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I didn’t know much about Uganda before visiting in 2019. My friends, Jeanie and Cheryl, and I had been in Rwanda for a week for a mission trip and had decided to extend our time in East Africa for a gorilla trek. But the tour company planning our itinerary suggested adding a few days to include a chimpanzee trek and a safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park. It’s quite a journey to travel from Orange County, California, to Rwanda and Uganda, so we decided to see as much as possible. And boy am I glad I did.
Why You Should Visit Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to 96 species of mammals and 600 bird species. There’s an estimated 5000 hippos in the park, along with 3000 elephants, and 10,000 buffaloes. I was in awe of how much wildlife we saw.
But this is also a reasonably priced destination for a safari. For years I have researched safaris in several different African countries and was always hesitant to book after seeing the prices. Yet when I saw the price for our experience in Uganda, I was pleasantly surprised. I paid $4,100 for seven days which included all transportation, permits (including the gorilla, chimpanzee, and QENP permits), English speaking guide, game drives, food, and luxury accommodations. It did not include airfare, visas, liquor, or gratuities.
QENP is a lesser known destination for a safari. During our time in the park we rarely saw more than one other safari vehicle. When our guide spotted a herd of buffaloes, elephants, kobs, or topi, we were able to enjoy them by ourselves--it was magical.
Where Is Queen Elizabeth National Park?
Located in the Western Region of Uganda, Queen Elizabeth National Park occupies almost 2,000 square kilometers and spans the equator. The park extends from Lake George in the north-east to Lake Edward in the south-west and includes the Kazinga Channel connecting the two lakes.
How to get to Queen Elizabeth National Park
Most people arrive in Uganda at Entebbe International Airport in the capital city of Kampala. The drive to QENP will take seven to eight hours. Most visitors interested in a safari here will hire a tour company that can pick them up in Kampala and provide all transportation, lodging, and game drives. For our trip I selected Gorilla Trek Africa, and highly recommend them.
If you’re traveling to Uganda from the U.S., it will take about two days of travel, so I’d recommend spending a night or two in Kampala to rest up before the long drive to the national park.
Viewing Wildlife On Land
Most of the wildlife we viewed was on land. We traveled in a Toyota Landcruiser fitted with a pop-up roof. After entering the park, our guide, William, drove slowly seeking animals. He was often in communication with other guides in the area about wildlife that they had spotted. When something was seen, he would stop the car and give us time to stand up and take photos, or just watch the animals. William was excellent at providing information about the animals. After a few minutes we would move on. This cycle took place many times over the two days in the park.
Throughout our game drives we saw buffaloes, elephants, baboons, topi, kobs, colobus monkeys, one lion, and a variety of birds. QENP is famous for its tree climbing lions. And while we were fortunate to see one male lion, we did not witness any in trees. This unique behavior is believed to keep the lions cooler and provide a perch from which to spot prey.
Our most memorable moment was watching a mama elephant lead her babies across a road. We had stopped to watch and take photos, but mama decided we were too close. She turned her enormous head to look at us, flapped her ears, lifted her trunk and made a loud trumpeting noise. We quickly jumped into our seats and our guide moved the car further away. Once mama was satisfied her babies were safe, she resumed walking and we stood up again to take more photos.
It’s important to know that most of our driving was on dirt roads full of bumps and holes. Despite sitting for many hours, I was often tired at the end of the day from all the rocking and rolling in the car. Fortunately, seeing so many animals made the experience worth it!
Viewing Wildlife On Water–A Kazinga Channel Safari
If you’ve ever been on the Jungle Boat ride at Disneyland, then you’ll have an idea of what a cruise along the Kazinga Channel is like. However, these animals are real, and at times rather scary.
The Kazinga channel is a twenty mile long stretch of water connecting Lake George and Lake Edward. It’s home to the largest concentration of hippos in Africa as well as a large number of Nile crocodiles. As we cruised I was amazed at the number of hippos we saw both on land and in the water. These massive creatures would emerge silently from the water and then soon submerge again. While they spend up to sixteen hours a day underwater, they cannot stay under longer than five minutes.
I’ve seen crocodiles in the wild before, but I had never seen so many, nor been so close. I was both fascinated and repulsed by these long, slithery creatures moving in and out of the water. The Jungle Boat ride may be fun, but it’s got nothing on a Kazinga Channel cruise!
Where To Stay In Queen Elizabeth National Park
We stayed at the Mweya Safari Lodge and highly recommend it. Located in Queen Elizabeth National Park, the lodge overlooks the Kazinga Channel. While I spent the night in a standard room, there are suites, tents, and cottages available as well. We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner in the restaurant which featured traditional Ugandan cuisine. Other amenities include a bar, business center, pool, and spa.
But the highlight of my stay at Mweya Safari Lodge was the young grazing hippo on the lawn early in the morning, before the sun was fully up. As I sat on the patio waiting for our guide to arrive, I watched this animal work its way across the lawn scarfing down the grass.
To view a variety of lodging available in Queen Elizabeth National Park, visit Booking.com. We have used their site many times during our travels and have always been completely satisfied.
Things To Do In Uganda
I barely scraped the surface of things to do in Uganda. With ten national parks, this country has so much to offer visitors. I thought a seven day itinerary would be sufficient, but it wasn’t. I would happily have spent more time in each place. And I most certainly wish I had more time to explore the vast Queen Elizabeth National Park.