Kidepo Valley National Park is Uganda’s hidden wilderness gem nestled in gorgeous landscapes of rugged hills and vast savannahs with unique wildlife that mostly goes unnoticed.
Kidepo Valley National Park sits on a massive 557-sq-mile (1,442-sq-km) rocky, semi-arid Karamoja province on the northeastern frontier with Kenya and South Sudan. It is home to several unique animals, such as cheetah, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, caracal, and kudu.
What’s fascinating about Kidepo Valley’s animals is that they are content to feed and lounge near tourist camps. Even the big cats, like lions, lounge on rocky outcrops near Apoka Safari Lodge. So you can see a lot without going very far – a kind of armchair safari.
The drive to the park has recently been cut down to about 9 hours on a newly surfaced highway from Kampala. And there’s good public transport for independent travelers from Kampala, including public buses to Kotido Town, where you can pick up a private hire.
The kinds of animals you can see.
The park’s wildlife and vegetation are more characteristic of Kenya than Uganda, with a rare list of animals not seen in other parts of the country.
Kidepo Valley has over 77 animal species protected within the conservation area. The park enjoys resident predators you will not see anywhere else in Uganda, including the black-backed jackal, bat-eared fox, aardwolf, caracal, and cheetah.
Kidepo consistently offers excellent big-cat sights, especially lion and cheetah. The park has incredible elephant sightings, and you can’t miss the thousands of buffalo herds spread among the savannas.
The national park has a fine collection of antelopes with twelve species, including Jackson’s hartebeest, eland, oribi, Uganda kob, and klipspringer roaming the grasslands. The endangered Rothschild’s giraffe towering above the plains is a tourist favorite.
If you are a primate enthusiast, you’ll be happy to know that Kidepo Valley National Park has five primate species. The most common primate to spot is the localized patas monkey, which has adopted living on the ground more than any other primates in Uganda.
Other interesting characters in Kidepo include the bush pigs, warthogs, zebras, leopards, Kongoni, spotted hyenas, and over 470 bird species.
Kidepo Valley National Park has an impressive bird list of over 470 species. Sixty of the bird species on that list are not recorded elsewhere in Uganda. The park is perfect for spotting raptors, with 56 species on record. If you’re hoping to spot migratory birds in Kidepo, visit the park from November to April.
Kidepo’s Remote Tribes & Cultures
Kidepo National Park is home to one of the minor ethnic groups in Africa: the Ik. With a population of just above 10,000, the small tribe struggles to preserve its unique culture and language, which no rival tribes understand.
Most tribal buffs travel to this remote part of the country to experience firsthand raw cultural practices that even make historians stand in awe. This remote community of subsistence farmers has kept their traditional way of life from foreign contamination for hundreds of years in the Morungole Mountains. Villagers only travel to the lowlands to trade grain and restock supplies.
Various tour operators based in the towns speak English and organize day trips to the villages. A visit with the Ik is one of the fascinating tribal encounters in Uganda, involving sessions with village elders, walks, cooking, and enchanting life experiences.
Not far from the Ik are the intriguing nomadic-pastoral Karamojong. At the initial encounter, it isn’t easy to distinguish between Ik and Karamojong due to their similar lively jump dancing, specific hut building, and unique dressing.
The difference between these two tribes is that the Ik people speak the Teuso language, practice subsistence farming, and are not nomadic pastoralism like the Karamojong.
The Karamojong are a Nilotic tribe for whom cattle form an essential part of their culture. They collectively assemble their cattle, eat blood, and rarely beef for food, just like the Maasai in Kenya.
Their cultural and tribal activities are some of the most organized and intriguing travel experiences in the northern regions of Uganda that you owe a visit.
How to explore Kidepo Valley National Park
Apoka game drives are the best way to explore the park’s far reaches within a short time. Most drives follow two 12-mile (20-km) tracks through the wildlife-rich Narus Valley. Here, small puddles that keep water, even through the dry season, attract large buffalo herds, thirsty elephants, and antelope. These herbivore gatherings attract predators for incredible action-packed savannah scenes.
The drier Kidepo Valley has less wildlife, but it has a wild beauty and is well worth discovering. Visit the Kanagorok hot springs, 18.6 mi (30 km) north of Apoka. Drive slowly, crossing the Kidepo River – a wide sand bed in the dry season – and meander across plains framed by the mountains. The valley is best for ostrich and secretary birds, while kudu enjoys protecting the thicker bush.
Stay for 2-3 days and explore more of Kidepo’s exotic wildlife. A short visit will deprive you of Kidepo Wildlife’s most stunning rewards.
Hiking & Nature Walks
Let your fear dissolve into the warm winds of Kidepo’s savannah plains, guided by a knowledgeable guide. The most popular wilderness walking trail is about 3mi (5km) through the Narus Valley and takes 2 to 3 hours. It is the most rewarding trail in Kidepo National Park, showing off magnificent mammals and birds within the backdrop of the valley’s stunning landscape.
Birders will find patrolling the Narus and Namamukweny Valleys‘ fringes, rich with rare bird sightings, including the Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill, and Clapperton’s Francolin.
If you are for a challenging hike, go for the 9mi (15km) route that follows a ridge line into the hills. But for a tranquil walk, visit the beautiful Borassus palm-covered Kidepo river valley, which is entirely green for most of the year.
All nature walks and hikes in Kidepo Valley National Park start a short distance from the park’s headquarters in the Lamoj Mountains alongside the Kanangorok hot springs.
Finding where to stay and eat
Several accommodation options exist outside the park and close to the visitor center. However, you will not find an excellent selection like other national parks in Uganda. You should check ahead and book before you visit the park. In retrospect, I will list just a few places travelers can easily access.
Apoka Safari Lodge is the most outstanding for up-market travelers and offers the Mara-kind of wilderness luxury in this remote game-rich park.
Apoka Safari Lodge: Apoka Safari Lodge offers views of wild animals at your doorsteps as you are in the middle of beautiful wonders. The safari lodge has established a heaven experience and class encompassed you in the middle of this African Wild.
Kidepo Savannah Lodge: Placed on the edge of the park, Kidepo Savannah Lodge offers unparalleled vistas of the expansive Narus Valley, Mount Morungole, and the distant mountain ranges which form the border with Southern Sudan.
Apoka Rest Camp: The lodge blends in rather than stick out, with 16 self-contained chalets. Concerning visitors who choose camping, this camp has ‘Do it yourself’ camping grounds, where you must carry your tent and other camping gear.
Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp: Nga’Moru is found at Kidepo Valley National Park’s border with amazing views of this isolated savannah and semi-arid escarpment. Many wild animals visiting the camp include Elephants, Lions, Hyenas, Zebras, and Waterbucks.
How to get to Kidepo Valley & Away
Kidepo Valley National Park is 320 kilometers north of Kampala. It is an exciting drive from Kampala on the smooth 540-km Gulu-Kitgum road for about 9 to 10 hours to get to the park.
You can also take the 792-km Soroti-Moroto road to the park, which takes about 13 hours. One of the most rewarding sites on this route is the steep Alekilek volcano, located almost midway between Moroti and Soroti town.
And if you use the 700-km Lira-Kotido road, brace yourself for the beautiful scenery of Labwor hills, mainly the vast and uncovered Alerek rock.
If you opt to fly up to Kidepo, Bar Aviation and Aerolink operate scheduled and chattered 2-hour flights from Entebbe International Airport to the park’s headquarters. Civil Aviation Authority runs a Kidepo Airport (ICAO: HUKD) at Lomej, approximately 3 km south of the park’s visitor center.