Kidepo Valley National Park. Uganda
Named Africa’s 3rd best wilderness national park in the 2013 CNN Travel Awards, Kidepo Valley National Park is situated in the jagged dry lands in the valley between Uganda’s frontiers with South Sudan to the northeast and Kenya to the east. The protected area was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1958, with two main aims of clearing the bush to control tsetse flies and protecting its wildlife from hunters. Following independence in 1962, Kidepo was upgraded to a national park status and seven years later expanded to span over 1,442 square kilometres, making it the 3rd largest national park in the country.
Kidepo derives its name from river Kidepo, a derivative of the local word “akidep” which means “to pick” and relates to the fruits of the Borassus palms along the waterways of the seasonal river Kidepo, which formed an important water source during the times of drought. The park is the most isolated protected area in Uganda but the most captivating, combining both sceneries of jagged mountain scenery and an evoking wilderness aura, perfect for game viewing particularly in the Narus valley which harbours a wealth of lions, buffaloes, elephants to mention a few. Kidepo boasts of about 75 mammal and 470 bird species, including over 60 birds not recorded in any other national in Uganda. The Kidepo specials include the common ostrich, fox kestrel, red-billed hornbill to mention a few. Kidepo is also inhabited by the Karamojong pastoral communities renowned for their love of cattle and cattle rustling.
Activities in Kidepo Valley National Park
Visitors to Kidepo can participate in a variety of activities during their visit and some of these top activities include:
Safari game drives are done either in the morning, afternoon/evening and night.
Morning game drives are usually done very early in the morning by 6:00am to enable visitors catch sight of animals when they are most active. The morning game drive brings you to encounters with animals such as Elephants, Giraffes, Uganda kobs, Zebras, Buffaloes, Elands, and predators such as Leopards, Cheetahs, Side-stripped jackals, Lions among others.
The afternoon and evening game drives usually start after lunch at about 2:00pm and 5:00pm respectively where you will visit the Narus valley which attracts a large concentration of wildlife especially during the dry season due to the presence of a permanent water source. Wildlife that congregate here include Elephants, Buffaloes, Lelwel’s Hartebeests, Oribis and a variety of bird species.
Usually conducted after dinner, the evening game drive presents an opportunity to see the nocturnal animals. It’s best done in the company of a Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) ranger who will lead you to the various spots where you can easily see these animals with the help of spotlight torches. This drive presents an opportunity to see elusive species such as Leopards, Jackals, Aardwolf, White-tailed mongoose and Cheetahs to mention a few.
Guided nature walks in Kidepo are done around Apoka Safari Camp, Lomej Mountains, and Namamukweny and Narus valleys to allow visitors explore the park on foot. During the nature walk, visitors have an opportunity to spot animals such as the Elephants, Buffaloes, Waterbucks, Uganda Kobs, Zebras, Giraffes and Warthog to mention a few. This is done in the company of an armed ranger to provide security, safety and direction. The nature walk may also take you to hike Morungole Mountains where you may have an opportunity to interact with the Ik tribe and enjoy scenic views of the landscape as your watch wildlife.
With over 470 bird species, Kidepo is second to Queen Elizabeth National Park. Some of these birds are endemic, savannah and migratory in nature. Birding can be done during the game drive or nature walk with possibilities of spotting species such as the Karamoja apalis, White-bellied bustard, Black-breasted barbet, Long-tailed nightjar, ostrich, Purple heron, Abyssinian roller and Superb sterling to mention a few. These can be spotted in the Apoka Rest Camp, Namamukweny and Narus Valley.
Kidepo offers cultural tours to the Karamojong people living next to the park or the Ik who live on Mount Morungole. The cultural tour will help you discover and appreciate the uniqueness of these people. You will have an opportunity to see their beautifully thatched grass houses in the Manyatta homesteads, participate in the traditional dance, learn how bride price is determined and more about the culture and lifestyle of the Karamojong and Ik tribe.
Best time to visit Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is open for tourism all-year-round. However for the best wildlife viewing, it is advisable to visit in the dry season from the months of June to September and December to February. During this time, the access roads are easily passable, the vegetation is short to allow clear viewing of wildlife and wildlife usually gather in the waterhole thus providing an opportunity to watch them. However, this is the hottest and most dusty time of the year especially between the months of December and February.
Visitors can also visit Kidepo during the wet season from March to May and November when there are less crowds. This will allow them to enjoy the park and it is also during this time that migratory species are present therefore presenting birding opportunities for avid birders.
How to get to Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is best accessed by a chartered flight. However, it is also possible to drive to Kidepo.
Kidepo is best accessed by a chartered flight. Domestic airlines such as Aero Link operate flights from Entebbe airport and Kajjansi airfield to Apoka airstrip and Kidepo airport. This flies from Entebbe on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday only, departing at 12: 30pm and departing Kidepo for Kampala at 15:00pm, a flight that lasts about 2 hours.
Driving from Kampala to Kidepo is quite a long journey. There are several routes. The best and most direct route is through Gulu and Kitgum to Lokumoit Gate, a drive that may take about 10 hours. The trip can be broken up with an overnight stop at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, Chobe Safari Lodge, Gulu or Kitgum.
Two longer routes pass through the remote Karamoja sub-region, leading to Nataba Gate.
Where to stay in Kidepo Valley National Park
Accommodation can be organized within and outside the park. However, these are limited. Some of these facilities include:
- Apoka Safari Lodge
- Katurum Lodge
- Kidepo Savannah
- Adere Safari Lodge
- Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp
- Apoka Rest Camp
- UWA Bandas