With all eyes craving to see the endangered mountain gorillas in Bwindi impenetrable forest in the southwest corner of Uganda, it is sometimes easy to forget that a five hour drive to the opposite side offers you a more diversified wildlife tour experience. Queen Elizabeth National Park is located within sight of the mist covered and snow capped Rwenzori mountain ranges and is arguably Uganda’s most popular and visited wildlife conservation area. On all corners, Queen Elizabeth National Park is a wildlife wonderland covered by attractions that will leave you with nothing else but the feeling of having had the best safari ever. The park is a paradise for several wildlife species because of the lush green vegetation and Savannah plains that are watered by rivers and lakes like Edward and George. Apart from the game drives, the Maramagambo forest and Kyambura gorge add value and variety to an already stunning national park by allowing visitors track and see several primate and bird species. The numerous water bodies, gorges, forests and flat terrain aside, what makes Queen Elizabeth National Park special is its strategic location within the equator and East African Rift Valley. This diverse ecosystem provides fertile ground, food and ideal home to numerous bird and mammal species – I mean, there are tree climbing lions, Leopards, Zebras Elephants, Hippopotamus, Buffaloes, Antelopes, crocodiles, chimpanzees and Flamingos that are unique to the area among many more. Moreover, the park is also surrounded by other forest and wildlife reserves such as the Kalinzu forest reserve and the Kigezi wildlife reserve. This ensures that visitors can easily combine several activities like game drives, nature walks, birdwatching and even boat cruises within the area – crowning it with perhaps a silverback gorilla tour to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest which is not so far away.
After a tedious but exciting day of birding, boat cruises, nature walks and game drives, a drive back to Ishasha gives you choices of many accommodation facilities of all categories – luxury, midrange and budget. These lodges provide high quality and affordable services ranging from beds, camping and of course good food. Some of them include Ishasha wilderness camp, Marafiki safari lodge, Ihamba lakeside safari lodge, bush lodge and Mweya safari lodge.
So what is the best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park and what do you need to pack?
The best time to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park
Lying at an altitude range of 480m to 1390m, Queen Elizabeth National Park is located along the Equator giving it a warm high temperature of between 18Â°C to 28Â°C which tends to stay stable for most of the year. During the day, temperatures are as high as 28Â°C/82Â°F dropping to about 15Â°C/59Â°F at night. The parks location around the equator also brings with it two rainy and dry seasons. These two seasons lead to what is known as the High and Low seasons within the Uganda tourism sector.
Wildlife viewing is done throughout the year at Queen Elizabeth National Park. If you are planning on a 3 Days Queen Elizabeth Safari, then the best time for visiting is arguably during the dry season in the months of January, February, June, July, August and September – the High season. The worst weather conditions are in the rainy months of March to May and October to November – the Low season. The heavy rains in the Low season make access to the park a challenge as the roads get muddy and more slippery. Let’s look at the High and Low seasons in more detail to see why we think the dry/high season is best for a safari.
This presents the best weather conditions for an African Safaris. It is made up of warm temperatures typical of the dry season and runs through the months of January to February, June to September and December. These months of the year bring many primate lovers to the park because it is the best time for Chimpanzee trekking and spotting baboons a Kyambura Gorge. The park has shorter and thinner vegetation and the roads are passable during this time compared because there is less mud. It becomes much easier to watch grazing animals even from far off distances. Game drives become wonderful as animals are drawn to the scarce water bodies.
However this season also comes with its challenges. The Park has more visitors and can appear crowded on some days. The lodges are more expensive and fully booked during this time of the year. This season of the year is also characterized by strong and hazy winds that make wildlife viewing hard on some days. It’s recommended that visitors to the park carry sunglasses while on game drives. Visitors are also advised to come with heavy clothing as it tends to be cold especially in the morning hours.
N.B: Despite being a dry season, rain is expected in the park at any time of the year.
The low season coincides with the rainy months (March to May and October to September) of the year. Drizzles are common during the day while thunderstorms appear in the afternoon hours. Despite beautiful scenery of green vegetation typical of African Tropics, the season is mainly known for its slippery and muddy conditions that make it hard to drive through the park roads. Chimpanzee tracking in Budongo forest is quite challenging during the low season.
