Some people think that Uganda’s tourism is all about primate trekking which of late has been the top tourist activity in the country. Queen Elizabeth national park is a wonderful wildlife destination located in the western part of Uganda and is one of the few game reserves in Africa with a high level of biodiversity which is featured by incredible landscapes.Located about 380 kilometers from Kampala the capital of Uganda, hire a car with a driver or enjoy a self drive to this medley of wonders for a remarkable Uganda safari.
Covering a total area of 1978 sq. km, the park is renowned for hosting various wildlife in its different vegetation including Savannah, forests, bushland, thickets and wetlands. The park also has a number of water bodies that harbor huge numbers of aquatic and semi-aquatic life. There are 98 mammal species with big game like elephants, hippos, buffaloes, waterbucks, lions, leopards and hyenas among others.Discover the wonders in the southern region of the park known as the Ishasha sector where the tree climbing lions enjoy spending the hot afternoons resting on the branches of trees. A suitable car choice offers the best views of such attractions; safari vans with pop-up roofs are recommended when traveling to Queen Elizabeth national park.
Queen Elizabeth national park records the highest list of birds in East Africa with 612 bird species making it the best birding destination in the region. Various species are spotted along the shores of Kazinga channel during the delightful boat trip. A lot more wildlife in the park such as primates and reptile scan be seen all year round.The beautiful landscapes especially craters are worth a visit though some of them will be spotted just along the tracks in the park.
Historical background of Queen Elizabeth national park
The currently known as Queen Elizabeth national park today was previously a grazing land for the Basongora pastoralists that inhabit some parts of Kasese district. The Britishexplorers Stanley and Lugard trekked around this area during their journeys in Ugandaand they reported thatthe area had been depopulated due to epidemics of rinderpest and smallpox in addition to cattle raiding from the Bunyoro and Buganda kingdoms. These events badly affected the social economy of the Basongora. They resorted to fishing on Lake George and Edward situated in this wilderness area. This was an opportunity for game numbers to grow and for vegetation to flourish again and from that, the Protectorate administration had a reason to create a national park.
In 1906, the northern part of Lake George was declared a Game reserve to prevent unregulated hunting and protect the land from plans of cotton and wheat production. By 1912, the entire areas of Lake George and the Ishashathen known as Lake George game reserve,were declared restricted areas and people that occupied this place for fishing and agricultural purposes shifted to non-affected areas. There were further outbreaks of sleeping sickness around the area until the mid-1930s.
In 1952, the area was gazetted and declared a national park with the first name being Kazinga national park. It included Lake George Game reserve, a large part of Lake Edward, Kazinga channel and surrounding areas. In 1954, the name changed to Queen Elizabeth national park after the visit of the queen of England II. This was done to commemorate her visit to the park.
Location of Queen Elizabeth national park
Queen Elizabeth national park is located in the western region spreading to the districts of Kasese, Kamwenge, Rukungiri and Rubirizi. The map pin shows the park’s location as Kasese because the main entrance to the park is in Katunguru situated in Kasese district. The nearest town to Queen Elizabeth national park is Kasese town in the northeastern side.
Attractions in Queen Elizabeth national park
Queen Elizabeth national park has a lot of attractions in its different locations. They include;
Tree climbing lions: This is a special attraction in the park that also brings it out among the top safari destinations to add on the must-visit places in Uganda and East Africa.Lions are found in various game parks in the world but finding prides of these predators comfortably lying on tree branches is rare encounter yet it is a common habit in the Ishasha sector of queen Elizabeth national park.
Wildlife: Queen Elizabeth national park is naturally endowed with rich lush andnumerous game. it has a variety of elephants, an alarming population of hippos, lots of buffaloes, warthogs, ugandakobs, waterbucks, lions, leopards, hyenas and many more. Most of these are seen on game drives in the vast plains and bushlands around the park. Don’t get surprised to see most of these animals cross the gardens around your lodge.
Chimpanzees: Also known as the “the underground forest”, Kyambura gorge is 100m deep with a rain forest that houses chimpanzees where some of them have been habituated for trekking. Kyambura escarpment is also a beautiful landscape in this region plus the stunning plains of Savannah with countless birds.
Kazinga channel: This is a magical natural water channel joining Lake George and lakeEdward also found in the park stretching over a distance of about 38 kilometers. A trip to Queen Elizabeth national park is incomplete if you don’t visit Kazinga channel. The exploration of the channel is done on a boat cruise and rewards of the trip are herds of buffaloes, crocodiles, different bird species and elephants on the shores of the channel while hippos are seen right from the start to the end on the boat cruise in the water.
Birds: Queen Elizabeth national park records over 600 bird species. It holds the highest checklist of birds in East Africa. somespecila bird species in the park include the African finfoot, African skimmer, Black-bee eater, Caspian plover, Great blue turaco and African hobby among others.
