Kidepo Valley National Park is found in the North Eastern part of Uganda in the district of Kaabong. Kabong is a town found near the border between Uganda and South Sudan. This isolated and remote national park consists of mainly rugged Savannah, hills and great valleys that are surrounded by the Morungole Mountains. Kidepo was turned into a game reserve in 1958 by the colonial government because of the excess poaching and destruction of vegetation by the Ik and Dodoth as they tried to control the number of Tse Tse flies in the park at the time. Four years later in 1962, the game reserve was turned into Kidepp Valley national park. 1962 is the year Uganda got her independence.
The park has two major valleys Narus and Kidepo. Each of these valleys has a river with the same names at their center. The Narus and Kidepo rivers dry off in the middle of the dry season leaving the animals to survive on the remaining small pools (oasis).The semi-arid conditions in Kidepo, mountains, Savannah grasslands, plains and wildlife combine to make Kidepo the park with the best landscape in Uganda. Kidepo is also the best national park to go for wildlife viewing because of the great numbers of wildlife gathering at a single point. CNN Travel has listed Kidepo as among the 3 most attractive national parks in the world. Kidepo’s extremely charming landscape and wildlife (over 76 species of mammals and 474 of birds) has made it the only park in Uganda where tourists can go to see the African wilderness the way it used to be before modernity. It the only park in Uganda with conditions that rival Kenya’s Maasai Maraa or the Serengeti in Tanzania.
Important places to visit while on a safari in Kidepo National Park
Apoka Tourism Centre: This Centre is built strategically overlooking the great Narus Valley. It is the hub for all activities in the park. This is where most of the staffs of the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) are stationed. A few lodges are built around here some of which are owned by UWA. All the armed park rangers and guides are stationed here ready to escort visitors to the deeper ends of the park for game drives and nature walks. Drinking water, alcohol, sodas, books and other souvenirs can be bought from the craft shops. Those who are planning to go camping and wish to book cooking equipment can do so from here. There are even Tour vans for hire for those without proper safari vehicles. During the dry season, tourists can spot animals easily from the Apoka Tourism center as they go to drink at the Narus valley and dam.
The Narus Valley: The Narus valley is one of the most famous gathering points for wildlife in Africa. The valley consists of rolling savannah grassland that area surrounded by mountainous landscape. The Narus River is found down at the valley. This river dries up during the hottest part of the year leaving small muddy ponds and the artificial Narus dam as the only sources of drinking water for the animals. Among the wild animals that can be sighted at the Narus valley are buffaloes, cheetahs, giraffes, Jackson’s hartebeest, leopards, lions, oribris and reedbucks.
Kidepo Valley: The Kidepo valley is one of the best places to view wildlife in the park. Unlike the Narus valley, the water sources here are very scarce during the dry season. Most of the river Kidepo dries out and leaves the valley with a long trail of white stand. There are several bird species that call this place home including ostriches and is worth a visit for birders.
Kanangorok Hot Springs: These hot springs are located past the Kidepo valley and river on the border with South Sudan. The Hot springs are a great place to view the mountain ranges.
Morungule Mountains: These mountains rise up to 2,750 meters tall and act as one of the boundaries of the park. The IK people live on top of these Mountains. The area around the mountains can be toured on foot with the help of a park ranger.
Namamukweny Valley: The Namamukweny Valley is found in the North-western part of the game park. The name “Namamukweny” in the Napore dialect means a lonely place with few people or birds. Regarding birds, this is far from the truth. Several species like the Abyssinian Roller, Common Bulbul, Eastern Paradise Whydah, Green Wood Hoopoe and the White-crested Turaco thrive in this isolated valley.
Lomej Hills: These hills are found near the park headquarters. The hills are perfect for birdwatching and spotting animals like the mountain reedbuck.
