Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley National Park is Uganda’s most spectacular wilderness in Uganda that offers sanctuary to the country’s cheetah population. The park is one of Uganda’s most spectacular African safari parks, its offers some of the wildest and most magnificent scenery to be found in East Africa. The park is in the far northeastern horn of the country, near Kenya and bordering Sudan. Primarily watered by the Narus River, which attracts a stunning selection of wildlife, especially during the dry seasons, it is secreted on Uganda’s borders with Kenya and Sudan. Scenically, this remote Ugandan safari park offers glorious mountain and savannah landscapes, while offering a degree of tranquillity and seclusion that is seldom found elsewhere in Uganda.

Kidepo national park is a true gem with huge abundance in wildlife. It remains a true rendition of tourism in Uganda but remains unknown to many. The park ranks among the world’s finest wild places of vast savannah running from Apoka. The vegetation of the park is diverse with grey-haired acacia, savannah woodland that emerges in the south and into a fire climax grassland, tree and shrub steppe, which slowly transcends into bush lands with forests on the mountain slopes. The borassus palms are common along the major rivers of Kidepo, Lopirpir and Kulao. Much of the vegetation in the park is open savannah grassland, dominated by a mixture of acacia and other perennial grasses such as Themeda, Panicum, Chloris and Seteria species. Dry thickets composed of numerous short trees and shrubs are also common. The vegetation is usually dry for more than a half of the year and antelopes such as Guenther’s dik-dik, which is found nowhere else in Uganda, are a common sight in such habitats.

Kidepo Valley National Park has over 80 species of mammal with 28 notable rare species including the Greater and Lesser Kudu, Chandlers Mountain Reedbuck, Klipspringer, Dikdik, Bright Gazelle, Beisa Oryx and Roan Antelope, which are found nowhere else in other parks in Uganda. Kidepo also harbors 5 species of primate including the Kavirondo Bush baby, the rare and localized patas monkey to mention but a few. Kidepo valley national park is famous for it’s arguably the most diverse fauna of any park in the country. It is particularly rich in predators including lions, leopards, and bat-eared fox, Black-backed and side-striped jackals are both present. The Senegal Galago and side striped Jackal may be found in the rest camp at night and white-tailed Mongoose is common but more likely to be found on a night drive. The park also has a very rich and diverse reptile fauna.

The park is arguably the best place in Uganda to see lions resting on rocks and large herds of buffalo, as well as zebras and giraffe. The perennial rains transform the park into a lush, verdant refuge, which attracts more than 450 bird species with around 20 species believed to be endemic to the region. Look out for bird species like ostrich, Karamojong apalis, red-throated bee-eater, Verreaux’s eagle, Kori bustard and pygmy falcon. Kidepo national park has twelve antelope species like the Oribi, Klipspringer, Jacksons’ hartebeest, Eland; this makes the park to be rich in high diversity of mammal species, which greatly contribute to its tourism and the entire park uniqueness. Other mammals include large of herds of elephant (around 350 remain) and buffalos, plains zebras and Rothschild’s giraffes, all of which can be easily spotted amid the thorny savannah scrub of the Narus River valley and around Apoka.

Kidepo Valley national park is drained with a river just a few distances from the border of south Sudan, which floods and flows through Kidepo valley national park to south Sudan. The precipitation fills up the Narus seasonal oases; the phenomenal area for the game drives in Kidepo national park, which dry up in the dry season thus forming a seasonal swamp, a home of extensive bird species. The kanagorok hot springs from the ancient volcanic activity makes spectacular views in the park; they also harbor a number of birds and wildlife around.

Kidepo Valley National park is the most beautiful national park in Uganda with charming landscape, unique and abundant wildlife among others hence a must visit destination on your safari in Uganda.

What to do in Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo Valley national park is one of the isolated national parks in northeastern part of Uganda in Kaabong district bordering Kenya and Sudan. The park covers an area of 1442 sqkms and one of the best parks to visit in Uganda due to abundant wildlife like lions, elephants, giraffes, bush pigs, zebras, black backed jackal and over 470 bird species like ostrich, yellow-necked spur fowl, and Jackson’s hornbill among others. One can do the following on their visit to the park

 

Game Drives

Kidepo Valley national park is Uganda’s best tourist destination for game viewing unlike other national parks in Uganda. Game drives are one of the key most sought activities for any savannah game park, it is also the main activity of the park. Game drives can be done in the morning, afternoon and evening game drives. The park has two main places for game drives: Narus valley and Kidepo valley.

