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.
This Post Has 23 Comments
I was meant to be in Uganda now ?. Thanks for at least this walk-through. I love Africa!
I’m with you Heather–I love Africa as well. I was supposed to be in Kenya this month, but that will have to wait for another year.
There is something quite special about sitting alone in the early morning Africa light watching the animals go about their business, even if it is a large hippo. (I’m petrified of them.) Sounds like you had an awesome trip, sorry you didn’t get to see the tree-climbing lions.
I don’t blame you for being terrified of hippos–they are quite a dangerous animal. And I’ll have to go back to Uganda again so I can see th tree climbing lions.
Sounds like you had an amazing experience! Love all the stunning photos…an African safari is still on my bucket list, more than ever after reading your account!
I hope to experience more African safaris someday!
Amazing photos! Looks like you had great luck with wildlife sightings. This post is really making me want to go on safari again. I’m scheduled to go to Rwanda in November on business, so if that trip goes ahead I will look into crossing into Uganda and visiting this park while I’m there.
Lovely photos. Uganda is definitely on my list. We’ve done Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa–but there is so much more to see.
the photographer in me is green with envy of you taking this trip, I would love to be able to have that close encounetr with the animals 🙂
I’ve seen far too little of Africa. Since I’m a solo female traveller, it’s certainly not the easiest continent to travel. However, right now I’m planning on making Tanzania one of my next journeys – let’s see when that will be possible.
We did day game drives when we were in Africa. But really want to plan a longer safari. Uganda looks like a great choice. Great that you were able to enjoy the wildlife without dozens of jeeps crowding in. How cool to see a hippo grazing in the grass close to your lodge.
Good decision! When you’re traveling a long distance I feel you’re always going to regret it if you don’t make the most of the activities and the experience when you reach your destination. Primates are amazing aren’t they One of my most memorable travel experiences is going to the orangutan rehabilitation center in Sumatra
Wow! Thanks for sharing your experience. Going on a safari is on my bucket list, and you did such an amazing job capturing the beauty and small details of what is special about this park. Your photos are amazing! I am bookmarking this post as research for the future.
Thank you! And I know you will really love a safari when the opportunity arises.
I can’t imagine waking up to a hippo strolling across the lawn as I sipped my coffee. What an awesome experience to have. I love the beautiful elephants — my spirit animal for sure.
Aren’t elephants so majestic? They are definitely among my favorite animals.
Amazing photography, Uganda is definitely on my list
I visited here about ten years ago. Loved Uganda, couldn’t believe how green it was. Planning another safari, so amazing to see animals in the wild.
What an amazing experience to wake up to and have a hippo on your lawn. An African Safari is still on my bucket list and really hope to tick it off soon. All of your photos are so beautifully captured. The Queen Elizabeth National Park sounds perfect as well.
As a Ugandan in the Tour and Travel Hospitality business, reading your article kept me enjoying every bit. You really captured every sweet detail of a Safari which are the exact experiences and more that we wish to share with the world about Uganda the “Pearl of Africa”.
Thank you Wendy
Queen Elizabeth national park is understandably Uganda’s most popular tourist destination . It’s diverse ecosystems which includes sprawling Savannah,shady,humid forests, sparkling lakes and fertile wetlands,makes it an ideal habitat for classic big game, you can imagine 10 primate species including chimpanzees and over 600 bird species.
Set against the backdrop of the jagged Ruwenzori mountains,the park’s magnificent vistas include dozens of the enormous craters carved dramatically into rolling green hills, panoramic views of the kazinga channel with its banks lined hippos,elephants, buffalos ,and the endless Ishasha plains whose fig trees hide the tree climbing lions ready to pounce on the herds of unsuspecting Uganda Kobs.
In this park, there are many opportunities for visitors to interact with with the local communities and enjoy the diverse culture.
It’s indeed a medley of wonders.
This is a very beautiful article. I would also recommend a trip to Kidepo National Park in the North Eastern part of the Country – Uganda, its an amazing valley with lots of animals to see.
Lawrence, thank you so much for the suggestion. I certainly hope to return to Uganda someday and explore more of its beauty!