Kidepo Valley National Park is considered to be one of the most remote safari game parks in Africa. The park lies in the rugged, semi-arid valleys between Uganda’s borders with Kenya and South Sudan – over 650 kilometres from the capital, Kampala.
Gazetted as a national park in 1962, Kidepo has a profusion of big game and hosts over 77 mammal species as well around 475 bird species including the majestic Secretary Bird that stalks the open savannah plains.
The park is most notable for being home to a number of animals found nowhere else in Uganda, including cheetahs, bat-eared foxes, aardwolves, caracals and greater and lesser kudus. There are also large concentrations of elephants, zebras, buffaloes, bushbuck, giraffes, lions, jackals, leopards and hyenas.
To travel ‘off the so-called beaten track’ is to visit Kidepo Valley National Park. Kidepo is so remote that those who have dared to make the trip get rewarded by the absence of crowds. When you visit Kidepo, you have the expansive savannah all to yourself.
Besides the amazing game, the park also offers some of the most stunning scenery characterized by rolling, short grass savannah not to mention the amazing horizon courtesy of the mountains that ring it as well as the rocky outcrops that the lion Kings of Kidepo patronize occasionally to look out across their kingdom.
Getting to Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is located in the far northeast of Uganda – over 700 kilometres from Kampala. The remote park can be reached either by road or air.
By road – visitors can get to Kidepo via the eastern route or western route which passes via Murchison Falls. When using the western route, visitors drive from Kampala via Karuma, Gulu, Kitgum and then onto Kidepo which is 571 km and is a 10-hour drive.
When using the eastern route, drive from Kampala via Mbale, Sironko, Moroto, Kotido, Kaabong and then to Kidepo which is 740 km and takes about 12 hours to drive. When using this route, you can also drive from Kampala to Mbale, Soroti Moroto, Kotido, Kaabong and onto the park’s gate, which is 792 km and is a 13hour drive.
By Air – Aerolink operates scheduled and charter flights to Kidepo from Entebbe and Kajjansi airfields to Kidepo airport or Apoka airstrip. Aerolink flies to Kidepo every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. When departing Entebbe to the park the flight departs at 12.30pmm and arrives at 14.45 pm and when coming from Kidepo, the airline will depart at 15.00 pm and arrives at Entebbe at 16.30 Hrs.
Things to do and see in Kidepo Valley N.P
When you go on a game drive in Kidepo Valley National Park, you are likely to take either the Narus valley game drive or the Kidepo Valley drive – each of these routes offering you a different perspective of the stunning game park.
Narus valley game drive – drive to the south of the Narus valley as this part of the park contains the only permanent water points. Because of the permanent water, wildlife congregates here for much of the year. Look out for buffalo and elephant in the swamps along the valley floor, giraffe and eland on the drier slopes above and scan the rock kopjes for lions.
Kidepo valley drive – the sandy Kidepo valley is short on the big game but massive on scenery. This drive takes you to the Kanangorok Hot Springs – passing some beautiful landscapes. 30 kilometres north of the park’s tourism hub at Apoka, the road crosses the dry, sandy bed of the Kidepo river.
This leads you into an expansive plain lined to the east by the Morungule mountain range and to the north by the looming Jebel Lotuke mountain in South Sudan. Mammals are rare in this area but ostriches and secretary birds can be seen often.
The Apoka Rest Camp at the Uganda Wildlife Authority HQ is a great place to begin your Kidepo birding experience.
However, if you made the drive to Kidepo from Murchison Falls National Park with time to spare, I can guarantee you will have made birding stops en-route to Kidepo simply because your safari route to Kidepo is all prolific for birds.
Inside the park, birding can also be done on the fringes of the Narus and Namamukweny valleys. Among the birds, you will see include the Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and Clapperton’s Francolin, which is found only in Kidepo.
Birders can go out in the morning or afternoon although it’s advisable to go out with parked lunch to avoid driving back to the lodge.
Hiking/Nature Walks in Kidepo Valley N.P
With an armed ranger in tow, visitors can hike to the Lomej Mountains, take leisurely walks through the banks of borassus palm forest.
The Lomej Mountains can be reached on foot in 4 hours starting at 7.00 am. Shorter guided walks of around 2 hours can be taken through the Narus Valley extending over a 5-kilometre radius from Apoka Tourism Centre.
Visitors can also wander along the splendid Kidepo River Valley between banks of attractive borassus palm forest. Namamkweny valley can be reached in 1-hour from Apoka. Visitors can also meet members of the IK tribe during pre-arranged hikes to the Morungole Mountains outside the park.
Visitors who would like to meet the locals can visit the Lorokul Cultural Group who are members of the cattle-herding Karamojong people, who occupy this part of the country. Discover the unique culture of this remote tribe with the Lorokul Cultural Group, located just outside Kidepo Valley National Park.
Accommodation in Kidepo Valley National Park
Given its remoteness and few visitors, the accommodation options in Kidepo have been limited but this is changing. Today, visitors can stay at Apoka Safari Lodge, Kidepo Savannah Lodge, Adere Safari Lodge, and the Uganda Wildlife Authority Bandas.