Out and About: Queen Elizabeth National Park.

Formerly known as the Kazinga National Park, the Queen Elizabeth National Park is one of Uganda’s oldest national parks. It spans over 1,900 square kilometres of savanna grassland, riparian wetland and bush that is home to a wide variety of animals. From mammals to birdlife, the diverse array of flora and fauna will please any nature lover who visits the park.

It is located in Western Uganda, about 400Km outside Kampala, on a winding scenic route towards the peak of the Western Rift Valley spotted with various crater lakes and tea plantations.

Fun Fact: The Albertine Rift Valley (as the Rift Valley branch in Uganda is called), is actually longer than the Kenyan Rift Valley.

The park has several key attractions. There are tree climbing lions found in the Ishasa sector (only two kinds of lions are known to do this in the entire world), the beautiful Kazinga Channel that I have posted about here , Lake Katwe, one of the region’s oldest salt mines, the beautiful but foul smelling (due to sulphur deposits) Lake Nyamunuka, as well as other crater lakes and volcanic features present in the area. Another plus is its location at the back of the majestic Ruwenzori range and the presence of chimpanzees too.

The best time to visit the park is well, any time, as the park is open throughout the year. However, the roads may be impassable during the rainy season and this is Uganda, when it rains it pours in the wet seasons of April/May and September/ October. The dry seasons in Jan/Feb and June/August are said to be better to watch the wildlife though as the animals are more visible as they search for water.

You know you are nearing the park when you begin to spot the wildlife right off the highway.

Some of the wildlife you will spot in the park are buffaloes, Ugandan Kob, leopards, waterbucks, lion, elephants, Nile Monitor lizards, Nile crocodiles, warthogs, colobus monkeys, baboon giant forest hogs, serval cats. There are however no cheetahs, rhinos, zebras or giraffes.

These antelopes were a bit camera shy.

QENP, as the park is more commonly known, is a favorite for bird watchers too. There are over 600 bird species in this park that is a world registered Important Birding Area (IBA) and the bird variety found here is the biggest of any East African National Park! Amazing, right? If you visit during the wet season, you can be lucky to spot some migratory birds too.

The location of the park and adjacency of the area to the deep Congo forest, its diverse flora, water features among other factors attract various bird species. Some of the birds you are lucky to spot here include the African green broadbill, African Skimmer, pink backed pelican, flamingos (on the crater lakes), ring necked pigeon, red chested warbler, various sunbirds, lapwings, grey herons, marsh harriers, African jacana, cisticolas, crakes, African palm nut vulture, African Kestrel, various sandpiper, oxpecker, woodpecker, bee eater and kingfisher species, the list goes on and on. The bird life is amazing and diverse from one part of the park to another. Just carry your binoculars though spotting them is not that difficult.

We did not get to see the leopards, but spotted a lot of birds, elephants, hippos, buffaloes, antelopes and a couple of lions.

We stayed at Buffalo Springs Lodge within the park, they have a pavilion that looks out onto this watering hole favoured by warthogs, baboons, buffaloes and elephants.
The park has over 1000 buffalos, you will spot them in huge herds or grazing alone.
With an elephant population estimated to be about 3000, these gentle giants may be the biggest but not easiest animals to spot as they graze or head into the water.
The famous cactus climbing lions.
See how well hidden this fellow is?
We spotted these elephants while on the path in the lodge. Exciting!
The total hippo population in the park is said to be the largest in the East African region, at around 5000 hippos found in the various water bodies in the park. The Kazinga Channel is the main water body in the park and is host to many schools of hippos such as these ones in the picture.

There are people living within the park and around it. It is not uncommon to hear of attacks by crocodiles when someone is fetching water, bumping into hippos and even find young boys shooing away elephants coming to graze too close to their compounds. But the existence is generally peaceful.

QENP is a must visit when one is in Uganda, the diversity of both flora and fauna, the crater lakes, the Kazinga Channel and other geographical features will excite any curious visitor. There are various hotel within and around the park that favour different budgets, and of course do not forget your sunscreen, hat, binoculars, and spirit of adventure when you set out to experience the “Medley of Wonders” that is the Kazinga National Park.

Mabamba Bay Wetland.

Uganda is a beautiful bird watcher’s paradise. According to the birduganda website, there are over 1,061 recorded bird species in the country, which is an amazing number.

Cormorants, egrets and kingfishers all relaxing on this branch.

Mabamba Bay and wetland is one of the best places to enjoy viewing over 200 species of Uganda’s birdlife. It is a vast swamp located on the edge of Lake Victoria, just north (about 40 km) of Entebbe. Because of the presence of key species such as the Shoebill Stork, papyrus warbler and the Sitatunga (which is an aquatic antelope) among many others, the swamp is a designated Ramsar Wetland Site of international importance to ensure the conservation, safeguarding and sustainable use of the wetland and the flora and fauna found there.

“Six little ducks went swimming one day…”

Mabamba Bay derives its name from the heavy presence of lungfish in the wetland. “Mabamba” is Luganda for lungfish.

