What has got Kidepo Valley National Park excited?

News broke early this week that one of the five ex-Presidents of the US will be visiting the spectacular but remote Kidepo Valley National Park.

Kidepo Valley National Park, which has been twice featured by CNN Travel – once as the 3rd best park in Africa and another time as one of Africa’s featured parks is as remote as you can get.

When you close your eyes and think of Africa; the landscape, the jagged hills, the golden grasses, the Savannah plains dotted with wildlife and fauna, the soft glowing light and more – that is Kidepo. This and much more is what the visiting United States president can expect to see and experience.

Where is Uganda Wildlife Authority in all of this?

According to Andrew Seguya, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) executive director, his identity will not be revealed yet for security reasons. However, the five former presidents of the US who are still living include Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), George H. W. Bush (1989-1993), Bill Clinton (1993-2001), George W. Bush (2001-2009) and Barrack Hussein Obama (2009-2016). I would place my bet on the latter three.

What can you do in Kidepo?

In terms of activities, the president can expect to visit the Karamojong people who neighbor the park in their nearby Manyattas to learn about their traditional way of life and possibly experience some traits of their culture.

Karimajong people housing -Manyatta
Karimajong people housing -Manyatta

He could trek up Mount Morungole to meet Uganda’s smallest tribe – the Ik people. The Ik hunted and gathered inside Kidepo Valley National park but were displaced 50 years ago to create the park. They then migrated to the Morungole Mountains where they can be found today.

A hike up the mountains to meet the Ik, with beautiful scenery is not for the faint-hearted. However, a trail has been developed by the US Forestry Service. When you get to an Ik village, learn about their cultural traits.

On the grassy plains, the president should expect to see abundant wildlife. Lions, leopard, cheetah, elephant, giraffe, zebra, possibly Africa’s largest herds of buffalo, hartebeest, waterbuck, bushbuck, warthog and a lot more. African wild dogs have also been known to cross into the park from South Sudan.

Because the president will reportedly sleep at Apoka Safari Lodge, he can expect to see much of the wildlife while seated at his veranda or the outdoor bathtub.

How do Kidepo National park Accommodations fare?

Apoka Safari Lodge is one of the ultimate safari lodges in Uganda. In this remote spot, Apoka has created an experience like no other for those who are lucky enough to afford it. The comfort, luxury and class is all around you in the middle of the African bush.

The rooms at Apoka have been built with comfort in mind. Everything is handmade by local craftsmen, everything is large and capacious. The lodge is made up of 10 expansive rooms with natural canvas walls that surround a rocky kopje with endless views across the Savannah.

With inside sitting rooms and private verandas, there are plenty of places to relax, read and sprawl. The décor is first class, en-suite bathrooms, stone bathtub outside of your room to enjoy a bath under the African night sky.

However, given that it is a US president we are talking about, he will be able to see wildlife way up close – on foot during a nature walk with armed rangers and the attendant security detail that accompanies a US president.

According to Seguya, Kidepo Valley National Park is a virgin destination on the African continent in terms of tourists visiting national parks for wildlife.

He was quoted by The New Vision newspaper saying: “Here, a tourist is not crammed in a traffic jam of other tourists as it is in Maasai Mara or South Africa. They are given personal attention by our rangers and trained tour guides. It has never been a better time to tour Kidepo.”

Would you love to be in Kidepo at this time in history? Let’s talk.

Last month, Rwanda doubled the price of gorilla permits effective immediately in a move that has had the Uganda travel trade debate the merits and demerits of the seemingly ambitious move.

In as far as gorilla tracking safaris (an encounter with the endangered Mountain gorilla is considered by most nature enthusiasts as one of the best experiences in the world) are concerned, Uganda is Rwanda’s direct competitor given that few tourists travel to DR Congo to track the gentle giants.

Citing the need for sustainability of conservation as a justification, Rwanda doubled price from $750 to $1500. Comparatively, Uganda, which is the other Mountain Gorilla safaris destination, charges $600 for a permit and according to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), there are no immediate plans to increase the price.

