Parc National Queen Elizabeth
Established in 1952, Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda's three oldest National Parks, with an area of almost 2000 sq. km of grass Savannah, open bush country, riverine forest, lowland rainforest, wetlands, rivers and lakes.
Bordering Lake Edward and Lake George, as well as the Kazinga Channel in the Western Area of the Great Rift Valley, the park has been designated as a Biosphere Reserve for humanity under the auspices of UNESCO. Despite some setbacks, it remains one of Uganda's national treasures.
The park (parque nacional queen elizabeth uganda) has its origins early in the 20th century, after many people fled the area when a wave of sleeping sickness plagued the country. Between 1925 and 1947, these abandoned area became two game reserves: Lake George and Lake Edward. In 1952, the reserves were merged into Kazinga National Park. Two years later, when Queen Elizabeth of England visited the national park it was renamed in her honor. During the Idi Amin regime the park was renamed Ruwenzori National Park, but it regained its original name in 1991 when the Ruwenzori Mountain National Park was gazetted.
One of the richest and best managed parks in Africa, supporting an astounding density of wildlife, Queen Elizabeth was hard hit by Uganda's wars, when the animal populations there and elsewhere in the country were decimated. After, peace and stability returned to the country the park steadily regained it's past grandeur. It remains one of the best places on the continent to see a high concentration of hippos and often at close quarters especially when you take the renowned boat trip along the Kazinga Channel.
Unlike Uganda's other national parks, Queen Elizabeth was created with several enclave villages within its boundaries. These include Katwe, which exists principally to exploit the natural salt in a highly saline crater lake and the Katunguru which along with a few other villages supports itself mainly through fishing.
Mweya, the main park headquarters is 41 kilometers from Kasese, 115 kilometers from Fort Portal, 144 kilometers from Mbarara and about 420 kilometers from Kampala (via Masaka and Mbarara). A good tarmac road leads to the main gate turnoff, and from there its a 20 kilometer drive on a dirt road easily negotiated by two-wheel drive vehicles. Nearby Kasese is also served by an Airstrip. There is also a small landing strip near Mweya Safari Lodge for charter aircraft. The drive to Kampala takes about six hours.
When to go
Queen Elizabeth National Park is at its best after the rainy seasons of March-April and October-November. The air is fresh, the grass green, and there is an air of spring time and renewal.
Where to stay
In Mweya, visitors can choose from a wide array of accomodation facilities that include the Mweya Safari Lodge, Irungu Forest Safari Lodge, Tembo Safari Lodge, Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge. There is also a campsite at Mweya and some others near the banks of the Kazinga Channel. Campers should travel totally self sufficient with tent, gear and in the case of campsites near the Kazinga Channel, food and drink as well. Near Ishasha, in the southern sector of the park, there are basic campsites and some bandas. Again, carry everything you need.
From the Ruwenzori National Park turnoff on the main Fort Portal - Kasese road, head south after 10 kilometers you reach Kasese which is a good base from which to explore either the Ruwenzori Mountains National Park or Parc National Queen Elizabeth.
Kasese escaped the looting and destruction that befell so many other Uganda towns, and remains unblemished. It was once important to the Uganda economy because of the nearby Kilembe mines which are now closed. To reach the mines you can hire a bicycle and cycle the 11 kilometers or so to the old copper mine site. Its a long , gradual uphill climb to get there but the downhill return is easy. On the way, keep a lookout for a colony of thousands of fruit bats along the side of the road. Once at Kilembe, you can tour the copper mine site and what remains of the surface equipment free of charge but you are not allowed underground.
Much of the park is open Savannah dotted with Acacia and Euphorbia trees. It is home to a variety of mammals, including elephants, buffalo, warthog, baboon, lion, leopard, several monkey species, chimpanzees, spotted hyenas, Uganda kob and bushbuck. The interesting Sitatunga, a semi-aquatic antelope lives in the papyrus swamps around Lake George.
Lake Edward, another of Uganda's large lakes, was "discovered" in 1889 by Henry Morton Stanley and named after the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII. The Rutshuru river flows into the lake, which covers 4,000 sq. kms and is 80 kilometers long and 50 kilometers wide.
From Mweya, there are a number of well established game viewing circuits which can be explored from the convenience of a vehicle. Hiding in the scrub near Mweya are bushbuck, Defassa waterbuck, banded mongoose and warthog while large herds of the graceful Uganda Kob graze further along the track.
North of the main gate is the crater area, one of the most scenic parts of the park. Head for bamboo cliffs which are surrounded by a series of dramatic craters and are home to buffalo, waterbuck, kob, lions and elephants.
At Lake Katwe, one of the crater lakes in the area, its possible to see salt being mined using rudimentary methods.
To the east of the main tarmac road lie the wetlands of Lake George, a wetland of international importance protected under the Ramsar convetion. Bird watchers will delight in this place, with a large number of species present. You may even see the elusive shoebill stork. On the drive to Kasenyi on the shores of Lake George keep an eye out for Lions hiding in the grass.
One of the major delights of any visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park is the launch trip along the Kazinga Channel from Mweya. Many who experience it consider it the highlight of their entire African Safari. From the relative safety of your boat you can watch hundreds of hippos at close range. From this point of view you can observe buffaloes, waterbucks, elephants and sometimes the Lions and Leopards coming down to drink water at the water's edge and enjoy the tremendous display of bird life.
The many fish in the channel attract a number of waterbirds, such as pelicans, saddlebill storks, fish eagles, cormorants, skimmers and kingfishers. Look closely along the shores and you will see monitor lizards in the grass.
The trip lasts about two hours and there are three trips each day: at 0800 (the best time to go), 1100 and 1500.
Another unforgettable experience to be enjoyed in the north sector of the park is the foot safari through Kyambura Gorge. As you walk quietly through an enchanting rainforest along the river, you're likely to see black and white colobus, red tailed monkeys and chimpanzees.
For those seeking a more individual experience, make your way down the south sector of the park, which has its headquarters at Ishasha. The rugged experience of this area is quite a contrast of the relative comforts of Mweya and its surrounding areas.
The rest camp and game viewing loops are less accessible and more isolated; the topography is open grassland with scattered acacia trees as well as a remarkable floating fig forest along the banks of Lake Albert.