QENP (Queen Elizabeth National Park)

QENP (Queen Elizabeth National Park)

Tourism Feature: QENP Article & Photography by Michelle Sutton

Queen Elizabeth National Park

QENP is a large sprawling park that straddles the equator in the Western region of Uganda and is the countries most visited national park.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

Located on the floor of the Albertine Rift valley with the Rwenzori Mountains towering in the west, the park boasts a diverse range of ecosystems which are home to many different mammal and bird species. The park covers an area of approximately 1,978 square kilometers (764 square miles) and is found 410 kilometres (255 miles) west of the capital city of Kampala. The landscape of the park is pitted with 72 extinct volcanic craters some of which offer great vantage points. The parks beautiful scenery combined with its diversity, make it a great safari destination.

About QENP


In 1952, the park was established and given the name Kazinga National Park.

Two years later, the name was changed to Queen Elizabeth National Park, to commemorate the late Queen’s visit. Today, the park is a popular tourist destination in Uganda and has a developed infrastructure of safari tracks, lodges, tented camps, and other tourist facilities.


Before you set off on safari, it’s exciting to know what you might see.

QENP is best known for its herds of African Elephant that roam the savannah grasslands and the large population of hippopotamus (hippo) that live in and around the lakes and the Kazinga Channel. Other herbivores you might see are Cape buffalo, forest buffalo, a cross breed of the two buffalo, giant forest hog and warthog, along with several antelope species including Ugandan kob, Defassa waterbuck, bushbuck, red duiker (rare) and topi (Ishasha sector).


The carnivores of QENP include lion, leopard, serval, spotted hyena, banded mongoose, and the side-striped jackal (rare). You can lso expect to see reptiles such as Nile crocodiles and monitor lizards, these are best seen on the shores of the Kazinga channel on a boat safari.


QENP is home to several primate species.

The most popular are the chimpanzees that live in Kyambura Gorge along with black & white colobus monkey, red-tailed monkey, vervet monkey and olive baboons. Besides Kyambura Gorge, the forested areas along the road to Ishasha are good spots to look for some of the species listed above as well as the L’Hoest’s monkey and grey checked mangabey.

Olive baboon by Michelle Sutton
Olive baboon by Michelle Sutton
Lion in a Euphorbia tree Michelle Sutton
Lion in a Euphorbia tree - Michelle Sutton


QENP is a fantastic place for those interested in birds.

The park is one of the best birding sites in Africa because of the diversity of habitats. The park has 612 bird species which is the second highest population of any park on the continent. The parks rivers, lakes and the Kazinga Channel are where you will find waterbirds like the African Fish Eagle, African Skimmer, and various species of Kingfisher and Pelicans. A private boat hire can take you to the far ends of Lake George to find the legendary Shoebill Stork, the papyrus wetlands enroute is where you can find the elusive Papyrus Gonelek. Soaring in the skies you’ll find Raptors, Martial Eagle, Crowned Eagle, Bataleur and several species of Vultures. The latter you may see swooping down onto a kill, squabbling with each other over fresh meat. In the forest regions of the park, you can expect to see the African Green Broadbill, Black Bee-Eater and various species of Sunbirds, Woodpeckers and Barbets. When on safari in the grasslands you might see the national bird of Uganda, the Grey Crowned Crane as well as Bustards, Lapwings and Hornbills.


There are also several migratory species that pass through the park and can be seen during certain months of the year. One of these migratory species is the lesser flamingo which can be seen in Lake Munyanyange, a small saline crater lake next to Lake Katwe and Lake Bunyampaka in the Kasenyi Plains. Walking tours can be done in both locations to get close to these large, elegant birds with distinctive pink plumage.

African Fish Eagle Michelle Sutton
African Fish Eagle - Michelle Sutton
African Crowned Eagle Michelle Sutton
African Crowned Eagle - Michelle Sutton
African Skimmers Kazinga Channel Michelle Sutton
African Skimmers, Kazinga Channel - Michelle Sutton

Exploring QENP

The Equator

Uganda is one of 13 countries in the world through which the equator crosses.

That equator line runs through QENP and is a good photo opportunity. Currently the equator markers are under renovation, however a simple road sign marks the location and there is plenty of space to pull off the road. In the absence of the equator markers, an ingenious local man has printed a photo of the original markers on a large banner giving people a photo opportunity as the renovation is conducted. He erects the banner daily and can also demonstrate the Coriolis effect showing which way water circles as it flows out of a drain. Some people speculate whether the experiment is rigged and how the effect can be so strong just several metres either side of the equator but no matter what you believe to be true, it’s a fun activity for children and curious adults.

Kasenyi Plains

Safari drives are the most popular activity in QENP, and the Kasenyi Plains is the main destination for both morning and afternoon trips.