Craters: Queen Elizabeth national park is dotted with many craters, some with water to form crater lakes while others are dry and covered with vegetation. Popular craters in the park include the Katwe craters, lakeNyamununka and Bunyampaka salt lake among others.
Tourist activities in Queen Elizabeth national park
Before traveling to Queen Elizabeth national park, find here the list of activities to do and select the best for your Uganda safari.
Wildlife viewing: Game drives are one of the main activities of the park. The best time for game viewing is morning and evening when temperatures are cool and can allow animals to roam around the park. This activity is done mainly in the Kasenyi plains in the northeast of the park and in the Ishasha sector south of the parkto search for the tree climbing lions. A lot of animals are seen during game drives including herds of buffaloes, Uganda kobs, waterbucks,elephants, warthogs, hippos and more. Lucky days come with prides of lions, leopards commonly spotted in the cactus trees and hyenas seen feeding on or searching for left overs of the big cats. Game drives in Queen Elizabeth national park are very impressive, they are combined with exploration of the park; a visit to Lake George or Bunyampaka salt lake which rewards tourists with breathtaking views. Hire a safari van or 4WD vehicle like land cruiser V8, land cruiser VX, extended land cruisers to navigate easily through the tracks to areas where most of these animals are commonly spotted.
Boat trips:Most visitors to the park take on the boat trip that covers about 7 kilometers on Kazinga channel down to the point where it joins Lake Edward.This is where thousands of hippos reside and you surely see them in abundance. There is plenty of birds, crocodiles and buffaloes while elephants can also be seen drinking and cooling their bodies on some hot days. Occasionally, a leopard is spotted in one of the acacia trees along the shores. A trip takes 2 hoursto arrive back at the docking area.
Chimpanzee tracking: Trek through the rain forest in Kyambura gorge and discover the beauty under this area. You are led by a ranger with whom you follow the loud grunts of chimpanzees to find them though o some days, they may actually be far away to be reached. The forested gorge also has a river running through known as Kyambura River. Trekkers enjoy to watch the beautiful birds and other primates around the gorge.
Nature walks: There are many places in Queen Elizabeth national park where nature walks are done. Enjoy a walk through the bushes at Mweya peninsular which offers scenic views and encounter of animals like warthogs, elephants, hippos and a variety of birds.
Bat cave visit: Hit the dirt road to the southern part of the park and get to the forest trails of Maramagambo forest to the bat cave. Lots of bats in the caves watched from the designated area. This place is also known for pythons which are attracted by the bats. On top of these, you can also find monkeys, forest hogs and many other forest animals in Maramagambo forest.
Lion tracking: Also known as experiential tourism, lion tracking contributes to conservation of lions in Queen Elizabeth national park. Visitors move with a researcher to Kasenyi to search for collared lions and once they are found, take a close look, observe their behaviors and get back to the lodge with great satisfaction of viewing these kings of the jungle.
Birding: Queen Elizabeth national park is a birder’s paradise with several birding areas that reward birders greatly. Birding can be done in Mweya, Kasenyi, Kyambura and the Craters among others.Common birds seen on a bird watching tour include African fish eagle, papyrus gonolek, palm-nut vulture, rufous bellied heron, black headed gonolek, black-bee eater and many more.
Other activities to do in the park include a crater drive and mangoose tracking.
Lodges in Queen Elizabeth national park
There is a variety of lodges in and around the park. Whether you want accommodation of luxury class, midrange or budget, the best is provided worth your dollars. They include; Mweya Safari Lodge, Elephant plains lodge, Enganzi lodge, Marafiki lodge, Park View Lodge, Engiri lodge, Kyambura Gorge lodge, Ishasha wilderness lodge, Katara lodge and Simba Safari Lodge, to mention but a few.
Looking forward to travelling to Queen Elizabeth National Park? Rent a car that is comfortable for the 6 hours drive on the smooth paved road via Mityana-Fort Portal road through Kasese town to the northeastern part of the park.Alternatively, use the Mbarara-Bushenyi side which takes about 6 hours and a half. The difference in the distance is almost insignificant.
Travelers who don’t want to sit for long hours of travel can be transferred to the park by air. Charter flights operate daily to Mweya airstrip while an option of flying to Kasese and a road transfer to the park is also available.
Best time to visit Queen Elizabeth national park
Queen Elizabeth national park is open for tourism all year round. When to visit it depends on the experience travelers seek to have and their budget for safari. Generally, the best time to enjoy most of the activities like wildlife viewing, chimp trekking, boat cruise and crater drive is during the dry seasons from January to February and June to July. These are also the high seasons when the park has a lot of tourists.
Travelers that want to watch the beautiful park flourishing can visit during the wet season. Bird watching is from November to April when migratory birds have arrived and May to September when there is less rain and abundant food for birds.
Travelers with a tight budget for travel are advised to travel during the low season (March-May and August-October) when visitors are few and accommodation prices are lower to enjoy discounts of the low season.
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