If you are looking for a remote location where you can experience part of what Uganda holds within its boundaries, Kidepo Valley National Park is the perfect option. This park is situated in the North eastern part of the country close to the Kenyan and South Sudan border in Kaabong district and stands out as one of the best places you can visit while on a Uganda safari. Kidepo was first established as a game reserve in 1958 by the then colonial government and this was because of the poaching and destruction the park was facing by the dodoth and Ik who are thought to have cleared the park with belief that this would reduce on the number of Tsetse flies. In 1962 the same year Uganda got her independence, the then game reserve was turned into a national park.
Kidepo valley National Park covers an area of 1,442 square kilometers and is made up different vegetation types from the semi-arid grassland which dominates most part of the park, mountain vegetation found on mount Murongole and more. Its also made up of two seasonal rivers that flow within the park and dry up during the drier season of the year. The two rivers are called Narus and Kidepo which flow through valleys of the same name. when they dry up during the dry season, wildlife species found within the park do gather on oases where they can get the water to cool off.
Over75 species of mammals, 470 bird species call Kidepo home and all can be seen through game drives. Apart from wildlife safari, you can also take part in the cultural experience where you will get to see the Karamojong people, their way of life and tradition. This park is unique as it harbors species that can’t be the found anywhere else in Uganda apart from the park. Some of the species you can expect to see here include the cheetahs, black- backed jackal, some antelope species and more. These and more make it one of the best places that’ll offer you the very African experience that you can get from Maasai mara game reserve in Kenya and Serengeti national park in Tanzania. Other species that you can find here include buffaloes, lions, leopards, hyena, bat – eared fox, elephants, elands, caracal, and many others. With these so many wildlife species, still is among the less visited places in Uganda. The reason is attributed to the long hours of driving to this park and accommodation here. There only two hotels and one government owned rest camp. Other reasons why the park remains one of the less visited areas is because of the past conflicts in the northern part of the country especially the Kony war which destabilized the region and this greatly affected tourism in the park as many embassies declared the region not safe for international travelers. Roads in this area are under developed and the government has not done enough to tarmac them hence making access hard. There many reasons why its still the least visited and we can’t exhaust them but regardless of the above factors, Kidepo remains one of the must visit places you can check out while on a safari in Uganda.
Places to visit while on safari in Kidepo National Park
Apoka tourism center: this one right here doubles to be the headquarters of the park. Here is where you will access all the services, purchase a few items and its here that UWA officers are situated where you will clear park activities. If you wish to book a game ranger, you can as well get one from here. You will also get your camping equipment from here which are available for renting. Apoka can also be accessed by air that is using a small chartered plane from either Kajjansi airfield or Entebbe international airport. This place is situated on a hill and it’ll give you a clear glimpse of wildlife species in park gathered around the dam to drink water.
Game drives are rewarding while in Kidepo National Park as they will give you an opportunity to have a closer look of species as they roam around the park. Game drives usually are done early in the morning and in the late afternoon simply because wild animals are less during the hot hours of the day and more active during the time when the sun is setting and rising. In the morning, you will be able to see early morning risers as they hunt for what to prey on and nocturnals as they head to their havens after a busy night of hunting. In the late afternoon you will get to enjoy the scenic views of the sun as it sets.
The Narus valley: Walking through the Narus valley is an extremely rewarding experience that you’d wish to be part. Here you will be able to encounter different species of animals and you will see them through this incredible landscape. Wildlife species you can expect to see include several bird species like the purple heron, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Clapperton’s francolin, Abyssinian roller which are endemic to Kidepo National Park. Other species you will see include giraffes, buffaloes, reedbucks, cheetahs, oribis, leopards, lions and more others. During the dry season – a time when Narus river dries up, the animals gather in muddy ponds and close to the Narus dam which is the only sole source of water to cool off. And its here that you will be able to spot a number of animals
Kidepo Valley: Your safari in Kidepo National Park is incomplete if you don’t get a chance to visit this place. This is the best place for wildlife viewing where you will see several species as they roam around the park. This is also a perfect spot for birders where they can have a look at a number of species that inhabit the park.
Kanangorok hot springs: While in Kidepo, you can choose to go visit these hot springs situated right after the Kidepo valley and river on the border with South Sudan.