The Narus valley is largely grassland with red oats, Guinea grass, thatching grass as dominant species. Thorny acacias, sausage trees, desert dates and other tree species scattered in all corners that give the valley a perfect definition of beautiful African savannah. At the bottom of the valley is River Narus and the only permanent water source in Kidepo valley national park. River Narus is the blood vessel of wildlife species in Kidepo, wildlife species in all colours, shapes and sizes congregate in the Narus valley at any time of the day because its’ the permanent oasis in the semi-arid conditions of Kidepo valley national park. The valley is most ideal location to spot elephants, bush pigs, side striped jackals, warthogs, Reedbucks, Klipspringer, Uganda Kob, the dikdik, cheetahs, hyenas, bat eared fox, zebras, and many more. In the afternoon, mammal species trek to the Narus dam and the watering hole close to Apoka visitor centre to quench their thirst. This gives visitors an opportunity to spot their ideal wildlife species of interest.

The Kidepo valley is another sector one can enjoy game drive in Kidepo national park. Kidepo valley is attached to the origin of the name of the national of the park. The section has little concentration of wild life animals as compared to Narus valley section. The Kidepo River is a seasonal river, which supplies Kidepo valley with water, this seasonal river dries up completely in the dry season and in the rainy season the river floods. Despite these challenges in Kidepo valley section, the place is home to unique wildlife animals, which are rare and endangered such as the beautiful ostriches, the cheetahs, nocturnal leopards, the kudus, elands, the wolf eared bats among others. The valley is home to other wildlife species such as burchell’s zebra, giraffes, waterbucks, Oribi, Bohor reedbuck, Jackson’s Hartebeests, Cape buffalo among others.

The morning game drives start in the early morning hours (6am). During this time, there are high chances of sighting wildlife species such as predators in search of their prey; one also has a chance to spot lions resting on the rocks or a sight of cheetah, which is the fastest land animal and endemic to Kidepo in Uganda. The evening game drives start in the afternoon (2pm); visit the Narus River, which is the permanent water source in the park and spot several wildlife species as they quench their thirst. There are also night game drives, which reward with sight of nocturnal animals such as cheetahs, reedbuck and Guenther’s dik-dik as well as some predators trying to hunt. You will use a torch that produces very bright light to help you view the animals in the darkness.

 

Cultural Encounters

Besides game viewing which is undeniably the main tourist activity that attracts tourists to Kidepo Valley National Park, tourists can actually engage in a cultural encounter to spice up the safari to this remote destination. Cultural tourism in Kidepo valley national park is one of the best activities done in the park as it deepens one’s understanding of the cultures of Africa especially in the northeastern part of Uganda dominated majorly by the Karamajong. Karamajong culture is one of the most unique and preserved cultures in Uganda that you ought not to miss while in Kidepo for wildlife safaris. The cultural experiences and traditional lifestyle of the Karamajong people around Kidepo Valley National park are similar to the Masai people of Kenya and those of Tanzania all linked by their nomadic pastoral practices.

The Karamojong community sits on a wide range of land purposely for cattle grazing; the local community of this area built their homesteads with Manyattas that look similar to those of the Masaai people of Kenya and Tanzania with splendid vast cattle kraals on range of traditional instruments such as stools, spears, beads, bows and arrows, jewellery, costumes among others. The notable group is the Lorokul Cultural group found at the edge of Kidepo Valley National Park. The main livelihood of these people is cattle rearing (herding of cattle) hence their cultural and social significance will all be explored and explained as you undertake a community walk in the company of the local guides. The walk leads you to the Karamajong King, who will narrate some of the tribe’s folklore and traditional beliefs including marriage and paying of bride price. The highlight of the walk is enjoying the invigorating traditional dances, learn how the locals make their cultural beads and taste their delicious local cuisines.

Other local community is the Ik, the smallest ethnic group of Africa, the lk people walk under the shadow of the Karamajong people. Unlike the famous Karamajong, the lk are not pastoralists but hunter-gathers and survive on the prey they hunt. They speak a very distinctive language that is said to be similar with other languages in Egypt making them to be a phenomenal important archaeological finding that is still under research. Learn more about their cultural traditions and lifestyle like marriage categorised as a polygamy family, learn about the bride wealth, how village children grow up and after encountering all this you will be entertained with lots of fun and excitement in traditional songs and dances.

