Guide to visiting Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of the most well-loved tourist destinations in Uganda. It is situated in the western portion of the country, spread across the regions of Kasese, Kamwenge, Bushenyi and Rukungiri.
The reserve, established in 1954, starts at Lake George in the northeast and stretches to Lake Edward in the southwest. It is divided into three sectors: Mweya Peninsula, Kyambura Gorge – to the east of Mweya -, and Ishasha in the far south-west.
The game drives and tourist activities are mainly made in the Mweya sector and in part in the Ishasha sector, where the tree-climbing lions are the main attraction. Kyambura Gorge sector is a deep gorge with lush tropical vegetation crossed by a river, famous for its large concentration of chimpanzees.
Game drive in Mweya sector
We’ve visited the park twice, the first time in 2009 and the last in January 2019. Honestly, the games are not a lot, and sometimes they are difficult to spot because of the high grass. In the dry season, the landscape is barren, and there are no waterholes that attract animals.
If you have already visited other national parks around Africa like Masai Mara, Serengeti or Kruger, you will not be so delighted because the sightings are not a lot. In the Mweya area, there are lions, but you have to be lucky to spot them. It is not that easy because the park is vast, the grass is tall, and they usually rest ”perched” on the small and dense acacia trees to find repair from the heat. We can’t complain anyway since the first time in the Park we spotted four lions, while the second time we saw a baby lion walking in the tall grass and one adult resting on the acacia trees. Our driver (a professional guide) told us with a beaming smile that Queen Elizabeth Park is huge, but it’s only grass and “not a whiff of an animal”.
- Cruising the Kazinga Channel
The most exciting activity in Mweya sector is the boat cruise on the Kazinga Channel, a canal that links Lake George and Lake Edward.
The round trip ride starts from the pier near the Mweya Safari Lodge (you can book the cruise there) until you get close to Lake Edward, then the boat turns back. The departure time is at 2 pm and 4 pm and it lasts about 2 hours. During the cruise, you’ll spot many buffaloes, hippos, elephants, crocodiles and a myriad of birds (tip: take your seat on the left side of the boat).
- Salt Lake of Katwe
Another activity that could be done in this area is a visit to Salt Katwe lake. Accompanied by a local guide for about 40 – 50 minutes, you’ll walk through the shore of the lake, listening to interesting information about the extraction procedure of the salt from the lake. On the way to the lake, you will find a small building where you have to pay an entrance fee and a guide.
Kyambura Game Reserve hiking
Better known as Kyambura Gorge, this Reserve is part of Queen Elizabeth National Park and is home to an incredible and unique variety of wildlife, including chimpanzees. The area, which is an important source of water for many animals, is generally known for the high concentration of primates that live in the gorge. The Kyambura Reserve is the only place in the Queen Elizabeth National Park where you can see chimpanzees accustomed to human presence as well as various types of primates such as the Green Cercopithecus, the Bearded Cercopithecus, the Diademed Cercopithecus, the Colobus, the Nasobian Monkey.
Our hiking was supposed to be in the Kyambura Gorge, but on the advice of our driver, we changed destination the previous day, rescheduling the hiking in the Kalinzu Forest. He told us that it is very difficult to spot chimpanzees in Kyambura Gorge because the area is huge and the hiking is very tiring as you have to descend to the gorge. His tip was perfect because we saw a big group of chimpanzees walking on a flat and easy path for only 1 hour. Kalinzu Forest is approximately a 40-minute drive from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Game drive in the Ishasha sector
The southern sector of Ishasha, well known for the tree-climbing lions, is 80 km from Mweya (about 1 hour and 30 min.). Even in Ishasha, the games are very few, and we didn’t see any lions or other felines. The driver told us that during the dry season the heat is extreme, so they usually move near the lake Edward shores. Unfortunately, at the moment no track runs along that area.
In spite of everything, remember that safaris always go “by luck” and maybe, you’ll be luckier than us. Without a doubt, if you decide to visit Uganda, Queen Elizabeth Park is a spot not to miss, especially for the boat cruise along the Kazinga channel and the trekking in the lush Kyambura gorge (or Kalinzu Forest) where you will experience the exciting encounter with chimpanzees.
Need to Know about Queen Elizabeth National Park
1. When to go
The climate of Uganda is warm all year round and the best months to visit the country and its parks are January, February and June, July. During the wet season – March to May and August to December – even if the rains fall in the form of short but violent storms, some tracks may become not passable.
2. How to get there
The Park lies 400 km from Kampala. The best way to visit it is to book a tour through a local agency or to rent a 4×4 vehicle at Entebbe International Airport. In general, the roads are in a good condition. You can find the website of some local tour operators by clicking here.
3. Where to sleep
The Park offers a good choice of accommodation ranging from campsites to luxury lodges. The Mweya Safari Lodge is by far the most expensive and best accommodation in the whole Park. We slept at the Buffalo Safari Lodge, also in the Mweya sector. In the Ishasa sector, the choice is much less wide. Here, you will find the expensive Wilderness camp, Ntungwe River camp and Ishasha camp
4. Travellers’ safety
Obviously, it is absolutely forbidden to get off the vehicle during a game drive except in the designated areas. In the Mweya sector, you will find a small area with a coffee bar and several stalls where locals sell T-shirts and various souvenirs. If you sleep in a tent, check if the area is fenced. Campsites often don’t have fences and going out at night can be dangerous. The first time we visited Queen Elizabeth we slept in our tent having a very close encounter with a leopard. The Ishasha sector is very wild and remote, and it borders the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the security situation is dangerous. In 2019, a tourist and her guide were kidnapped and fortunately immediately released.
Malaria is endemic in Uganda; remember to protect yourself especially at night by applying a mosquito repellent that contains at least 30% DEET and using long-sleeved clothing. Furthermore, for entry into the country, it is mandatory to be vaccinated against yellow fever.
For more information about safety and the health situation, always check the official website of your Foreign Minister. In addition, it is always advisable to contact your local health authority – the tropical diseases section – to find out in detail any vaccinations to do to visit Uganda and to hear the opinion of a specialized doctor.
5. Travel Insurance
It’s always recommended to take out travel insurance during a trip, even if you’re only going for a few days. Especially to cover the medical expenses because, in case you need, they could be very high. We always do our travel insurance with Worldnomad.com. Remember to read the terms and conditions to make sure that the policy covers your needs.