Uganda’s safari and wildlife tourism sector is best known for its unique gorilla and chimpanzee attractions. The world-famous great apes are synonymous with Uganda, also recognised for its groundbreaking conservation work.
Look beyond the famous Uganda national parks that focus on these beautiful primates, and you’ll discover Uganda’s incredible wealth of animals and birdlife. Nowhere is this more abundant than in the northeast, particularly in a remote and slightly lesser-known national park — Kidepo.
Kidepo Valley National Park was first established in 1958. Today it is regarded by many as one of the best national parks in Africa. Let’s take a close look at this extraordinary jewel in the heart of Africa.
Where is Kidepo Valley National Park?
Most of Uganda’s popular national parks lie in the west of the country. Kidepo Valley National Park is about 500 km (300 miles) from the capital Kampala, in the very north-east. It takes a long while to get there by road, though those who make the journey should expect an experience like no other on the continent.
The park spreads itself out in the Kaabong district and the closest town is Karenga. More than likely you’ll approach the area by road via Moroto, which is the largest town in the region and to the south-east of the park.
The park is reasonably vast at almost 1500 km² (560 square miles). It also boasts a healthy elevation range, starting at 914 m (3000 feet), and rising to 2750 m (just over 9000 feet) at the mountain peaks.
Why Kidepo National Park is Truly Special
Most agree that the northeast of the country is more animal-dense than the tourist-heavy western Ugandan national parks. So making the extra effort is well worth it for the nature fan.
Kidepo sits on the border with South Sudan and safari-haven Kenya. And coming here puts you on an impressive list of visitors to Uganda. On average, less than ten people per day visit the park.
It’s a life-changing, serene, and truly wild experience. The park boasts more than 70 animal species to spot. However, its true abundance lies in its birdlife — you can see more than 475 species here.
Vast plains and lush valleys characterize the park. There are dry riverbeds and rocky outcrops. For all intents and purposes, it is the serene face of Africa, where only the buzzing of insects and occasional bird or animal calls punctuate nature’s stillness.
When You Should Visit Uganda and Kidepo
Part of Uganda’s charm is that it is a suitable tourist destination year-round. Set on the equator, you’d expect it to be unbearably hot. However, Uganda’s elevation helps to take the edge off that heat, making it more comfortable than most other countries at that latitude.
It’s worth noting that the rainy season does make tracking animals slightly harder. So if you visit between March and May, you may find getting around the more remote areas tough when rains are heavy.
The best time to visit and enjoy Uganda game parks is between June and October. Be aware that this is the high season for tourism, so expect to pay a little more for your trip and those little extras.
In the dry season, many of the rivers dry up. However, some watering holes remain, and animals needing water tend to gravitate towards these, making them a little easier to spot.
Unique Wildlife in Kidepo
Kidepo Valley National Park offers several animals that you cannot see in other Ugandan parks. Here are just a few:
- Caracal – also known as a rooikat or lynx.
- Kavirondo bush baby – found nowhere else!
- Hunting dog – sometimes called a painted or wild dog.
- Striped hyena – so named for their pretty coat patterns.
- Aardwolf – translated as “earth wolf”, though it more resembles a small hyena.
- Bat-eared fox – not surprisingly, known for its enormous ears.
- Greater and lesser kudu – antelopes big and small.
- Beisa oryx – a hardy beast that can adapt to extreme conditions.
- Chandler’s mountain reedbuck – endangered at around 3000 remaining in the wild.
- Klipspringer – once rumored to be able to jump over 7 m (25 feet), though that’s probably an exaggeration.
- Dik-dik – a small antelope named for the sound it makes when alarmed.
Interesting fact: There are crocodiles in Kidepo. But they are much smaller than the common Nile crocodile. The largest of Kidepo’s crocs are around 2.5 meters long. Nile crocodiles grow up to 4 meters or more. The small size is due to the shortage and type of food available in the area.
Kidepo Valley National Park and Birding Safaris
Birds are a vital attraction of Kidepo. As mentioned, you can spot almost 500 species in the area. So serious twitchers from across the globe make their way here to spot rare or endemic bird types. Some good sightings include:
- Karamoja apalis – a type of warbler that is under threat due to habitat loss.
- Black-breasted barbet – fruit and insect eaters, but not often sighted.
- Abyssinian ground hornbill – the duet-singing, monogamous carnivores live a long life of 15-40 years.
- Clapperton’s francolin – also known as a spurfowl, related to a pheasant.
- Abyssinian roller – the beautiful blue and brown aerial acrobats are common here.
The park’s predatory birds — especially raptors — are also regularly seen. About 40 species frequent these parts, including eagles, vultures, and falcons. If you’re lucky, you may even spot one in action!
The wildlife is particularly striking against the unspoiled backdrop of this wilderness. It makes a sighting that much more remarkable, and an experience that makes it worth trekking to Kidepo.
Key Landmarks and Features in Kidepo National Park
Put aside the incredible views of distant mountains, deep valleys, and vast plains for a moment. Kidepo has a couple of landmarks worth noting. Make a point of seeing these while you’re there.
Apoka is the main camp and gathering point in Kidepo. From here, most tour parties and drives will head out into the savannah. The Apoka Rest Camp should be the starting point for most of your excursions.
Narus river & Narus valley
‘Narus’ means ‘mud’ in the local Karamojong language. The seasonal river runs through the southern part of the park. The Narus valley usually offers more game viewing than the Kidepo valley.
Kidepo river & Kidepo valley
Another seasonal river running through a more central part of the park. In the dry season, these become sand riverbeds that you can walk or cross, offering rich spotting grounds for birders. Pools of water may remain here or there.
You’ll see fewer large mammals here, yet some birds are more common. The valley is also known for its spectacular views of neighboring mountain ranges.
This is one of the prominent valley areas of the park. Oddly, its name means ‘place with no birds’, though that’s a decidedly inaccurate description of the site.
Kanangorok hot springs
A very popular place to visit. The hot springs sit in the north of the park, and its waters are hot at 50 degrees Celsius. Some believe the waters have healing powers; others simply enjoy wading in and relaxing.
Indigenous Communities in the Kidepo National Park
Two local communities make their home in the National Park. Travelers may be able to visit these communities to learn more about their way of life.
The Karamojong tribe
The Karamoja region’s principal tribal community leads a mostly traditional life untouched by the modern world. The community graciously welcomes guided visits to their manyatta (traditional homes) to look into their customs and lifestyle.
The Ik tribe
You’ll have to climb Mount Morungole to encounter the Ik people. Hike for a day to meet this unique community, who apparently number almost 10 000. The Ik have embraced modernization more openly than the Karamojong over the years.
Still, traditional ways are healthy with this old Ugandan tribe, and the Ik people will welcome visitors to their settlements, culture, and traditions. They will also enthusiastically share their peoples’ remarkable history in detail.
Visit One of the Best Game Parks in Uganda
Uganda certainly is a wildlife lover’s bucket list destination. It’s even better to think of it beyond its reputation for great apes, though. Kidepo Valley National Park is a truly remarkable gem when it comes to game parks.
Take in the untouched wilderness, superb animals and birdlife. Add the unique extras of meeting communities that have lived there for generations. Climb the mountains. Rest in the hot springs. And enjoy the natural ambiance of a remote national park, unlike any other.
It’s not even as difficult to do as you might think. You can easily plan your custom safari excursion here.