Kidepo Valley National Park is one of Uganda’s remotest safari destinations, yet a unique National Park. Despite being an isolated park, Kidepo Valley National Park has beheld natural authenticity that any safari-goer would be enthralled to see while on a Uganda safari. The Park lies in the far Northeastern corner of Uganda in Kaabong and Karenga Districts. Dominated by the Morungole Mountain ranges, Kidepo Valley National Park is a true African wilderness of rugged semi-arid savannah and seasonal rivers; Kidepo and Narus. The Park’s landscape spreads across 1,442 sq. km (557 sq. mi) with altitudes ranging from 914m to 2,750m above sea level. Nonetheless, its breathtaking horizon is dominated by the Morungole mountain.
Aside from its remarkable landscape, Kidepo Valley National Park is well known for its exceptional game viewing with large animal and rare bird sightings. Following its gazette, the Park is currently home to over 80 mammal species and over 470 bird species including Africa’s birds of prey. During safari game drives in the park, travelers ought to be treated to exceptional wildlife vistas of the rarest animal sightings that aren’t found elsewhere in Uganda, such as the cheetah, eland, lesser kudu, etc.
On top of its ecstatic wildlife-viewing safari experiences, Kidepo Valley National Park is also a great spot for cultural encounters for travelers interested in tapping the unique cultures of the Karamojong, the Ik, and Acholi. Other exciting tourism activities in Kidepo include hiking, birding, and nature walks.
Kidepo Valley National Park is located close to Karenga and Kaabong in the northeastern corner of Uganda. The Park is about 550 (320 miles) by road from Kampala Capital City and about 220 km (120 miles) by road from the sub-region’s largest town, Moroto. Various routes can be used to drive to the park; however, the most direct route travels through Gulu to the Lokumoit gate which is approximately a 10 hours drive. Another route passes through Karamoja to the Nataba Gate
Nevertheless, the best way to get to Kidepo Valley National Park is by air with a charter flight. There are several domestic flights operated by Bar Aviation and AeroLink which can be arranged through your tour operator. In addition to the flight is your pick-up from the airstrip to your lodge and vice versa. All domestic flights in Uganda depart from either Entebbe International Airport (the main entry point into the country) or Kajjansi airstrip.
One of the most fascinating things about Kidepo Valley National Park is its magnificent wildlife. The Park is home to over 80 mammal species including the largest buffalo herds in Uganda. Its stunning valleys: Narus and Kidepo boast a variety of species including spotted hyenas, lions, cheetahs, elephants, zebras, leopards, wild dogs, bat-eared foxes, Rothschild’s giraffes, Jackson’s hartebeests, bush pigs, black-backed and side-backed jackals, and antelopes among others. Primates in Kidepo Valley National Parks include baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, vervet monkeys, and red-tailed monkeys.
Kidepo Valley National Park has an avian diversity of over 475 recorded bird species, making the national park with the second-highest concentration of birdlife of any protected area, besides Queen Elizabeth National Park. Among these include rare birds such as East Africa’s only population of the Clapperton’s Francolin and African rose-hinged parakeet; not to mention the 56 recorded species of raptors including the pygmy falcon, bateleur eagle, dark chanting goshawk, Egyptian vultures and white-headed vultures, etc. Other recorded bird species that you can’t afford to miss out on a Uganda birding safari in Kidepo include the common ostrich, Karamoja Apalis, Kori bustard, red, and yellow barbet, Abyssinian roller, Greater Kestrel, Northern red-billed hornbill, Chestnut weaver, Secretary bird, and the Abyssinian ground hornbill, to mention but a few
Surrounded by distant mountains, the rolling savannah plain has permanent water throughout the year thus, most of the park’s wildlife congregates here. The valley is well-established with game tracks to enable tourists to explore the valley’s natural wonders. While on a game viewing safari in the Narus valley, you will come across a variety of animals such as oribis, reedbucks, lions, giraffes, buffaloes, and various birds.
Unlike the Narus valley, water sources in the Kidepo valley especially the Kidepo river tend to dry up during the dry season, leaving the valley with bare white sand. However, this is a great place in the park to see birds as many species including ostriches call this spot home.
This valley lies in the northwestern part of Kidepo Valley National Park. The Valley derives its name from the local word “namamukweny” which means a place with no birds which is ironic because the valley offers amazing birding encounters. The valley is a habitat for a variety of bird species including the Abyssinian Roller, White-crested Turaco, and Eastern Paradise Whydah.
Elevated at 2,749m above sea level, Mount Morungole marks Uganda’s border with South Sudan. Its mountain slopes are inhabited by the Ik people – the smallest ethnic group in Uganda. The IK inhabited the mountain as their sacred home. Mount Morungole can be explored on foot offering remarkable hiking and authentic cultural thrills to travelers on a Uganda safari in Kidepo Valley National Park.
The Lomej Hills located just a short drive from the park headquarters is a wonderful spot for viewing wildlife in Kidepo. Here, visitors can expect to spot a range of mountain reedbucks.
