Queen Elizabeth National Park lies in the Western Region of Uganda, approximately 400 kilometres southwest of the capital, Kampala. The park is bordered by Lake George to the northeast, Lake Edward to the southwest and is bisected by the Kazinga Channel, which links the two lakes. The region’s topography is distinguished by rolling plains, verdant foothills, and volcanic craters dating to the Pleistocene Epoch nearly 3 million years ago. The terrain itself is astonishingly diverse: from fresh- and salt-water lakes, to savannah grasslands and rainforests; a trip around the park can feel like a whirlwind tour of the whole of Africa. Uganda is often called the Pearl of Africa, and the natural wonders of the Queen Elizabeth National Park more than justify such praise.
Europeans first encountered the area in 1889, when the famous Welsh-American explorer, Henry Morton Stanley, paddled up to the mouth of the Kazinga Channel. In 1925, conservation of land currently held within the park began. Ugandan authorities feared Belgian encroachment in the area and established the Lake George and Lake Edward game reserves to protect the ecosystem.
In 1952, these two parks were brought together as the Kazinga National Park. This name was short lived, however, and in 1954 the park was renamed the Queen Elizabeth National Park to commemorate a visit from the newly crowned monarch. Since then, the park has grown to its current size and status, as Uganda’s most famous National Park.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is well known for its Cape buffalo, elephants, lions and leopards. Beyond the traditional African safari staples, 619 bird species call the park home throughout the year, which is the 6th highest of any park in the world. There are large numbers of fish eagles, bee-eaters, flamingos, shoebill storks and kingfishers. Birders in particular will relish the variety of the 11 species of kingfisher spread throughout the park’s distinct ecosystems.
Travellers in search of Mammalia, rest assured, Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to 95 species of mammals including hippos, chimpanzees and its famous tree-climbing lions, which inhabit the western portion of the park near Uganda’s border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For birders and misanthropes, the wet seasons are a great time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. Wildlife is abundant throughout and the landscape is wonderfully lush. Packing a raincoat is advantageous, as an almost constant drizzle leaves the region drenched and slippery. The park’s world-renowned bird watching is special during these months, as massive flocks of migratory birds fly overhead. While many roads become inaccessible during this period, those looking to avoid crowds should look to visit during April, May, September or October.
For traditional safari-goers, this is the time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park. Vegetation thins in the dry months and animals can be easily spotted gathering around watering holes and on riverbanks. Chimp tracking is also made easier by dry trails and the weather is mostly sunny and welcoming. To avoid rain almost entirely, look to visit in June through July.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is Uganda’s most famous National Park for a reason: the beauty of the region, coupled with the largest number of resident bird species in Africa makes for a truly remarkable safari experience.
There are a wide variety of ways for visitors to enjoy the park’s legendary plant and animal life. Naturally, the most popular activity is a game drive, which is best taken during the early morning hours. Several guided tours are available throughout the park, where visitors can sample the diverse ecosystems by open vehicle or by foot. Game drives to see the tree-climbing lions in the Ishasha sector are especially popular, as are walking tours through the Maramagambo Forest. This forest is home to several caves where thousands of fruit bats and pythons nest.
Those looking to explore wildlife around the water can opt for a boat trip along the Kazinga Channel. Among a host of other exciting sights, this gorgeous trip promises the chance to view hippos, birds, crocodiles and resting buffalo.