Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park formerly known as Kazinga national park is a park of wonders and mysteries located in the western region of Uganda with Kasese town as the neighboring town. Queen Elizabeth national park lies at the altitude range of 900 metres at Lake Edward to 1845 metres at the top of Escarpment of the Western arm rift valley at the coordinates of 00°08′14″S 30°02′28″E. This wildlife wonderland is a popular tourism destination in Uganda and East Africa at large is 400 kilometers from Kampala the capital city of Uganda with Kasese town in the North East of the park and Rubirizi on the southeastern boundaries. Queen Elizabeth national park covers the size of 1978 kilometers squared covering districts of Kasese, Kamwenge, Rubirizi, and Rukungiri and it extends from lake George in the north to east to Lake Edward in the southwest and Kazinga channel which connects the two lakes.
Queen Elizabeth national park bordering Kigezi game reserve, Kyambura game reserve, Kibale national park in Uganda and Virunga national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo consists of the Maramagabo forest. It was first founded as kazinga national park in 1952 and in 1954 it was renamed queen Elizabeth national park as a way of commemorating the visit of Queen Elizabeth of England to Uganda. Queen Elizabeth national park occupies the former grazing lands of the Basongora pastoralists who depended on their cattle when the British envoy of Stanley and captain Lugard toured the area and witnessed its ecological diversity and potential which they reported to the British administrators. Unfortunately, due to cattle raids by Baganda and Bunyoro kingdom and the high spread epidemic of smallpox at that time. The cattle depopulated forcing the Basongora people to go into fishing in Lake Edward and George.
Since cattle rearing was no more in this area vegetation growth increased which was used to determine the area as a reserve by the British protectorate administration. In 1906 the area of north Lake George was declared a game reserve as a way of protecting it from poaching and trophy hunting practiced by Africans and Europeans and the increasing pressure of the need for land for cotton and wheat production. By 1912, the whole of Lake George and the ishasha area that is Lake George Game Reserve were declared a protected area which resulted in the displacement of communities to the neighboring areas. Due to the intense lobbying from the chief game warden Bruce Kinloch and the governor, Lake George game reserve was expanded to include east of Lake Edward and Kazinga channel and on 31st march 1952 after passing the ordinance the area was gazetted as Kazinga national park. The park suffered more from outbreaks of sleeping sickness which continued up to the mid-1930s.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is adjacent to Virunga national park making a lion conservation unit considered as a potential lion stronghold in central Africa and famous for its volcanic features which include volcanic conics and deep crater lakes where salt is extracted. Queen Elizabeth national park is an ecological system filled sprawling savanna, shady, humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands with various wildlife which include the big five that is elephants, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhinos, primates hippopotamus, Uganda knob, Nile crocodiles, African bush, common warthog, spotted hyena and primates which include chimpanzee, baboons and Black-and-white Colobus. And also approximately 500 bird species which include White-faced Whistling, Spur-winged Plovers, Squacco Heron, Fish Eagle, Pink and white-backed Pelicans, Long-tailed Cormorants, African Jacana, Yellow-backed Weavers, open-billed Stork, Water-Thick knee, Pied kingfishers, Wattled Plovers, the Black Crake.
Queen Elizabeth national park is made up of many sectors which are great tourist attractions, they include
Kazinga channel: kazinga channel is a wide channel of 32 kilometers length connecting Lake Edward in the west to Lake George in the east. From this spot, you get a wonderful view of various animals for example hippopotamus, antelopes, Nile crocodiles, elephants and many birds. Kazinga channel offers boat cruise which operates from 3 pm to 5 pm and expeditions done from 11 am to 1 pm with booking don at Mweya safaris. Kazinga channel is made up of sections, for example, north kazinga and Kasenyi plains which are better spots for spotting game
Kyambura gorge: Kyambura gorge is a narrow valley between hills surrounded by steep and rocky walls located in the far eastern region of Queen Elizabeth National Park. Kyambura gorge offers a lot of safari experiences for example chimpanzees trekking, nature walks through the vegetation with a breathtaking view of the Kyambura river which flows the forest 100 meters below the Kichwamba escarpment. In Kyambura Gorge, the valley of apes offers a great opportunity to view birds of various species including flamingos. There is also chimpanzee trekking in the gorge with reservation made at the Mweya visitor information center.
Ishasha sector: The ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth national park is a prominent sector in the park very famous for being a home for tree climbing lions which is the most desired by tourists on game drive safaris. Ishasha sector is in the southern region of the park where lions are spotted hanging off fig tree branches, the tree-climbing lions. In this same sector, you can also spot the fascinating fig trees filled with Uganda kob, herds of buffalo and antelopes. The ishasha sector is a whole package for the African safari breathtaking experience together with North Kazinga plains and trails through Kasenyi which gives a scenic view.
