By Geoffrey Baluku
It’s no idle boast that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill christened Uganda the “The Pearl of Africa.” When it comes to wildlife conservation and eco-tourism, Uganda does command outstanding respect. However, a visit to the country cannot be complete if some time is not set aside to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The park can be reached from Kampala either by air or road. From Kampala, the park can be approached from the south via Mbarara (420 km) or the north passing through Fort Portal (410 km). Three airstrips serve Queen Elizabeth National Park and these include Ishasha, Mweya and Kasese airfield.
This 2,056 square kilometre park was established in 1952 when the two game reserves of Lake George and Edward were merged into Kazinga National Park. Two years later it was renamed Queen Elizabeth National Park when Queen Elizabeth II of England visited Uganda.
It is one of the oldest national parks in Uganda and is designated as a Biosphere Reserve for Humanity under the auspices of UNESCO. Together with Kyambura and Kigezi wildlife reserves, the park forms one of the most diverse eco-systems in Africa.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is really enticing. Take time off and visit it. Visit with your family or that special person in your life, but go prepared to fall in love all over again for the park is blessed with spectacular scenery and attractions to fill one action packed holiday and still leave scores of other experiences to be enjoyed on a return trip.
The low attitude and its location directly on the equator mean that the temperatures can be warm, rising from a mean minimum 18ºC to mean maximum of 28ºC. The park receives up to 1250mm of rain mostly from March to May and September to November. The melting glacier waters of the Rwenzori Mountains create a vast wetland system comprising of two main lakes George and Edward. Edward was named by the explorer Henry Morton Stanley after the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII.
The two lakes are connected by a 40km long channel whose shorelines are populated by thousands of hippos and birds all year round.
This park is a paradise for dedicated ornithologists as well as the novice bird watcher. The bird list is 612 species including the rare Shoe Bill, the Martial Eagle, Papyrus Gonolek, White tailed lark, Verraux’s Eagle Owl and the Lesser and Greater Flamingos.
The park is an ultimate feast for all senses. There are over 95 mammalian and hundreds of butterfly species. Activities like the launch cruise along Kazinga Channel will offer you a unique unequaled wildlife experience. It puts one right in the heart of nature where many Hippos nest in the water while big herds of elephants can be seen enjoying themselves along the channel banks.
Many who experience it consider it the highlight of their entire African safari. The launch cruise schedules run in the morning and afternoon. The open savannah dotted with Acacia and Euphorbia trees provides habitat for lions, leopards, buffalos and Uganda kobs. Among the many other animals seen frequently are the water bucks, giant forest hog, hyenas and topi.
Networked by over 200 kilometres of well maintained tracks, the visitors get access to the park’s game as some of the tracks pass through large mating grounds of the Uganda kob.
The Kasenyi sector on the east side of Kasese road is best known for lions which prey on large populations of the Uganda kob while the famous tree climbing lions can be spotted on large fig trees in the Ishasha sector which is 100 km south of the Mweya Penisular.
Another principal feature of the park is Kyambura Gorge. This steep gorge was formed by turbulent waters of the roaring Kyambura River. It provides a lush riverine forest that is home to chimpanzees, red tailed monkeys, black and white Columbus monkeys, olive baboons and other primates.
The park also has one of Uganda’s largest tracts of tropical forest – Maramagambo forest which translates as “the forest beyond description”. This forest stretches from the foot of the Kichwamba escarpment to Lake Edward. Pythons are often observed in the crevices of the bat cave floor using the bats as a source of food.
The cave is near the copper rich blue lake and hunters’ cave. Beautiful crater lakes are spread throughout the park, the most notable being the Katwe explosion craters.
This cluster of extinct volcanoes north of Mweya peninsula can be explored by the winding 27km crater drive between the main and equator gates which provide superb views into the numerous craters.
As Christmas is getting closer, I recommend Buffalo Safari Resort, located in Katunguru, Queen Elizabeth National Park, overlooking Lake Rubirizi which is not only a jungle safari resort with a touch of class but it’s also a sanctuary for birds and other animals particularly the buffalo that come to drink.
If you are looking for a vacation get away, a romantic weekend, Buffalo Safari Resort will surely provide you with an extraordinary experience!
Other budget and up market facilities are also available in the park and could be good options for families but also for free independent travelers.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is truly amazing – take your camera, for you will want to record all the wonders you will see!
The writer is the owner – Uganda Tourism Portal – www.ugandatourismportal.org and also Secretary to the Board at the Association of Uganda Tour Operators.