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Uganda: Queen Elizabeth National Park

We arrived at our lodge, Ihmamba Lakeside Safari Lodge, around lunchtime. After a little time for resting, we were off on our afternoon game drive in the park. Our driver collected us and we headed out to pick up our Ranger who would be accompanying us on the drive. The weather was not the best as it had been raining all morning, but luckily it had stopped but it was still overcast. We pulled over on the side of the road to collect our Ranger, who was called Harriet, close to where there was a very unstated sign to show we were crossing the equator.

Harriet was very pleasant, chatty and as it turned out knowledgeable about the wildlife in Queen Elizabeth NP. After a brief stop at the Ranger station to check in we set off into the park. It was quite gloomy, a combination of the heavy skies and the time in the late afternoon. We were not very hopeful of seeing much. Queen Elizabeth Park is primarily scrub grassland with patches of bushes and trees. Some years ago, they planted candelabra trees, a type of cactus, to provide a habitat for the animals but it has taken over the place and now they are trying to remove them. The candelabras are highly poisonous, so they don’t even provide a food source, the only animals who enjoy them are the lions and leopards who shelter in their branches.

A cattle egret resting on the back of a Cape Buffalo
Can't shake the cattle egret
The cattle egrets like water buck too

The good thing about having a Ranger with you is that they get alerts of sighting in the park, and it was not long before Harriet got a call, and we were off. We reached a place along the track where a couple of other trucks were parked – in the long grass, some distance away was a lioness and two cubs. Harriet explained that lions often produce litters of four or five cubs but usually only two survive as the lionesses cannot support more than that. Cubs are often preyed on by other animals such as hyenas or crushed by elephants! It was very cute to see them playing, but they were hard to see. After a few minutes we headed out again and this time we had better luck, with a solitary lioness in the grass, but this time she was much closer, so we got a great view and some wonderful photos. We were happy chappies. The game drive was drawing to a close, but as we were leaving the park, Harriet took us to an area where a leopard had been spotted. It was getting very gloomy by now but somehow her eagle eyes spotted the leopard in some dense bushes. It took us a while to spot the leopard despite plenty of staring – it certainly was not a clear view. After a minute or two, the leopard did get up but disappeared into the bushes not to be seen again today. It was now time to leave the park. On the way back we dropped off Harriet and continued to Ihamba.

A lioness watching over her two cubs
A lion cub in the tall grass

We woke to another overcast day at Ihamba, but we were still excited about what the day held for us. After breakfast, we set out for another game drive in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Harriet was to be our Ranger again. Once we reached the little hamlet of houses at the road intersection we search for Harriet – but she was not there. So, our driver got on his phone once again and called her. Apparently, there was some confusion at the other end of the line – we were not quite sure what was going on! A few minutes later Harriet turned up and got into the truck. It turned out that there was a second Harriet working in the park as a Ranger – so we had called the wrong Harriet. As we travelled to the park Harriet told us a story about what happened to her a couple of weeks prior. She was waiting at the crossroads, where the main road meets the entrance that the safari vehicles enter the park, for a taxi. There was a young lady waiting by the road on the other side from Harriet, when there was a scream and commotion. Harriet crossed the road and found that the young lady had been bitten by a puff adder. They called for help, and she was taken to the hospital but sadly died. She also told us that one of the local villagers had been killed by an elephant, the night before, just outside of his village. These are good reminders about being ultra-careful when visiting unfamiliar lands – it is dangerous even for the locals who live there.

Once we had checked in at the Ranger station, we were off. It was a gloomy morning, and it was still early so we were not quite sure what we’d see. There are always antelope to look at – but what we were really after was the big cats. We didn’t have to wait too long – we came across a large male lion lying nonchalantly in the middle of the road, seeming not concerned with the safari vehicles that were gathering around him. We took a few photos and left him be.

