Queen Elizabeth NP, Kasese&Rwenzori for independent and low cost travellers.

We went to Uganda in April 2015, during a complete trip
(8 months), through Southern and Eastern Africa.

If you are planning a budget trip in Uganda, here you can find useful information to visit Queen Elizabeth National Park in a independent and low cost traveller. And also something about Kasese and the Rwenzori NP.
 

Queen Elizabeth NP is the most popular destination in Uganda to see wildlife, big game.

TIP: there are different areas and gates inside the national park but no fences and also villages and public roads WITHOUT GATES!

GOOD NEWS: it´s possible to see wildlife for free, without paying the NP fees! Just luck!

The Rwenzori are very high mountains. Only for very experienced climbers. And expensive. But also nice walks just around Kasese. Great views and for free!


   Queen Elizabeth NP   

The park has different protected areas, spread out around a huge area, with different gates.
It´s a big, low and hot area with savannah and small lakes, between Lake Edward (west) and Lake George (east), just southwest of Uganda, just at the DR Congo border, with the Rwenzori Mountains north and the Rift Valley south.
The weather is usually dry. some thunderstorms during rainy season.

Price for Queen Elizabeth NP (gate):  
40 $/pp/day + car fee (20.000-30.000 Sh Uganda car-4WD, 50-150 $ if foreign car-4WD).
It´s impossible to visit all the areas in one day, too many and distant (Ishasha gate and Katunguru-Katwe gates are around 80-100 km away!).

Map of Queen Elizabeth National Park?
This is the problem, finding a good, complete map with all the areas and gates and public places. That´s why many people get confused. In some lodges around Kasese and Fort Portal, you will see a very good map, done by BTC (Belgium). 
At the end of our post, you can find a map we did with some details.

But WITHOUT FEES, there are also public roads, like the Mbara-Kasese main road crossing part of Queen Elizabeth or the Ishasha-Bwindi road heading south... and other smaller roads, heading to a few villages around (fishermen villages and salt plant). And there are no fences, the animals can be everywhere!

Some of the public roads in the area are in bad conditions, like the main Mbarara-Kasese road south of Katunguru, tarred but with many huge potholes in some sections. This was an exception in Uganda, main roads are fine! (Weird... maybe they want the tourists to think they aren´t... undevelloped Africa... False!).
2WD cars and boda-bodas can drive in the area (even some safari companies use also normal vans!).
Just drive carefully! 
If you have a car, it could be great to drive around! People in Kasese told us they saw even lions!


   KAZINGA CHANEL - KATUNGURU. Wildlife for free in Queen Elizabeth NP!!   

The chanel is 40 km long, between Lake Edward and Lake George. The main Mbarara-Kasese road crosses the channel (there´s an iron bridge) and just north of the bridge is Katunguru, a small fishermen village (Kasese is only 40 km north).
No gates on this road, without paying the NP fees
Good place to see wildlife! Hippos, buffalos and elephants are always around (and maybe crocodiles too). Also antelopes, warthogs, baboons. We saw them. Take your binoculars, have a look from the bridge, walk around! Local people are around, children swimming near the hippos! No real danger! Ask the locals.

We stayed in Katunguru (there´s local and cheap accommodation!).
It´s the good plan if travelling on a budget. And we saw BIG wildlife, for free!


Boats are avalaible for tourists in Katunguru (alternative cheap depature on Kazinga Channel). Just ask around the bridge or neighbour lodges, but it seems that fishermen are not allowed to take foreigners on their boats (they control). The price for a boat trip is around 20 $/boat (even if they will ask for much more, will try 20 $/pp, negotiate hard). We didn´t take a boat... just walk around...

The official Kazinga Channel jetty and boats is on Mweya Peninusla, inside the NP (gates). UWA (Uganda Wildlife Agency) has boats, with a fixed price, much more expensive: 30$/pp/2 hours trip + NP fees too (40$).

