Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

A SAFARI AT QUEEN ELIZABETH NATIONAL PARK

Uganda is richly blessed with stunning tourist attractions adversely spread out throughout the country. Among these tourist attractions are national parks. Queen Elizabeth National park is not only one of the most popular tourist attractions in Africa but also the most visited national park in Uganda. It is an ideal destination for all nature and wildlife lovers but has experiences for all its visitors nonetheless. No wonder, it is popularly referred to as the “medley of wonders”.

Queen Elizabeth national park was founded in 1952 as Kazinga National Park and renamed two years later, to commemorate a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.  This name contributed to its popularity, alongside its stunning beauty and the fact that it is accessible by both those traveling by road or air. It is located in southwestern Uganda and lies astride the Equator with monuments on both sides of the road making latitude 00. It is in the Albertine region along with Kyambura and Kigezi wildlife reserve, which brings together the most diverse ecosystem in Africa.

Set against the backdrop of the jagged Rwenzori Mountains, the park’s magnificent views 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 kobs. The rich bio-diversity of the crater lakes, forest, savannah, woodland, and acacia and numerous animal, plant, and bird species lying on an area of 1978km2 make Queen Elizabeth National Park a popular tourist destination.

The park is home to over 95 mammal species, which are the main attraction of the visitors to the park. It has four of the ‘Big Five’ namely Elephant, Leopard, Lion and Buffalo. It is home to thousands of hippos that populate the water shores of Kazinga Channel, which connects Lake George to Lake Edward – known to have the largest herd of hippos. The park is an open Savannah spread with acacia and euphorbia trees that provide a habitat for leopards, elephants, lions, Uganda kobs, Topi, hyenas, and big herds of buffaloes, large families of banded mongoose, warthogs, bushbucks and waterbucks.

The wildlife in Queen Elizabeth National Park supports a wide range of safaris activities like game drives, boat safaris, nature walks and so many other experiences as shown below.

Game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Early morning or evenings are the best times to go game viewing mainly because the sun is not as hot and the cats prefer to hunt during these periods. The game drives in Queen Elizabeth national park happen mainly in the Kasenyi area, which has the largest Kob mating ground. The area is famous for big cats because of the high population of Uganda Kobs which they prey on. Look out for herds of buffaloes and elephants as they graze through eh Savannah. The game drives are in custom-made vehicles for safari where each occupant has access to a window seat and open roof.

 Game drives in Queen Elizabeth National Park

Boat safaris at Kazinga Channel

The Kazinga Channel is a 32-kilometre-long freshwater channel that links Lake Edward to its smaller neighbour, Lake George. The lakes are named after Queen Victoria’s son, King Edward VII, and his own successor, King George V. The wide channel is a key feature of Queen Elizabeth National Park and a popular area for wildlife tourism. The channel is home to a wide range of animals and birds, including one of the world’s largest concentrations of hippos (around 2,000) and countless Nile crocodiles. You can also expect to see elephants, buffaloes, and over 100 species of water bird, including the African Skimmer.

The Kazinga Channel provides travellers with a fantastic game and bird viewing experience because it is an oasis for many of the fascinating species that inhabit the park. And taking a boat tour along it, gives visitors the chance to cruise just meters from hundreds of enormous hippos and buffalos while elephants linger on the shoreline.

Boat safaris at Kazinga Channel

 

Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

Kyambura Gorge is situated in the far east of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park hosts the Kyambura gorge which is an ‘underground’ forest 100m below the Kichwaba escarpment. It is home to ten primate species including the famed chimpanzees, olive baboons, black-and-white colobus monkeys, etc.  Kyambura Gorge is nicknamed ‘the valley of the apes’.

Chimpanzee tracking is a popular wildlife activity in Uganda which allows you to step into the world of the chimps. The treks last for around three hours and include a maximum of one hour with the chimps in their natural habitat. You can expect to see them from a safe distance of 8-10 metres. Only a few chimps inhabit the gorge and therefore chances of seeing them are about 60%. The sights and sounds of the forest however, generate suspense and make a sighting even more rewarding. Therefore, in order to enjoy the experience of chimpanzee tracking, one has to book in advance from the park headquarters. Important to note is that though the chances of sighting the chimpanzees are not high, the experience of tracking through the forest is amazing as you have many other sightings of beautiful birds and other primates.

Chimpanzee tracking at Kyambura Gorge

Bird watching in Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth national park is a birdwatchers haven with over 600 bird species and is an important Birding Area (IBA) according to Birding International. It has the highest number of birds found in any protected area in East Africa. The park has diverse habitat for birds from Savannah, numerous crater lakes, forests and woodland. For the best birding in Queen Elizabeth National Park, some of the best birding hot spots include Kazinga Channel, Kasenyi Area, Mweya Peninsula, Maramagambo Forest, Ishasha Sector, Lake Kikorongo, Katunguru Bridge area and Katwe Area. Generally, every corner of the park is a great bird watching area. The bird species to look out for include, African mourning dove, Swamp flycatcher, Grey headed kingfisher, pin-tailed whydah, slender-tailed nightjar and collared pratincole. Look out for the flamingos at the salt lakes of Katwe and Bunyampaka. And since the birds are relatively easy to spot, you can expect great photo shots as you explore the park and its environment.

Other activities that offer spectacular safaris experiences are nature and forest walks alongside community walks and cultural experiences. Nature and forest walks are often done with a ranger guide for purposes of safety. They are available at the Mweya peninsular where you have a great birding and views across Kazinga channel and Lake Edward. In Ishasha, you have an opportunity to walk along Ishasha River where you have an opportunity to get close to the Hippos with your ranger guide. Maramagambo forest is another site with the famous bat cave and several bird species.

In addition to the amazing wildlife, Queen Elizabeth has a rich cultural history with a lot of fishing villages adjacent to the park. Visitors have opportunities engaging with local communities and enjoying the stories, music and dance Or engage in the daily activities of the locals like harvesting and cooking a quick vegetable meal and making crafts. Kikorongo Women’s Community Project offers cultural performances of dance, drama, music and fire-making, basket weaving, paper beads. However, one needs to book before visiting because the women are not at this project daily but many will be in their farms where they spend most of their time.

Queen Elizabeth National Park offers a wide range of exciting safaris experiences that leave every visitor refreshed and rejuvenated. It is undoubtedly an ideal tourist destination when one visits Uganda.

For an amazing safaris experience at Queen Elizabeth NP, contact us on info@swanairtravel.com or +256776515014 or visit swanairtravel.com