Queen Elizabeth National Park is Located in Western Uganda spanning the districts of Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi, and Rukungiri. The park is approximately 400 kilometers (250 mi) by road south-west of Kampala.
Queen Elizabeth National Park occupies an estimated 1,978 square kilometers (764 sq. mi). The park extends from Lake George in the north-east to Lake Edward in the south-west and includes the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes. These spectacular lakes support the survival of many animal and plant species within the park.
From the lodge terrace, it’s almost impossible to tell which way the Kazinga Channel is flowing. It actually flows west (to your right) from Lake George to Lake Edward. But since the change in water level along the 36km Channel is just 40cm it moves extremely slowly.
QENP lies on the floor of the western arm of the Great East African Rift Valley, which runs from northern Uganda to Malawi. The most striking features of Queen Elizabeth National Park are the 72 explosion craters that were naturally broadcast to prove the volcanic mayhem that led to their existence. These volcanic features make the Park very famous, including the volcanic cones and deep craters, many with crater lakes, such as the Katwe craters, from which salt is extracted. The Katwe explosion craters mark the park's highest point at 1,350m above sea level, while the lowest point is at 910m, at Lake Edward. Queen Elizabeth National park day temperatures range between 18 – 28?C. Temperatures drop when night falls thus warm clothes are highly recommended.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination. The park’s diverse ecosystems, which include sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands, make it the ideal habitat for classic big game, ten primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 species of birds. Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the Kazinga Channel with its banks lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants, and the endless Ishasha plains, whose fig trees hide climbing lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kob.
As well as its outstanding wildlife attractions, Queen Elizabeth National Park has a fascinating cultural history. There are many opportunities for visitors to meet the local communities and enjoy storytelling, dance, music and more. The gazetting of the park has ensured the conservation of its ecosystems, which in turn benefits the surrounding communities. Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the only two Biosphere Reserves found in Uganda; the other Being Katonga Wildlife Reserve
The Mweya Peninsular commands the most spectacular views within the park and the most strategic point within the park.
Services in the park include a Tele center run by Conservation through Public Health and the Uganda Wildlife Authority, neighboring the Queen's Pavilion, also park lodges, game and scenic drives, and boat launches.
QENP is one of Uganda’s oldest parks. It was formed officially in 1952 under the British Colonial Government as Kazinga National Park. It was renamed two years later to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. The first European visitor to Mweya was Henry Morton Stanley in 1889.
The Mweya Peninsula
The Mweya Peninsula is located on the northern bank of the impressive Kazinga Channel at the convergence of the channel with Lake Edward.
The area of the Mweya peninsular includes the Channel Track all the way down to Katunguru gate, then across to Kabatoro gate which has a chunky ground cover with dense vegetation dominated by Candelabra Thorn. This dense vegetation cover actually makes Game viewing quite challenging in this area. There are a number of tracks for game drive which are followed and these are all well maintained. Following the signposting may be challenging from time to time and chances are that at one point you may lose track of your way. The major road within the park plus the Channel Track are both noticeable features to which the different tracks for game drives merge with at some point.
The majority of guests that visit the Mweya mainly do so simply to pleasure in the two hour launch cruise on the impressive Kazinga Channel. This park operates a twenty – seater motorized vessel which runs two ride a day one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. However from time to time there are three cruises on a single day basing on the numbers of visitors interested in taking this fascinating tour. Registration is done at the offices found in Mweya, and after that you will be requesting to join in on the team that is also taking the cruise. Trips set off from the landing stage beneath the lodge. You can choose to drive or to walk to the landing stage by leaving through the barricade at the headquarters of Mweya’s entrance.
At the Mweya peninsula enjoy splendid views over the water with sights stretching all through to the Rwenzori Mountains. Mweya is among the finest places to spot a leopard, which normally live within the scrubby thickets. It is a focal point of the beautiful northern part of the park!
