Queen Elizabeth National Park Uganda
Queen Elizabeth National Park is formerly known as the Kazinga national park in the 1950s and later in 1954 changed its current name with the intent to mark Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II The Queen of Britain’s visit to Uganda. Queen Elizabeth national park sits on the total surface area of 2080km² eating up the districts of Kasese, Rukingiri, rubirizi and kamwenge in the western part of Uganda. The national park is a larger conservation biodiversity than many of us would think as it also takes up the Katwe craters, Kyambura gorge, Maramagambo forest, and the twin lakes of Lake George and Edward with the stream that separates them the Kazinga channel.
Queen Elizabeth national park lying in people habitable areas, there are lots of communities that live around it and within it. Most of these tribes are said to have roots from the Bachwezi dynasty and these include the Bakiga, Bakonjo, Banyankore and the Bahima. These tribes normally carry out farming and animal keeping as their socioeconomic activities and this is evidenced by the large ploughed lawns and cattle grazing with in the park areas. The relationship of these tribes and the wild animals in the park has not been an easy one, there has been conflicts which has even led to the killing of the wild animals with the local people accusing them of destructing their property and gardens. However, the Uganda wildlife authority a body responsible for managing Queen Elizabeth national park has come in to intervene by putting up fences on the park around the areas where there is human settlements so that the animals don’t crossover to people’s homesteads.
Queen Elizabeth is one of the most visited and known national parks in Uganda due to its endless natural wonders. Many travelers have labeled it the medley of wonders because of having some many tourist attractions that are distinctive from the other. There are lots of wildlife species and amazing physical features to encounter while taking a tour around the park. With its ubiquitous green savannah plains, this biodiversity has over 95 different mammals patched to its names which include elephants, Uganda kobs, hyenas, leopards, bush pigs, waterbucks, warthogs and so much more. It is also a gem for primate species especially in the Kyambura gorge at the borders of Congo where different monkey species like l’hoest monkeys, black and white colobus and the chimpanzees are spotted while on a trek. Queen Elizabeth national park is also famous for having over 200 lions within its plains and these majestic animals are majorly found in the Kasenyi plains and Ishasha sector. Many lion researches and conservation projects have been conducted in the park since it is one of the idyllic places for the business in the whole of Africa. This is also a bird haven with the largest concentration of bird species in the world. It has over 610 species spread in its lawns and skies.
Queen Elizabeth is distinctive in its own way, even without the animals species, it is an exciting natural environment. This is because of its numerous unique natural resources to enjoy like the Katwe craters and its volcanoes for sightseeing and hiking, Kazinga channel and two lakes of Edward and George for boat rides, the Maramagambo forests for the natural walks and cave tours and the Kyambura gorge for nature walks. Travelers are never disappointed with visiting Queen Elizabeth because it is a national park with nonstop action from the word go to the end.
Accessing Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth national park can be accessed by the two main types of transport for tourists in Uganda- by air or road transport.
By road queen Elizabeth national park is about 7 hours away from Kampala the capital of Uganda from either routes of Mbarara or fort portal. The main lead way from Kampala is the Masaka road, which starts from Natete areas a Kampala suburb, goes to masaka where the equator point monument is situated then to Lake Mburo area and Mbarara, take route to Bushenyi and get to the park through Kasese and Katugura. It is a 420km. The other optional road is the Mubende-Fort Portal road to Kasese which is about 410. All these routes are in very good conditions and with good tarmac but the roads when around and within the park are marram. This is because Queen Elizabeth national park is an eco-tourism based destination, everything around it must be kept in its natural form. The means of road transport normally used are the private vehicles and public transport. For the public transport, there are different bus services that operate to the route of Kampala to Kasese. If one opts to use public means, he/she has to go to the bus park to get the bus that gets to Kasese which normally goes for around 30,000ugx and from Kasese town the travelers get a private vehicle to lead him/her to the park area which could be Mweya or Katugura.
There is also air transport for tourists who wish to save time or don’t have the time to travel for long hours. There are charter flights through Aerolink that operate between Entebbe airport or kassajja airstrip to airstrips near Queen Elizabeth national park that is to say Kasese airstrip, Ishasha, mweya and kihihi. These are normally located in isolated areas and therefore the visitors require to use ground transportation (private vehicles) to get to their exact destination which could be the park or the accommodation facility.
