Queen Elizabeth National Park: The Complete Guide

Tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

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Queen Elizabeth National Park

Address
Kasese, Uganda
Phone +256 778 968647

Most people visit Uganda to track gorillas through the mist-laden woods of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park. Few newcomers to Uganda realize that the country also offers classic safari experiences—and that the best place to embark on one is in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Famed for its stunning scenery and diverse wildlife (including many big game species), this park is located on the equator in western Uganda and includes 764 square miles of land nestled between two of Africa's Great Lakes, Lake Edward and Lake George. These two bodies of water are connected by the Kazinga Channel and provide a year-round source of water for the park’s incredible variety of flora and fauna. Many different ecosystems exist within the park's boundaries, ranging from wetlands and equatorial forests to caves, open savannah, and volcanic hills. Above it all rises the jagged peaks of the distant Rwenzori Mountains, adding a touch of drama to the already beautiful scenery. 

Things to Do 

Game drives offer the most traditional way to see Queen Elizabeth National Park's wildlife. Book a guided safari, or self-drive your rented vehicle through the park. Night drives are also offered. This type of expedition allows you to see the nocturnal animals who traditionally sleep during the day.

You can also take an experiential wildlife tour with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). Tours are themed around mongoose tracking, lion tracking, hippo censuses, and bird counts, and can be booked at the Mweya Visitor Information Center. 

Guided chimpanzee experiences in the Kyambura Gorge offer unforgettable encounters with our closest living relatives. Although sightings are not guaranteed, the troop is habituated, giving you an excellent chance of spying them.

Boat-based wildlife viewing on the Kazinga Channel is a highlight of any visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The UWA offers launch trips for up to 40 passengers, guaranteeing a seat with a view and the expert narration of a UWA ranger. Along the way, you’ll see and hear hippos, crocodiles, and large herds of animals coming down to the water to drink.

If you would like an authentic look into the Ugandan people's culture, consider signing up for one of the region’s cultural experiences. At the Kikorongo Cultural Center, you can learn how to weave traditional baskets, make beaded necklaces, or purchase souvenirs made by the talented women in the local community. Or, walk among replicas of traditional Banyabindi, Bakonzo, and Basongora huts, watch song and dance performances, and purchase artisan crafts at Leopard Village.

Wildlife Sighting

Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to 95 mammal species, including four of the Big Five (elephant, buffalo, lion, and leopard) and 10 primate species, like chimpanzees, black-and-white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, and olive baboons. Antelopes, including Uganda kob, sitatunga, and the vulnerable topi, abound, while the lakes and channel provide a sanctuary for aquatic species, including hippos and Nile crocodiles. 

Popular game drive areas include the open grasslands of the Kasenyi Plains, where resident herds of Uganda kob attract plenty of predator action, and the southern Ishasha sector, where you can see topi and sitatunga antelope.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for its tree-climbing lions, above all. Found in the boughs of fig trees in the Ishasha sector of the park, it’s uncertain why these lions choose to spend much of their time above ground. Theories claim the animals are gaining a better vantage for spotting prey, and escaping the heat and insects at ground level. Either way, it’s a behavior that's unique to only this park and Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania. 

As you trek through the Kyambura Gorge in search of chimpanzees, your guide will discuss the ecology and the gorge’s unique “underground” rainforest. You’re likely to spot other primates and birds en route, too.

Birdwatching

Designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by Birding International, Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s most rewarding destinations for fans of feathered friends. It boasts more than 600 recorded species of birds (the largest of any protected area in East Africa). Additionally, the park's location on the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) border means you can spot both East African and Central African species in one location. 

Special sightings include the prehistoric-looking shoebill stork (one of East Africa’s most sought-after encounters), the near-threatened papyrus gonolek, and the Verreaux’s eagle owl. For the best viewing, head to prime birding areas, like the Kazinga Channel (where 60 different bird species can be spotted on a single launch trip), Lake Kikorongo, and the Maramagambo Forest. 

