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Queen Elizabeth National Park – Uganda

Named after Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, 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 the 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 lions ready to pounce on herds of unsuspecting Uganda kob. A favorite way to view the game is by boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel between Lakes George and Edward.

With boat trips on the 40 km Kazinga Channel, a meandering drive among spectacular volcanic craters, lion viewing on the Kasenyi plains, chimpanzee tracking in the depths of Kyambura Gorge, walks into the dark depths of Maramagambo Forest, and game drives beneath the vast skies of the remote wilderness of Ishasha, Queen Elizabeth National Park has plenty to interest any visitor.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

In addition to 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.

Things to do in Queen Elizabeth National Park

1. Wildlife Game drives

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. Guides are available from 6:30 am onwards; morning game drives should be booked the day before.

2. Kazinga Channel Boat Cruise

The Kazinga Channel is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit Queen Elizabeth national park, and taking a boat tour along it gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffaloes 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. Kazinga channel boat cruise trips last two hours three or four times a day.

3. Explore the Bat Cave

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.

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 misfortune and as a hiding place during Uganda’s rule by Idi Amin.

4. Chimpanzee tracking

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. Chimp tracking tours last between one and three hours and start at 8 am and 2 pm daily.

5. Birding

Classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International, Queen’s great variety of habitats means 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 DR Congo allows visitors to spot East as well as Central African species.

Present in the park is 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.

6. Nature Walks / Hiking

Nature treks are one of the more active ways to explore the landscapes and wildlife of Queen Elizabeth national park.

Locations include the shady Maramagambo forest; Mweya Peninsula with its scenic views; and Ishasha River, where you may spot a variety of forest and savanna species as well as have a unique opportunity to get extremely close to hippos – on foot!

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 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.

7. Wildlife Research Tours

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 learning 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 last between one and three hours. They usually take place in the early morning or evening, or occasionally at night.

Related article: Top things to do in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Getting to Queen Elizabeth NP

Queen Elizabeth National Park is located 370 kilometers west of Kampala – Uganda’s capital. Driving from Kampala to Queen Elizabeth NP takes around 6 hours via Fort Portal. Alternatively, you can drive to Queen Elizabeth via Masaka and Mbarara where you will need around 7.5 hours to cover the 460-kilometer journey.

Besides getting to Queen Elizabeth by road, you can take a scheduled domestic flight from Entebbe or any of the other national Parks around Uganda. Flights can land inside the park or just outside, depending on your preferences.

Queen Elizabeth is well located near other Ugandan attractions such as Kibale, Bwindi, Rwenzori, Semuliki, and Lake Mburo National Park. This makes it ideal as part of a trip that visits more than one location in western and southwestern Uganda.

Areas of Interest in Queen Elizabeth NP

1. Lake George

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.

2. Explosion Craters

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 through the Park 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.

3. Katwe

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.

4. Kasenyi Plains

The vast savannah of Kasenyi is the perfect setting for a classic Uganda Wildlife Holiday experience.

Huge herds of Uganda kob attract 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 photography opportunities for visitors.

5. Mweya Peninsula

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 makes it an ideal departure point for wildlife-filled game drives in the morning or evening.

6. Kazinga Channel

A cruise down the Kazinga channel is the most relaxing way to enjoy a wildlife safari in Queen Elizabeth national park. The banks are crammed with hippos, buffaloes, 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.

7. Kyambura Gorge

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 trained UWA guides.

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.

8. 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.

9. Maramagambo Forest

Buzzing with primates, including chimpanzees, baboons, and several monkey species, the forest is also alive with numerous birds including the rare Forest Flycatcher, White-naped 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.

10. Ishasha Sector

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 forest National Park.

Accommodation

Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s most visited destinations that receives many tourists and therefore has a well-developed accommodation infrastructure for the visitors. There are options for various budgets and preferences.

Relevant Safari Packages for Queen Elizabeth NP

Here are some of our safari packages that include a visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park for wildlife viewing, chimpanzee tracking, birding, launch cruises, and more.