Attractions and things to do in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth national park having a series of wildlife species complemented by the unique physical features, spontaneously makes itself an anchorage for so many tourist attractions and activities. Visitors love it when they visit the park because there are so many tourism experiences to engage in for instance boat rides, game drives, nature walks, lion experiential and trekking, hiking, sightseeing and chimpanzee trekking. With a plethora of tourist attractions in the park, the visitors are compelled to stay at the park for at least two days or more in order to have a complete safari experience.
Game drives: this tourism activity involving visitors being taken around national park by safari vehicles on demarcated trucks in search of wild animals under the guidance of the safari guide or a park ranger. This is the main tourism experience in Queen Elizabeth national park without engaging in it, it would seem like the visitor has not visited the park. The park is a big four game destination (lions, elephants, buffaloes and leopards are all available apart from the rhinos) and it also has other wildlife species like Uganda kobs, spotted hyenas, warthog, elands and bush babies that loiter in its grassland plains. In essence it has 95 different species of mammals calling it a home thus making it a utopia for game viewing. Queen Elizabeth national park is a very large biodiversity sitting on a total surface areas of about 2080km² henceforth making it very difficult for a visitor to cover it at ago. It has different sections where the game drives are carried out on which the traveler gets an opportunity to see the different wildlife species in a sequence.
The game viewing activity often takes around 3-4 hours to cover a particular section. The game drive is free of charge as long as the visitor pays the park entrance and vehicle entrance fees. The visitor can opt to use his/her driver guide or a park ranger. The park rangers are hired at 20$ and these give the visitor the most remarkable game drives since they know the park like the back of their palms. The game drives are normally done during the day so that the visitors can clearly see the wild animals but there are special night game drive organized for the visitors who wish to see the nocturnes. The night game drives are conducted under the guidance of the park ranger.
Birding: anyone interested in bird watching queen Elizabeth is the place to encounter. This protected areas has about 605 species of birds thus having a half or more of the bird species in Uganda (over 1060 species). This has the highest concentration of bird species in the world. This is a dreamland for birders because the birds are all over the place. Queen Elizabeth majorly being dominated by water bodies, swamps and forest in some parts, makes it a perfect habitat for birds. The top bird spots in queen Elizabeth national park are the Kazinga channel and its plains, Maramagambo forests, Kyambura gorge and also around the crater lakes. The bird species found in these areas include broad billed roller, fish eagle, water thick knee, Africa finfoot, cuckoo, black bee eater, flamingoes, warbler, Turcao, grey-winged robinchaf and red chested sunbird the list is endless.
Boat ride: the launch cruise takes place on the Kazinga channel starting from the west at Lake Edward and then traverse through the channel to the east around the areas of the Lake George. This is one of the most major highlights of the park because it offers a relentless scenic view of some of the unique aquatic species one can ever encounter in this world. The Kazinga channel has the highest concentration of hippos and these are spotted dipping in and out of water from far and near, there are also numerous nile crocodiles and water birds like the egrets, king fishers and flamingos the eyes to feed on while cruising around. The Kazinga channel is 32 kilometers long from Lake Edward to George and therefore it takes 2-3 hours to fully immerse into the boat ride experience. The boat ride organized by Marasa (mweya safari lodge) is normally at 30$ per person but some travelers opt to use the local boats from the local communities which are much cheaper.
Trekking Tree Climbing Lions: the tree climbing lions are regarded as a natural wonder by many travelers. It is very rare to find aerial lions, naturally lions are terrestrial animals that spend most of their time on the ground but the ones in Queen Elizabeth national park at Ishasha sector the southern part of the park climb trees to rest. This is why they are called the tree climbing lions. Science has not yet found out the reason as to why these lions adopt the trait of climbing trees but some scholars say that they climb the trees to avoid being bitten by the insects (tricks) that are normally on the ground. These species of lions are very rare to find in the world and the other notable place to see the tree climbing lions is Lake Manyara Serengeti Tanzania. The trekking of the tree climbing lions is normally done in the mid-morning or early afternoon after the lions have concluded their early morning hurt and thereby rest or relax on the fig trees in Ishasha sector to get rid of the satisfaction.