   How and where you can see wildlife for free in Queen Elizabeth   

You can see the wildlife for free, without a guide or an organized tour in Queen Elizabeth area.  There are villages, local people and wild animals. All living together. Just ask local people around. They are friendly, also the policemen controling the fishermen port in Katunguru.
The animals can be everywhere, no fences! It´s just good luck.
  • Just crossing by public transport on the main road we saw elephants, antelopes, warthogs, etc. 
  • In Katunguru, go down to the bridge or fishermen port and look. The children just swim close to the hippos! Many hippos, baboons, and birds in the Kazinga Channel.
  • From the bridge, you can see buffalos, next to Tembo Lodge. Take your binoculars! 
  •  Also from the Katunguru bridge and from the fisherman port, we saw more than 20 elephants on the shores of the Kazinga channel!
  • Remember that you can walk on the public roads and the animals can be around. Local people walk around, so there must be no problem! We did it too, south of the bridge, near the lodges (there´s one or two paths going down the river). We were very lucky and saw elephants, buffallos, hippos, warthogs, antelopes… just close, just walking around. But remember, it´s wildlife, respect, take safety distance precautions.
  • If you have a car and don´t want to pay the NP fees, you can drive along the public roads, slow, stop in some places and enjoy the views and may be the animals.
  • You can always take a boat safari in Kazinga channel, try in Katunguru vullage, the alternative jetty.

ATTENTION ... Be careful: 
Don´t walk near the NP gates (there´s one northwest of Katunguru, not announced, it´s just written “Mbeya Lodge Gate”). And don´t try to pass inside the protected areas (even if there are no fences). We had a bad experience with a guard, pointing us with a gun. We did nothing wrong but that guard was crazy. They are no signs of forbidden, the locals walk around, nobody told us not to walk thereo, even the policemen at the port and Katunguru. 

   Cheap accommodation in Katunguru and outside Queen Elizabeth NP gates  

If you are a low-cost traveller, travelling by public transport, like us, you are lucky cause in Katunguru village, on the main road Mbarara-Kases, and outside the NP (no fees) you will find a cheap room.
There are 2 local lodges in Katunguru, cheap. 
Also many camps in the Kazinga area (outside NP), spread out in a few km, but expensive.

If on a budget, and want to stay in a bigger town, with more cheap lodges, restaurants and comfort, Kasese is not far away, just 40 km north of Katunguru-Kazinga, and it´s a quite organised African town. It´s also a good base to visit Queen Elizabeth northern areas, there are public vans between Kasese and Katunguru.

Accommodation (local and cheap) in Katunguru village:

New Rwenzori Salaam Hotel: where we stayed.

Price: 30.000 Sh (10 €) for a self-contained double room (they started asking 50.000, negotiate). 
Also 25.000 Sh, shared WC room (maybe you get a discount too).  
Clean, basic, sometimes noisy (TV). They also have a restaurant, good and cheap.


The other option, next door, is Deluxe Guesthouse: 20.000 sh double room, shared bathroom. Check.

Other "affordable" accommodation in the Katunguru-Kazinga Channel area:

- Tembo Safari Lodge: 65.000 double room B&B, camping 15.000/pp. www.tembosafari.com. Also in Katunguru, just on the cliff above Kazinga Channel. One of the cheapest camps.

Next camps are on the Kazinga Channel, outside the NP, just south-west of Katunguru, crossing the bridge. More expensive, focused on foreign tourists. You can walk around... wildlife is around...

- Kazinga Channel View Resort: 119.000 Sh (40€) double room B&B, camping 20.000/tent. Good. No real views! But big wild animals are just down in the river...
- Bush Lodge: 50 $ (125.000 Sh) tented camp (shared WC), 190 $ self-contained banda, full bording. You can always try to camp (usually they don´t allow it). One of the most beautiful camps we saw in the area, great views.  More information:  www.naturelodges.biz 
- Also more lodges, expensive ones.

Note: these camps on the shores of the Kazinga Channel out of the NP are forgotten on guide-books (why?). The location is great and we saw many safari groups there! You will find them search in the web...

 Bush Lodge: beautiful but not really for backpackers!

Accommodation up the Rift off Mbara-Kasese Rd:
They are many lodges on the top of the Rift cliffs, with great views on the Queen Elizabeth flat area. Just off the main road. Around Kichwamba, 10 km south of Katunguru- Kazinga. Quite expensive but maybe you can camp.
You find them on the guide-books! And net!

Accommodation in other Queen Elizabeth areas:
Most of the lodges are focused on foreign customers, expensive ones. But maybe camping in some...
Around Ishasha sector, Katwe, Kasenyi...
Simba Safari Lodge (just 1.5 km off the mian road in Kikorongo, 15 km north of Katunguru) seems to have cheap accommodation too. But you are in on the road to Congo... not far from Queen Elizabeth Crater Lakes (there´s a gate, near Queen´s Pavilion)... maybe not so good for wildlife there.


