Queen Elizabeth National Park safari | Travel guide

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Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most popular savannah reserve and has the widest variety of wildlife of any Ugandan park. The variety of habitats includes grassland savannah, forests, wetlands and lakes.

This provides the setting for an extensive range of large mammals and primates. Four of the Big Five are present (rhino are absent) and chimp tracking is available.

The park lies in the western part of Uganda in the districts of Kamwenge, Rukingiri, Rubirizi and Kasese and borders Uganda’s Kibale National Park and is also an extension of Congo’s Virunga National Park.

Why visit Queen Elizabeth National Park?

Queen Elizabeth National Park safari

This is the most popular activity allowing visitors to see 95% of the mammals you would see in the Serengeti but with better scenery and landscape that includes forests, savanna grasslands, swamps, woods, crater lakes, gorges and the nearby Rwenzori Mountains.

Safaris typically last around 3-4 hours and start in the early morning to any of the three sectors – the Kasenyi plains (near Kazinga Channel), Ishasha sector (tree climbing lions) or the Katwe crater fields.

The crater lakes region has beautiful landscapes with large craters and salt lakes that were formed thousands of years ago. The crater floors are a water source that attract elephant’s flamingos, flamingos and other creatures during the drier season.

The Kasenyi plains in the northern part of the park are arguably the most scenic and best places to spot wildlife where the Uganda Kobs use the plains as breeding grounds, a perfect place to watch the battles between the big cats and herbivorous animals.

Animals

Elephants and buffalo are very common and lions are surprisingly easy to spot. There are many interesting antelope species, such as Uganda kob, topi and bushbuck. Hippo and crocodile are common in Kazinga Channel.

A troop of chimpanzees has been habituated for tracking and nine other primate species are found, including the black-and-white colobus monkey. Giraffes and zebras are absent.

Tree-climbing lions are a specialty of the Ishasha sector of the park, where they can often be found resting in huge fig trees. Giant forest hogs are unusually easy to see, both on drives and boat trips.

Buffalo are particularly attractive as they are often reddish brown due to interbreeding with forest buffalo from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Chimp trekking is available in the steamy, tropical forest of Kyambura Gorge.

Birds

Queen Elizabeth National Park has the largest checklist of any protected area in East Africa with more than 600 bird species recorded. This is mostly due to the wide variety of habitats: from savannah to forest to wetland.

Many of the birds in the park are regarded as specials within East Africa, which make it a prime birding destination. The swamps in the Ishasha sector are a good place to look for the elusive shoebill stork. Migratory birds are present from November to April.

Known birds include the collared pratincole, Palm-nut vulture and the Pel’s fishing-owl.

Trees

Tree climbing lions in Ishasha are usually seen during a game drive in the Ishasha sector where you will have an opportunity to view them lazily lying and relaxing on the huge fig tree branches as they stare down on the antelopes.

People believe that the tree climbing lions in Ishasha sector climb trees due to various reasons including to escape from the heat on the ground hence enjoying the cool breeze especially during the dry season when the park receives fewer rainfalls and a lot of sunshine.

The tree-climbing lions prefer the acacia and sycamore-fig trees because they give them shelter.

Other activities at Queen Elizabeth National Park

The following are some other Ugandan activities that visitors to visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park can look forward to on their trip:

  • Bird watching: Queen Elizabeth National Park is a top birding destination in Uganda. Birders will be greatly impressed with numerous species inhabiting the forests like Budongo and the Kazinga Channel including the Yellow-backed, Yellow wagtails and Wood sandpipers.
  • Launch Cruise: This boat cruise is organized along the Kazinga Channel which is one of the best places to view wildlife in Africa. This channel connects Lake George to Lake Edward and is the single point where most of the parks animals gather to drink, hunt and bathe.
  • Spot Tree Climbing Lions: The Queen Elizabeth national park hosts the rare tree climbing lions in the Ishash sector. Lions here have adapted to life spent climbing the numerous fig trees after hunting in the morning or during the afternoon heat, a unique phenomenon to see for any visitor.
  • Hot Air Balloon Rides: The ride gives breathtaking views of all the park animals from the air with amazing opportunities to take stunning aerial photos of the beautiful park.

How to get to Queen Elizabeth National Park?

By Plane

Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is how most most visitors enter Uganda and travellers should be aware of the latest Uganda visa requirements.

Generally, your tour operator will arrange for your pick-up from the airport, and organize any further transportation required as part of your safari package.

