Kidepo Valley National Park is arguably Uganda’s most spectacular park. Vastly unexplored and less known, it offers the largest wildlife range of all the parks in Uganda with 77 mammals and almost 500 bird species. The sweeping savannahs of Kidepo Valley National Park are unique to this remote part of Uganda extend far beyond the horizon to a backdrop of the rugged Mount Morungole at 2,750m, on the southern border of the park.
The scenery of Kidepo Valley National Park ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses is unsurpassed by any other park in Uganda and makes for exceptional game viewing. Kidepo Valley National Park was first gazetted as a game reserve in 1958 before becoming a National Park in 1962.
The park is tucked away in a remote corner in the northeast of Uganda in the semi-arid Karamoja region. Two rivers; River Kidepo and River Narus that are beautifully lined with Borassus palms dissect the park. It experiences only one rainy season every year during which time the lowlands and riverbanks are teeming with wildlife and animals roam the park with wild abandon. Everything changes in the dry season when both rivers dry up and the plains of the Kidepo become harsh and unforgiving on the animals, forcing them to seek out water sources.
The Narus valley receives a little more rain than the Kidepo valley and during the dry season, its remnant pools and wetlands are a beacon for all manner of game. For much of the year, the park’s wildlife flocks to the Narus Valley and can be observed at a waterhole near the Tourism Centre in Apoka. To appreciate the extent of the dry season, visitors can drive to the dry Kidepo River and walk across the 50m-wide bed of sand. But the best part about a visit to Kidepo during the dry season is how easy it is to see the animals, sometimes just by skimming the valley with binoculars, from the comfort of your room.
Kidepo National Park - Activities
If there is a place where all of Uganda’s wildlife comes together, Kidepo is it. The park has the most diverse fauna of any Ugandan National Park and is home to many animal species that cannot be found anywhere else in Uganda, including the cheetah, greater and lesser kudu and the mountain reedbuck. Lions, leopards, elephants, twelve species of antelope, and zebras occur regularly and perhaps Africa’s largest single herd of buffalo. Kidepo is particularly rich in predator species, many of which are only found in Kidepo including the striped hyena, cheetah, hunting dog, bat-eared fox, aardwolf and caracal. Although the park is primarily a savannah reserve, five primate species are present, including the rare and localized patas monkey.
Game viewing is possible by the vehicle on dirt roads that crisscross the southern and western parts of the park. The best game viewing is done along the Narus valley where most of the park’s wildlife congregates most of the year and several available track circuits in this area give visitors opportunity to view animals at close range. Wildlife is most active in the early mornings and late afternoons. The Lomej Hills, a short drive from Apoka are a great viewing point and as is the Kidepo River Picnic site perched on the sands of the Kidepo Valley.
A staggering 475 species of birds can be spotted in Kidepo, 60 of which are not found anywhere else in Uganda. Of note are the 56 birds of prey with 14 species endemic to Kidepo including Verreaux’s Eagle, Egyptian Vulture and Pygmy Falcon. Unique to Kidepo is the world’s largest birds, the Ostriches and from November to April every year, several migratory birds are present.
The best viewpoints are in Apoka at the lodge and the camp headquarters, which overlook the shallow Naurus valley where Yellow-billed Shrike and the Silver bird are common. The deserted Namamukweny Valley in the north-west of the park is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as the White-crested Turaco, Common Bulbul, Abyssinian Roller and Eastern Paradise Whydah, Green Wood Hoopoe among others. Along the dry Kidepo riverbed in Apoka, the African Moustached and Broad-tailed Warblers, Clapperton’s Francolin, Black Coucal, Marsh Tchagra and Crimson-rumped Waxbillood may be seen.
To date, no comprehensive survey of Kidepo’s bird species has been completed so it is possible that visitors can make new discoveries.
The vast wilderness of Kidepo is a gem to explore on walks and hikes, from the savannahs to the southern Mount Morungole ranges and the northern Lotukei mountains in South Sudan. The Lomej Mountains can be reached on foot in four hours and shorter guided two-hour walks on trails in the hills offer a stunning view of the lower side if the Narus valley. Of course, visitors can simply walk around the Apoka camp at any time of day and watch elephants, zebras and reedbucks.
Visitors can also wander along the splendid flatbed of the Kidepo River Valley between banks of attractive borassus palm forest. Only 11kms from the Kidepo River Valley are the Kanangorok Hot Springs that are a great resting point to take in the mountains that border both sides of the park. The Namamkweny Valley is only an hour from Apoka and brings visitors to communities of indigenous tribes.
The Karimajong and Ik tribes inhabit Kidepo Valley National Park. The Ik, one of the smallest ethnic groups in Uganda whose survival is threatened are a hunter-gather people that live on the foothills of Mount Morungole. The Karimajong, the famous nomadic pastoralists are a proud people with a well-preserved and iconic culture. On community tours, visitors can visit these communities and learn about the ways and cultures of the Ik and Karimajong.
Kidepo National Park - What you need to know
Location And Getting There
Kidepo Valley National Park lies 940m – 2,750m above sea level and occupies an area of 1,442sq. km in Kaabong District, Northeastern Uganda, close to the borders with South Sudan and Kenya. You can get there by driving 705kms in 12hours via Gulu or 571kms in 14 hours via Lira from Kampala by road. The park’s headquaters in Apoka camp is 220kms from Moroto, the nearest major city. It is also accessible via a 2hour Aero Link flight from Entebbe International Airport into Kidepo. Murchison Falls National Park is the nearest park to Kidepo, 440kms away, 8hours away by road.
Climate And When To Visit
Located in the semi-arid northeast of Uganda, Kidepo experiences only one rainy season every year, from April – September and daytime temperatures regularly exceed 29°C. The dry season from October – March is generally considered the best time for game viewing in Kidepo because the multitudes of animals converge at known watering holes. However, birders will appreciate Kidepo more in the rainy season.
The Ik Tribe
Of all the tribes that live in the North East area of Uganda of there are a few the Ik tribe is the most marginalised and close to extinction. They live in and around the Mount Morungore area having moved there to avoid a potential dispute with the other tribes who live in that region, the Karamajong, Dodoth, Iteso and Jie. There are only a few companies that provide an authentic and non-invasive trip to experience what to live as a member of the Ik in today’s world and if time permits it is well worth it.