The plains consist of savannah grasslands dotted with Euphorbia trees and attracts large herds of the national animal of Uganda, an antelope called the Ugandan kob. Other antelope like waterbuck and bushbuck inhabit the plains alongside warthog, buffalo, hippo, and elephant. The antelope and buffalo attract predators such as lion and leopard which are generally the most sought-after carnivores for safari goers. The leopard and lion of this area like to climb in the Euphorbia trees, there are lots to look in, but it’s worth scanning. Many wonder how the cats manage to climb in the Euphorbia trees, also known as Candelabra trees, as they look prickly like a cactus, but they are in fact a succulent, so they don’t have any sharp spines. At the end of your morning safari, it’s worth visiting Lake Bunyampaka a salt crater lake in the east end of the Kasenyi plains. Here you’ll find a curio market, toilets and vendors selling coffee, tea, drinks and rolex. If you are not familiar with the Ugandan rolex, it’s not an expensive wristwatch, but a popular street food. It’s made with a chapati filled with eggs, and vegetables (that can vary from tomatoes, onions, and cabbage) and then rolled up. The name rolex comes from ‘rolled eggs’, if you haven’t had one, it’s worth a try.

Kyambura Gorge

Kyambura Gorge is a sunken river valley in the savannah grasslands that ranges between 100 to 150 metres deep and was formed by the erosive action of the Kyambura River that flows into the Kazinga Channel.

It is referred to as the Valley of the Apes as there is a troop of chimpanzees that live in the Gorge. Visitors can descend down the steep sides of the gorge led by a Uganda Wildlife Authority guide in search of the chimpanzees to observe them in their natural habitat. Cape buffalo and hippo also live in the gorge and the trek is a chance to experience this unique habitat and possibly see other primate species such as black and white colobus monkey, red tailed monkey, vervet monkeys and
prolific birdlife.

Kyambura Gorge by Michelle Sutton
Kyambura Gorge by Michelle Sutton
Hippo in the Kazinga Channel Michelle Sutton
Hippo in the Kazinga Channel by Michelle Sutton
Giant Forest Hogs Kevin Sutton
Giant Forest Hogs by Kevin Sutton

Kazinga Channel

The Kazinga Channel is a 32-kilometre long waterbody that connects Lake George to Lake Edward, the two major lakes in the region.

Lake George is fed by the Rwenzori mountains and the outflow of the lake runs to Lake Edward via the Kazinga Channel. As the elevation between the two lakes is so little, the channel is very slow moving making it difficult to tell which way the water is flowing. The channel serves as an important source of water for wildlife, especially during the dry seasons. The abundance of wildlife in and along the channel is best viewed from a boat. Priority should be made to include boat safari in your itinerary for QENP. Boat trips run from either theKatanguru landing site or from the Mweya Peninsula and the trips are two hours long. In this time, your guide will give you knowledge on birds, wildlife and historical features of the channel.


The best time of the year for boat safaris is during the dry season, when water is difficult to find elsewhere in the park. Herds of elephant visit the water to drink, swim and play in the water, while hippo wallow in the shallows near the shore. The Kazinga Channel is home to one of the largest concentrations of hippo who live in family groups called pods. You can expect to see solitary buffalo along the channel’s shores which are old males who have been chased out of their herd and are living out their years in solitude. The shoreline is also host to abundant birdlife as well as monitor lizard and Nile crocodile.

Elephants and Hippo Kazinga Channel by Michelle Sutton
Elephants and Hippo Kazinga Channel by Michelle Sutton
Elephant Kazinga Channel by Michelle Sutton
Elephant Kazinga Channel by Michelle Sutton
Nile Crocodile by Michelle Sutton
Nile Crocodile by Michelle Sutton

Mweya Peninsula

Mweya Peninsula is at the western end of the Kazinga Channel where the channel enters Lake Edward.

There are 2 routes that you can take to access the peninsula. The first one is via the Channel Track which can be a great place to come across herds of elephant as they cross the road to access the Kazinga channel. It’s quite a sight as herds cross the road with their young and babies, grazing vegetation as they go, and are usually not in a rush, which makes for excellent elephant encounters. The second and more direct route to Mweya is to take the murram road from the main highway to the Kabatoro gate, also know as Main gate. Along this route, you will travel past a salty sulphurous crater lake called Lake Nyamanyuki which literally translates to ‘bad smelling meat’. During certain times of the year, the sulphur smell is quite strong, hence the name. There is a spot to pull off the road and get out of the vehicle to view this beautiful lake. There are often lone buffaloes, lying on the shoreline and the lake changes colours throughout the year because of algae bloom.