Chimpanzee tracking. This is done around the kyambura gorge, this large valley is covered by tropical rainforests where these small apes thrive from most. The chimpanzees are one of the most intelligent animals in the whole world. They have a 98% DNA similarity with mankind. These have very interesting social behavior that could be taken as a replica of human beings. The chimpanzees in Queen Elizabeth national park hide in the gorge and therefore any traveler who wish to see the chimpanzee has to take a nature walk through the thick forests of the gorge. There are also other primates in the gorge for example the red tailed monkeys, black and white colobus and the baboons among the most notable ones. While on chimpanzee tracking in the gorge, the visitors also have an opportunity of encountering other wildlife species like different bird and trees species, different kinds of reptiles and insects. Chimpanzee trekking is organized at park headquarter at Mweya where a minimal of 8 permits are issued on a daily. The chimpanzee permits for Kyambura trekking are at fee of 50$ each and these are gotten at Uganda wildlife authority headquarters or even at the Mweya Tourism Information Centre. The chances of encountering the chimpanzees in the gorge is very high due to its small size and the session of the chimpanzee trekking is less challenging since it only takes 2-4 hours opposed to other places where it can go beyond the aforementioned time.
Maramagambo forest nature walks; this is one of the few tropical rainforests left in Uganda. It is located in the southern part of the park. This is popularly known for its mystical tourism where tourists trek through its scary bat caves. However the cave tours were put to halt where one of the American tourists reportedly contracted Marburg virus from the cave. But a viewing platform was created and the cave tours have been revived since then. While on the nature walk through the forests of Maramagambo which goes for 30$ per person, the tourists have an opportunity to see various primates like the red tailed monkeys, bush babies, vervet and the chimpanzees. It is also a natural gem for a variety of bird species and reptiles.
Lake Katwe salt mine tour: Lake Katwe is a salty lake within the explosion crater area a few kilometers away from Lake Edward. There is no wildlife to encounter due to the salinity of the area but the socio economic activity carried out is an attraction to tourists. For long, salt mining has been carried out at the lake and most of the salt used in the homesteads of Uganda comes from it. The miners here use rudimentary methods of mining which have turned out to be hazardous to their health but don’t mind since the mining is a very profitable business for them. The tourists who visit Lake Katwe are walked through the different process of mining the salt
Cultural experience: Uganda being an eco-tourism destination whereby the local communities are involved to ensure they embrace tourism as tool of sustainable development. One of the strategy cooked up to involve the local communities is by making their traditions and rituals and economic activities attractions to the visitors. Around Queen Elizabeth national park, there are local communities with indigenous and authentic traditions and rituals that draw tourists into getting involved in them through cultural tours. The visitors at Queen Elizabeth national parks are usually molded into the traditional culture through music dance and drama from the Kikorongo equator cultural group. These performances are usually carried at tourists’ safari lodges. The visitors also take up treks through the agricultural fields of the communities around Queen Elizabeth national park. Some tourists also visit the local schools and the projects of vulnerable people in the communities like women, orphans and the disabled.
Wildlife research tours: this experience is a behind scenes sort of scenario where the tourists get up close to wildlife. The tourists are normally to a group of researches to get to know the behavior of a certain group of animals in the park. The most notable conservation tour is the lion tracking which is organized by the Uganda wildlife authority in conjunction with the Uganda carnivore program. The lion experiential goes for 150$ and it is organized on special request and the booking is done in advance. In this experience, neck monitors are put on the lions and left to go wild and then they are followed to know their movements and the daily activities they get involved in at that particular time. This is done to fully the habits of a certain tracked pride of lions. The activity is carried out early in the morning or late in the afternoon since this is the prime time for lions as in the morning are seen around the park looking for prey and late in the afternoon is when they are trying to gather up to get to their homes. The mongoose are also other animals tracked in the park and this costs 30$ only. Tourists who may do their safari in the times of animal census are given a chance to take part in the activity at a cost of 100$.
Hot air balloon safari: this is a new tourism experience that was introduced in the park. Here the tourists fly in gas ignited parachutes like object around the park plains in particular Kasenyi to have an aerial view of the park and the animals. This is done early in the morning when the animals are loitering around the park looking for their early catch.