History of the Mweya Peninsula
The first evidence of existence of humans at Mweya actually dates back to close to 50,000 years back, and this area has perhaps been occupied for the last thousand years. The first not so old account of this place was provided by an explore Stanley, who reached on the rim of the Mweya peninsula in the month of July in 1889 however he recorded that he couldn’t see anything but only a “formless void”, most probably due to the smoke from the bush-clearing fires. Mweya had only 81 huts at that time and had plenty of sheep plus goats; however in 1891 when Lugard reached this peninsula, the village was actually deserted, possibly prior to Lugard’s party. As the century went by, the peninsula as well as the surrounding places was abandoned after epidemics of sleeping sickness plus rinderpest. Legitimately the peninsula stayed closed to all human settlements until it was later declared a section of the Queen Elizabeth National Park in 1952, although by that declaration, several people had started settling within the Mweya. Mweya village today has an estimated population of 400 people, and is today the main hub for tourist activities within the Park.
There is a luxurious Uganda safari lodge in this area common to tourists called the Mweya Safari Lodge, which is found on the northern extreme of the Peninsula, and offers a spectacular sight over the adjacent Lake Edward.
Fauna in QENP
Queen Elizabeth National Park is known for its wildlife. With 95species of mammal – more than any other park in Uganda, including African buffalo, Ugandan kob, hippopotamus, Nile crocodile, African bush elephant, African leopard, lion, and chimpanzee.
Kyambura gorge which is home to a small community of habituated chimpanzees is also another striking feature located at the North-eastern boundary the Park. Guests can trek the chimpanzees in the company of a Wildlife Authority ranger. However a trekking permit is required and must be purchased in advance of a visit.
The Ishasha Sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park is the place to search for the tree climbing lions often to be seen in the vicinity of the camp which is situated just off the Northern circuit game viewing track. The lions are also favored by the large fig trees on the Southern circuit game viewing track and this offers alternative game viewing routes Camp. The area around Ishasha in Rukungiri District is famous for its tree-climbing lions, whose males sport black manes. Crocodiles have only recently been seen in the Kazinga Channel. They disappeared for 8,000 years after they were eliminated from Lake Edward by toxic ash from local volcanoes.
The Kazinga Chanel, bisecting this part of the park offers a tranquil river cruise, with excellent chances of spotting elephants on the river-bank, hippos in the water and a plethora of water-birds. Hippos are efficient lawn mowers. They prefer to graze short grass, each animal eating about 40kg each night.
QENP hosts 619 bird species, the second highest of any park in Africa – the 6th highest of any park world-wide. This remarkable number is enabled by the park’s diverse habitats. Due to the high number of Birds Recorded, QENP is one of the 16 Important Bird Areas of Uganda (IBA’s). Birding is unique because avid birdwatchers can see East, Central and some West African birds with the Narina Trogon and Black bee-eaters being some of the rare birds seen in the Park.
The papyrus swamps of this Ramsar wetland site are home to the semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope. One can spot the elusive Shoebill plus other native birds on the lake.
The 72 huge round basins scattered across the equator are evidence of the Albertine Rift’s bubbling volcanic past, and are a must-see for those with a particular interest in the region's fascinating geological history.
The 27km drive between Kabatoro gate and Queen’s Pavilion takes in views of the enormous craters, circular lakes, the Rift Valley escarpment and the Kazinga channel - all in front of the mighty backdrop of the Rwenzori Mountains.
One of the most famous lookout points in Uganda is in the Katwe-Kabatoro community on Katwe Salt Lake where traditional salt mining has been practiced since the 16th century. The neighboring Lake Munyanyange is a bird sanctuary, as well as a migratory location for the lesser flamingo from August to November.
The vast savannah of Kasenyi is the perfect setting for a classic African safari experience.
Huge herds of Uganda kob attract prides of lions; warthogs graze bent down on their knees; guinea fowl scuttle through the grassland; and huge dark elephants stride across the game drive tracks, providing dream photo opportunities for visitors.
Mweya is Queen’s focal point. It contains the Visitors Centre, a luxury lodge and restaurant, hostel, campsite, budget food options and the departure point for the Kazinga Channel launch trip – and is still jam-packed with birds and animals.
Its elevated position commands gorgeous views of the Kazinga Channel and surrounding savanna, and its proximity to Kasenyi and the North Kazinga plains make it an ideal departure point for wildlife-filled game drives in the morning or evening.
A cruise down the Kazinga channel is the most relaxing way to enjoy a wildlife safari in Queen. The banks are crammed with hippos, buffalos and water birds, along with caimans, monitor lizards, marabou storks, weaver birds and elegant pairs of fish eagles. Elephants stride along the banks – all you need to do is sit back with your camera or binoculars at the ready, and enjoy the incredible spectacle.
