Formerly called Kazinga National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park was founded in 1952 and is a home to various species of birds and mammals. The 764 square mile national park has beautiful volcanic features like crater lakes and volcanic cones.
When you visit this national park, you are assured of seeing animals like buffalos, climbing lions, chimpanzees, crocodiles, elephants, hippopotamuses, hyenas and Uganda kobs.
The park, which is governed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, has maintained it cultural background by promoting opportunities for tourists/visitors to visit the local communities and witness their activities like storytelling, traditional music and dances, to mention but a few.
The cultural experience together with the wildlife park make Queen Elizabeth National Park the most popular and most visited tourist destination in Uganda.
History of the Park
The land was occupied by Basongora pastoralists but due to cattle raids from Buganda and Bunyoro kingdoms, and an outbreak of epidemics (rinderpest and smallpox); the area became depopulated. They had to turn to fishing from Lake Edward and Lake George. As a result, the population the wild animals increased and the vegetation in the area changed as well. This played a big part in the formation of the national park by British protectorate administration.
It was in 1906 when it was decided that a game reserve be declared over the area near Lake George to regulate the hunting activities by the Africans and Europeans; as well as to promote the production of cotton and wheat. However, in 1912, the game reserve was declared a restricted area together with the entire Lake George.
On 31st March 1952, the chief game warden and the governor succeeded to have national park ordinance passed. It became Kazinga National Park and was legally gazetted later the same year. It covered the Lake George Game Reserve area, Kazinga channel and big chunk of land east of Lake Edward.
Two years later, in commemoration of the visit by the Queen of the United Kingdom, the park was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Location of the Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is in Western Uganda in the districts of Kamwenge, Kasese, Rubirizi and Rukungiri.
The distance from Entebbe airport via Mbarara town to the park is approximately 434 kilometers by road. The journey can take 6 to 9 hours depending on driving speed and the duration of the stop overs. The main stop overs on this route are at Mpambire drum makers, the Equator at Kayabwe, Lake Mburo National Park and Igongo Cultural Centre.
The distance from Entebbe airport via Mityana, Mubende, Fort Portal and Kasese towns to the park is approximately 462 kilometers by road. The journey can take 6 to 9 hours depending on the driving speed and the duration of the stop overs as well.
Air travel travel from Entebbe to the national park is also possible by scheduled or chartered aircrafts. There are airstrips in Ishasha, Kasese and Mweya.
The park is next to the Rwenzori mountains; and is made up of crater lakes, wetlands, forests and savanna grasslands; making it a good home for birds, primates and wildlife.
The thirty-two-kilometer channel that connects Lake Edward and Lake George called the Kazinga channel, is a spectacular sight, a dormant feature in the national park. It is home to one of the world’s largest concentration of hippos and Nile crocodiles. It also attracts a wide range of other animal species.
The Best Time to Visit
The climate allows tourists to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park at any time of the year. However, it is during the dry season when you can have the best moments because the roads are passable, and the vegetation is thin allowing easy view of the animals especially when they gather around water sources. It is also when bird watching is at its best and chimpanzee tracking in Kambura is at its best.
The months of the dry season are January, February, June, July, August and September.
The off peak season – when prices are lowered – is in the months of April, May, October and November. The weather is usually at its worst due to the rains, making accessibility to some parts of the park hard. The roads become slippery making 4-wheel drive vehicles the ideal cars of use.
To have a memorable safari in Queen Elizabeth national park, five days should be set aside to cover the whole park and exhaust its wonders.
Adventure Tourism Activities
There is so much that goes on in the national park but here are the most popular activities that have captured the interest of most visitors.
Chimpanzee tracking in the Kyambura gorge presents the experience of finding chimpanzees in their natural habitat. It is also a good moment to see some birds of various kinds. The best time for this is between 8:00am and 2:00pm on any day.
Wildlife viewing is the major activity that takes place in the three sectors of Ishasha, Kasenyi, and Mweya. A Game Drive is the best way to move around the park that is home to big game like 3,000 elephants, 5,000 hippos, 10,000 buffaloes, a good number of Uganda kobs, antelopes, topis, waterbucks and warthogs.
You cannot miss other primates like the colobus monkeys and baboons.
The 600 bird species are available for bird watchers to see.
The big cats like the lions, leopards and several other cats are spread all over the national park and catching a glimpse of them is good reward for your journey.
The best time for wildlife viewing is at 6:30am in the morning.
Hot Air Balloon Ride is an activity that unique experience since it gives you an aerial view of the nocturnal animals and the inhabitants near the park. The best time for this adventure is early in the morning at 5:30am.
Other interesting activities include bird watching, boat cruises along the Kazinga channel, hiking, lion tracking, nature walks; visiting the local community, the explosion crater and the Katwe salt works.
Key Facts to have in Mind
When preparing to have a safari to the wilderness of Queen Elizabeth National Park, there some key fact you should have in your note book.
The Safari company of choice should be a member of Association of Uganda Tour Operators, since it maintains a list only credible tour and travel operators. Check reviews of clients that have used their service before you hand them your trust.
Hiding in a tree as a way of escaping from a lion is a big mistake since there are climbing lions roaming the national park.
If you like hiking, do not leave behind your hiking gear. Mountain Rwenzori hiking is an activity some visitors have enjoyed over time. The hike can take up to 10 days.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is close to Bwindi impenetrable forest national park; where tourists can have a mountain gorilla experience.
The prices for the key activities vary; entrance fees are USD40 per person to be able to access the national park; Chimpanzee tracking in Kyambura gorge is USD50 per person; a boat cruise at Kazinga Channel is USD30 per person; a night game drive is USD 40 per person and it’s a must to have a Uganda Wildlife Authority ranger guide along.
You need not worry about accommodation at the national park; there are over 15 safari lodges that offer a good scenery, bed and breakfast.
Queen Elizabeth national park is highly recommended to any person visiting Africa and Uganda in particular seeking to drown themselves in the world’s raw culture, nature and wildlife.