Lonyili Mountain: This Mountain has a great collection of small primates like the Colobus Monkeys that thrive on its montane forests. The mountain lies between the border of Uganda (Kitgum District) and South Sudan. Unfortunately the roads leading to the mountain are not well developed. Visitors need special permission and guidance before hiking the mountains.
Things to do in Kidepo Valley National Park
CNN Travel described Kidepo Valley National Park as one of the top three national parks to visit in Africa for a reason. The park has semi-arid conditions, mountains and hills that are perfect for photography. Less than 10 people visit Kidepo on a given day and this has left many sections of the park relatively unspoiled, virgin and untouched. Kidepo gives you a sense of being alone in the African wilderness than few parks in Africa (Except for some in DR Congo). So what activities can one get involved in while visiting Kidepo National Park.
Game drives: Most tourist go for a 4 days safari to Kidepo with the purpose of spotting the animals and carrying out the other popular activities in the park. Game drives in Kidepo are the best anywhere in Uganda. This is mainly because of the sheer number of mammals and birds that gather to feed in the great valleys found in the park. Though the main park roads are made of hard murram and are passable throughout the year, most of the smaller roads leading to the remote areas are difficult to pass during the wet season. Visitors need a sturdy four wheel drive safari vehicle to pass through the most roads. To ensure safety of everyone during the game drives, visitors are always accompanied by an armed ranger from UWA.
Nature Walks and Hikes: These walks and hikes can be done on foot under the guidance of an experienced Park ranger. Hiking up the Morungole Mountains is one of the popular activities in the park. Taking a walk to visit the dream lodge started by Uganda’s famous dictator Idi Amin but incomplete attracts some visitors.
Birdwatching: Because certain parts of the park are virgin and rarely visited, there is no complete count of the number of bird species found in the park. Kidepo Valley National Park is best known for its resident birds of prey such as the Egyptian Vulture, Pygmy Falcon and Verreaux’s Eagle. These birds can only found in Kidepo and the region of Karamoja. The ostrich is the most prominent and largest bird found in Kidepo. In Uganda, this huge bird can only be sighted in Kidepo Valley National Park. The others are found in the Entebbe wildlife center and other animals reserves in the country. To increase their numbers in the park, the Uganda Wildlife Authority collects eggs from the bushes and hatches them artificially.
Visiting the Karamojong: The Karamojong are nomadic pastoralists who live in North Eastern Uganda including some areas around Kidepo National Park. The Karamojong are related to the Maasai of Kenya and their lives are centered around their animals. The Karamojong believe that all cattle on earth belong to them. Any cattle that are not kept by them are believed to have been stolen from them at some point in the past. Because of this belief, the Karamojong raid neighboring tribes of cattle without any remorse because they are taking back what belongs to them. Their raids became more bloody when they got hold of guns during the periods of instability in Uganda between the 1970’s and 80’s. Of recent the government has disarmed them and cattle raids have become less common. A cultural visit to the Karamojong is a very interesting experience because they are among the few tribes in Uganda that still live as they used to thousands of years ago. Visiting the Karamojong is a great opportunity to experience the kind of life most African tribes lived about a century ago.
Visiting the Ik People: The Ik people live an isolated life on top of the Morungole Mountains. The Ik are believed to have originally come from Ethiopia before settling around the Kidepo area. The Ik lived for many years in the Kidepo area before the arrival of the Karamojong. Constant fights with the Karamojong and other tribes like the Dodoth forced them to retreat to the mountain tops to save themselves. The Ik have a distinct language and culture that is being threatened by modern civilization and their dwindling population. A cultural visit to the Ik people exposes one to the their ancient traditions, their language, traditional dances, songs, way of dressing and hunting methods.
How to reach Kidepo National Park
Kidepo National Park is 521 kilometers away from Kampala city by road. From Moroto town, the distance to the park is 219 kilometers. The most convenient way for international visitors to get to Kidepo is by air from Entebbe Airport or Kajjansi airstrip along the Entebbe – Kampala highway. Flights from Entebbe or Kajjansi to Kidepo cost about $430 and $720 for one way and 2 way tickets respectively.