The Kyambura River flows through this thick “underground forest”, 100 meters below the Kichwamba escarpment.
The gorge is best known for its resident chimpanzees – some of which are habituated and can be tracked through the forest with your Safari Guide. While walking through the gorge, you may spot other primates and some of the many birds found in the forest. The entrance to the gorge is also a pleasant spot for a picnic.
Kyambura Wildlife Reserve
The beautiful crater lakes of this reserve, located to the east of Kyambura Gorge, offer excellent opportunities to observe many water birds including greater and lesser flamingoes and the great egret.
Buzzing with primates, including chimpanzees, baboons and several monkey species, the forest is also alive with numerous birds including the rare Forest Flycatcher, White-napped Pigeon and the striking Rwenzori Turaco. One can also visit the ‘cormorant house’, a large tree that has been turned white by the birds that roost here at night.
The shady forest also conceals crater lakes and a “Bat Cave” with a specially constructed viewing room.
This remote southern region enjoys fewer visitors than the north, but those who venture this far may be rewarded with sightings of Ishasha’s most famous residents – the tree climbing lions – lounging in the branches while keeping a close eye on herds of Uganda kob. It is also home to many buffalo and elephants as well as the rare shoebill.
Ishasha is also a convenient region to pass through on the way to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park.
Game Viewing & Safari Drive: Most wildlife-viewing traffic is in the northeast of the park in Kasenyi, which offers the best chance to see lions, elephants, waterbucks and kob hence an Early Morning Game drive to the Kasenyi Sector in search of Predators such as Lions & Leopards, large herds of Buffaloes, Elephants and Antelopes. Kasenyi is also one of the most scenic sections of any park in Uganda, particularly in the morning when the savannah landscape shines golden and is dotted with cactus-like candelabra trees.
There’s also a small network of trails between Mweya Peninsula and Katunguru gate that usually reveal waterbucks and kobs, elephants and, occasionally, leopards.
Tree Climbing Lions: Drive to Ishasha Sector south of Queen Elizabeth national Park in search of tree climbing Lions.
Launch Cruise in Kazinga Channel– viewing the Beautiful Scenery and aquatic species along the shores. Kazinga Channel is home to the world's largest population of hippopotamuses. This 32 km (20 mi) long strip of water attracts elephants, hippos, crocodiles, and buffalos.
Chimp Trekking in Kyambura Game Reserve (Kyambura Gorge) or Kalinzu Forest. Go chimp-tracking at Kyambura Gorge and learn about these primates' natural habitat. The trails follow the animals' usual hiding spots, and your guided tour will educate you about the vegetation of this "underground" rainforest, as well as include some bird-watching and other ecological information.
Bird watching through a nature walk on the Mweya Peninsula and also watching European migrant birds like the terns and gulls that congregate at Kazinga in large flocks
Visits to different Crater Lakes including; Katwe Salt Lake where one can learn the process of Salt Mining.
Equator Water Experiment: Marvel at seeing the water turn in different directions in the southern and northern Hemispheres.
To top off a wildlife packed day, there is an optional sunset Crater Lake Drive to the Baboon Cliffs for an evening drink as the sun sets over the park’s rolling hills.
DETAILS OF ACTIVITIES
CULTURAL ENCOUNTERS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
Leopard Village is a community-run, socio-economic development initiative that promotes cultural and wildlife conservation through ecotourism. Located near the village of Muhokya, Leopard Village sits on 3 acres bordering the northern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Visitors can tour replicas of the traditional huts of the Banyabindi, Bakonzo, and Basongora ethnic groups, watch traditional song and dance performances, and purchase handicrafts made by local communities.
Longer visits can include conversations with community members about the challenges and opportunities they face living next to the park, visits to local schools, and discussions about traditional village life and solutions for human-wildlife conflict. We can work with tour groups to create a customized program.
Leopard Village is a partnership between the local communities of Muhokya, Kahendero and Hamukungu, and the Uganda Carnivore Program, with support from zoos in the United States and Germany. All fees and donations go directly to community development, conservation and education projects, and to the individual artists. By supporting Leopard Village tourist and cultural activities, you will be assisting in the conservation of the area's wildlife and supporting sustainable development in the local communities.