A fee for entertainment is always collected from tourists and this is used to support the communities through constructing clinics and build the essential facilities in the region where they train midwives from in order to develop the region economically, socially in day-to-day living.

The cultural encounters in Kidepo valley national park bring out the true African traditional norms, lifestyle, dances among others that one should not miss on their safaris to the park.

 

Bird Watching

Renowned as ‘The True African Wilderness’ Kidepo Valley National Park, truly does live up to its name! Due to the park being located away in the northeast of the country, it is one of Uganda’s least visited parks. However, all that means is you get to reap in all the benefits of its isolation! The park is a home to over 450 bird species, holding some of Uganda’s rarest species such as the Black-breasted Barbet and Karamoja Apalis. Kidepo Valley National Park has 28 species from the Somali-Masai and Sudan–Guinea Savannah biomes; the park has the second-highest bird record of any Ugandan protected areas, after Queen Elizabeth National Park. It is also the only IBA located entirely within the Somali– Masai biome.

The Apoka Rest Camp and Park Headquarters overlooking southern Narus Valley is a great spot to begin your birding experience. The attractive Silver bird and small bands of Yellow-billed Shrike, frequent the thorn trees around the camp as do a number of other widespread species such as the Vinaceous Dove, Hoopoe, Nubian Woodpecker, Mosque Swallow, the Ruppell’s and Superb Starlings, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Little Weaver and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. A small permanent water hole at the edge of the camp attracts swallows and a variety of seedeaters including the Yellow-rumped Seedeater and is visited at night by the Four-banded Sandgrouse, Elephants, Buffaloes, and occasionally Lions. Clapperton’s Francolin, Black Coucal, African Moustached and the Broad-tailed Warblers, Marsh Tchagra and Crimson-rumped Waxbill may be seen in the rank grass along the normally dry streambed adjacent to the camp or along the track to Apoka lodge.

Other popular Species seen on the Kidepo Valley National Park birding tour include the Common Ostrich, Secretary Bird, African Swallow-tailed Kite, Eastern Pale Chanting Goshawk, Pygmy Falcon, Fox Kestrel, Stone Partridge, Clapperton’s and Heuglin’s Francolins, Yellow-necked Spur fowl, Kori, White-bellied and Hartlaub’s Bustards, Violet-tipped Courser, Black-headed Plover, Four-banded Sand Grouse, Bruce’s Green Pigeon, Rose-ringed Parakeet, White-crested Turaco, White-bellied Go-away bird, White-faced Scoops Owl, Long-tailed and Standard-winged Nightjars, Little Green Bee-eater, Abyssinian and Rufous-crowned Rollers, the Abyssinian Ground, Eastern Yellow and Jackson’s Hornbills, Red-fronted, Black-breasted Barbets and the Brown-backed Woodpecker among others.

 

Hiking/Nature Walks

Situated in the rugged valleys of the Karamoja region, Kidepo Valley national park is one of the best destinations the offer the real treat of wilderness experience in Africa. It covers an area of 1,442 sq. km, with vast savannah grasslands being the major vegetation in the area. This park is associated with several hills, large rocks and mountains at a far distance, which offer spectacular views and beautiful backgrounds for photos. The beautiful landscape with breath-taking sceneries is captivating and enchanting. The beauty of the wilderness spreads beyond the valleys ahead and seems to touch the sky.

The walk starts at 7am at Apoka tourism office where you meet with the ranger escort who shares amazing wilderness experiences, gives travelers high sense of comfort and security besides having knowledge of recent sighting areas of attractions. The walk to Narus valley is popular with visitors because of it is short average 5km radius of pure bliss, has beautiful sceneries and an amazing population of wildlife species. The visitors on walk into the Narus valley have opportunity to encounter wildlife like buffaloes, cheetahs, waterbucks, elephants, lions, warthogs, leopards, giraffes among others and a large collection of beautiful bird species. The walk through the Narus valley also gives clear panoramic views of the valley and the Kidepo plains onto the Morungole mountain ranges.