It is also the best place to spot the very shy Shoebill Stork. The papyrus and long spear grass are the perfect hideaway for this bird that is so hard to spot, as well as the abundant lungfish which it loves to feed on. Known as “BBulwe” locally, this fascinating bird is not the most beautiful creature in the world but it has its attractions. It has a huge bill (see image below) hence its name. It can grow to up to five feet tall, breed once every five years and it can stand and stare for very very long, which comes in handy when aiming for their prey. How’s that for patience?

The Shoe bill Stork sure does give off ‘Jurassic park’ bird vibes right?

The Mabamba wetland is also home to other species. We spotted yellow billed ducks, purple herons, long tailed lapwings, one palm nut vulture, blue crested bee eaters, lots of egrets and cormorants, pied kingfisher and malachite kingfishers, African marsh harriers, common wood sandpiper, swamp fly catcher, weaver birds, winding cisticola, swallows and African jacana. We were also lucky to spot an otter or two and hear a monitor lizard moving around.

Did you know the African Jacana bird is also called ” The Jesus bird” because it can walk on water?

Just an egret minding its own business.

Some of the flora found there is the long spear grass, papyrus, water cabbage, ferns, and water lilies.

A perfect purple lily in its natural setting. The scent is amazing; gentle, fresh and not overpowering.

Mabamba Bay is accessible from both Kampala (by road) and Entebbe by boat. We drove from Kampala and the road was not so bad, though it had rained earlier that morning. You can access the bay without a 4X4 vehicle, the road is not tarmacked all the way but is navigable. Use your Google maps as there aren’t many signposts along the way so you might miss it if you’re driving yourself.

Our outing was a perfect coincidence as my daughter is currently learning about different habitats and life systems in her science class, so it was so much more informative for her to see and experience the wetland up close.

Egret in flight.

What do you need to get there? If on a day trip, carry sandwiches or a cold lunch, snacks, lots of water and fruit. The boat ride is about two hours long and you can carry some snacks on board. You can also decide to book a night in a nearby hotel and set off to the bay in the early morning which is the best time to sight the birds as they hunt/ feed.

A lone yellow billed duck.

Carry a large brimmed hat, as the sun can get glaring, put on sunscreen and sunglasses and please do not forget your binoculars. The guides are knowledgeable and take their time to point out the flora and fauna, let you take pictures at your pace, and also answered the kids. I always like taking note of that.

Can you spot the pied kingfisher?

They had sanitisers and wore masks, so Covid 19 safety protocols are maintained. However, the sanitation situation (the toilets) are pathetic. Really Really bad, that is something that should be worked on.

Can you spot the palm nut vulture behind the egret?

I didn’t take many photos as I was too busying enjoying spotting and watching the birds. It was amazing sitting silently watching the birds up close in all their colourful wonder. This is definitely in the top 10 of the things to do in Uganda.

Can you spot the Jacana?

I really enjoyed my day there, and the kids did too. It is always amazing to watch nature in its element; the beauty, the variety and how species adapt to their habitat.

Weekend Recap: Visit to Entebbe Botanical Gardens.

The Entebbe Botanical Gardens are a 40 hectare big and fun way to experience the jungle without having to go to the forest.

It is a vast, beautiful ground full of tall trees, vast birdlife, plants species that are both indigenous and exotic and monkeys too!

Pros: It is beautiful, quiet, vast; so many places one can hide away. You can have a picnic, photoshoot and even wedding receptions. It is right on the shores of Lake Nam Lolwe (aka Lake Victoria), abundant plants and shrubs of medicinal value and nice springs flowing through some sections. It is safe; folks just minding their own business. There is lots of space for kids to run around and kick a ball or play hide and seek, you can also walk your dogs there. You can choose to drive around or walk around.

Cons: Not well kept. There were absolutely no dustbins-so there was littering in some sections. No signage on the paths. No usable ablution blocks.

This spring flows from underground to the lake. Peaceful and calming.

Fun fact: Some backdrop scenes from the 1955 Tarzan movie “Tarzan’s Hidden Jungle” were shot in these gardens! Yep!Look it up.

Look at the size of this African Grape tree!

It was not very busy when we visited, maybe as we are still coming out of lockdown here. Entrance charges came to 10,000UGX for two adults, two kids (less than 3 dollars)! Which is pretty affordable.

You can walk or drive slowly around the place. There are plenty of choice spots you can pick to park, stretch your picnic blanket and enjoy your lunch before or after exploring the place a bit. I do not know if they allow cyclists as there was no signage but it would be worth looking into.

There are also some small bandas with benches one can sit on but they are not clean or well maintained.

A bush candle tree, I think.
The weather was also perfect for a walk in the gardens.
There was a private photoshoot down this path so we didn’t go down there. It would make a perfect scene for a movie set in the jungle.
It would be nice to have some signage on the paths.
There were some dogs chasing a squirrel. Kids found this so exciting. The monkeys were quite shy though, I didn’t manage to get some clear photos.
So serene.

We were not able to explore the whole place well, so will definitely be back.

The gardens are a must visit in Entebbe, and I really hope they make more effort in maintaining the beauty and cleanliness of the place.