Even before Rwanda’s doubling of the permits price, tracking gorillas in Rwanda cost more by $150.

While it was already cheaper to track Gorillas in Uganda, with the doubling of the price, it should be a no-brainer for any nature enthusiast out there who has not yet secured their date with the gentle giants to come to Uganda.

Beyond the fact that it is cheaper to track the famous and endangered Mountain Gorillas in Uganda, be advised that a safari to Uganda affords you much more for your money given the country’s diverse attractions.

An encounter with the gentle giants as they are usually referred to is an experience like no other according to a lot of nature enthusiasts.

When you read a lot of travel magazines write about Uganda as a destination, because the country is simply emerging from years of stagnation and has not been a big draw for tourists, they will tell you that besides gorilla tracking, the country has got a lot more to offer and after a visit, tourists are always left in awe.

Even when you choose a short stay of 4 days to go Gorilla tracking, be sure that beyond your encounter with the gorillas, your eyes will feast on the changing landscape as you travel across the country.

A lot of safari operators will include a detour in your itinerary to the beautiful Lake Bunyonyi – one of the most scenic places you will see ensconced between mountains. For your money, you will be wowed by your encounter with the gorillas and then some more.

For a short 5-day stay, you will take in sights in the Queen Elizabeth National Park with a chance of running into the famous tree-climbing lions of Ishasha before your encounter with the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park or Mgahinga Gorilla National Park.

For an extra day, you can also meet the Batwa people who used to share the forest with the Mountain gorillas before they were asked to leave the forest to conserve the endangered great apes.

For those who have a lot more time, you can go on a 21-day safari all across Uganda visiting all of the country’s important nature reserves and parks – culminating into your encounter with the vulnerable Mountain Gorillas.

Over the 21 days, you will visit the source of the Nile, white water raft on the Nile, take in sights like Sipi Falls, the pre-historic Nyero rock paintings,  one of the best national parks in Africa in Kidepo Valley, a slave trade relic in Fort Patiko and Murchison Falls National Park where you will find the endangered Rothschild giraffe.

Your 21-day safari will also take you to Kibale Forest National park – the ‘so called’ primate capital of East Africa where you will track chimpanzees. You will continue to scenic Queen Elizabeth National Park where you will go on an exciting boat safari along the Kazinga channel.

From here, you will arrive in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park for your gorilla trek. But before you do meet the gorillas, take a nature walk in this verdant forest and meet the people who neighbour the park.

From your gorilla trek, you will make a transfer to Lake Bunyonyi – a destination that should be on the radar of every traveller to Africa given its beauty. From Bunyonyi, you will conclude your 21-day safari via Lake Mburo National Park for a chance to see game on horseback or on foot.

This is not to say that Uganda as a destination is devoid of challenges! No.

Like any travel destination, there are challenges including the quality of service, a poor road network in some of the tourist places, challenges in terms of conservation, under-funding in marketing etc but those are continually being addressed as destination Uganda recovers.

Generally speaking though, if you consider the $1500 that Rwanda is now charging for a gorilla permit, when you choose to visit Uganda as your next safari/holiday destination, you get to track the famed gorillas and much more.

 

How did this begin, you will ask?

It is unusual for conference organizers to treat their delegates to the adventurous side of Kampala city’s Cultural & historical sites.  Last month, the Institute of Certified Public Accountants of Uganda (ICPAU) hosted the Africa Congress of Accountants (ACOA) at the Commonwealth Speke Resort in Munyonyo. As part of the conference programme, ICPAU dedicated the afternoon (2.00pm-6.00pm) on the last day to a half-day city tour of Kampala for over 200 delegates. ICPAU thought about it and approached us to organise the tour – something that does not happen very much especially for conference visitors to Uganda.

How much does a Kampala city tour cost?

Every delegate was asked to pay $15 for the tour, which was based on three itineraries or tracks – the Buganda cultural sites tour, the Uganda Martyrs sites tour and the other religious and historical sites.