Maramagabo forest: Maramagabo forest is found in Bushenyi bordered by two crater lakes of Lake Kyasanduka and Lake Nyamasingiri is part of Queen Elizabeth national park located in the southern region of the park from the escarpment of Kichwamba to Lake Edward. The name Maramagabo was derived from a traditional tale referring to a group of young people who got lost within the forest and took them a couple of days to trace their way back to their village. The forest is famous for offering exceptional guided hiking and nature walks, chimpanzee trekking which takes you through the deep forest trees and the stunning crater lakes. Also in this forest, you get to watch various animals which include chimpanzees, baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, blue monkeys and various bird species including the rare Rwenzori Turaco, the White Naped Pigeons plus the Forest Flycatchers and nocturnal Pottos and bush babies. There is also a bat cave in the forest.
Katwe crater lakes and the explosion crater: due to volcanic activity which happened years ago explosion craters were formed which resulted into Katwe crater lakes which are found in western Uganda. Katwe Explosion Craters of Queen Elizabeth national park is made up of 3 major craters that is Katwe explosion craters, Bunyaraguru crater field, and ndali-kasenda crater. Katwe crater lakes offer hiking and you can witness salt mining activity in the lakes.
Mweya peninsular: Mweya peninsula is found on the northern bank of Kazinga channel at the convergence of channel which connects to Lake Edward. The peninsular consists of channel track down to Katunguru gate crossing over to Kabatoro gate which is covered with dense vegetation which is dominated by candelabra thorns. From Mweya peninsular tourists enjoy the view of waters with sights of Rwenzori Mountains.
Queen Elizabeth national park stretches over the equator line monument on either side of the road mark in the exact spot where the line crosses at the altitude of 00°, the park offers many activities which include.
Game drives: In Queen Elizabeth national park game drives are the most dominant activity on which as a tourist you get to enjoy the green beautiful scenery of the vegetation which is filled with herds of buffalos, warthogs, leopards, giant forest hog and lions as they are trying to chase after antelopes for food, games drives are more thrilling and best done during the morning hours because you get a closer view of the wildlife in their inhabitant. Game drives require a four-wheel car and they are headed by a professional guide.
Bird watching: Queen Elizabeth national park is a famous birding destination in Africa harboring over 500 bird species which are spotted all over the park, these bird species are categorized into aquatic birds including White-faced Whistling, Spur-winged Plovers, Squacco Heron, Fish Eagle, Pink, and white-backed Pelicans, Long-tailed Cormorants, African Jacana, Yellow-backed Weavers, open-billed Stork, Water-Thick knee, Pied kingfishers, Wattled Plovers, forest species including Grey Woodpecker, black & African Emerald Cuckoos, Hairy breasted Barbet, speckled Tinkerbird, the purple-headed starling, Green Hylia. The ideal time for bird spotting in the morning and late evenings in the months of December to February.
Boat cruise/launch cruise: Boat cruise is another fun filled activity that takes place on the kazinga channel which connects Lake George and Lake Edward. While on boat cruise you get to enjoy sights and sounds made by various aquatic birds and various water animals including Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus and land animals like elephants, antelopes as they graze in the savannah. Boat cruises fares are paid at Mweya safari lodges.
Tree climbing lions of ishasha: lions are highly endangered animals in Uganda which are not usually seen most especially climbing lion which are seen in ishasha sector of Queen Elizabeth. Lions are seen climbing fig and acacia trees and on top of spotting lions Uganda kob, elephants, warthogs, and antelopes can be spotted in the same area.
Chimpanzee trekking: Chimpanzee trekking in Kyambura gorge and Maramagabo forest are of interest to many tourists interested in these amazing primates, these chimpanzees are habituated meaning they are used to human presence. Apart from chimpanzees, they are other primates in Queen Elizabeth national park which include Red tailed monkeys, baboons, while chimpanzee trekking you can also spot other animals which include various species of birds, butterflies and also the beautiful sights of Kyambura River.
While on safari in Queen Elizabeth national park accommodation can be got from Mweya safari lodge, Kyambura gorge lodge, Ishasha wilderness camp which are luxury rated, kingfisher lodge, Ihamba lodge, Kasenyi safari camp, Marafiki safari lodge which are mid-range rate and the bush lodge, Simba safari camp, Pumba safari cottages-kyambura which are budget rated
Queen Elizabeth National Park can be accessed using road or by air, using road via Kampala-Mubende-fort portal road or via Kampala–Masaka-Mbarara road. From Rwanda, it can be accessed using Ntugamo-Kasese road and from the Democratic Republic of Congo, it can be accessed using Fort portal- Mpondwe road.
By air, you can fly to kasese airstrips using a chartered aircraft from Kajjasi airstrip or Entebbe International Airport and drive to the park or use Kihihi airstrip.