It is also possible to fly to any of the nearby airstrips of Kasese, Mweya or Kihihi (for Ishasha) by scheduled or chartered aircraft from Entebbe International Airport (EBB) or Kajjansi Airfield near Kampala.

By Road

Queen Elizabeth National Park is located about 410km/255mi west of Kampala. The direct drive takes at least 7 to 8 hours, but your itinerary will most likely include some parks on the way.

Carrying a small amount of local currency, the Uganda currency (UGX) is advised for smaller purchases.

Tariffs & Regulations

Entrance fee

All Queen Elizabeth National Park fees are payable at the gate at time of entrance. Park fees are valid for 24 hours.

  • Foreign Adults: USD $40
  • Foreign residents of Uganda: USD $30
  • East African community citizens: UGX 20,000

Carrying a small amount of local currency, the Uganda currency (UGX) is advised for smaller purchases.

Regulations

If you keep to park rules, you can stay with the animals as long as they are not disturbed by your presence.

Accommodation at Queen Elizabeth National Park

Tourists at Queen Elizabeth National Park can choose from a number of different options when deciding where to sleep with accommodation ranging from luxury safari lodges to lower budget camping.

Lodges

Mount Gahinga Lodge was the first lodge built by Praveen Moman and opened in 2002. It is the perfect base to go gorilla tracking on the Ugandan side of the Virungas, track the rare golden monkey, climb a volcano, walk through local villages and most of all to share the culture of the Batwa, the oldest inhabitants of the Central African rainforest.

The charming property, inspired by traditional design and building techniques, has been re-imagined in 2019: the lounge, dining room, and gardens have been remodeled, and two new deluxe bandas have been launched.

A great alternative is the excellent Lake Mutanda Resort which offers comfortable mid-range accommodation combined with stunning  views.

With small islands dotting the surrounding lake and backdrop of misty volcanoes, this kind of setting cannot fail to impress visitors. The main building where the restaurant is located resembles a Swiss chalet with an African touch.

Camping

Amajambere Iwacu Community Camp (AICC) is a community owned camp that has been running since 1994.

The camp is located just outside the main gate of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park is only 12 km from the southwestern town of Kisoro. At the camp, visitors can enjoy the magnificent views of the famous Virunga Volcanoes and take part in mountain gorilla trekking.

The camp is also located at a perfect starting point for hiking the Virunga Volcanoes of Muhavura, Gahinga, and Sabyinyo.

Campervan

Guests on a self-drive safari with a campervan can make significant savings by sleeping in their vehicle.

Bars/restaurants/amenities

Lodges will typically have all meals and drinks included in the lodge package.

Useful information

Geography

On a Uganda safari tour, Queen Elizabeth National Park can be found in the southwest of Uganda about 410km/255mi west of Kampala, lying between Lakes Gorge and Albert.

Trips to the park can be combined with tours of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and Murchison Falls National Park

Weather

The climate in Queen Elizabeth National Park is warm. Temperatures remain uniform through the year. Daytime temperatures rise to around 29°C/84°F and slowly fall to around 17°C/63°F at night.

Queen Elizabeth NP doesn’t have a real Dry season, so there is always potential for rain. Rain happens less from mid-December through February, with June and July having the least rain.

Best time to go

Understanding the best time to visit Uganda is important as this will impact accommodation, flight prices, availability and the weather that visitors can expect on their safari vacation.

Queen Elizabeth National Park is open all year long, but wildlife viewing is at its best from January to February and June to July (the Dry seasons).

However, this scenic park is at its most beautiful in the Wet seasons from March to May and August to December. April, May, October and November are very wet months and during that time, the rain might interfere with your safari.

Health

It is recommended to visit a travel clinic before coming to Uganda. Several Uganda vaccinations are recommended and usually administered before your departure.

Antimalarials are advised, as well as covering up in the evening and using mosquito repellent (those containing DEET are most effective).

It is recommended to visit a travel clinic before coming to Uganda. Several Uganda vaccinations are recommended and usually administered before your departure.

FAQs

Where is Queen Elizabeth National Park located?

Located in southwestern Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park can be found about 410km/255mi west of Kampala and can be accessed by chartered flight into the nearby Kasese, Mweya or Kihihi from Entebbe International Airport (EBB).

What animals will visitors see at Queen Elizabeth National Park?

Visitors to Queen Elizabeth National Park will see elephants, buffaloes, lions, antelope, Uganda kob, topi, bushbuck, hippos, crocodiles, chimpanzees and nine other primate species including the black-and-white colobus monkey.