   Accommodation inside the Queen Elizabeth NP   

You can find the list of options on the UWA website, and even a small map with location, Queen Elizabeth accommodation.
Many concessions inside NP and reserves of Queen Elizabeth and also outside lodges.
But  they say: "budget" 35-70 $/pp/night and "shoestring" under 35 $/pp/night!!! And no maps or location. Not really for backpackers... focused on people doing safari tours with private companies.

Mweya peninsula is the main spot, even with airport and visitor center.

It seems (according to the UWA fees booklet ) that only in Mbeya Hostel and Ishasha Camp (inside gates) you can find a bed for around 20.000-40.000 Sh/pp/night (around 10 €) or camp. Plus the NP fees (+40$/pp/day!).
Good luck! Try to contact them if interested!

ake Chibwera

   Transport around Queen Elizabeth area 

The park is big and divided in different areas. 
So depending on where you are going, if it´s on the main road Mbara-Kasese or on secondary roads, there will be more or less public transport. You will reach villages and some camps around.
Mbarara and Kasese are the main towns to access the Queen Elizabeth area.

If thinking in visiting the park inside the gates, you will need your own car
If you need to rent one, Kampala is the city with bigger offer in Uganda. Not really cheap. Also in Kasese, Mbarara o local villages like Katunguru, you can hire a car usually with driver (expect to pay around 50 $/half day, double for a full day, negotiate).

Public Transport to Katunguru: 

Katunguru is on the main Mbarara-Kasese road, so there are buses and matatus all day long. The road is tarred, but in terrible conditions south of Katunguru.

Transport Mbarara - Katunguru: 
Van, 12.500 Sh (4 €), around 2h30 (it took as long to fill the van in Mbarara). 
Negotiate the price, they will try to charge you more. Cheaper on a bus. Ask around.

Transport Katunguru - Kasese: 
Van, 4.000 Sh (1 €), 45 min. Many pass Katunguru in both directions, also buses.
There are a few boda-bodas around Katunguru if you want to go to villages in the area (Katwe, Kasenyi, Kyambura Gorge, etc.) and taxi-cars with driver.

Note:
Southwest of Mbarara is Rukungiri, from where you can access Ishasha (tree lions area in Queen Elizabeth) and Buhoma for the northern part of Bwindi NP, but the roads are probably not very good. Matatus in the area, from Mbarara or western towns, and also a few buses.


   Food & drinks in Queen Elizabeth  

In the villages of the area, you will find local and cheap restaurants, basic shops.
In Katunguru, life is cheap with a few restaurants (the brightest is the Salaam Hotel one), chapatti-rolex stalls, shops, local pubs.
The camps offer food but the prices are usually at least double than in the local places.

   Services in Queen Elizabeth  

Only small villages in the area, no banks, bring enough cash (specially if doing activities).
NP head quarters are a few km south of Katunguru, near the Ishasha junction.
Internet will be quite limited in the camps, but there´s E-net coverage with the smartphones.


   Areas to visit in Queen Elizabeth National Park   

It´s difficult to find a good map of Queen Elizabeth area, complete, with all the gates and sections, roads, etc.
There are no gates on main roads.
We hope this map of Queen Elizabeth National Park and surrounds, we did, we´ll help you understand everything.



Black/white stars: gates.
Red roads: tarred.
Orange roads: gravel.

 Different areas of Queen Elizabeth National Park and gates:
  • Mweya-Katwe (1): 2 GATES ACCESS. The main tourist hub of the park is on Mweya peninsula (lodges, airport, visitor center, boats for Kazinga channel), on Lake Edward. North of Kazinga Channel, between Katunguru and Katwe (gates on both villages, around 30 km between gates). Many safari companies cars in the area. Wildlife. 
  • Kazinga Channel - Katunguru (2): the main road Mbarara-Kasese cross it. You can see animals from the bridge if lucky... Access by boat and walk around Katunguru (OUTSIDE GATES). Official boat jetty in Mweya (GATES).
  • Ishasha (3): 1 GATE ACCESS, Katokye. Famous area for the tree climbing lions.It´s the southern part of the park. Quite far from Mweya (100 km west).
  • Katwe Explosion Craters (4): GATE ACCESS. Inside the NP, crater lakes area, north of Mweya area, on the other side of the public road, 30 km crater drive between Katwe gate and Equator gate (main Mbarara-Kasese road).
  • Pelican Point (5): GATE ACCESS (just west of Katwe). A peninsula on Lake Edward. Birds.
  • Kyambura Gorge (6): GATE ACCESS (3 km off the main Mbarara-Kasese road, south east of Katunguru).Famous for the chimpazees tracking. Price: 50 $/pp + park fee.
  • Kyambura Wildlife Reserve (7): GATE ACCESS (off the main Mbarara-Kasese road, near Kichwamba, up the escarpment). Crater lakes, flamingos.
  •  Maramagambo Forest (8): GATE ACCESS (off the main Mbarara-Kasese Road).Tropical Forest, primates and birds.  It seems that chimps are cheaper here (25 $).
  • Kalinzu Forest Reserve (9): GATE ACCESS. Also chimps, less expensive than Kyambura Gorge. 
  • Kigezi Wildlife Reserve (10): Near Ishasha, southern part. 
  • Katwe: OUTSIDE GATES. A fishermen and salt factory village on Lake Edward. Salt Lake (20.000 Sh fee).One camp around.
  • Kasenyi: OUTSIDE GATES. North of the Kazinga Chanel, Lake George side, east of the main Mbarara-Kasese road. Game area. It seems that the area is good to see lions. No gate.

