In the heart of Africa, on the rift valley floor joining lakes, Edward and George is the 915-meter wide, 36-kilometer waterway called Kazinga Channel—a gentle river bisecting Queen Elizabeth National Park known to host the highest concentration of hippos worldwide. Kazinga is enjoyed by many creatures, large and small, feathered and fierce. It’s a prime tourist attraction for boat cruise safaris in Uganda.
Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National Park is a world-famous wildlife refuge. The 25-mile long Kazinga Channel linking two large lakes bisects the park, feeding the park’s grasslands and forests, and consequently creating an oasis in the Great Rift Valley stretching almost 1978 sq km (763 sq mi).
The highlight of any safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park is a boat cruise safari on Kazinga Channel. The Channel teems with African birds and visiting elephants, buffalo, the notorious sunbathing Nile crocodiles, lions, and the Channel’s most famous resident beast, the hippopotamus.
The Kazinga Channel boasts of one of the densest hippo populations in Africa, and about 2,000 hippos live perfectly in more than 600 bloats on the Channel. Adorable and extremely dangerous with a maw that stretches 150 degrees and seven-inch teeth, hippos in Kazinga are formidable. They’re heavy, round, and seem like they’re floating, but they prefer to stand in the shallows. The best way to marvel at these water giants is taking one of those scheduled launch safaris on the Channel that bring you meters close.
Over 100 waterbird species flock to the Kazinga Channel’s banks—an excellent birding sport for avian enthusiasts. Prominent birds you may encounter on a boat trip include African skimmer, African shoebill, Malachite kingfisher, Pink-backed pelican, Long-tailed cormorant, Yellow-billed stork, Fish eagle, African spoonbills, Pied kingfisher, Black crake, Papyrus gonolek, Martial eagle, and Black bee-eater.
Kazinga Channel splits Queen Elizabeth National Park into two unequal chunks of game viewing attractions. The larger south of the Channel features the Ishasha sector, a wildlife-rich park sector known for its tree-climbing lions and Kyambura Gorge—a valley of apes good for watching chimpanzees in the wild.
North of the Channel is much smaller, featuring some of the country’s best wildlife viewing game tracks. The north has Kasenyi, Katunguru, Katwe, Mweya, Mweya, Kikorongo, and the Kichwamba Escarpment.
Bridging both sides of the Channel is a 50 km stretch of surfaced Kasese-Ishaka Road crossing the Kazinga Channel at Katunguru Bridge. Almost all safari camps and lodges serving the park’s northern sector lie alongside the Mbarara-Kasese, with other camps leading off the highway for up to 20 km (12.4 mi) inside. Tourists staying inside can drive to Kazinga Channel from any camp within one hour and join the daily scheduled launch trips.
The scheduled-daily 2-hour launch trips and private boat cruise safaris on Kazinga Channel are the most popular activities in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The boat trips launch from the jetty below Mweya Safari Lodge northeast of Lake Edward and stretch the 35-km Channel to Lake Gorge.
The boat cruise is a great safari excursion giving an excellent opportunity to get close to wildlife in the boat’s comfort. Tourists can easily get close to hippo bloats, marvel at gentle giant elephants, buffalo, Uganda kob, and waterbuck. Unexpectedly, you may spot the giant forest hog and predators like leopards and lions lounging in the afternoon heat. A keen watcher can spot the huge monitor lizards in the riverine shrub and ferocious crocodiles in the afternoon heat.
The Kazinga Channel boat cruise safari is also excellent for bird-watching enthusiasts. Waterbirds like the yellow-billed stork, pink-backed pelicans, plovers, white bullied cormorants, pink-backed pelicans frequent the Channel’s sandbanks.
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and Mweya Safari Lodge operate the 2-hour scheduled daily launch trips on Kazinga Channel. UWA launch trip costs $30 per person at leaves at 9:00 am, 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm.
Mweya Safari Lodge’s launch trip costs less than UWA but is more comfortable and well serviced. Mweya’s boat leave at 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, 4:15 pm. The lodge offers special request trips for 7:00 am, and 9:00 am.
The best time for a boat safari on the Kazinga channel is during the dry seasons of June to August and December to February. During dry, hot days, the dry puddles and heat push the animals towards Kazinga Channel waters. The odds of seeing elephants and predators are high during the dry seasons.
