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 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.
Biodiversity at Queen Elizabeth National Park
The Queen Elizabeth National Park has been designated a Biosphere Reserve for Humanity under UNESCO auspices. The park, includes a remarkable variety of ecosystems, from semi-deciduous tropical forest to green meadows, savannah and swamps. It is the home of the famous tree climbing lion as well as the Uganda Kob, other antelope species, elephant, baboons, hippos, buffalo and chimpanzees. Over 600 species of birds have been recorded, making the park a magnet for bird watchers. The bird species include the black bee-eater, 11 types of king fisher, Shoebill storks and several species of falcons, eagles and other raptors. In the crater lakes to the north, flocks of flamingos can be found. A favorite way to view the game is by launch trip on the Kazinga Channel between Lakes George and Edward.
Queen Elizabeth National Park Species
There are 11 species of primates, including chimpanzee, the monkey variants such as Hoest’s, red-tailed and blue monkey, black and white colobus, and olive baboon. Specially, Bwindi is home to 360 Gorilla gorilla beringei*, a half of the total remaining world population. There are 346 species of birds registered (Bwindi contains 90% of all Albertine Rift endemics, hard to experience in any other place in East Africa) and hundreds of butterflies. Mammals count only 30 (buffaloes, leopards, elephants).
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.
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 between Kabatoro gate and Queen’s Pavilion 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.
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.
The vast savannah of Kasenyi is the perfect setting for a classic African safari experience.
Huge herds of Uganda kob attract prides of 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 photo opportunities for visitors.
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 make it an ideal departure point for wildlife-filled game drives in the morning or evening.
A cruise down the Kazinga channel is the most relaxing way to enjoy a wildlife safari in Queen. The banks are crammed with hippos, buffalos 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 National Park.
Balloon Safaris in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Your ballooning adventure begins early in the morning when you leave your camp or lodge to get to the meeting point at the Kasenyi gate of Queen Elizabeth NP for 5:30am. This early drive in the dark is a chance to see nocturnal animals that live in and around the park. On arrival to the Kasenyi gate, you will follow the ground crew to the site that has been chosen for lift off. The specific location changes daily based on current wind and weather conditions.
Birding in Queen Elizabeth
Classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International, Queen’s great variety of habitats mean 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 the DR Congo allow visitors to spot East as well as Central African species.
Caves in Queen Elizabeth
Tucked beneath the shady canopy of the Maramagambo Forest is the “Bat Cave”. The cave has a viewing room from which visitors can observe the resident bats and pythons. For a more cultural cave experience, how about a trip to the historic cave at Nyanz’ibiri community?
Chimp Tracking in Queen Elizabeth
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.
Cultural Encounters in Queen Elizabeth
Game Drives in Queen Elizabeth
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.