A male lion in the road
A herd of cape buffalo in Queen Elizabeth National Park
A beautiful male water buck

A little further down the road, we found a lion family – a young male, a female and two cubs. We patiently watched and were rewarded by the adult female coming towards us. Unfortunately, some of the other vehicles were not patient and tried to move to get a closer look and instead ended up driving the small lion pack away.

it was time to head on. The weather was not improving much so were went for a break at collection point for all the safari vehicles travelling through the park. There were few vendors selling products to the tourists and a little place where you can get a coffee and a bite to eat. The coffee grains were large and did not dissolve – so we had to learn how to tip the cup at just the right angle to keep the coffee grains away from your mouth. Once we got the hang of this it was an enjoyable cup of Ugandan coffee. Refreshed, we headed back out on the trail. Harriet took us back to area where we had seen the leopard the day before. It was not looking like we’d be successful when a convoy of white safari vans turned up – the front one of which had a man on the roof with a directional antenna in his hand. Apparently, you can pay for a premium tour and be escorted by a van with a man and his antenna to track the big cats – seems like cheating to me! Anyway, we didn’t have to pay the fee for the guide but followed them anyway. Our reward was a very close up experience with the female leopard we had seen the day before. It was great to see her, but it was very disconcerting when a large number of safari vehicles turned up and as is often the case got too close. It was an ugly situation we grabbed a few shots and left the leopard in peace. It was now time to drop Harriet off to meet up with her toddler and return to Ihamba for lunch.

A beautiful female leopard at Queen Elizabeth National Park

KAZRINGA CHANNEL RIVER SAFARI

The plan for the afternoon was a safari on the Kazringa channel. This is a narrow channel that connects the two major lakes in the area: Lake George and Lake Edward. It is a wonderful place to spot wildlife, especially birds and mammals. We left the hotel and set off for the small dock located in the park along a narrow bumpy lane. As we drove along the lane, we saw all too familiar sight of the effects of a wildfire. It is never nice to see but it is also how nature regenerates itself.

At the dock, we climbed aboard our boat and headed out into the channel.

The boat crossed to the opposite bank, where the steep sides were peppered with holes that were the nests for hundreds of pied kingfishers, who were busily going about their daily chores. From here the boat moved slowly down the river. I stayed in my seat whilst Karen went upstairs for a different view. For the next hour we slowly chugged down the river, with the guides onboard showing us the amazing range of birds and animals that live on the banks of this channel. The stand-out mammal is undoubtedly the hippo. As we as being in the water, there were a number lying and standing on the banks, so we got our best view of these lumbering beasts so far. As we approached the entrance to Lake Edward, we hit a fishing village where dozens of fishermen were going about their business. Literally, just the other side of the village was a large colony of birds, hundreds of them all tightly packed together. There were white pelicans, herons, cormorants, geese, ducks and the large and scary looking malibu storks. It was a very impressive sight indeed. At this point the boat turned around and headed to the opposite bank to make the journey back to the dock. We stopped briefly to check out a group of hippos sunbathing (the sun had come out by now) on the muddy beach, before picking up speed to carry us home.


We had had yet another amazing day in Uganda and it was sad to have to go back to Ihamba. Our evening dinner was not as exciting as the previous night, with the marauding elephants, so we quietly slipped off to bed to prepare for another long day of travel.

A hippo out on the bank of Kazringa channel
A yellow-billed stork
African fish eagles roosting in the tree
African fish eagle in flight
A darter on the banks of the Karinga Channel drying out
A crocodile on the banks of the Kazringa Channel
Hippo in the water
Heron fishing in the waters of the Kazringa Channel
Pelicans in the bird colony
Hippos and heron
African fish eagle

In summary …

Boasting one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any reserve in the world, Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to almost a hundred animal species as well as more than 600 types of birds.

The park is 1,978 km2 in size, and is famous for its primate species, it’s unusual tree-climbing lions, and the large concentration of hippos.

