Queen Elizabeth National park is a notable Uganda safari destination for wildlife tours, chimpanzee tracking adventures, birding safaris etc. The 1978km2 Queen Elizabeth National Park enjoys a stunning location on the rift valley floor between Lakes Edward and George where a mosaic of habitats supports 95 mammal species and a remarkable 612 species of birds. Forty years ago, Douglas Willocks described the diverse features that led to its creation in 1952. There still exists no better introduction or a more enticing invitation to visit the park.
The park forms part of an extensive system of contiguous protected areas, namely the Kigezi (265km2) and Kyambura (154km2) Wildlife Reserves, Kalinzu Forest Reserve, Kibale National Park (766km2) and, in neighboring DRC, the 2000km2 Virunga National Park. Rwenzori Mountains National Park lies a few kilometres north. The dramatic scenery is largely due to mountains beyond the park boundary. The park itself lies on the rift valley floor where it rises 480m from 91 Om at the Kazinga Channel to 1390m in the Explosion Crater field. The low altitude and its location directly on the equator mean that temperatures can be warm, rising from a mean minimum of 18°C to a mean maximum of 28°C. The park receives up to 1250mm of rain, mostly during March – May and September – November.
From open savannah to rain forest, from dense papyrus swamps and brooding crater lakes to the vastness of Lake Edward, it is little wonder that QENP boasts one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any game reserve in the world. Almost 100 mammal species and a remarkable 606 bird species makes this superb safari territory, with elephant, a profusion of hippos, the elusive giant forest hog and handsome Uganda kob all regularly sighted around the tourist village on the Mweya Peninsula – which also boasts a marvelous waterfront setting in the shadow of the Rwenzori Mountains.
The melting glacier waters of the mountains create a vast wetlands system comprising of two main lakes, George and Edward, as well as the connecting Kazinga channel. Thousands of hippos populate the lake shores. Open savannah dotted with acacia and Euphorbia trees provide habitant primates. The park boasts of more bird species than any other park in Africa.
The park has over 200kms of well-maintained tracks that give visitors access to the park’s game. The Kasenyi track passes thru the Uganda Kob’s mating grounds and large herds of kob can be seen. Hungry lions can also be seen searching for prey. The legendary giant forest hog is visible; roaming the bush. The outstanding scenery along the Crater track brings visitors to numerous volcanic craters at the foothills of the misty Mountains of the Moon (Rwenzori Mountains)
Things to See
Many surprises await visitors in the extensive Maramagambo Rain forest. Pythons are often observed in the crevices of the Bat’s Cave floor using bats as their main source of food. The cave is near the picturesque Blue Lake and the Hunters cave. Other trails lead into the heart of the forest surrounding tranquil crater lakes and home to wild chimps, other primates and many forest birds.
The Ishasha is a true pearl in the southern part of the park. Idyllic campsites frequently visited by colobus and other monkeys are situated along the winding Ishasha river. The famous tree climbing lions can be spotted on large fig trees in this part of the park. Topi, Kobs and buffaloes graze the acacia studded savannah.
The steep Kyambura Gorge, formed by the turbulent waters of the roaring Kyambura River, provides a lush riverine forest, home to chimpanzees that have been habituated to human presence. The area is also home to the black and white colobus, red tailed monkeys, olive baboons and other primates, as well as plenty of forest birds.
‘Scenically the area had everything. Thirty miles to the north, the blue Rwenzori exploded from the plain, a composite, jagged mass of mountains, sixty miles long and forty wide and looking in certain lights as if you could reach out and touch them. Across Lake Edward to the west, the Mitumbe hills stood sentinel on the Congo, blue too in the long sight but in the closer green, wooded, precipitous, unfriendly and epitomising darkest Africa. The eastern boundary of this possible park was marked by the calm green escarpment of the western Rift Valley. And between all the hills, mountains and lakes was endless savanna, its constantly repeated motif the branched cactus arms of the candelabra euphorbia tree.’
Flora and fauna
The park is home to 95 mammal species while the birdlist is 612 species long. This diversity is the result of an impressive range of habitats. Fifty-seven vegetation types have been identified though these can be summarised as just five: forest; grassland; bushy grassland; Acacia woodland and lakeshore/ swamp vegetation. Residents of the park’s grasslands include elephant, Cape buffalo, Uganda kob, waterbuck, warthog, giant forest hog, lion, leopard and hyaena. Topi are found in Ishasha, while forest primates are found in Kyambura Gorge and Maramagambo Forest.
Queen Elizabeth National Park has an impressive birdlist exceeded only by the neighbouring (and far larger) Virunga National Park. Key bird species include martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail, African skimmer, Chapin’s flycatcher, pink-backed pelicans, white-winged warbler, papyrus gonolek, papyrus canary, corncrake, lesser and greater flamingo, and shoebill stork.
The peninsula is the hub for tourism activity and accommodation in the central section of the park. A nature walk with a ranger guide enables you to explore remoter parts of the peninsula.
The 40km-long channel that connects Lake George to Lake Edward provides the park’s prime wildlife spectacle. Its shoreline attracts large numbers of birds, mammals and reptiles year round. These can be seen from two covered launches, Topi and Simba, that cruise between Mweya Jetty and the channel’s entrance into Lake Edward. The launches run at 15.00 and 17.00. Additional voyages run at 11.00 and 13.00 subject to demand.
North Kazinga and Kasenyi
The plain north of the Kazinga Channel is the primary game viewing area. A network of tracks enables you to find elephant, buffalo and other animals in the mosaic of grassland thickets that covers the North Kazinga area near Mweya. However lion are most reliably sighted on the open Kasenyi plain east of the Kasese road where they prey on a large population of Uganda kobo Game are most rewarding in early morning and late afterne ranger guide is recommended to help you make the rr your experience.
Katwe Salt Lake
The Katwe Salt Lake is home to Uganda’s oldest industr has been extracted from the lake using evaporation bee the process is continued today.
Katwe Explosion Craters
This cluster of extinct volcanoes north of Mweya Safari I can be explored by the winding 27km Crater Drive be the Main and Equator Gates. This provides superb vieVl numerous craters, some filled by lovely lakes, as well as to the Rwenzori and across the rift valley floor.
Ishasha – Tree Climbing Lions
Ishasha 100km south of Mweya, the park’s remote southern provides a true wilderness experience. Diverse hal including the Ishasha River, savanna woodland, and the rr Lake Edward Flats support a variety of wildlife incuding Ish, famous tree climbing lions, and the rare shoebill stork.
Kyambura Wildlife Reserve
This area, which protects the south-eastern banks ( Kazinga Channel, contains four crater lakes, in which numbers of flamingos periodically congregate.
Things to Do in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Camping is possible at Mweya, Maramagambo and Ishasha. Convenient options just outside the park include Hippo Hill Camp close to Katwe and Kingfisher Camp on the lovely Kichwamba escarpment. A new lodge is under construction in the Kyambura Wildlife Reserve.
A boat trip along the hippo crowded banks of Kazinga channel gives a unique unequalled wildlife experience. Eye to eye with yawning hippos surrounded by vast numbers of migrant and resident water birds, the boat puts one right in the heart of nature. Many buffaloes rest in the water while big heard of elephant enjoy themselves drinking and spraying jets of water to cool themselves along the channel banks. Crocodiles are a common sight and leopards can be seen.