Queen Elizabeth National Park
Queen Elizabeth National Park, the second largest and most biodiverse park in Uganda, is the country’s most popular safari destination. Located in western Uganda close to the Rwenzori Mountains, the park encompasses a huge array of different landscapes, including wetlands, swamps and crater lakes, tropical forests, woodland and open savannah, which support a diverse range of wildlife, from 95 mammal species (including 20 carnivores and 10 primates) to more than 600 species of birds. The list of highlights includes easily spotted elephant and buffalo, Ugandan kob, sitatunga, giant forest hog and topi – while at the top of the list are the tree-climbing lions found in the south of the park. In addition to game drives on the open savannah, you can also do boat cruises to see hippos and crocodiles and hike through rainforest to find chimpanzees.
Lions are only found climbing trees in two places in Africa, so it’s a rare and remarkable sight to see them lying in the branches of giant fig and acacia trees in the remote Ishasha Sector at the southern end of the park.
Boat safaris on the 34-kilometre-long Kazinga Channel, which links Lake Edward and Lake George, are a highlight of any visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park. As you cruise past beautiful scenery, your sightings of hundreds of hippos and crocodiles are guaranteed, while there are plenty of chances to spot elephant, buffalo, lion and leopard as well as birds such as kingfishers and fish eagles.
In the far east of the reserve, the Kyambura Gorge, which is also known as the Valley of the Apes, has steep slopes covered in rainforest which is home to black and white Colobus monkeys, olive baboons, red tailed monkeys, giant forest hogs and a host of forest bird species, but the star attraction here are the habituated chimpanzees, which you can track down on a guided hike.
With more than 600 species of birds, Queen Elizabeth is recognised as one of East Africa’s best birding destinations, and for sheer numbers it wins out much larger safari parks in other countries. Standouts include more than 50 different raptors, a huge variety of water birds and diverse forest species, while the elusive, sought-after shoebill stork can be searched for in the swamps of the Ishasha Sector.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is split into two regions: the north, which has a wide range of lodges and camps, and the southern section (which includes the Ishasha Sector), where there is only a handful of lodging options.
If seeing the famous tree-climbing lions is high up on your wish list, then it’s important to note that they’re confined to one area of the park: the remote Ishasha Sector, in the south of the park. Visitors who come to the park expecting to see lions climbing trees wherever they are will be disappointed. While game drives are usually done in the early morning or late afternoon for the best chances of seeing animals, the lions are usually up in the trees during the heat of the day.
The best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park is during the dry months of June to September and January to February, when wildlife spotting is easiest. November to April is the best time to see migratory birds, although these are some of the wettest months, and the rains can mean that some roads become impassable.
Be sure to book in advance for chimp trekking with Uganda Wildlife Authority. If you’re travelling during the peak months of June to September, then book ahead for the boat cruise with UWA. Other activities can be booked through the UWA or at the Katunguru Park Headquarters.
Take note that it’s not a guarantee that you will see chimps in the Kyambura Gorge, as there’s only one group to track down. For a more reliable chimp trekking option, you can head to the nearby Kalinzu Forest, where you have a better chance of encountering our closest ape cousins.