One itinerary/track focused on the Uganda Martyrs sites of Munyonyo and the martyrs shrines in Namugongo. The second itinerary focused on the Buganda cultural sites including the Lubiri, Bulange and the Kasubi tombs.

The third and last itinerary took delegates to some of Kampala’s historical and religious sites including Rubaga and Namirembe Cathedrals, the National Mosque, Makerere University (the oldest university in East Africa) and the Uganda Museum.

The Buganda cultural sites and the historical and religious sites tours all ended at the African Crafts Village along Buganda road before returning to Munyonyo for the farewell dinner.

The tour guide idea of the crafts village was by ICPAU.

ICPAU understood that hosting such a large conference was an opportunity for them as a key stakeholder in the accounting profession on the African continent.

However, beyond hosting their colleagues, ICPAU understood the value of their delegates spending that extra US dollar or shilling in the economy because the alternative is the guests return home with those extra dollars, which we need for our foreign exchange needs.

Our tour guide (Hadijah) poses with one of the ACOA delegates at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine during the Kampala city tour
Our tour guide (Hadijah) poses with one of the ACOA delegates at the Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine during the Kampala city tour

To the local economy of Kampala and indeed to the entire economy, ICPAU pulled an extra $15 from the pockets of the 200 delegates that took on the tour.

Directly, an extra $ 3000 dollars was retained here and we all know how crucial that foreign exchange is to the entire economy.

It is that money that was used to hire ten coaster buses, buy fuel at the pump stations to transport the delegates, pay for the young men that we worked with to do the guiding of the delegates on the coaster buses, buy refreshments, the entrance fees at the Lubiri, the National Mosque, the Uganda Martyrs shrine in Namugongo the list is endless.

Indirectly, once they arrived at the crafts village, the delegates changed more foreign exchange at the forex bureaus, bought crafts and souvenirs as well as personal items like shoes, shirts and the like at the nearby shops along Buganda road.

One might dismiss the extra few thousand dollars that the delegates spent that afternoon by going on the tour but you imagine for a second that every conference organiser in Kampala included a short tour of Kampala in the programme. It is best to place such a tour on the afternoon of the last day!

And remember that Kampala’s attractions are exciting and diverse that you actually need a full day to do a complete tour of the city!

To mention a few, Kampala’s attractions include the only Baha’i place of worship on the African continent, the famous Makerere University, the second largest mosque on the African continent, the UNESCO world heritage site that is the Kasubi tombs, the Uganda Martyrs shrine and museum in Munyonyo and Namugongo.

Further to that, when people visit a city, they will not feel like they have been to that city without them going on a sight-seeing tour and meeting and interacting with some of the locals.

When they do, they become ambassadors or sorts who will always have a story to tell about Uganda and you cannot put a value on this. Be sure they will recommend a friend, a family member and that is how every conference organiser can do their part in marketing destination Uganda.

The feedback we received from the few delegates that we spoke to after the tour was all positive.

Serah Lutta from Zimbabwe said “am happy to be here. The Uganda Martyr’s tour is something I have been looking forward to. There is quite a lot to learn because the tour brings to life what I read in class about the martyrs. What has been interesting again is the discovery of a new perspective to the martyrs that they were not only the Christians that were martyred but Muslims too – I did not know that until today.”

David Wainaina from Kenya who went on the Buganda Cultural trail said the tour was interesting and that he found the story of the Buganda kingdom and its place at the centre of Uganda’s history enriching.

Kwasi Asante from Ghana who also visited the Uganda Martyr’s sites said “the tour was good. We have always read about the Martyrs of Uganda and for me this is a rare opportunity to visit and look at what happened. I am particularly impressed by the resilience of the martyrs who died for Christianity and as a Catholic; I have to say this tour has been great.

ICPAU’s management needs to be applauded for having come up with the tour of Kampala city and there is a need for this approach to be replicated by all the other conference organisers as one way of bringing in more foreign exchange but to also show our visitors around our diverse attractions.