When to visit Kidepo Valley National Park
Uganda generally has two dry and wet seasons. When is the best time to visit Kidepo? Wildlife viewing is best done during the dry months of December – March and July – August. During this time river Kidepo and Nurus dry up and leave small oasis where the animals gather in large numbers to drink. This animal gathering provides perfect opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography. The rains bring back the rivers and the animals tend to disperse and feed in smaller groups because there is plenty of food and water everywhere. Although the dry season has its advantages, some visitors may find the heat and dust uncomfortable. The short rainy season still has good views of the animals. The animals are joined by migratory birds making it the best time to go birding. The rains turn the park s beauty to extreme levels with amazing greenery which photographers will love. The heat is acceptable and even cool. Unfortunately during the wet season, some of the animals move to higher ground to avoid getting wet down at the rivers and swamps forcing tourists to go out looking for them.
Lodges and Hotels in Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park has fewer accommodation options compared to the other large parks in Uganda. As more and more visitors visit the park, we foresee more individuals and companies investing in lodges, campsites and hotels. Although visitors always get a room in the park, it is advisable that one books a room prior to arriving for a safari to avoid any inconveniences. The lodges and hotels are divided into three categories like elsewhere – Budget, mid-range and Luxury. All the hotels and lodges are strategically located within the park to the allow residents marvel at the great landscape that sets the park apart.
Apoka Safari Lodge: This is a luxury lodge is built in a location that allows residents to look at the Narus river from a far. The rooms are built with local materials and are furnished with large beds, soft carpets, towels and duvet. Local art is hang on the walls of the room to give visitors are feeling of being out with nature. There is a common living room and a large stone bathtub at the back of the lodge. There is both electricity and solar power ensuring that lights are on 24/7. The lodge has a small plane that transports visitors from Entebbe to the airstrip nearby.
Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp: Nga’Moru (the place of rocks) offers both mid-range and budget rooms (safari tents) but without compromising on quality. The camp also faces the Narus Valley of the park offering wonderful views of the animals feeding and drinking water at river Narus. A camp fire is usually set in the evening allow guests mingle and enjoy the beautiful African night. The camp has laundry services and a parking space.
Apoka Rest Camp: This lodge also offers both budget and mid-range rooms and facilities. It is relatively cheaper to stay here because the lodge is owned by the Uganda Wildlife Authority. The camp has 14 bandas and 16 chalets that are self-contained. The bandas have limited facilities and are designed traveling on budget. You need to carry your own food and drinks if you are staying in the bandas. Food can be prepared on arrangement by staff in the park for visitors who are staying for longer periods. Those interested in camping need to come with their own tents or hire from the staff at a cost.
Kidepo Savannah lodge: This lodge offers both luxury and simple tents that are built near the Kalokudo gate of the park. The luxury tents are self-contained and offer great views of one of Africa’s last remaining untapped wilderness. The simple tents can be shared and are suitable for visitors traveling on a budget. While in the lodge, tourists can spot the beautiful hills on the border with South Sudan, the Morungole Mountains and Narus valley from outside their tent or lodge area. Te Ik people and Karamojong live nearby and can be visited on arrangement. Food and cold drinks are served at the bar and restaurant while laundry services can be requested at any time. The lodge hires out cars, has a large parking space with a security personnel.
Nga’ Moru wilderness camp: This camp is built in a hill overlooking the stunning Narus Valley near the Kratum gate of the park. Nga Moru among the Karamojong means “place of stones of rocks”. The camp has tents that can be used by up to three people. The tents are raised on wooden platforms that offer good views of animals like ostriches roaming the Narus valley. Apart form tents, there are bandas (with grass roof) that are self-contained rooms and friendly staff. Other facilities in the lodge include a well manicured garden, a bar, restaurant, a lounge, laundry services. Children pay half the price of adults.