Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park, Uganda
“Best National Park in Africa for spectacular landscapes and great buffalo herds” – CNN Travel 2013
Kidepo Valley National Park is remotely situated in the extreme north – north eastern corner of Uganda, in Kaabong District. It is tucked at the tip where the three countries of Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan meet. Its northwestern boundary lies along the international border of South Sudan, covering a stretch of about 50km, while its eastern boundary is separated from the border with Kenya by a narrow strip of land only 5km wide of its most narrow point.
Sprawling across 1442 sq. km of the jagged, semi-arid valleys of the remote Karamoja province, Kidepo Valley National Park is Uganda’s 3rd largest national park after Queen Elizabeth National Park and Murchison Falls National Park.
In spite of its remoteness, Kidepo Valley National Park is arguably the most beautiful national park in Uganda. It possesses such unique & unadulterated wilderness you’ll not experience anywhere else in Eastern Africa let alone Africa. It is Africa’s true unspoiled wildernesses with its serenity, unique flora and fauna, jagged hills, inselbergs, expansive semi-arid plains, rocky outcrops, plenty of wildlife, soft glowing light and a rugged horizon. It offers that ideal wild scenery setting every traveler imagines of a true African wilderness.
Climate & Vegetation
Kidepo experiences arid climatic conditions for much of the park, but changes to semi-arid as one approaches the Narus Valley. A short wet season occurs between the months of April and October, and a long dry spell for the remainder and much of the year. During this dry spell there is almost no green vegetation in sight and temperatures rise beyond 40oC and averages to 30oC. Water is a temporary phenomenon that flows during the wet season. Only the Narus Valley contains water during the dry season. Harsh as the conditions may seem but it such that have stayed away human interest and occupation enabling the park maintain an unspoiled wilderness over the years. The only menace had been poachers and the instabilities that rocked the region since the 1970s to the early 90s.
Kidepo is the only region in Uganda located in the Somali – Masai regional center of endemism (White 1983). Because of this unique phytogeographic zone, there many species of plants that are restricted to the Karamoja region and occur nowhere else in Uganda.
Kidepo supports multiple habitats. The Narus Valley is dominated by acacia gerrardii savanna woodland that emerges in the south and into a fire climax grassland, tree, and shrub steppe, and slowly graduates into bush lands with forests on the high mountains. Dry montane forests are quite common at altitudes 5000ft and a mixture of grass and form canopies as altitude approaches 9000ft above sea level. The Borassus palms follow ridges that are associated with water and sand alluvial soils. These are many along Rivers of Kidepo, Lopirpir and Kurao.
Species richness & uniqueness
The diversity of wildlife in Kidepo Valley National Park is quite considerable. At a glance, the park harbors 86 mammal species, 472 bird species and 692 plant species, second only to Queen Elizabeth National Park in terms of its known plant diversity and third to Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls National Parks for its mammal and bird diversity.
While Uganda’s other parks support a greater biomass of mammals, Kidepo supports a wider diversity. It is part of the trans-boundary ecosystem that provides migration of wildlife across borders.
28 of the 86 mammals in Kidepo were not found in any of Uganda’s national parks, and these include: the Striped Hyena, Aardwolf, Bat-eared Fox, Caracal, Cheetah, Greater and Lesser Kudu, Klipspringer, Dikdik, Bright’s Gazelle, Chandler’s Mountain Reedbuck, African Wild Dogs, Beisa Oryx, and Roan Antelope. However some of these are feared extinct, including African Wild Dog, Beisa Oryx and Roan Antelop.
Many other large animals also found elsewhere in Uganda include Elephant, Zebra, Buffalo, Waterbuck, Jackson’s Hartebeest, Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena , Rothschild Giraffe, Uganda kob, Eland, Common Duiker, Bush Duiker, Bohor Reedbuck, Oribi, Warthog, Topi, Bush Pig, Serval, and Black-backed and Side-striped Jackal.
Kidepo is the only park where visitors are lucky to see both the Zebras and Giraffes in the same park. Lake Mburo National Park has only the Zebras while Murchison Falls National Park has only the Giraffes. Kidepo also hosts the rare tree-climbing lions that are found only in Queen Elizabeth National Park in the Ishasha plains.
Unique Crocodile Species: Living in a seasonally extreme habitat, the Crocodiles of Kidepo Valley National Park are unusual for their diminutive size with a maximum length of 2.5 meters (Nile Crocodiles found elsewhere in Uganda regularly exceed 4 meters). Apparently this small size is attributed to the limited food availability and probably the small and shallow water bodies during the long dry season.
Kidepo Valley National Park boasts an extensive bird list of 475 species, second only to Queen Elizabeth National Park with 625. It is particularly renowned for its outstanding birds of prey, at the moment 58 have been recorded, 14 of which are unique to this park. Notable raptors include Verreaux’s Eagle, Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture), Egyptian Vulture, Secretary Bird and Pygmy Falcon.
Some of Africa’s rarest and most after birds are found in Kidepo Valley National Park, such as Black-breasted Barbet, and Karamoja Apalis. It is also the only park in Uganda harboring the massive Ostrich.
