Kidepo Valley National Park- Wildlife Safaris in Uganda
Kidepo valley national park is found in the rugged, semi-arid valleys in Karamoja region, located in the far north east at the border of South Sudan, Kenya and Uganda in Kaabong district. Kidepo Valley National Park covers an area of 1442 sq.km which makes it the 3rd largest park in the country and is apparently the most isolated national park but still stands out to be one of the best virgin places every wildlife viewer can ever visit in Uganda. It is one of Africa’s best wildernesses.
This remote park receives fewer tourists as compared to the other Uganda national parks but it offers the most spectacular scenery view, vegetation and animals. Besides the exceptional wildlife safari experience, this national park is another great spot for a cultural trail especially to those who would like to see the Karamojong, Acholi plus other great tribes that live around the park. It offers the best landscape scenery in east Africa. The wet valleys attract large numbers of elephants and thousand-strong buffalo herds, especially during the dry season.
The park is home to over 475 bird species, which makes it second to queen Elizabeth national park with some rare species that are only found in the region in Uganda like; Black-breasted Barbet and Karamoja Apallis. The park is home to various savanna animals with about 86 mammal species; leopard, kudu, zebra, buffalo, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, oryx, bush baby, lions, kobs, waterbucks, Jackson’s hartebeests, among others.
Attractions in Kidepo Valley national Park
When visiting the park, there are many things you will expect to see and places to visit. Some of which are listed below;
Apoka Tourism Centre
This is the parks tourism hub where ranger guides are stationed. There is a craft shop where books, souvenirs and drinks can be bought. For those who plan to camp, camping gear can be hired here as well as game drive safari trucks.
The Narus valley is a wide grassland plain. The valley is a permanent water catchment area for most of the year. In the dry months, the valley attracts so many animals as they come around to look for water. Animals like buffalos, giraffes, elephants, oribi, kobs, lions among many others. There are 4 tracks that can be followed as you drive through the valley.
Kanangorok Hot Springs
The hot springs lie 11 km after river Kidepo in the Kidepo valley. The Kidepo valley attracts fewer animals since it lacks water most of the year.
Mount Morungole stands at a height of 2,750m and is crossed by Kidepo and Narus Rivers that provide water to the wildlife around the park. The mountain slopes are home to the Ik people, the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, who have a unique and interesting culture to know about. The hike to the top of the mountain and back is a full day activity.
The valley is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as the Eastern Paradise Whydah, White-crested Turaco, Common Bulbul, Abyssinian Roller and Green Wood Hoopoe among others. The valley lies in the north-west of the park and can be accessed by car or on foot.
The hills are a good viewing point for birds and wildlife, including the mountain reedbuck.
Lonyili Mountain This mountain is largely covered by montane forests. It is a home to primates like colobus monkeys and various bird species.
Things to do in Kidepo Valley National Park
With the various attractions the park has to offer, there are many things to do while visiting the park.
Game drive is the major and most exciting activity in the park. They are done early in the morning and in the late afternoon, when the sun is down and most animals are active. Games drives are mostly done in the Narus valley where so many animals and birds can be spotted. There are 4 trails to be followed as you drive through while looking for the animals. Among the various species to see within this park are: the Hunting dog, Bat-eared Fox, Cheetah, Striped Hyena, Caracal, the aard Wolf, elephants, oribi, burchell’s zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, bush pigs, bohor reed buck, warthogs, rothschild giraffes, defassa water bucks, cape buffaloes, elands, bush duskier, bush bucks, lions, side-striped jackals, leopards, black-backed jackals, various small cats as well as spotted hyenas.
The Apoka Rest Camp and Park Headquarters overlooking the swallow, southern Narus Valley is a great spot to begin your Kidepo birding. The attractive Silverbird and small bands of Yellow-billed Shrike frequent the thorn trees around camp, as do a number of other widespread species such as Vinaceous Dove, Hoopoe, Nubian Woodpecker, Mosque Swallow, Ruppell’s and Superb Starlings, Scarlet-chested Sunbird, Little Weaver and Red-cheeked Cordon-bleu. A small permanent water hole at the edge of camp attracts swallows and a variety of seedeaters including Yellow-rumped Seedeater and is visited at night by Four-banded Sandgrouse, Elephant, Buffalo and occasionally Lion. Clapperton’s Francolin, Black Coucal, African Moustached and Broad-tailed Warblers, Marsh Tchagra and Crimson-rumped Waxbill may be seen in the rank grass along the normally dry stream bed adjacent to camp or along the track to Apoka lodge.
