Positioned in the utmost North-eastern corner, Kidepo valley national park boasts of the true African wilderness unsurpassed by other game parks in Uganda. Sharing borders with both Kenya and South Sudan and with a 571km distance from Kampala, Kidepo is with no doubt the most isolated park in Uganda.
Because of this vast distance, its beauty has almost been hidden from mass tourists and has gone unnoticed for a very long time. Kidepo is rooted in the jagged hills and valleys of the Karamoja region experiencing semi-arid climate due to the fact that is in the rain shadow of the Ethiopian highlands. This allows a wide variety of animals to make this area home.
Kidepo national park was first designated as a reserve in 1958 with the aim of protecting animals from poaching. It was finally gazetted as a national park in 1962 the same year Uganda got her independence. For every traveler there is nothing that leaves your heart pondering as much as Kidepo has been doing to thousands of hearts every year in this world. This is due to the mere fact that you are alone and not so many people around you making it to be one of the quietest parks in Africa.
Kidepo national park is a gem and has a huge diversity of wildlife. The park boasts of big game including the largest herd of buffaloes ever recorded in the world, lions, elephants and hosts over 77 other mammal species plus over 475 bird species. In addition, the park has an edge over all other game parks in the country by harboring a few species endemic to the Kidepo area, like the ostrich and cheetah luring a great number of tourists to this hidden jewel of recent.
On reaching into the heart of this wilderness, it’s on record that it’s one of those few parks you can leave the confinement of your vehicle, take a guide with you and begin your mysterious nature walk through some dense vegetation of the marvelous savanna grasslands, scattered shrub and different animals.
Only few experiences can beat a one on one encounter with Kidepo’s Mother Nature and visitors who come here can agree with it. The Narus Valley is a grassland plain surrounded by distant mountains. It is the only point with permanent water making it a prime site for game viewing in the park. Many animals such as Jackson’s hartebeest, oribis, buffaloes, giraffes, lions, and reedbucks can be seen in this valley all year round.
The area is allocated with game tracks, with four loop circuits exploring the valley around Apoka. With all the treasures Kidepo national park has to offer, a number of tourist activities can be carried out to appreciate this exotic beauty.
Game Driving Experiences
Game drives are key highly sought after activities in any Ugandan game park and it’s also the major activity in Kidepo National Park. Game drives are best done in early morning at 7:00am or late in the evening at 5:00pm during magical sunset when you can sight big herds returning to their kraal and birds flying back to their nests. For the more adventurous ones, a nocturnal / night game drive is also catered for and it’s a must to have a game ranger with you.
On a game drive you might spot lions sitting on the valley’s various rocks. Other wildlife includes bush duiker, leopard, jackal, bushbuck, bush pig, elephants, ostrich, buffalo and much more in the wild Narus Valley. The undulating Kidepo Valley is neither short on big game neither on incredible scenery. The one hour drive to Kanangorok Hot Springs passes some magnificent landscapes. A few kilometers north of the park’s tourism hub at Apoka, the road crosses the dry, sandy bed of the Kidepo River. Here mammals are rare but ostriches and secretary birds are often seen.
Kidepo Valley National Park is beautiful and filled with awe-inspiring experiences. With her flat plains and rolling savannah where beautiful wildlife species spread into all corners. Because it’s less visited, many travelers on a tour into Uganda cannot resist the temptation to wander into the wilderness, to witness virgin nature and make self-discoveries.
A nature walk to the beautiful Lamoj hills provides the visitors an opportunity to spot wildlife within the adjacent valleys. For wilderness photography trips in Kidepo valley national park, the Lamoj hills will give the ultimate chance to grab some awesome shots.
With over 475 bird species, Kidepo national park has more to offer to birders than some game parks in the country. Just like for game drives, birding safaris usually start in the morning or in the evening hours. The experience can start from Apoka and then head to Namamukweny and Narus valleys where most of the birds can be spotted. Birds to watch out for include buffalo weavers, white crested turaco, clappperton’s Francolin (only in Kidepo), black breasted barbets and so many others.
Travelers can also come across an ostrich – the world’s fastest and flightless bird plus the Kori bustard the heaviest bird of flight. The wet season is best for bird watching tours here. It’s during this period you will have a chance to meet the migratory birds.
The Karamojong traditionally live a nomadic lifestyle, wandering the vast plains of Karamoja with large herds of livestock. These people take pride in their livestock and the size of a herd is a symbol of social status.
The Karamojong people have for generations coexisted with wildlife in this region. They shared watering holes and even grazing areas with the animals in the park. In the past Karamojong raided the close communities’ livestock to increase the size of their herds. Have a local guide take you through their rich culture, taste their mouthwatering cuisine, see their beautifully designed Manyatta huts and kraals.
Accommodation at Kidepo
Apoka Safari lodge is the luxury option and the oldest found inside Kidepo valley national park. It overlooks the Narus River valley and a regular home for various animals. Visitors can have magnificent views of wildlife and great scenery from the comfort of their rooms. Kidepo Savannah lodge is a mid-range facility at the edge of Kidepo Valley National Park near Kalokudo gate. Apoka Rest Camp is a budget accommodation facility that is managed by Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Kidepo (valley) national park can be accessed by both road and air transportation. A long day drive from Kampala is all worth it, coupled with great views of the raging Karuma falls, undulating savannah of northern Uganda as well as the Karamoja region with its vast and virgin wilderness.
However, road conditions are usually poor therefore a 4WD vehicle is required. The common route passes through Luwero – Gulu and Kitgum. Travelers should plan to sleep overnight in one of the towns before connecting to Kidepo or rather wake up early enough from Kampala to begin the journey.
An alternative route passes via Mbale connecting to Moroto, Kotido and eventually get to Kidepo valley national park a distance of usually 12 hours. An optional Charter flight can be planned to Kidepo from Kampala (Kajjansi) or Entebbe airport. Flights normally take a maximum duration of two hours, making this an easier and convenient means to access Kidepo national park.
Anytime you are planning on a trip to Uganda don’t forget to include a visit to the true African “wilderness,” Kidepo valley national park as the first on your bucket list since its one of the few destinations in the country endowed with this gift.