Kikorongo Women Community
Kikorongo means Too Much Sunshine in the local language of Lukonzo – but the heat of the African plains has not diminished the energy of the Kikorongo Equator Cultural Performers! This vibrant performance, which takes place at lodges around the park, is a wonderful glimpse of life in Kikorongo, with dance, drama, music and fire-making. While a local interpreter explains the significance of the performances, you can sit back and watch village life unfold in front of you.
Kikorongo’s African Art Craft Workshops teach guests how to weave baskets and bowls using natural fibers – it´s not as easy as the teachers make it look! They also demonstrate how to recycle magazines into colorful paper beads, which can be made into unique necklaces. If your own craft skills are not up to scratch, beautiful items made by the women´s group, such as baskets, bowls, purses and woven belts, are available to purchase.
Katwe Tourism Information Centre (KATIC)
This unusual lake is far too salty to support much wildlife – though since the 16th Century it has ensured the survival of the Katwe villagers, who spend their days under the equatorial sun, walking the network of paths that crisscross the lake and harvesting salt from its milky waters.
Katwe Salt Lake Tour gives a unique insight into the fascinating yet tough process of salt mining, as well as providing an alternative income for Katwe. See villagers at work on the lake, cross the mud walkways and enter a traditional grass hut. You will also pass the nearby bird sanctuary lake, home to thousands of birds, including flamingoes from October to May. A bird watching boardwalk will be ready in 2012.
During Katwe Village Walk, visitors are welcomed to a traditional homestead. Cooking demonstrations introduce the region’s cuisine, and there is also a trip to the local school.
Nyanz’ibiri Cave Community
Stretch your legs after long game drives with scenic walks around a slice of Ugandan paradise, at this community site known as The Cave. Admire panoramic views of volcanic crater lakes to a soundtrack of crested cranes and eagles. Paddle a canoe, hike to the Transparent Lake, spot eight species of forest primates, or just stop and smell the local flowers - this is the place to come to truly get away from it all!
Local attractions include a historic cave and Cultural Museum – a perfectly preserved Bunyaruguru hut, filled with valued local artifacts that were once the tools of everyday life.
This community run establishment also offers three, fully furnished private Bandas and a campsite. All visitors are invited to use our restaurant and bar, and enjoy our evening traditional dance performances. A generous portion of your activity and accommodation fees go directly to community development, conservation and educational projects.
The sweeping Kichwamba Escarpment makes up the eastern wall of the Western Rift Valley. This 2-3 hour trail begins in rural Kataara Village with a hike through the farms of the escarpment in the cool morning or early evening. Your expert local guide will point out beautiful bird species, exotic and medicinal plants and sites of cultural importance, as well as explaining local farming methods.
Visitors will also learn about the enduring challenge of human-animal conflicts in the area, and will tour the beehives that are used to divert destructive elephants away from community crops on the park border. Interested clients will even have the chance to try their hand at honey harvesting.
After enjoying the peace of the endless savannah and the shade of the trees, visitors hike back up the escarpment and can return to their lodges.
LAUNCH TRIPS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
The Kazinga Channel is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park, and taking a boat tour along it gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffalos while elephants linger on the shoreline.
An average of 60 bird species can be spotted during the trip. Carrying up to 40 passengers, the boats guarantee a seat with a view, while expert ranger guides narrate the creatures’ stories.
Launch trips last two hours and run three or four times a day.
GAME DRIVES IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
For a classic African safari experience, the tracks through Kasenyi, the North Kazinga Plains and the Ishasha Sector offer virtually guaranteed buffalo, antelope and elephant sightings, along with warthogs and baboons. Taking an experienced guide in the early morning or at dusk is the most successful way to track down a pride of lions, and maybe even the odd leopard.
CHIMP TRACKING IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
The Kyambura Gorge experience is more than discovering chimpanzees in their natural environment: it teaches visitors about the ecosystems of Kyambura Gorge’s atmospheric “underground” rainforest, including vegetation types; bird identification and behavior; and chimp and monkey ecology.