Other areas that offer great nature walk experiences include the Kidepo valley, this walk explores the desert palms a habitat with unique bird species notably the Ostrich. The duration of nature walk depends on weather conditions, the physical fitness of the visitors. There is also the Namamkweny valley, which can be reached in one hour from Apoka. Visitors can also meet members of the IK tribe during prearranged hikes to Morungole Mountains outside the park.

 

Mountain Climbing

This 1442 square kilometres conservation area is located in the Karamoja region of northern Uganda and borders the Sudan in the northwest and Kenya in the northeast. Enjoy the isolated wilderness dominated by the 2750m Mountain Morungole and transected by the Kidepo and Narus River. The mountain is the highest in Kidepo valley national park; it’s situated in the northeast of Apoka tourism office and occupies most parts of the southern boundaries of Kidepo valley national park. Generally, mount Morungole is not as tall as other mountains in Uganda say Elgon, Ruwenzori, and others but the fact that the mountains are raised in flat Karamoja plains, makes this mountain range outstanding to be at that height above the sea level. The vegetation of this mountain is majorly the montane forests, which are interesting

Mount Morungole is ideal for the visitor who are interested in mountain climbing as well as photography. It takes 8-hours to hike mountain Morungole as you experience the uniqueness of the safari, enjoy the pristine wildlife species as well as the culture of the Ik people who are known as the first settlers in this region.

As said above, Mt Morungole is unique in such a way that it houses the unique cultural people of Africa known as the Ik. The Ik are the smallest ethnic group that are believed to have migrated from Ethiopia and occupy the Karamajong areas and Kenyan side. These people are prestigious with their culture and they are proud of it. They have many traditional practices and everything they do is in their traditional way ranging from dressing, taking, and feeding habits. Visit Morungole Mountain for a better position to spot unique wildlife species in Kidepo Valley National Park

WhEN TO VISIT Kidepo Valley National Park

Kidepo valley national park is open to visitors and tourists all year round. The perfect time to visit the park for game viewing is during September to March, which is the dry season, and catching sight of wildlife is much easier. The months of September to March mark the dry season in northeastern Uganda where the park is located.  It is hot and dry during these months and it is the best time to go for wildlife viewing. December to February are however too dry and dusty to fully enjoy game drives. Many of the water sources dry up, so it is easy to see animals congregated around available water sources in search of water. Permanent water sources in the park during these hot months are found in the wetlands, and along the southern Narus valley. These are mostly small pools of remnant water. It sometimes gets very hazy and challenging to get clear views. It is also a good time to visit also because there are hardly any threats of malaria because there are very few mosquitoes if any.

The worst time to go wildlife viewing is April and May, which is the height of the wet season. This time is not good for wild life viewing because the paths and tracks are quite muddy and slippery. The wet season in this corner of Uganda, runs from April to August. The rain is light though and hardly interrupts game viewing. Although the dry season offers the best wildlife and gaming experience, there are still wildlife viewing opportunities during this time and the heat is not as oppressive as in the dry season. It is the best time to go for bird watching in the park, because you can find a number of migratory birds, in addition to the resident species. This season also comes with beautiful, lush scenery. Recently ranked the third best national park in Africa, Kidepo valley national park is a true picture of African wilderness. Its rugged terrain and semi-arid valleys give it a roughly new beauty that cannot be seen anywhere else.

HOW TO GET To Kidepo Valley National Park

One can access the park; by either air or road, travel by air takes a few hours to land into the park premises, however, it is amazing if one uses road transportation as travellers get rewardable chance to explore the beauty of the countryside as well as other sightings as one heads to the park.  One can using the following road routes to get to Kidepo Valley National park

 

Routes using the Eastern direction –

Kampala– Mbale– Sironko– Moroto– Kotido– Kaabong– Kidepo. 740km 12hrs

Kampala- Mbale- Soroti- Moroto- Kotido- Kaabong- Kidepo 792km 13hrs

Routes using the Western direction

Kampala- Karuma- Lira- Kotido- Kaabong- Kidepo 705km-12hrs

Kampala- Karuma- Gulu- Kitgum- Kidepo 571km-10hrs

By Air, flights to access the national park can originate from Kajjansi Airfield or Entebbe International Airport. Aerolink Uganda Limited an air travel company operates scheduled domestic flights from Entebbe airport to Lomej airstrip in Apoka tourism zone. Eagle Aviation and Fly Uganda are other private air travel companies that offer charter flights to Lomej airstrip. Flights are fast, comfortable.