Hiking and nature walks
Visitors to the park can also participate in guided nature walks and hikes. Short hikes from Apoka at the Park’s hub to Namamukweny valley take about 1 hour. The valley is one of the best birding spots in the park. Tourists can also enjoy guided nature walks in the finely decorated Kidepo valley which is home to most of the ostriches in the park. The Kidepo valley also offers gorgeous vistas of white sand that defines the Kidepo river banks and the borussus palms which are artistically aligned within the valley. Other hikes lead to the northeastern part of the park lead to the Morungole Mountains where you get to interact with the Ik people who have interesting culture to learn about.
Karimojong people cultural visit
The Karamojong people live around the park and are cattle-rearing community in northeastern Uganda who periodically move with their animals in search for water and pasture. Their migrating nature forces them to construct temporary structures called “Manyatas” wherever they go. Some of their settlements can however be visited as part of the Morungole mountain hike. The Karamojong speak a language called Karamojong and live a life very similar to the Maasai of northern Tanzania and southern Kenya. Their fascinating culture is something to look out for while on a Uganda Safari to Kidepo Valley National Park. Tourists to the park always take out sometime to visit the Karimajong settlements to know about their culture and how they spend their daily lives. Some support the community by buying their locally made crafts or donate some funds to the people.
How to Get to Kidepo Valley national park
The park can be reached by road or air.
Travelling by road is more exciting because you are able to see the country side and the local homes of the Acholi and Karimajong people. The roads are sometimes in poor conditions most especially in the wet season and you will need a 4WD vehicle. There are four road routes that can be used to access the park; Kampala – Mbale – Sironko – Moroto – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo. The driving distance is about 740km which will take about 12 hours. Kampala – Mbale – Soroti – Moroto – Kotido – Kabong – Kidepo. The driving distance is 792km which takes about 14 hours. Kampala – Karuma – Gulu – Kitgum – Kidepo. The distance is about 571km which take around 10 hours. Kampala – Karuma – Lira – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo. The distance is around 705km which is about12 hours. I would advise self-drive tourists to always take a break and spend a night at one of the towns along the way and proceed the following day if they are not used to driving on African roads. Visitors should note that the road mainly in use from Kotido to Kaabong passes via Kanawat not via Losilang as indicated on most maps. You can stop in Kotido and ask the locals for more details about the road to take.
Charter flights to Kidepo can be arranged from Entebbe or Kampala. Flights from Entebbe or Kajjansi take about two hours to reach the park (Lomej airstrip). There are currently no scheduled flights to Apoka. Your driver will pick you up from the airstrip and then transfer to your lodge.
When is the best time to visit Kidepo Valley National park
Kidepo valley national park located in north eastern part of Uganda is a true picture of African wilderness. Its rugged terrain and semi-arid valleys give it a roughly hewn beauty that cannot be seen anywhere else. It is the perfect destination for a true African safari in Uganda. Kidepo valley national park is open to visitors and tourists pretty much all year round.
The dry season: the park is located in the north eastern region of Uganda where by the dry months are; September through March. During these months, the area is hot and dry and the best time for wildlife viewing since the grass is shorter and you can easily spot animals even at a far distance. December, January and February are however more dry and dusty. Many of the water sources dry up, so it is easy to see animals congregated around the available water sources. The Narus valley in the southern region of the park is a permanent water source, even in the drier months it has small pools of remnant water. The valley attracts so many animals which makes it the best place for animal viewing. During these months, malaria threats are so minimal since most of the water pools and bushes where mosquitoes breed dry up.
The Wet season: the wet season in the region runs from April through August. The rain is this region is light and doesn’t interrupt with game viewing. Game drives can as well be done during this season because the area will not be as hot as in the dry season. The season also comes with beautiful green lush scenery of the Kidepo plains. It is the best time to go bird watching in the park, because you can find a number of migratory birds plus the resident species. During this time, the roads are so slippery because of the rain and you will need a 4WD vehicle to easily pass through.