However the season has its advantages and game drives still go on during this time as animals tend to spread all around the park and bird watching becomes more exciting due to the availability of migratory birds from North Africa and Europe. The park has a fewer number of visitors allowing a more intimate moment with the animals and time to explore the park through quiet nature walks. Visitors can expect to get discounts from many of the lodges around.
Packing list for Queen Elizabeth National Park
Are you excited about your upcoming Uganda safari? Perhaps you have already selected your travel company, booked accommodation, informed your family about your Queen Elizabeth Park tour but still asking yourself the question – ‘What should I include in my packing list?’ It is essential to have clear answers to this question and be updated on the things you may need as you prepare for a tour of Queen Elizabeth National Park in Uganda. Here are some of the essentials to carry along:-
Travel Documents and cash
Before thinking of anything else to carry along, these are the essentials to have with you throughout your Queen Elizabeth safari and time in Uganda. Make sure you have a stamped visa and a passport that is valid for six months and ready for inspection by concerned authorities to avoid any embracing scenes and inconveniences. You might also need to come with emergency contact documents of your next of kin, travel insurance, travel directories, detailed contacts of your tour operators and medical documents showing vaccination records. It’s recommended that you make at least three copies of your travel documents – one in your hand baggage, check in luggage and digital copies in your phone.
It’s also advisable to carry hard cash with you especially when in remote areas where at one point or another, you will have to transact, pay fees or give tip. The US dollars are preferred but it’s also wise to change to the local Uganda shillings. Acquire a money belt that you can fasten around the waist.
Clothes and outfit
Unlike in urban town tours, a rural Uganda safari tour is all different. You don’t have to break the bank to get the latest trend in town. All you need to do is to get back to your own wardrobe at home and select from the collection you already have if you wish to cut on cost and save time. A Queen Elizabeth safari may involve a whole day of game drives, boat cruises, nature walks and even chimpanzee tracking which could make you get all sweaty, dirty and with stained cloths. It is important to consult with your tour operator about the expected weather during the time you are planning your safari. This will give you a clear idea of what to carry and leave out. None the less, comfortable, loose fitting army colored green and brownish clothes are recommended.
Irrespective of the particular season and weather, the mornings and evenings are always cold and so adding up layers can keep you warm enough – You simply remove them off as the hot afternoon sun looms. Never forget to carry with you a waterproof rain jacket or light fleece to keep you warm and dry as rains are expected at anytime of the year in Queen Elizabeth National Park. Neutral and dull colored light weight long sleeve and collared shirts especially those induced with insect repellents are highly recommended. Come with knee zipped trousers, brimmed or floppy hats along with sunglasses to help protect you from the intense heat from the sun and also guard against mosquitoes and bugs. Ladies can bring along sports bras which are stylist enough for a ride through the Queen Elizabeth Park Savannah.
Note: A simple advice especially to ladies, endeavor to keep descent and respectful. Many local/rural Ugandan customs restrict women from wearing clothes that reveal thighs and shoulders. An even more decent dress code is important if you plan on visiting public places such as worship places and markets with locals. Ugandans in the capital Kampala and some larger districts are carefree and don’t care what you put on.
Unlike over the ankle, bulky hiking boot used for gorilla trekking, Queen Elizabeth National Park has relatively low lying plains and so light, breathable waterproof runners and sneakers are good enough to keep you comfortable through day walks around the park. They are cheaper and take a smaller space in your pack. Carry along quick to dry synthetic material and breathable stockings. You can also include sandals and dressing shoes.
Despite occasional power outages in some park lodges, carry along your smart phones, laptops, headphones, alarm clocks, a camera, iPad, binoculars, Flashlights, converters and portable charging cells. A calculator may prove helpful for currency calculations.
A zoom lens camera is essential for a safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park. You don’t want to let wonderful animal sights go without having a lasting memory of them. Carry extra battery supplies and SD cards to ensure constant photographic shots and of course a lens cleaning cloth.
Android tablets and iPads will keep you entertained through music, social media updates and is are good back up for pictures. They may also help you keep in touch with family and friends back at home. Remember to come with a good zooming lens Binoculars distant wildlife viewing and bird watching.