Another fascinating tourist attraction in Kidepo Valley National Park is the Karamojong and Ik culture. The Karamojong are mostly known for being fierce warriors who depend on cattle for their livelihoods. They believe that all the cows in Africa belong to them and therefore find no problem raiding neighboring communities to acquire more animals. However, the Karamojong traditions and way of life are intriguing; whereas the women and children stay home and do the chores, the men will go look for cattle. The Karamojong also depend on cattle for milk and blood for food. They live in small huts called manyattas and practice polygamous marriages, and so on.
The Ik on the other hand, are the smallest ethnic group in Uganda. The Ik live on top of Mount Morungole in Kidepo Valley National Park. They migrated to the mountain in search of a place that was sacred and far away from the conflicts and raids from other tribes in the region, especially the Karamojong. The Ik are also cattle keepers but they also practice farming. They live in small enclosed communities and are very hospitable. Travelers to the Ik community ought to learn about their unique culture and explore the Ik way of life. Explore their local traditional dressing, and food and enjoy their traditional dance and entertainment.
Safari game drives are the top tourist attraction in Kidepo Valley National Park where visitors enjoy game viewing in the comfort of a 4×4 pop-up safari vehicle. Game drives in Kidepo Valley National Park are carried out in two sessions; morning game drives and afternoon/evening game drives and at times full-day game drives are offered in Kidepo Valley National Parks. Here, visitors spend the whole exploring the stunning wilderness of Kidepo. Game drives in Kidepo Valley National Park are done in the two valleys Narus and Kidepo which offer remarkable sightings of animals such as reedbucks, lesser and greater kudus, Grant’s gazelles, giraffes, antelopes, lions, spotted hyenas, buffaloes, elephants, zebras, and so many others.
Home to over 475 bird species including 56 raptors, and resident and migrant species, Kidepo Valley National Park is a prime birding destination in Uganda. Bird-watching in Kidepo Valley National Park is mostly done in areas around Apoka Rest Camp and the Namamukweny valley. Birders in Kidepo Valley National Park will be treated to abundant sights of bird species such as ostriches, Clapperton’s Francolin, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Karamoja Apalis, Egyptian Eagle, Dark chanting goshawk, Fox kestrel, pygmy falcon, and superb starling, among others.
Nature walks are another top tourist activity in Kidepo Valley National Park. Nature walks in Kidepo allow tourists to get up close and personal with the stunning landscape and extraordinary wildlife of the park. The nature walks are experienced on foot and with the company of an armed ranger to protect you from wild animals. Moreover, there are designated nature trails including the Kakine trail, Narus Valley, and Namamukweny valley, among others, all offering spectacular sightseeing.
Cultural encounters in Kidepo Valley National Park take tourists on a cultural spree in two tribes: the Ik and the Karamojong. During the cultural encounters, visitors will take time to mingle with the locals and learn about their traditional ways of life. Among other things, they will visit their homesteads and local museums, in addition to enjoying traditional dances, folk songs, and drama.
Kidepo Valley National Park can be visited all year; however, the best time to visit the park is during the dry season from June to September and December to February when there is less rainfall. This is the best time for wildlife viewing in Kidepo Valley National Park. More so, during the dry season, animals in the park congregate in the Narus valley for water, thus easy to spot on a game-viewing safari.
Nonetheless, visiting Kidepo Valley National Park during the wet season (March to May) is not recommended, as the park is difficult to access during this time. More so, animals in the park are scattered during this time and it is hard to find them.
Kidepo Valley National Park has various accommodations which include safari lodges and safari camps. These accommodation facilities range between budget, midrange, and luxury facilities, and among these include;
This recently established beautiful luxury lodge perches at the edge of the national park, close to the main gate. The lodge has 17 cottages with both single and double rooms. The cottages are well-designed with pristine wood and furniture and all rooms have en-suite facilities. The lodge also features a restaurant that serves delicious three-course meals, a lounge, and swimming pool, etc.
Apoka Safari Lodge is one of the best safari lodges in Kidepo Valley National Park. The luxury lodge strategically sits on an area overlooking the Narus Valley which offers its guests outstanding views of Kidepo wildlife. The lodge has 10 luxury rooms including a family room that is beautifully designed with African crafts. Other facilities include a swimming pool, restaurant, and well-stocked bar where you can cool off after an evening game drive.
This mid-range safari camp derives its name from a local word that means a place with rocks. The lodge also overlooks the Narus Valley, allowing visitors to spot wildlife such as giraffes, buffaloes, elephants, etc., roaming the park’s savannah. Nga’Moru Wilderness camp has 5 spacious rooms with en-suite bathrooms. The camp also provides born fire, a restaurant, and a lounge.
This lodge is a mid-range accommodation facility located close to the park, near the Kalukodo gate. The lodge is a tented camp with both self-contained and non-self-contained safari tents. The self-contained tents are comfortable with en-suite bathrooms and the lodge caters to both mid-range and budget travelers. Other facilities offered include a restaurant and a bar, among others.
Apoka Rest Camp is a budget safari camp in Kidepo Valley National Park managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The camp features 16 bandas with en-suite facilities and 14 non-self-contained bandas with shared bathrooms outside. However, the camp does not provide food and drinks as guests are often advised to come with their food. Still, there is staff available to help with the cooking. Apoka Rest Camp offers various activities including safari game drives and nature walks.
White Water Rafting