entebbe International Airport via Kasese airstrip. Close by is Lake Mburo National Park.
Climate And When To Visit
Queen Elizabeth National Park is located on the low-lying rift valley floor and is hotter and drier than most parts of Uganda with a mean maximum temperature of 28°C (80°F). The park experiences two rainy seasons in March – May and August – November, but is an all year destination.