Besides your phone, it’s a reassurance to have a local simcard with you just in case of emergencies such as sickness and attacks from wild animals
Rechargeable Flash lights is a must carry as you prepare your Queen Elizabeth packing list. Queen Elizabeth national park and many of the lodges/hotels surrounding it are located in a rural area. Power may not be as constant as it is in the urban centers. Most lodges usually supplement hydro power by the use of solar and generators that are turned off late at midnight leaving you in a corridor of blackness. Therefore to have a constant supply of light in tents and lodges one needs a strong torch and lantern with solar rechargeable batteries.
These gadgets are prone to destruction by dust and rain, so carry along zip lock water proof bags. Along with zip lock bags, bring along a collapsible waterproof day pack. This is much lighter and allows you have a more comfortable park walk while hired porters can help with the heavier backpacks. Backpacks help in carrying electronics like camera, Flashlights, pocket money, phones, tablets and other essentials like hand cleaners, toilet papers, bottled water and any other item you would like to carry.
Mosquito and tsetse flies are not only known for their disease causing ability but are also irritating and have nasty stings. Sprays applied both on skin, clothes and in rest rooms regularly help keep away these blood hungry insects. Insecticides treated nets are also recommended to supplement on these repellents guaranteeing you safety from Malaria and other insect transmitted diseases.
Laundry and personal hygiene
It shouldn’t be a surprise when you don’t find running water and a toilet in some budget lodge rooms. You might find the shower and sink are inside the lodge rooms while the toilets are out or the other way round. This makes having a hand sanitizer gel and wipes essential. A bar of soap is cheaper compared to shower gels from the local groceries and will help you clean stains and dirt from your clothes. Endeavor to always do the laundry by yourself when it comes to underwear and more private clothes. It is considered a taboo by some locals to wash another person`s undergarments or stockings. Do not forget to carry with you some rolls of toilet paper and have them everywhere you go. Include a toothbrush, toothpaste, Deodorants, lip balm, hand lotion, shampoo, hairbrush, and other feminine hygiene supplies.
Consulting your medical personnel to have medical checkups and vaccinations is a first step when preparing for your Queen Elizabeth Safari. This establishes your readiness and fitness to participate fully in all activities. You will also know if it is right to go for the trip and any prescriptions can be made right in time. While on your safari, you may fall victim to illness such as headaches, diarrhea, sore throat, ingestion, heartburn, malaria and any other bacterial infections. Precautionary medicines such as Malaria prophylaxis, Antidiarrheals, Coartem, bug sprays, sunscreen, pain-killers, moisturizers, antiseptic lotion, eye drops, cold and flu medications, motion sickness pills are essentials to include in your packing list. For those on prescription glasses, it`s always recommended to carry one or two more in case of damages.
First Aid kit
This is important for emergency response to minor and major injuries you or friends may get while on your safari to Queen Elizabeth National Park. A basic kit should at least have rubbing alcohol, scissors, bandages, tweezers and scissors. It’s also important you include medications such as immodium for diarrhea, throat lozenges, aspirin, and cold medicine. Include sunscreen and antihistamine for reactions to insect bites.
Carry interesting books
While busy schedules and trips will keep you busy with limited time to complete any book, there will always come that hour free of any activity. These free hours can get boring but to keep continuous moments of enjoyment, carrying an interesting novel, journals, magazines and biography books can help keep you in great mood.
Give a snappy comeback to Local community
It’s a hearty feeling, exciting and amazing to suddenly have you tour van surrounded by local children from the different stoppages before and after your Queen Elizabeth tour. These pale looking rural children will be waving out their hands and crying out to for help for their various needs. They may expect books, pens, clothes, candy, shoes and so on. So as you pack along, remember to reserve some gifts or handouts like any real foreign visitor or ‘Muzungu’ (Term used in reference to white visitors).
N.B: Please note that these are mere suggestions of what we think should make your Queen Elizabeth tour as comfortable as possible. You don’t have to come with all of these items. Try to identify what is really necessary and important from the list depending on your own needs. Many of these Items can be got from Uganda and even at the park itself.