Where to Camp

Two options for camping exist within the boundaries of the park. You can choose from typical rustic-style camping in nylon tents to more of a glamping experience in wall tents with thatched roofs. To complete your stay, each camp offers various cultural activities for guests to take part in.

  • Engiri Game Lodge and Campsite: At Engiri Game Lodge and Campsite, you can choose from several accommodations, including thatched-roof cottages, permanent tents, family tents, and set-up lodge tents. The permanent tents come with twin beds, while the other tents offer a true on-the-ground camping experience. The grounds boast a fertile lawn surrounded by savanna bushes and a huge campfire area. A campfire and goat roasting celebration, complete with traditional music and dance, can be arranged on-premises for parties of seven or more.
  • Kasenyi Safari Camp: Kasenyi Safari camp is located on the shores of Lake Bunyampaka and offers eight tents on platforms with a thatched canopy roof. The tents come complete with an en-suite bathroom, spacious living area, king-sized beds, walk-in mosquito nets, and private decks. Free Wi-Fi is available at the restaurant and you can book safaris, treks, and night drives through the camp.

Where to Stay Nearby

You will need several days to explore Queen Elizabeth National Park properly. Fortunately, staying overnight is easy due to a wide variety of accommodations in and near the park, from self-catering bandas, for those on a budget, to luxury safari lodges.

  • Kyambura Gorge Lodge: Located in the sunken forest of the Kyambura Gorge at the edge of the park, this eco-lodge is a great accommodation option for those wishing to view chimpanzees. The lodge offers luxury bandas with contemporary styling and views of either the savanna or the gorge. All bandas have mosquito nets, changing stations, and private balconies. Free Wi-Fi is available on-premises and the lodge's in-ground pool can be enjoyed by all guests.
  • Katara Lodge: Katara Lodge is located in the Great Rift Valley escarpment, only a 16-kilometer (10-mile) drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park. Thatched cottages come complete with double beds and a four-poster star bed that can be wheeled out onto the deck for a night under the stars. The lodge's family cottage can sleep up to seven and children under two stay for free.
  • Simba Safari Camp: This great accommodation option for mid-range travelers is located on a hill overlooking Lake Kikorongo on the edge of park. It's the closest lodging option to the Kasenyi Plains—the famed mating grounds for Uganda Kobs, and one of the best areas for game drives. The camp offers twin, double, and triple rooms, as well as a family cottage and dormitory-style rooms, which share a common area and a communal bathroom.

How to Get There

Entebbe International Airport near Kampala is the country’s main port of entry for international visitors. From Kampala, it takes a little over six hours to drive to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park is also accessible by road from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, located three to four hours to the south. Those that would like to avoid lengthy car journeys, and have cash to spare, can arrange a charter flight to one of three airstrips in or near Queen Elizabeth National Park: Kasese, Mweya, or Ishasha. 

Tips for Your Visit

  • Queen Elizabeth National park enjoys a humid, equatorial climate, with temperatures that remain consistent throughout the year. Daytime temperatures rise to an average of 83 degrees F (28 degrees C), while nighttime temperatures hover around 63 degrees F (17 degrees C).
  • The best time to travel to Queen Elizabeth National Park is during the dry seasons (January through February and June through July), when animals are easily spotted congregating around the water sources. The roads are in better condition during this time, and chimp tracking is a more comfortable experience.
  • Pack clothing layers, especially for early morning and nighttime game drives.
  • Rain is possible at any time of year, yet the official rainy seasons run from March through May and from September through November.
  • Queen Elizabeth National Park is located directly on the equator, and one of its roads cuts across the equator line. Monuments on either side of the road mark latitude 00, giving you a great photo opportunity, as you stand with one foot in the southern hemisphere and one in the northern hemisphere. 
  • Malaria is a risk throughout the year in this region of Africa, so be sure to take the necessary precautions to protect yourself. 
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Queen Elizabeth National Park: The Complete Guide