Morungule mountains: standing at 2,750 square kilometers, this is an iconic feature that you can easily see while in Kidepo National Park. The slopes of these mountains are occupied by the Ik people and having a close encounter with this particular tribe is an experience that you definitely don’t have to miss.
Other places you can visit in Kidepo Valley National Park include; lomej hills, Namamukweny valley, Lonyili mountain and more.
Activities in Kidepo National Park
Like any other national park in Uganda, this national park has a lot to offer to travelers giving them a memorable lifetime experience. The activities include:
Game drives: To experience Kidepo at its best, you definitely have to be part game drive through this national park. Kidepo has a vast number of wildlife species that you will be encounter and some that you will not find in any other place in Uganda expect here. These include: ostriches, cheetahs, aardwolf, caracal, mountain reedbuck, Gunther’s Dik-Dik and more. Others you will find here include: lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, buffaloes and many other species. There plans to introduce rhinos from Ziwa rhino sanctuary which is situated in Nakasongola district. Game drives in Kidepo are majorly done in the Narus valley where you will find heards of buffaloes and antelopes and big cats as this is the favorable spot for hunting. you don’t have to worry about your safety while on these roads because UWA always provides a game ranger who’ll accompany you till the activity. The roads within the park too are full marram and can be accessed through the year.
Cultural safari: Kidepo does this kind of safari to its travelers giving you an opportunity to observe and enjoy the tribes that within and close to the park. The Karimajong is one of the local communities you will encounter. These are nomadic pastoralists who have close links with the Nyagatom of Ethiopia.
These are mainly cattle keepers but they have recently adopted farming practices. Seeing this particular group is a rewarding experience. You will definitely fall in love with their dress code. To see this community, you will have to book with the park management or the hotel reservations to have a local guide availed to you for this particular activity.
Another group you will find in Kidepo National Park are the Ik who reside on the slopes of Mount Murongole. These are also referred to as the mountain people and to see them you will have to go on a hike to the mountain where they live. It’s an experience like no other that watching and getting close to this tribe and witnessing how they associate with themselves is truly heartwarming.
Nature walks and hikes: to discover the best that Kidepo has within its boundaries, you definitely have to be part of the nature walks that’ll take you through the park. With the help of a well trained guide you will be led on a hike to mountain Murongole. This is a popular spot and while here you will be able to enjoy the beautiful scenic views of the park. You will also get the opportunity to go and tour the lodge that was constructed by Uganda’s former president Idi Amin Dada.
Birding; there a variety of bird species you can see while on a safari to Kidepo Valley National Park. Some of the species are endemic to the park and can be found only here. The ostrich is the popular bird that you will find in Kidepo. The activity is done in the morning and evening.
How to get to Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo National Park can be accessed by both road and air. Its situated 571 kilometers away from Uganda’s capital Kampala and you can access it using the Kampala – Karuma – Gulu – Kitgum – Kidepo. And in 10hrs you will be in the park.
You can also opt to access it using an aircraft from either Kajjansi airstrip or Entebbe international park.
Best to visit Kidepo Valley National Park
Tourism in Uganda is an all year-round success however there’s a particular season when you will most likely seeing a number of species and this is during the drier seasons of the year. Uganda experiences two dry and wet season. During the dry season, the Narus and Kidepo rivers that flow through the part dry up leaving very little oases where water can be got and its here that animals within the park converge to cool off. There fore this is the best time to visit the park. You will also be able several cats as they spot out prey. The dry season is during the months of June to September and December to February.
During the wet season which takes between the months of March to May and October to November, the park is receiving a considerable amount of rainfall which fills up the two rivers of Narus and Kidepo. There’s always plenty of food and water available scattering several animal species within the park which does make seeing some hard. However, some travelers prefer visiting the park during this time for various and still it’ll give you a memorable experience.
Accommodation options in Kidepo Valley National Park
Unlike other popular parks in Uganda, there are a few lodges in Kidepo National Park and they include the Apoka lodge, N’gamoru wilderness camp, Kidepo savannah lodge, Apoka rest camp. Travelers visiting the park are advised to book their stay days prior to their visit to avoid inconveniences and the above facilities do offer both midrange and luxury accommodation options. For travelers who’d like to do camping, its also possible.
Kidepo is among the various places you can visit while in Uganda. You can couple your wildlife safari from Kidepo with a primate safari in Kibale National park or a visit to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park to see the great mountain gorillas in their natural habitat.