The Mweya peninsula sits in an elevated position which makes for some excellent views of the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward. The oldest lodge in the park is found here, Mweya Lodge was opened in the 1950’s and offers stunning views. The UWA has a campsite, budget rooms and a canteen on the peninsula. The canteen serves drinks and a basic menu. If you are looking for a lunch spot, this is a nice place to sit at a table under a tree and admire the views over the channel. There is an airstrip on the peninsula for flights in and out of QENP as well as a boat launch below Mweya Lodge. Boat trips can be arranged either through Mweya lodge by visiting their reception or though UWA, from the visitors centre.

Kob by Michelle Sutton
Kob by Michelle Sutton

Explosion Crater Drive

If you are looking for incredible scenery, then the Explosion Crater Drive is highly recommended!

The scenic 27-kilometre drive winds through the Katwe-Kikorongo Crater Field between the Kabatoro (Main Gate) and the Queens Pavilion. The explosion crater drive should not be confused with the crater lake region of Fort Portal. You might have seen the numerous and beautiful crater lakes in and around Fort Portal, however the craters in Queen Elizabeth are unique and shouldn’t be missed, it’s like visiting another world. The explosion craters were formed from violent volcanic activity that created massive deep depressions in the earth, without having the traditional vent cones associated with volcanic activity. To get the most out of the drive and admire the scenery, you should plan 2 ½ hours for the drive. Take your time to stop and appreciate the views. Some of the craters are filled with forests, one looks like a bowl of broccoli, some have salt lakes and others, rolling savannah grasslands.

Kyemengo Crater by Michelle Sutton
Kyemengo Crater by Michelle Sutton

The scenery is often likened to Jurassic Park. In the rainy season, the lush green craters are a good place to see elephants, the herds go to this area and the pregnant mothers give birth here. With a keen eye, you can sometimes see mothers with their newborn baby grazing away from the family. The craters are deep and wide, so binoculars are recommended for the best viewing. The largest crater along the drive is the massive Kyemengo Crater at Baboon Cliffs. It is a good spot to get out of the car and marvel at the expansiveness of this crater. Standing on top of the rim can be slightly dizzying and it’s difficult to gauge how deep and wide the crater is. Keep your eyes open for the Red Duiker which has been sighted several times in this area and is a shy and rare antelope to see. Another impressive lake along the drive is Lake Kitagata, a mesmerizing dark lake which on a sunny day reflects the clouds in the sky. A unique aspect of the drive is watching birds of prey soar in the craters, it is not unusual to see birds from above which is a rather special sight. A personal favourite is the Bateleur which can soar and glide for long periods of time without a single wing flap. The Explosion Crater Drive is certainly one of the gems of Queen Elizabeth NP.

Lake Kitagata Michelle Sutton
Lake Kitagata by Michelle Sutton

Katwe Salt Lake

Lake Katwe is one of the crater lakes within the park and has been a source for traditional salt mining for centuries. Tours of the lake are possible where you can learn about the traditional manual method of salt harvesting that has been passed down through generations for several hundred years and the significance that this historical process holds in the cultural fabric of the community. Local workers create salt pans near the shores of the lake by digging shallow ponds that are filled with the salty water from the lake. As the water evaporates from these depressions, the salt crystals remain and are then harvested and processed for sale. Salt mining in Lake Katwe is not only a livelihood for the community but a cultural tradition that is deeply rooted in the people of the area.

Lake Katwe salt mining by Michelle Sutton
Lake Katwe salt mining by Michelle Sutton


Ishasha is the southern section of Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Although it’s part of QENP, the journey from the north to the south can take about 2+ hours depending on road conditions. The distance means it’s not a great idea for a day trip and in fact, spending at least one night in Ishasha is recommended as it has some great safari routes. It is famed for the tree climbing lions, we know that cats in general like to climb. In fact, lions all over Africa climb trees but seldom do they make it a habit of it like the lions of Ishasha. What makes the tree climbing lions of Ishasha even more special is the type of trees they like to climb, large fig trees that are very open which make it easy to spot the lions draped over the large branches. No one knows the exact reason why they climb, if it’s to avoid the wet ground, get away from flies or to have a better vantage point in a breezy place but no matter the reason, it’s quite a spectacle to see them in the trees. The lions have passed this habit on throughout generations, and they teach their cubs at a young age to climb.

Ishasha tree climbing lion by Michelle Sutton
Ishasha tree climbing lion by Michelle Sutton

It should be noted before visiting Ishasha that the lions do not climb early in the morning, they usually go up the trees in the mid to late morning and they don’t climb daily so don’t be disappointed if you don’t see them. The good news is that there are plenty of other great tracks to explore and wildlife to see. It’s common to have good sightings of hyena, elephant, and topi, which is an antelope only found in the Ishasha sector of the park. A visit to the Ishasha river UWA campsite is where can get you close to hippo wallowing in the water, snorting, and honking at each other. This is a good spot for a picnic with big shady trees and toilet facilities. The river marks the border to the Virunga National Park (Democratic Republic of Congo).

