Queen Elizabeth National Park is 1978 square kilometers and enjoys a stunning location on the Rift Valley floor between lakes Edward and George where a mosaic of habitats supports 95 mammal species and a remarkable 612 species of birds. Douglas Willocks described the diverse features that led to its creation in 1952. Scenically the Park had everything, with thirty miles to the north, the blue Rwenzori exploded from the plain, a composite, jagged mass of mountain, sixty miles long and forty wide and looking in certain lights as if you could reach out and touch them, lake Edward across to the west, the Mitumbe Hills stood sentinel on the Congo, blue too in the long sight but in the closer green, wooded, precipitous, unfriendly and epitomizing darkest Africa. The eastern boundary of the Park was marked by the calm green escarpment of the western Rift Valley, and between all the hills, mountains and lakes was endless savannah, its constantly repeated motif the branched Cactus arms of the candelabra euphorbia tree. The park forms part of an extensive system contiguous protected areas namely the Kigezi ( 265 sq. kms ) and Kyambura ( 154 sq.kms ) wildlife reserves, Kalinzu forest reserve, Kibale National Park ( 766 Sq.kms ) and in neighboring DRC, the 2000 Sq.kms Virunga National Park with Rwenzori mountains lying a few kilometers north. The spectacular scenery of the Park is largely due to mountains beyond the Park boundary. The Park itself lies on the Rift valley floor where it rises 480m from 910m at the Kazinga channel to 1390m in the Explosoin crater field. The low altitude and its location directly on the Equator mean that temperatures can be warm, rising from a mean minimum of 18 degrees centigrade to a mean maximum of 28 degrees centigrade. The Park receives up to 1250mm of rain, mostly during MAR to MAY and SEP to NOV.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is easily accessible by both Air and road transport with a tarmac road Mbarara to Kasese then Fortportal running through its center, passing just 22kms from the main Tourism hub at Mweya. From Kampala the Park can be approached from the south via Mbarara (420kms) or the north passing through Fortportal (410 Kms) of which if combined, create an attractive circuit with short detours to visit Lake Mburo, Semuliki and Kibale National Parks. The Park can also be reached from the south when coming from Bwindi Impenetrable national Park. Charter flights can also be arranged to Airstrips in Kasese, Mweya and Ishasha.
FLORA AND FAUNA IN QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to 95 mammal species while the bird list is over 615 species whose diversity is a result of an impressive range of habitats. Fifty seven vegetation types have been identified though these can be summarized as just five namely; Forest; Grassland; Bushy grassland; Acacia woodland and Lakeshore or Swamp vegetation. Animals of the Parks grasslands include; elephant, Cape buffalo, Uganda Kob, waterbuck, Warthog, giant Forest Hog, Lion, Leopard, hyena, Topi in Ishasha while Forest primates are found in Kyambura gorge and Maramagambo Forest. Residents of the Parks lakeshore or swamp vegetation include Hippopotamus, Crocodiles, monitor lizards and otters among others. The Parks impressive bird list includes martial eagle, black-rumped buttonquail, African skimmer, Chapins Flycatcher, pink-backed pelicans, white-winged warbler, Papyrus gonolek, papyrus canary, Corncrake, lesser and greater flamingo, white egrets and shoebill stork among others.
ACCOMMODATION IN QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
A variety of accommodation exists in queen Elizabeth National Park to cater for both luxury and budget Tourists. Mweya Safari Lodge, Jacana Safari Lodge and Ishasha Wilderness Camp offer up-market accommodation while, Mweya Hostel, Ishasha bandas, Simba Safari Camp, Tembo Safari Lodge and Equator Camps provide budget accommodation among others. Options outside the Park include Hippo Hill Camp close to Katwe and Kingfisher Camp on the lovely Kichwamba escarpment. Camping grounds and facilities are also available in Mweya, Maramagambo forest and Ishasha.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES IN QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK
A). MWEYA PENINSULA
This Peninsula is the hub for Tourism activity and accommodation in the central section of the Park. A Natures walk with a Ranger guide enables Tourists to explore remoter parts of the Peninsula. This activity can be arranged from the Parks information center and the Peninsula overlooks the scenic Katwe bay of Lake Edward and also contains a souvenir shop and a Museum that exhibits and describes the National park and its Rift Valley setting.
B). KAZINGA CHANNEL
This is a 40Km long channel that connects Lake George to Lake Edward which provides the Parks prime wildlife spectacle. Its shoreline attracts large numbers of birds, mammals and reptiles year round and can be seen from the Launch cruises provided by the Park. These Launch cruises run from 1100 hrs, 1500 hrs and 1700 hrs with an additional one depending on demand.
C). NORTH KAZINGA AND KASENYI
This is the Plain north of the Kazinga channel and is the primary game viewing area. A network of tracks enables Tourists to find elephants, buffaloes, Kobs, Waterbuck, lions and other animals in the mosaic of grassland thickets that covers the north Kazinga near Mweya. However, Lions are mostly sighted on the open Kasenyi plain east of Kasese road where they prey on a large population of the Uganda Kob. Game drives are most rewarding in the early morning and late afternoon whereas a ranger guide is readily available to help Tourists make the most of their experience.
The Lake katwe salt production is the home to Uganda’s oldest industry. Salt has been extracted from the Lake using evaporation beds and the process is still continuing till today. This activity of producing salt locally is a memorable experience that makes the Tourist acquire knowledge and skills that is still carried on from the fore Fathers of the time.
E). KATWE EXPLOSION CRATERS
This is made up of clusters of extinct volcanoes north of Mweya Safari Lodge and can be explored by the winding 27km Crater Drive between the main and Equator gates. This experience provides magnificent and superb views into numerous craters of which some are filled by lovely lakes as well towards the Rwenzori and across the Rift valley floor.
F). THE EQUATOR AND THE QUEENS PAVILION
This is the spot where the Equator crosses the Kasese road and is marked by two concrete circles which provide a popular photo stop. The Queens pavilion stands nearby at the northern entrance to the Crater drive. A Temporary shelter at this site hosted H.M Queen Elizabeth II and the duke of Edinburg in 1954 and a permanent pavilion was built in 1959 for a visit by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. This was restored for a second visit by the duke of Edinburg in 2007 with a new information center on the site that includes internet facilities and a coffee shop.
This area lies 100kms south Mweya, with the Parks remote southern sector providing a true wilderness experience. Diverse habitats including the Ishasha River, Savanna woodland and the marshy Lake Edward flats support a variety of wildlife including Ishasha’s famous tree climbing lions and the rare shoebill stork.
H). KYAMBURA WILDLIFE RESERVE
This is an area which protects the south-eastern banks of the Kazinga channel and contains Four Crater lakes in which thousands of Flamingos periodically congregate. It provides spectacular scenic views to Tourists and Bird watchers.
I). MARAMAGAMBO FOREST
This is one of Uganda’s largest tracts of tropical forest whose dark depths contrast starkly with the sunny plains around the Kazinga channel. Maramagambo Forest is notable for its Primate and Bird populations and trails explore the Forest around Lake Nyamusingire. Wildlife sightings vary from day to day but guaranteed events include the Bat cave with a resident, bat-hungry python and the copper-rich Blue Lake.
J). KYAMBURA GORGE
Habituated Chimpanzees live in the 100m deep gorge carved by the Kyambura River as it flows across the Rift valley towards the Kazinga channel. Guided walks to search for these Chimpanzees start at the Kyambura’s Fig tree Camp at 0800 hrs and 1400 hrs while the 3km road to the gorge is clearly signposted from the highway.