If you’re planning a family safari holiday in Uganda, make sure you add a boat trip on Kazinga Channel for the get kids to get close to the wild animals.
Tourists can access Kazinga Channel by road and air. The most familiar route is the drive from Kampala via the 309 km (192 mi) smoothly surfaced road. The 6 to 8-hour drive passes through Masaka, Marara, and Bushenyi cities.
Alternatively, you can take route A109 on a 400 km (248 mi) Fort Portal-Kasese road, which takes about 6-8 hours. This route fits well with chimpanzee trekking adventures in Kibale National Park.
Preferably, you take a regional scheduled flight between Entebbe International Airport to Kasese Airstrip or Mweya Airstrip, which takes about 1.5 hours. If you fly to Kasesese, you’ll have to drive 40 km (30 mins) to Kazinga Channel, and Mweya Airstrip is a couple of minutes away.
Your Uganda safari itinerary and choice of safari camp will determine the best route to the Kazinga channel. For example, if you’re coming from seeing mountain gorillas in the southwestern highlands, you’ll drive through the Ishasha Sector of the park and join Mbarara-Kasese Road at Katunguru. Or you’ll pass via the smooth Kabale-Ntugamo-Ishaka road and join the Mbarara-Kasese road at Ishaka town.
Staying anywhere around Queen Elizabeth National Park’s decent camps and lodges will give you easy access to Kazinga Channel. Grand lodges sprawl along the Mabara-Kasese highway on the north and southern park sectors. Here’s our best choice of accommodation near the Kazinga Channel.
Kasenyi Safari Camp – Is idyllically set on Lake Bunyampaka in the northern section of the park overlooking the creator salt. It positions gives the camp its charming views over the flamingo-colored lake shores and beyond into the northern plains of Queen Elizabeth National Park.
Kyambura Gorge Lodge – The lodge sits on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park with sweeping views of the extensive savannah plains. With the Rwenzori Mountains backdrop and the Kyambura Gorge ravine, Kyambura Gorge Lodge is ideal for tracking the lost chimpanzee troops in the gorge’s forest reserve and taking a Kazinga Channel boat cruise safari.
Elephant Plains – Sits northwest of Queen Elizabeth National Park, offering easy access to Kazinga Channel, Kasenyi tracks, and Mweya Peninsula. The lodge offers extensive panoramic views over the savannah plains stretching to lake George.
Kataara Lodge – Katara Lodge sits on escarpment farmland overlooking Queen Elizabeth National Park’s northeastern sector in western Uganda, A pleasant intimate, and simple safari lodge with eight cottages overlooking the vast park’s savannah plains.
Marafiki Safari Lodge – Overlooking Lake George on the edge of Queen Elizabeth National Park’s northern border, Marafiki Safari Lodge offers private luxury safari tents. The rooms sit on raised wooden floors covered with tapeline canvas walls which guests can roll to view the expansive savannah plains across the park with the imposing Rwenzori Mountains framing the breathtaking views.
Enjojo Lodge – The lodge sits on the park’s southern border in the Ishasha sector. It is nestled amidst acacia forest, lush vegetation, palm trees, scattered grassland, and a small lake.
Ishasha Wilderness Camp – If you’re looking for some absolute classic safari solitude in Queen Elizabeth National Park, head south to the Ishasha sector for a few nights in the aptly named Ishasha Wilderness. Ishasha Wilderness Camp is bonafide eco-camping in a pristine spot, where hippos snort languidly in the river and elephants wallow in the shallows.
A visit to Kazinga Channel is a must for any Uganda safari that includes game viewing in Queen Elizabeth National Park. The park usually features on Uganda gorilla safari itineraries from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, making it possible for tourists to view wildlife and go gorilla trekking on the same trip. Most safari trips continue or come from the chimpanzee tracking experience in Kibale National Park. A few safari trips will fly north to the larger Murchison Falls National Park for another game drive adventure.
We operate tailor-made safaris to Queen Elizabeth National Park, and most of our safari trips will include a boat cruise safari on Kazinga Channel and a game drive on the Kasenyi plains.
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