   KASESE, RWENZORI MOUNTAINS 


Kasese is cleaner and more organised than usual. The main road doesn´t pass through the center, so it´s more pleasant and quieter to walk around. There are even signs with the names of the streets.
Just on the foot of the highest part of the Rwenzori Mountains NP and north of Queen Elizabeth NP. The town is hot as it lies on the savanna, low altitude. Kasese can be an interesting base!
A good place to stop (we really preferred it compared to noisy Fort Portal).
The cobalt mine is closed, and the Kilembe copper mine is going to open again soon.

Transport Kasese:
There´s a taxi-park with vans, southeast of the center, also buses stop around. Many buses/vans all day long to Mbarara (they stop in Queen Elizabeth area too), a few continue to Kabale, and also many doing Fort Portal-Kampala. Many vans to nearby villages, like Kilembe and a lot of boda-bodas around.

Cheap accommodation in Kasese:
Many small lodges and hotels around the center. Just look around and compare.
There´s also accommodation in Kilembe, 12 km up the river in a valley (Rwenzori Trekkers Hostel) and in Nyakalengiya 20 km east (Ruboni Community Campsite, Camp Norway) if thinking of entering the Rwenzori NP (gates there).
Couchsurfing in Kasese:
A very small community. We stayed with Alex (USA).

Food&drinks in Kasese:
Many local restaurants in the center. Mile´s on Rwenzori Street (up the Shell garage and Sandton Hotel) is clean, looks modern and cheap.
At Stanley Park (between the market and the taxi park), a street with many pubs, they do BBQs in the evening, that you can eat on the tables in the park.
A few supermarkets and many shops and a big market.

Services in Kasese:
It´s a big town, banks, pharmacies, internet, etc.
 

What to do in Kasese:
- Walking in Kasese, around the market, you will see many “short” people, probably pigmy origin.

- Walk around, climb the hills behind Kasese.They are just the beginning of the Rewenzori, outside the national park. The lowest slopes are populated, with many villages and fertile lands.
Down it´s a flat savanna and big lakes,  Queen Elizabeth area. 
The views are really beautifull!
Just walk up from Kasese, behind the mine (easy to see the chimney), and follow the valley, fields and climb the mountains. You can do a loop, many trails all over the area. Ask the people. Friendly! It´s not on the guide-books, nobody asking for money, great!
Rwenzori Mountains National Park:
AKA the "Mountains of the Moon", just at the Congo-Uganda border. The third highest point in Africa (Mount Margherita), it´s the highest range of the continent(120x60 km) with snowy peaks.  The highest area is around Kasese and not Fort Portal.
The highest slopes are protected, it´s a national park. Entrance fee is 35 $/pp!
Gate in Kilembe (12 km up the river from Kasese), access to Kilembe Trails. Around Kilembe there are also community walks around (outside the NP), charging you a fee (around 15.000-20.000 sh/pp);  they told us that some local people don´t let you walk around without argueing if you don´t take a guide. So maybe it´s just better to walk anywhere else, as we did for exemple up from Kasese.Kilembe is not up in the mountains. NO. Just up the river, in a valley.
Gate in Nyakalengiya, giving access to the highest peaks (passing Ibanda, around 20 km east of Kasese). It´s not easy to climb the highest peaks, at least 9 to 12 days for Mount Margherita and it´s a technical trek. So expect to pay a lot of money! Also shorter trails inside the park.

1 comentario :

Anónimo dijo...

Thanks for this great information, especially how to do things on a budget!

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