The Kanangorok Hot Springs
The Kanangorok (meaning “the place of black stones” in the local language) are a small collection of natural hot springs located near the South Sudan border in Kidepo Valley, about 40km from Apoka Camp. Locally called “Maji Moto” (which translates “Magic Water”) they are the only hot springs in Karamoja region. The natives hold an interesting myth about the formation of the springs and believe the hot springs produce magic water that can heal skin diseases such as scabies.
The trip to the hot springs cuts through the two main biomes of the park: savanna/acacia grassland of the Narus Valley changing into a semi-arid short grass area of the Kidepo Valley. The famous Kidepo Valley sand river is especially a huge highlight. There is a lots of possible wildlife sightings along the way including Zebras, Elephants, Giraffes, Cheetah, Lions, Ostrich and Kudus. While at the springs one can enjoy picnics and breakfast just next to the springs.
The Sand Bed along River Kidepo
River Kidepo is an intermittent sand river situated in the northern region of the park. It is dry during the long dry spell and flows periodically when the rains come. What makes it stand out are the linings of Borassus palms making it look like an oasis in the Sahara. It is common with lots of birds. The sand bed experience during the dry season can very fascinating, as one is treated to the beautiful wilderness and the melody of various bird songs. One however has to take serious caution and ensure there are no rains especially in the Sudan as the river can flow any time. Travelers once crossed the dry sand bed early in the day, however on returning later in the day the water had filled and the river flowing, hence getting trapped on the other side.
A tour of the neighboring native communities is a fascinating experience of the diverse cultures. You get to enjoy their different traditional dances such as Emuya dance by the Napore and Nyange tribes and the neighboring Acholi famous Laka raka dance.
You could also visit the Ik, a very unique and one of the most reclusive tribe in Uganda that still live the ancient hunter-gatherer lifestyle. The Ik live high atop Morungole Mountain in relative seclusion. The hike to the Ik takes 12 hours round. In spite of their lifestyle of seclusion and tradition they are very hospitable and welcoming to the occasional traveler. The Ik are quite unique in that, they are completely different from the other tribes in the Karimoja region. They share no similarity with any tribe. While the rest of the tribes in the region may have some similarities such as in culture and language, the Ik are completely different in that no tribe can understand a single word in their language. They are known to have originated and migrated different from the rest of the tribes in the Karamoja region.
The Karamojong are another of the interesting tribes in Kidepo. These are a pastoral lot and have similar cultural traits to the Masai of Kenya.
Games drives are mostly done along the Narus Valley as most of the game congregates here for it is the only area with water during the lengthy dry spell. The area is well optimized with trucks for ease of navigation and game viewing at close encounter. The Katurum kopje provides superb views north across the valley towards the Morungole Mountains. The Kidepo Valley is also great for game drives especially for the sand bed experience during the dry season.
Should you be visiting the park during the wet season, it is highly advised to use a strong proper 4by4 safari vehicle preferably a Land Rover, Land Cruiser and a Nisan Patrol would be the ideal. The game trucks get extremely muddy and slippery that could turn your game drive a nightmare for light vehicles.
Nature walks are done during any time of the day. One of the good spots is around Apoka camp, it provides game like Zebras, and Reedbuck. Another good and established spot is the eastern Kakine circuit, especially very early morning. Lots of wildlife are within 50-70meters range. The Rionomoe hill trail too is an established nature trail and offers views of the lower side of the Narus Valley.
Among the Kidepo local community tours includes visiting the Karamajong who have such unique lifestyle and traditions. The Karamojong are traditionally cattle raiders and hunters and thrive on raiding cattle from their neighboring tribes. To the Karamajong, all cattle is theirs by right. However through community conservation and education, they are gradually changing most of their ruthless ways. Their dances, dressing, art, tools are very fascinating to experience.
The hike on Mountain Morungole is an exciting activity leading to the Ik people. The great Morungole expedition which involves a day’s hike through varying vegetation and rocky mountain terrain commanding spectacular views of Kidepo Valley National Park shall reward you with dances from the Ik people, their lifestyles, and unique settlements and also learn about their unique migration history.
Getting to Kidepo Valley National Park
The park is situated approximately 520km from Kampala. There is a number of drivable routes starting from Kampala, however the huge driving hours and poor road conditions had been a major hindrance to visiting this massively beautiful park. Most of the roads have been upgraded and tarmacked, especially those through Gulu and the northern axis. The Eastern routes, going through Sironko & Mbale, are the most challenging and highly advised against. Drive time varies from 11 to 14 hours. It is recommended to take en-route overnights to avoid too much fatigue. Gulu and Moroto are good for overnights.
Route 1- Kampala - Gulu through Kitgum to Kidepo National Park
Route 2- Kampala - Lira through Kotido to Kidepo National Park
Route 3- Kampala - Mbale through Soroti to Moroto - Kidepo National Park
Route 4- Kampala - Mbale - Sironko - Kotido to Kidepo National Park
Route 5- Kampala - Soroti - Kotido via Amuria National Park.
One hour flights courtesy of AeroLink Uganda and Fly Uganda are available from Kajansi Air Strip and Entebbe International Airport to the park headquarters.
At the moment there are few accommodation facilities in Kidepo, however plans are underway for more additions as the park becomes more attractive and accessible.
- Budget accommodation at Apoka Bandas
- Midrange accommodation at Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp
- Upscale accommodation at Apoka Safari Lodge
Suggested Safari Itineraries
We suggest the following tailored itineraries, otherwise we can customize one as per your interests.