In Queen Elizabeth National Park you can enjoy tranquil game drives amidst the great plains and savanna of ”the Pearl of Africa”. Encounter tree climbing lions in Ishasha, take a boat cruise along the Kazinga channel, or go chimp tracking in Kyambura Gorge. Whatever you do, one thing is pretty sure – you will likely see some lions.
Queen Elizabeth is covering an area of almost 1980 square kilometers in the Western Uganda. This national park holds diverse landscapes; vast savannas, shady forests, glimmering lakes and fertile wetlands. It is home to over 95 mammal and 600 birds species. The majestic Rwenzori Mountains set a dramatic background to your game drives.
Crossing the Equatorial
Queen Elizabeth National Park was founded in 1952 and it spans the equatorial line where you can see monuments on either side of the road, marking the latitude 00. These are popular for tourists and locals alike to stop and snap pictures literally on the equatorial line. We did that too and were quickly surrounded by a local family who wanted to pose with us for at least dozen photographs – all together and everyone separately. Ugandans are very friendly and this was a fun moment to share.
Tracking the Lions on Game Drives
When the first rays of sun rose at Queen Elizabeth, we were already up and having breakfast on the open air restaurant deck of Kasenyi Safari Camp. I’m certainly not a fan of rising before the sun, but if you want to have the best game drive possible, that’s what you have to do. I also admit that the sunrise over the surrounding savanna was a very beautiful sight, not to mention the great shots we got from it. Sometimes it does pay off to rise against the sun.
Our guide, Godwin, arrived to pick us up at 7 am and we headed into the park. We had got some nice tips about lions residing just nearby our safari camp and decided to go check them out. First off, though, we headed into the opposite direction to see what this park would have in store for us.
We did drive for a quite significant amount of time before seeing some animals; kobs, buffaloes, warthogs and other more common residents of these plains. I have to admit that we were a bit surprised to see so few animals, but Queen Elizabeth National Park is not so packed with wildlife like for example the parks of Tanzania.
We were already back near Kasenyi when we encountered one of the few jeeps on the whole game drive, and the driver told us about some lions nearby. Without wasting any time we rushed to the scene and were rewarded with a small pack of lionesses with a couple of cubs, hanging out in the middle of the long grass.
It’s great to have the opportunity to observe these creatures at a close range, even though you don’t always get good photo opportunities. This pack got bored to us quite quickly and headed back into the shadows of the nearby bushes. One lion was also hiding in the nearby cactus tree – it was the first lion we’ve ever seen in a tree! These lions made our day and soon after we headed back to our safari camp for a lunch.
The Night Game Drive Experience
We had gone on a second game drive later in the afternoon and we should have gone back to our camp before dark ascended. But instead of going back, our guide Godwin drove us back to the spot where we had earlier seen the lions. When we reached the same area, we hit the jackpot! All of a sudden there was a little herd of lions and we were right in the middle of them.
We drove a little off-road, turned off the engine, and just stood there watching the lions walk slowly all around us. We could see few right at the front of our jeep’s headlights. We could see some of them walking right beside us. It was a totally different feeling to see the lions in the dark – much more exciting. After spending a while among the herd, we drove back to our camp with a feeling of happy fulfillment of the day. After all, we had just got our first ever night game drive experience and it was a total blast!
The Tree-Climbing Lions of Ishasha
This sector of the Queen Elizabeth National Park is famous for its tree climbing lions. There are only two spots in the world where you can see lions behaving like this on a daily basis, as it’s somewhat uncommon for lions to actually climb trees. The other population like this one in Ishasha can be found in Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania.
The very reason why do these lions climb to trees remains unknown, but some say that it’s their way to protect themselves from the hard-biting tsetse flies on the ground level. And some claim that they climb up tp trees to escape the scorching heat to the cooler shadows. When we were on our drive through Ishasha, we noticed how hard it actually was to try to spot these lions lazily lying on the branches of the fig trees. Most of the time it’ll take a very keen eye, a spare of binoculars, and a little bit of luck to see them. Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky this time.
Other Popular Activities in Queen Elizabeth National Park
Besides traditional game drives, there are many other popular activities available. You can go hiking and take nature walks in Maramagambo Forest, Mweya Peninsula, and Ishasha River. There is also a bat cave in Maramagambo if you fancy a little bit different adventure. Bird lovers will also love the fact that Queen Elizabeth is classified as an Important Birding Area (IBA) by Birding International, having a variety of over 600 bird species.
You can visit the Kyambura Gorge, which is the most popular spot for chimp tracking. But you can also go track them in Kalinzu Forest like we did. And don’t forget to go on a boating safari along the Kazinga Channel. There you’ll have nice chances to spot various wildlife on the shores, especially bathing elephants and lots of hippos. Our cruise on Kazinga Channel was full of surprises – highs and lows. We will write about it more specifically in a post of its own, so be sure to check it out later.
I would advise reserving enough days for Queen Elizabeth National Park into your safari itinerary so that you’ll have time to experience it to the fullest. Because the safari schedules are usually pretty hectic, try to reserve also some time for relaxation – for just to sit back to admire the nature.
Where to Stay?
Luxury lodges, tented camps, camping sites – there is a lot to choose from, depending on your budget and taste. In my opinion, the tented camps tend to give the best experience, as they will let you be closer to the nature in general.
We stayed at the Kasenyi Safari Camp, which has very comfortable, tented cottages spread around pretty vastly on the savanna area. Magnificent views open up from the porches to the salt lake down below in the valley, and you feel that you really are in the middle of the wildlife. This can sometimes mean literally in the middle of, as lions are regularly seen in the camp’s area. Sometimes even sleeping under one of the tented cottages! Hippos are passing through the camp in the middle of the night when you can even hear them. And sometimes hyenas can also be seen.
I recorded some audio during one night at the camp and this is how it sounded:
I also woke up briefly one night to the roars of the lions, which definitely were very close! It felt really exciting and made me feel like really being among the wildlife, as it should be when you are in Africa. But even though being surrounded by the wild animals, you’ll be perfectly safe. After dark, you will also have an armed guard to escort you to your tent.
*Disclaimer: We were hosted on a safari tour around Uganda by Mamaland Safaris and hosted during our stay in Queen Elizabeth National Park by Kasenyi Safari Camp, but all our opinions and views expressed here are totally our own.