Hyena by Michelle Sutton
Hyena by Michelle Sutton
Topi in Ishasha Michelle Sutton
Topi in Ishasha Michelle Sutton

Why are there collared lions & leopards?

QENP has eleven enclave communities that were in existence when the park was gazetted. These communities were allowed to remain and in most cases are surrounded by three sides by the park. This means people and wildlife are living near each other. People can understand park boundaries, but animals can not, which inevitably results in conflict. The Uganda Carnivore Program and the Uganda Conservation Foundation both run programs that collar lion and leopard.

Lion by Michelle Sutton
Lion by Michelle Sutton

The concept is to collar one or two lions within a pride or in some cases single male lion and solitary leopard. This allows for two things, monitoring for the purposes of big cat research as well as staying updated on their location so when big cats get close to the communities, people can be warned of their proximity. This allows community members to ensure their livestock and homesteads are secure avoiding conflict. Unfortunately, events of conflict where big cats kill cattle or goats, can lead to retaliation in the form of poisoning. This not only affects the big cat population but trickles down to scavengers
such as hyenas and vultures. Conservation organizations are working hard to avoid this from happening, so, if you do see a collared lion or leopard, it’s a playing an active role in conserving the big cat population of QENP.

Leopard by Michelle Sutton
Leopard by Michelle Sutton

How to Safari

Alright, now you know your destination and what you might see, so how does one safari?

The first thing you should do is find accommodation, in this case, Google and TripAdvisor are your friend for finding a facility that suits your needs. There are plenty of options ranging from self catering, glamping, high and midrange lodges, tented camps, and camping facilities. As far as the safari activities are concerned, you can self-drive and hire a UWA ranger at the park gates or book a guided trip in an open safari vehicle. Your accommodation provider can help you with booking a guided safari trip. The advantage to this is that you are with guides that know the park well along with the movement of the animals and where they have been recently sighted.

Park entrance fees are valid for a 24-hour period starting from the time you buy them; vehicle entrance is a one time payment valid for the duration of your stay including the Ishasha sector. Park entrance can be bought at the following gates: Queens Pavilion, Kasenyi Gate, Kabatoro Gate, Katanguru launch site and from the UWA Headquarter offices in Katanguru, payment can be made by credit card, MTN Momo or Airtel money.


QENP park hours are 7am to 7pm. At the park gates you’ll find excellent park maps by safari expert Andrew Roberts which are most helpful as you travel around the park. All the park gates have toilet facilities.

Palm nut vultures Michelle Sutton
Palm nut vultures - Michelle Sutton
Nile Crocodile Michelle Sutton
Nile Crocodile Michelle Sutton

The most important thing to remember on safari is not to rush, it’s meant to be an experience, one where you take your time at animal sightings to experience wild animals and how they behave in their natural habitat. Boat trips are best done in the late morning or in the afternoon when the temperatures rise, and animals are in search for water.

Things to bring for your safari are binoculars, a hat, sunscreen, plenty of drinking water, charging cables, adapters and a roll of toilet paper is always a good idea. If you are making a full day of safari and looking for a lunch spot, Tibs restaurant in Katanguru (across from Shell fuel station) has a varied menu and is close to the park gates and boat launch. Fuel stations around the park can be found in Kasese town where there are several different stations. In Katanguru, you’ll find a Shell fuel station with a shop attached, which is good place to stock up on water and safari snacks. If you are heading to Ishasha, you should fill your tank before setting off as the nearest fuel station to the Ishasha sector is in Kihihi town.

Getting There

You can access QENP either by road or by air.

By road, the journey will take between 6 to 7 hours from Kampala depending on traffic and current road conditions. There
are two different route options, one will take you through Fort Portal and the other through Mbarara.

By air, daily flights are available through Aerolink Uganda from Entebbe International airport to either Kasese or Mweya airstrip. Flights can be easily booked online through the Aerolink website – aerolinkuganda.com

How long to spend there

How long you spend in Queen Elizabeth National Park depends on the activities you are interested in and your budget. It’s recommended to spend at least three nights or more so that you can explore the park adequately. Safari entails early mornings and can be tiring so it’s essential to plan some down time to have an afternoon nap or spend some time by a pool. You can’t expect to see everything in a few safari drives, it’s not reasonable. It’s best to plan for several game drives and a boat trip to ensure appreciable wildlife sightings.

The Uganda Conservation Foundation

Contact Information

Queen Elizabeth National Park is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) which is a government agency for the management and protection of wildlife species in the country. It is governed by the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
Park information and reservations can be made with the UWA:
Address: Plot 7 Kira Road, PO Box 3530, Kampala
Email: reservations@wildlife.go.ug
Phone: + 256 312 355 000 / +256 414 346 / 291 / +256 414 355 000
Website: ugandawildlife.org

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