Queen Elizabeth national park runs from the base of the Rwenzori mountains in the north down to the Ishasha border post on the Ishasha river in the south. The park protects the entire Ugandan shore of Lake Edward (alternatively known as Lake Rutangize), the northern and western shores of lake George, and an area of 1,978km2 between the two lakes, including the Kazinga Channel which connects them.
The bulk of the Queen Elizabeth national park is covered in open Savannah dotted with acacia and euphorbia trees. There are also large areas of swamp around lake George. The extensive Maramagambo Forest lies in the southeast of the park, and the forested Kyambura Gorge forms part of the eastern boundary, dividing the park from the Kyambura Game Reserve. At least ten crater lakes lie within the reserve, the most easily visited cluster lying immediately north of the main road to Mweya Lodge.
Queen Elizabeth national park’s main tourist circuit lies north of the Kazinga Channel and west of the Mbarara-Kasese road, and it is focused around Mweya lodge on the Mweya peninsula, which overlooks the point where the Kazinga Channel exits Lake Edward. The less requrlary visited Ishasha sector lies in the far south park, and it is based around the small Ishasha camp on the Democratic republic of Congo border.
A total of 95 mammal species has been recorded in Queen Elizabeth national park, the highest for any Ugandan national park. Ten primate species are present including chimpanzee, vervet, blue, red-tailed, L-Hoest’s monkey, black-and-white colobus and olive baboon. Around 20 predators are found in the park, including chimpanzee side-striped jackal, spotted hyena, lion, and leopard. The most common antelope species are Uganda kob, bushbuck, topi and Defassa waterbuck. The elusive semi-aquatic sitatunga antelope occurs in papyrus swamps around Lake George, while four duiker species are primarily confined to the Maramagambo Forest. Buffaloes are common in the park, and they are often reddish in colour, due to interbreeding with the redder race of buffalo that lives in the Congolese rain-forest. The elephants in the park also show strong affinities with the smaller and slightly hairier forest-dwelling race of elephant found in the Congo.
The combination of civil war and poaching greatly reduce the park’s mammal population between the early 1970s and late 1980s. The number of elephant dropped from 4,000 to 400 and the number of buffalo from 18,000 to 8,000. Since about 1988, populations have steadily increased.
A total of 547 confirmed and 15 unconfirmed bird species have been remarkable bird species have been recorded in Queen Elizabeth national park, one of the highest totals in the world, and a truly remarkable figure for a reserve that is relatively small by African standards. In addition to 54 raptors, the checklist includes virtually every water bird species which is resident in Uganda, and a variety of woodland and forest birds, the latter largely confined to the Maramagambo Forest. Birding anywhere in the park is good, but the Mweya stands out for the myriad water birds on the Kazinga Channel, and the riparian forest at Ishasha is a good place to see more unusual species.
Mweya lies roughly 15km east of the main Mbarara-Kasese road. Coming from Mbarara, the most direct route is to turn right off the main road at the signpost for Katunguru Gate, which lies near Katunguru trading centre, a few hundred metres after you cross the bridge over the Kazinga Channel. From Katunguru Gate, follow Channel Drive for roughly 20km until you reach a T-junction, where you need to turn left to get to Mweya.
From Kasese, the best route (and the route you’ll use if you ‘re dependent on public transport) is to turn left 35km south of Kasese, along the public road to Katwe. After about 15km, turn left into Kabatoro Main Gate, from where it’s about 6km to Mweya.
Mweya camp is easy to reach without your own transport, and there are several ways of going about it. The cheapest option is to ask in Kasese for a salon cars heading for Katwe. These generally leave every 2 or 3 hours. Ask to be dropped of at the entrance gate, there also motorbike that can drop you to Mweya or the gate, which is about 100m from the main road. Most people manage to hitch a lift along the 6km stretch of road between the gate and Mweya, but at the worst the rangers at the gate can radio through to the camp for a vehicle to fetch you. This will cost about $20, irrespective of thesize of your group.
Where to stay
Luxury Mweya Lodge
Institute of Ecology Hotel (Budget)
Uganda Wildlife Authority Center
Game drives supported by a good network of game viewing roads around mweya is well worth exploring if you have access to a vehicle. Channel drive, which runs roughly parallel to the northern shore of Kazinga channel, is particularly rewarding, with hippo, warthog, bushbuck, waterbuck, Elephants, forest hogs and birds are the more commonly species. Another good circuit is the crater lake loop north of the Katwa road: though it is more notable for scenary than wildlife, it’s a good place for close encounters with herds of Uganda kob.
Launch trips are the most popular activity out of Mweya is the launch trip down the Kazinga channel. These leave from Mweya twice a day and also private arrangements can leave at any time of the day and they last for around two hours. From the launch you should see elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, Uganda kob, and large numbers of hippo and crocodile. Water birds are plentiful along the channel, particularly pelicans, which flock on the sandbanks, black-headed gonolek, papyrus gonolek.
Chimpanzee tracking in the Kyambura gorge that go out every day walks through the 16km long, 100m deep Kyambura gorge, which lies about 3km east of the main Kasese- Mbarara road and forms the border between Queen Elizabeth national park and the Kyambura gorge wildlife reserve. The forested walls of the gorge are home not only to chimpanzees, but also to red-tailed monkey, black-and-white colobus, giant forest hog, bird species, while the Kyambura river supports a population of hippos. The walks last from three to five hours.