Although chimp sightings are not guaranteed, visitors stand a pretty good chance of hearing and seeing our distant cousins as they are habituated. Tours last between one to three hours and start at 8am and 2pm daily.
BIRDING IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
Classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Bird International, Queen’s great variety of habitats mean it is home to over 600 species. This is the greatest of any East African national park, and a phenomenal number for such a small area. The park’s confluence of savanna and forest, linking to the expansive forests of the DR Congo allow visitors to spot East as well as Central African species.
Present in the park are numerous water birds, woodland and forest dwellers in the Maramagambo Forest, 54 raptors and various migratory species. Key species include the Martial Eagle, Black-rumped Buttonquail, African Skimmer, Chapin’s Flycatcher, Pink backed Pelican, African Broadbill, Verreaux’s Eagle Owl, Black Bee-eater, White-tailed Lark, White-winged Warbler, Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus Canary, Corncrake, Lesser and Greater Flamingo, Shoebill, Bar-tailed Godwit.
For the best birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park, don’t miss these birding hot spots:
Kazinga Channel, Kasenyi Area, Mweya Peninsula, Maramagambo Forest, Ishasha Sector, Lake Kikorongo, Katunguru Bridge area and Katwe Area Tours can be booked through Katwe Tourism Information Center.
WILDLIFE RESEARCH TOURS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
For visitors who yearn to get up close to wild African fauna, a research trip is a rewarding adventure. This new and unique experience allows visitors to actively participate in monitoring some of the exotic birds and mammals that fill the park, using locator devices and learn habituation calls, as well as monitoring weather, surroundings and behavior. The results are added to researchers’ databases, contributing valuable information to the overall understanding of wildlife ecology - and helping to conserve this wonderful ecosystem.
The experiential tourism activities currently available are Mongoose Tracking, Lion Tracking, Hippo Census, and Bird Counts. The number of people on each outing is limited in order to reduce stress on the animals and to increase the quality of the experience for visitors.
Experiential tours lasts between one and three hours. They usually take place in the early morning or evening, or occasionally at night.
CAVES IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
Tucked beneath the shady canopy of the Maramagambo Forest is the “Bat Cave”. The cave has a viewing room built through funding from the Center for Disease Control in which visitors can observe the bats as well as the pythons that live alongside them... did you know that these serpents live amongst their prey?!
For a more cultural cave experience, how about a trip to the historic cave at Nyanz’ibiri community, where a local guide will explain to you how it was once used for offering sacrifices and cleansing misfortunes and as a hiding place during Uganda’s rule by Idi Amin.
HIKING/NATURE WALKS IN QUEEN ELIZABETH
Mweya Peninsula offers savannah and woodland with beautiful views and bold warthogs. At the southern end of the park, visitors can enjoy an easy stroll along the Ishasha River, where they can spot a variety of forest and savanna bird and mammal species as well as having a unique opportunity on this walk to get extremely close to hippos on foot, while remaining perfectly safe on the raised bank above the river.
Wildlife and birding summary
With an astonishing 5000 hippos, 2500 elephants and over 10,000 buffalo thriving in its grasslands and shorelines, Queen guarantees sightings of some of Africa’s most iconic species. Hearing the elephants’ calls reverberate around Queen’s crater-filled valleys is a magical experience.
Other common herbivores include warthogs, waterbuck, Uganda kob and topi, as well as the sitatunga antelope.
Ten species of primates enjoy the park's diverse habitats, the most popular of which is undoubtedly the chimpanzee. Vervet and black-and-white colobus monkeys are easily spotted in the trees, but the boldest of all are the baboons – be sure to keep car windows closed to avoid food thefts!
Birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park is an incredible treat as it contains a variety of habitats that range from savanna to wetlands to lowland forests. This diversity is reflected in the list of over 600 bird species, the biggest of any protected area in East Africa. A majority of the birds found in this area are regarded as famous birds of East Africa and are a must see for birdwatchers in Africa!
Queen’s most elusive inhabitants are its felines: lion, leopard, civet, genal and serval cats.
Lions are found throughout the park, but the most renowned live in the southern sector of Ishasha, where they rest on the limbs of fig trees. Solitary leopards are nocturnal and fiendishly well camouflaged, making a glimpse all the more rewarding! The smaller cats are also predominantly nocturnal and best spotted on night game drives.
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