Queen Elizabeth National Park is designated a Biosphere Reserve for humanity under UNESCO auspice. The park together with Kyambura and Kigezi Wildlife reserve form one of the most diverse ecosystems in Africa . It is situated in the western arm of the Great Rift Valley and covers 1,978sq.km from semi-deciduous tropical forest to green meadows savannah and swamps.
It is the home of the famous tree climbing lions as well as the Uganda kob, other antelope’s species, topi, hyenas, crocodiles waterbucks elephant, baboons, hippos, buffalo, and 10 primate species including chimpanzees and many more. Over 500 species of birds have been recorded, making the park a magnet for bird watchers. The bird species includes the black bee-eater, 11 types of king fisher, and several species of falcons, eagles and the raptors and many more. In the crater lakes to the north, flocks of flamingos can be found. A favorite way to view the game is by launch trip on the Kazinga Channel between Lakes George and Edward.
Inside Uganda’s most popular park
Imagine being surrounded by numerous crater lakes, the breathtaking views and fresh air for a leisurely nature walk or hike in endless grasslands, suddenly, the fog disappears and beautiful views of Mountains of the moon materialize before my eyes.
You’re at Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda’s most visited park, popular for classic big game safaris in Uganda. There are 97 species of mammals including lion, leopard, African elephant, buffalo and several antelopes but the Tree climbing Lion stands as the park’s iconic feature admired by big cat enthusiasts, in Ishasha wilderness, southern section of the park.
From the visitor center at Mweya Peninsular, with panoramic views of Lake George and Edward to stretching down to the 32 km Kazinga channel, boat cruises lead to more picturesque pods of nearly 5,000 hippos. Hippos are the 3rd largest land mammal, able to float on water for up to 16 hours.
The boat cruise carries you across the middle of the channel for up close views, of Nile crocodiles as they open their mouth wide, but not scaring away herds of buffaloes and elephants, some drinking water by the shorelines, others wallowing in the mud.
As you continue to more picturesque sceneries, colorful water birds silently watching to prey on fish; one lazy tourist thinks that fishing is illegal, but there’re plenty of them. The savannah birds enjoy peace; enthusiastic birders will be less disappointed with a checklist of more than 612 bird species recorded.
The beauty and wildlife of Queen Elizabeth national park cannot be underestimated with reference to Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda’s leading wildlife conservation body. Even the Queen Elizabeth (II) of England, loved it during her visit in 1957, from which the park was named.
Whilst, Queen Elizabeth national park does not have sheer numbers of mammals such as those of Serengeti, the savannah plains support a wide variety of game and good numbers of lions some of which climb trees. A better option would be to stay in Ishasha wilderness south of the park, there are tented camps and lodges and visitors can take game drive safari to see lions climbing fig trees.
Other mammals often see during game drives include buffalo, elephant, leopard, spotted hyena Uganda Kob, Eland, duikers, giant forest hogs, bush bucks and waterbucks.
The park also supports population of chimpanzees and 10 primate species. Kyambura gorges are 11 km stretch of underground tropical rainforests about 30 km from Mweya visitor center. Some communities of chimpanzee have been habituated for tracking, on a guided walk; you can get up close with chimps and also view primates, tropical birds, butterflies and 13 different habitats.
Touch of gold
Queen Elizabeth national park is a home to breathtaking sunsets over beautiful landscapes of rolling hills, crater lakes, and the mountains of the moon. No matter where you’re in the park, whether it’s at your lodge or queen’s pavilion, you’ll watch and photography the clouds change color.
The explosion crater lakes in and along the boundaries of Queen Elizabeth national park, are among the popular attractions. They include the Katwe explosion craters have some of the ancient salt mining works, which you can visit at Lake Katwe.
The fort-portal crater lakes are the smallest but most delightful Lake Kayninga has an up market Kyaninga lodge on its ridge. It’s a nice place to stay for outdoor activities like fishing, swimming, canoeing and photography.
The Bunyaruguru crater lakes, found near the park boundary include 20 explosion craters and several dry craters basins. Views of these lakes are seen from the Kichwamba escarpments or along the Mbarara-Kasese road.
The Ndali-Kasenda crater lakes can be explored on foot with several hikes, but most famous is the top of the world’s hike. Here, you can see rift valley floor and mountains of the moon ranges. There are accommodations, including budget lake side resorts from where you can stay and easily connect to Kibale forest national park, home to chimpanzee and primates.
History of the park
Historically, man’s encroachment into Queen Elizabeth national park put a lot of pressure on wildlife. Before the park was gazetted in 1952, it was used for grazing by the Basongora cattle herders as well as cultivators.
Located in western Uganda, in the rift valley floor, Queen Elizabeth national park is about 5-6 hours drive from Kampala city. Several en route attractions can be visited on your way to park including equator line and drum village in Masaka, about 2 hours from Kampala. If you don’t use public buses that leave Kampala daily, arrange transportation or book accommodation and park activities with a tour operator.
What to do in the park
Activities for visitors in the Park are game drives, Kazinga channel boar cruises, hiking, chimpanzee tracking, bird watching, community visits. There are also special interest/ experiential tourism activities including lion tracking, mongoose and hippo census. These are conducted all year round.