Queen Elizabeth National Park

Queen Elizabeth National Park
I’ve been to Queen Elizabeth National Park twice – once when game drives were still new and exiting and the second time after having decided that the last thing I ever wanted to do again was another game drive. Yes, I was all game-drived-out having been on more than my fair share. So let it be a testament to QENP (that’s what I’ve decided to call this long-named park) that, despite my anti game drive frame of mind, the park managed to deliver.

The park is most famously known for its tree climbing lions and I was lucky enough to spot these cuddly-looking creatures perched in trees on both of my game drives in the park. The first time we parked practically underneath a few lionesses lazy in the branches above. The second time around the lions were quite far away and we had to settle on a close-up view of boring old run-of-the-mill ground lions. If lions are your thing or if you want to get up close and personal with some other mammals or birds, the park offers research tours which uses trackers to get you into the action as quickly as possible.

Queen Elizabeth National Park

At one point we stopped at one of the park’s several campsites. There’s something massively freaky about pitching a tent where there be lions and elephants and crocodiles, oh my! Not to mention snakes, hippos, buffalo, baboons, leopards, hyenas, and did I mention snakes? Setting up home for the night with only a thin layer of nylon protecting you from beasties that may want to eat you or may accidentally stand on you in your sleep is pretty ballsy. Add in the DR Congo being about 8 metres across a shallow river and you’ve got one of the world’s more adventurous campsites, I’d guess.

If you’d prefer not to risk life and limb out on the campsite (although I’m told it’s safe, really it is) and go with something a little more conventional, QENP is packed with lodges ranging for super fancy (and expensive) to budget but basic. Rather than list them all, this website has a good list of accommodation with all of the details you’ll need.

Kyambura Gorge Lodge

Because I’m a nerd who dabbles in African travel and expat websites, I’ve managed to scam free trips around Uganda twice – both including QENP and both staying in very swish accommodation. The first time around I forget where we stayed… but it was nice. On this more recent trip, the tour group were put up at the Volcanoes Kyambura Gorge Lodge. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever stayed and I’m not just saying that because they gave me free accommodation and all of the Amarula I wanted to drink. Booze and food is included in the price which makes the US$400 a night (per person sharing – a single room costs $480) price tag a little more bearable.

East African residents (locals or anyone with a work visa for Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda or Tanzania and who have proof) are eligible for the resident’s rate of $160 a person which, given the great food, professional service and beautiful lodges, is a very good deal. Plus prices drop a bit during low season from October 15th to December 15th and March 1st to May 31st. It really makes a luxurious but still affordable getaway for residents and group rates (8 people or more) can make it all even cheaper. Resident rates still include all meals, tea, coffee, soft drinks, and a complimentary massage but free alcohol is limited to two glasses of beer or wine with dinner.

I also got a look at the main building and grounds of the Mweya Safari Lodge which looks pretty nice and has a wonderful view over to Lake Edward, the Rwenzori Mountains and even the Virunga volcano range. Plus it’s close to where the boat trip leaves from and it has a giant fake elephant on the front lawn. Both are major perks.

Highlights for me included stumbling upon a daddy lion and his family – about 10 lions just chilling and we got a nice close-up look at them. The python tail that we saw slinking across the road was also pretty cool. I’ve always wanted to see a huge snake in the wild so done and done! My third highlight was the weird, bloated, upside down hippo carcass floating at the side of the river. It looked pretty ridiculous bobbing there in the water but it was morbidly fascinating. The close-range elephant and baby was pretty cool, too.

Freaky Floating Hippo Carcass

The bobbing dead hippo body was spotted from the boat ride that is, for many, the highlight of the park. The shore of the Kazinga channel which links Lake George and Lake Edward is crazy active with all sorts of life. Mostly birds but hippos, crocs, lizards, buffalo and elephants were chilling by the water in large numbers. I’m not sure if there’s a best time to go but my 3 pm boat ride was excellent. The quietly funny and knowledgeable tour guide and the sheer number of cool things we saw made it worth the $30 for the two hour trip.

Though Kibale is thought to be the best place in Uganda for chimp tracking, Kyambura Gorge has a family of around 22 chimps that can be chased for $50 (compared to $150 in Kibale) so that’s something else on offer in the area.

The park has lots of accommodation options scattered in and around its 2,000 square kilometer area but I have directions to the Volcanoes Kyambura Gorge Lodge, so here goes… Take the northern bypass (to avoid heavy traffic) and drive to Busega roundabout. Take the Masaka – Mbarara highway (approx 287 km). From Mbarara town, take the Bushenyi to Kasese road to the Kyambura trading centre in Rubirizi district. Look for the Volcanoes Lodge signpost and turn right on the Katerera road (1km) to Volcanoes Kyambura gorge lodge.

I really like this park a lot and the six to seven hour drive from Kampala (or around 4 hours from Kigali) really isn’t too crazy a trip, especially if you plan on staying a few nights. Check it out and let us know what you think!

About Kirsty

I’m Kirsty and I’m the nerd behind this website. I live in Kigali and don’t know much about Kampala beyond thinking that the city could use a website for expats… so here we are! I leave the writing to the Kampala experts but I do most of the behind-the-scenes (nerdy) stuff with the occasional review thrown in. Connect with me on Google+.