Queen Elizabeth national park is Uganda’s most popular protected area. It is the country’s flagship national park gifted with diverse ecosystems. These include savanna, shady forests, sparkling lakes and lush wetlands that provide ideal habitat and make the park home to a variety of game, primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds- a phenomenal number for such a small area.
The park’s main attractions are: craters carved into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants, the Ishasha plains home to tree climbing lions. The diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and wetlands that make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, primates and birds.
The park was first declared a game reserve in 1906, in order to prevent unregulated hunting and was later gazetted as a national park in 1952. It was initially named Kazinga National park but two years later after the visit of by Queen Elizabeth II it was renamed to commemorate her visit.
Queen Elizabeth National park’s main tourism hub is found on Mweya peninsula, 22km west of Kasese-Mbarara road. Mweya occupies an elevated plateau overlooking Kazinga channel and L. Edward and is a site of an upmarket lodge, budget Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) run accommodation, a marina for boat cruises on the Kazinga Channel and Visitor Information Centre.
The take place in the open plains of Kasenyi and the southernmost sector of Ishasha. The grasslands of Kasenyi provide the primary game viewing area of the park with resident herds of Kobs that lions prey on. The parks experienced guide or driver guides can usually locate lions but predator sightings can be guaranteed by booking up a tour with the Mweya based Uganda predator project which monitors the movement of Lions, leopards, and hyenas fitted with Radio collars.
The Ishasha plains offer a classic game viewing experience under vast rift valley skies. The plains are filled with buffaloes, elephants, topis, and more besides. It is also famous for the tree climbing lions and the chances of sighting lions are particularly good in Ishasha as the local prides obligingly spend their days resting up in the branches of fig trees.
Boat cruises on the Kazinga channel provides the most relaxed way to view big game and water birds in the park. The channel joins Lake George to Lake Edward. Wild life can be viewed while on a scheduled 2 hour return voyage or hired boat cruise. The Kazinga Channel is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park. A boat cruise gives you a chance to watch hundreds of enormous hippos, buffalo’s elephants along the shoreline.
With over 600 bird species, the park has the biggest number of birds of any protected area in East Africa. Kazinga Channel is a haven for water birds that are easily seen during a boat cruise. Birding activities overlap with the wildlife viewing locations. Highlights also include the easy sighting of resident and Migratory birds on the Kazinga channel, spectacular seasonal congregations of Flamingoes on the Kyambura, Munyanyange, and Katwe soda lakes, careful and keen searches for rare and restricted range forest species in the Maramagambo forest and Kyambura gorge. Birds to watch out for in the park are: Grey-headed Kingfisher, African Mourning Dove, Red-chested sunbird, Swamp Fly-catcher, Grey-capped Warbler, Slender-billed, Yellow-backed and Lesser Masked Weavers, Pin-tailed Whydah, Brimstone Canary, Gabon and Slender-tailed Nightjars among others.
The forests of Kyambura Gorge and Maramagambo will reward you with sightings of primates (Chimpanzees) and rare birds. The forest filled Kyambura gorge extends from the Kichwamba Escarpment to the Kazinga channel. Enjoy giddy view points on the edge of the 100m deep chasm before descending into the depth to track Chimpanzees.
At the foot of the Kichwamba Escarpment, the Maramagambo forest contrasts with the park’s open grasslands and a guided walk takes you to the Bat cave with its resident bat-gorged python.
Dozens of volcanic craters (dry and lakes) pock the landscape north of Mweya and will give you insight of the Albertine rift violent tectonic movements. The 27km drive between Kabatooro gate and the crater gate follows a breath taking route around the rims of extinct craters filled, variously with lakes, forest and grassland to Katwe town. Katwe town is 12km from Mweya and the locals have been extracting salt from the saline lake Katwe using the evaporation pans since 14th century. Local guides will lead you down the crater to see and learn the process. The adjacent Lake Munyanyange is rich in water birds, including migrating lesser flamingoes between August and November.
Routes from Kampala to Mweya peninsula. The most scenic route passes through Fort portal (410kms) and can offer a detour to Kibale, Semliki and Rwenzori Mountains National parks. The alternative one 420 kms run through Masaka with an equator experience at Kayabwe, Mbarara and Bushenyi and you can do a de tour to Lake Mburo National park.
In the south Queen Elizabeth can be accessed from Buhoma, the main trail head for gorilla tracking in Bwindi Impenetrable National park.
Domestic Charter Flights or scheduled flights can be arranged From Entebbe International airport or Kajansi Airstrip to airstrips at Kasese, Mweya and Ishasha.