About Queen Elizabeth National Park

Boasting one of the highest biodiversity ratings of any reserve in the world, Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to almost a hundred animal species as well as more than 600 types of birds.

The park is 1,978 km2 in size, and is famous for its primate species, it’s unusual tree-climbing lions, and the large concentration of hippos.

Planning your visit to Queen Elizabeth National Park

Driving directly from Kampala will take at least eight hours along a tarmac road. There are two routes from Kampala, via Mbarara to the east of the park (covering a distance of 250 miles), or Fort Portal to the north (slightly longer at 260 miles). Most visitors choose to include stops at other parks along the way rather than driving direct from Kampala to Queens.

Address:Kasese, Uganda
Website:https://www.queenelizabethnationalpark.com/
Telephone:T: +256778968647
  

Best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park National Park

Like most locations in Africa, Queen Elizabeth National Park has two wet rainy seasons and two dry seasons. When helping you organize your safari travel in Uganda, the consultant at AfricanMecca Safaris will remind you that climate change has resulted in unpredictable weather patterns all over Africa. Chances are that you may encounter conditions unusual for the season. In any case, throughout the entire year you can expect consistently warm daytime temperatures ranging from 28 C (82 F) to 30 C (86 F), while nighttime temperatures may hover between 16 C (60 F) and 17 C (62 F).

Different Monthly Seasons At Queen Elizabeth – Dry, Hot, Wet Rainy & Cool

  1. Dry Months, Best Time & Peak Season For Queen Elizabeth: June, July, and August. Note September is peak season but is also part of the wet rainy season.
  2. Dry & Wet Rainy Months, Very Good Time & High Season For Queen Elizabeth: End of December, January, and early parts of February.
  3. Wet Rainy Months, Good Time & Mid-Peak Season For Queen Elizabeth: March and September are both rainy periods though September is also a peak period with high number of visitors into Queen Elizabeth. These months are also the start of the lush green season.
  4. Wet Rainy Season, Least Best Time & Low Season For Queen Elizabeth: April, May, October, and November.
  5. Hot & Cool Months: There is only 1-2 Celsius degrees variation in temperature in between months at Queen Elizabeth. January, February and September are the hottest months with highs of 30ºC (86 F) during the day and lows of 17 C (62 F) at night while June and July are the coolest months with highs of 28 C (82 F) during the day and lows of 16 C (60 F) at night. All other months have a range from 28 C (82 F) to 30 C (86 F) during the daytime while nighttime temperatures average from 16 C (60 F) and 17 C (62 F).
  6. Best Time For Birdwatching Safaris In Queen Elizabeth: The best time for birding safaris in Queen Elizabeth Park is from the end of May to September. The migratory birds arrive in November and leave by April. The peak rainy months of April and November bring abundance of food that leads to a lot of avian activity though trails can be slippery, and also roads and airstrips can be challenging to navigate.

Ihamba Lakeside Safari Lodge

There are many lodges and places to stay around Queen Elizabeth National Park. We were booked into the Ihamba Safari Lakeside Lodge. The lodge offers en-suite chalets with a large comfortable bedroom. The lodge chalets have a balcony that looks out across a landscaped area towards Lake Edward in the distance (it is quite a way to be fair)

The drinks here are very reasonable. Whilst we are vegan usually we decided that in Africa it would be almost impossible to stick to a strict vegan diet for our 6-month tour. Ihamba had a vegetarian option at meal times – which was very good (we had a lot of Indian-style dishes!)

The chalets at Ihamba Safari Lakeside Lodge near Queen Elizabeth National Park
The bedroom area in our chalet at Ihamba

The lodge is small and intimate so you will not feel overcrowded here. The lodge is one open-plan space with a dining area (which extends outside) and a general lounge area.

There is also a small pool to relax by.

You can get wi-fi (which as you might expect is not great – no streaming Netflix here!) in the Lodge building but not in the chalets.

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