Queen Elizabeth National Park is the largest national park in Uganda and is home to several hundred species of birds and animals. Although several companies offer complete packages, none fit our budget or our dates – we decided to be adventurous and planned the whole trip ourselves, thanks to the wonderful advice from the folks at Lonely Planet.
It was pouring rain when we woke up on Saturday morning – we got to the bus station almost 30 minutes early and found decent seats. The blogs, we had read back home, had mentioned that African buses tend to run late, sometimes upto an hour late in order to fill all the seats in the bus. Nothing could have prepared for what came next – maybe it was the rain or the start of the long weekend - the bus took almost 2 ½ hours to fill and we left the bus station exactly 3 hours after we boarded the bus! We had plenty of leg room but were cramped at the shoulders as there were no armrests. The bus stopped at every village and town on the route boarding passengers, chicken and some street vendors. We passed rolling hills with lush green tea plantations and miles of banana and sugarcane crops before reaching the famous Rwenzori mountains that form the Ugandan-Congo border. From there we headed south to Kasese, the closest town to the park, 7 hours after we left from Kampala.
Fortunately, our driver/ guide, Vincent was waiting for us at Kasese and drove us straight to the park to the Mweya peninsula where we were staying. We were lucky enough to come across a herd of African elephants as they were finishing their dinner before we checked into our hostel. After a lovely three course dinner at the Mweya Safari Lodge, we went to bed that night, exhausted but content.
The next morning we were up early for the game drive – it was a cool, calm morning and we got to hang out with a family of lions lounging after a big meal (supposedly wild buffalo). We saw plenty of Ugandan Kob (part of the antelope family), waterbucks, elephants and a small family of hippos before we returned back to the hostel for breakfast. Ugandan kob are graceful animals with exquisite eyes - its is featured on the coat of arms with the gray crested crane.
After lunch, we headed to the Kazinga channel for the boat ride. The Kazinga channel is a 41 Km natural waterway that connects Lakes George and Albert in South-Western Uganda and is home to hundreds of native bird species. While it was one of the hottest days of the month, we did get to see some amazing birds- kingfishers, sandpipers, egrets, herons, eagles and even a few flamingoes. The ‘biggest’ surprise was the hippopotami – apparently they spend the entire day in water and graze at nights. They seemed pretty shy and would duck completely into the water as the boat crossed past them but our guide warned us that they could easily topple a big boat when aggravated. When we got off the boat, we visited the Mweya Visitors Center which has an interesting museum – several displays on the geology of the area, bird species, skeletal remains and stuffed animals. One box I found quite curious was neatly organized and labeled – animal dung from the various animals in the park!
We had an excellent time at QENP and were happy to have seen 3 of the ‘big 5’ (in safari terms, lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and wild buffalo). The return trip was only slightly better since our seats were in the last row !