Kidepo Valley National Park, a classic Africa wilderness, is Uganda’s remotest safari destination, sitting in the extreme northeastern corner, contingent with Kidepo Game Reserve in South Sudan. The one thousand two hundred square kilometers attraction is covered in intriguing semi-arid wilderness, rugged mountain landscapes with seasonal rivers creating an enchanting sanctuary for exceptional safari game viewing and birdwatching.
Historically, it was a bit complicated for safaris to access Kidepo Valley. The park is too remote that most travel planners don’t even consider including it on Uganda safari packages. Now, it’s increasingly becoming a top Uganda safari destination due to the newly paved access roads, local airport, and great accommodation options.
A typical tailored private all-inclusive Uganda safari that includes elements of Maasai Mara will spend three days in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, where they’ll track the mystical mountain gorillas. Then fly across the country to Murchison Falls National Park, connecting to Kidepo Valley National Park for the last three days of the savannah wilderness experience.
Enclosed by rugged mountains, Kidepo Valley National Park is dominated by the northern Kidepo River and the southern Narus River, creating the two wildlife endowed valleys. Narus Valley is the prime game-viewing area, and overlooking the valley is the famous Apoka, where the park headquarters are strategically erected.
Kidepo Valley National Park sits at an altitude between 914m and 2,750m, with Mount Murungole, on the southern edge, making the highest point. From anywhere in the park, one can see the slightly higher Mount Lutoke, which sits within the South Sudanese border.
Vast lightly wooded savanna dominates the park’s habitats, interspersed with montane forest patches, riparian woodland, thick miombo woodland, Borassus palms, and rocky koppies.
Kidepo Valley National Park is arguably the wealthiest savannah park in Uganda, exceptionally rich in predators with 20 species roaming the rugged semi-arid wilderness. It’s the only safari park in Uganda hosting the sleek cheetah, black-backed jackal, aardwolf, caracal, and bat-eared fox. Other common predators in Kidepo are the side-striped jackal, spotted hyena, leopard, lion, genet, mongoose, and many small cats.
The easily spotted patas monkey is one of the five primate species found in Kidepo. Antelope species endemic to Kidepo include greater kudu, lesser kudu, Guenther’s dik-dik, and mountain reedbuck. Other antelope species found in Kidepo are Jackson’s hartebeest, eland, bushbuck, common duiker, klipspringer, oribi, Defassa waterbuck, and bohor reedbuck.
Kidepo also supports elephants, Burchell’s zebra, warthog, bushpig, buffalo, and the localized Rothschild’s giraffe.
A confirmed bird checklist of 463 species flies around Kidepo National Park. With only sixty species recorded nowhere else in the country but around the northeastern wilderness. The number of bird species in Kidepo is second only to Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The park is particularly rich in Raptors, with 56 species recorded, including the dark chanting goshawk, pygmy falcon, tawny eagle, bataleur eagle, secretary bird, and many types of vultures.
Other colorful Kidepo specials birders can effortlessly tick off their list include the ostrich, kori bustard, fox, and white-eyed kestrels, white-bellied go-away bird, carmine, little green, and red-throated bee-eaters, Abyssinian roller, Abyssinian scimitarbill, d’Arnauds, red-and-yellow and black-breasted barbets, red-billed, yellow-billed, and Jackson’s hornbills, Karamoja Apalis, rufous chatterer, northern brownbul, golden pipit, chestnut weaver, red-billed and white-headed buffalo weavers, and purple grenadier.
Kidepo Valley National Park is blessed by one annual wet season. If you visit the park during the long hot, dry season, you’ll find the most consistent game viewing in the south of the park, in Narus Valley. During the hot, dry season, animals migrate south from the semi-arid Kidepo Valley to find greenery in the swamps and residue pools along the seasonal Narus channel. Game viewing in this region is richly rewarding.
The best game tracks in Kidepo include the Kakine, Katurum, and Nagusokopire game circuits, which meader around the Narus Valley, allowing tourists to explore the wildlife-rich areas of the valley. Kidepo valley tracks are not as rewarding as the Narus, but the Kidepo River is worth visiting.
The Kidepo River is a mysterious beauty fashioned with a seductive Borassus palm forest worth a drive-through. Here, you may see dry country species like the jackal, ostrich, secretary bird, and Kudu. The river is completely dry most of the year with a fifty-meter-wide course a swathe of white sand.
About 18 mi north of Apoka on the Sudanese border, the Kanatarok hot springs are a common attraction among visitors. Although the low-key springs are worth visiting, they don’t compare with the hot springs in Semliki National Park in western Uganda.
The best time to visit Kidepo Valley National Park is immediately after the rainy season in September, October, November, and through the long dry season through December to April. Kidepo has one rainy season between March and April and does not share the same weather conditions as the rest of Uganda, therefore you’ll most probably find very few visitors any time of the year.
Uganda has two peak travel periods falling between December to February, and June to August. If you’re visiting Uganda during the peak season, the best time to add Kidepo to your Uganda safari would be during the driest months between December to February.
However, the seasons of April and August offer a mixture of dry and wet periods with a moderate number of visitors into Kidepo. Although spotting animals may be easier in the dry season, during these months you’ll still see a decent number of animals.
Also, it’s the best time for birding—easy to spot migratory birds. The wet season offers lush, green scenery and crisp air. Otherwise, the dry periods are very dusty on the game tracks.
A nature walk is one of the enriching ways to explore Kidepo’s wilderness pleasures. Kidepo Valley National Park offers two rewarding hiking & nature walks. The most popular one is the short three-mile guided walk through Narus Valley that takes about two to three hours to walk. On this walk, visitors can experience the valley’s wildlife abundance with the backdrop of striking landscapes. The Narus Valley trail is particularly recommended for birding.
For an extensive exploration of the park, take the nine-mile route that follows the ridgeline into the rugged slopes. Tourists can visit the gorgeous Borassus palm-covered Kidepo river valley and the Kanangorok hot springs on this trail.
Uganda’s northeast is home to two minor ethnic groups in Africa: the Ik and the Karamojong nomadic pastoralists, whose obsessive love for cattle rivals the Maasai in Tanzania and Kenya.
The Karamojong tribe is divided into six groups, each with its own dialect of the Nilotic Karamoja language. Two of these groups, the Napore and Nyangia, have forsaken mainly their traditional ways for an agriculture-based lifestyle, while a third, the Tueso, are hunter-gatherers who have moved from the dry plains into the mountains.
The Karimojong clan villages are worth visiting in Kidepo Valley National Park, showcasing fascinating cultural practices infused with dance and folklore. Take a short stop-over at Nakapelimoru, on the way from Moroto to Kidepo, to get into the living culture, the largest traditional village in East Africa, and maybe visit the largest cattle auction market in the region.
Not far from the Karamojong is the dissipating tribe, the Ik, with a population of about 10,000 people struggling to preserve their unique culture and language.
Hike into the Morungole Mountains, and Ik villages will sprout like mushrooms in the semi-arid valleys. This remote community of subsistence farmers has kept to their traditional way of life and only traveling to the lowlands to trade grain.
Most tour operators organize all-inclusive Uganda safaris to Kidepo National Park coming from the Murchison Falls National Park—a 7-hour drive via Gulu-Kitgum road on a paved road. Trips usually buffer the 10-hour drive from Entebbe with a night at Mount Elgon or two nights at the source of the Nile River in Jinja.
Alternatively, if you have the bucks for it, take a scheduled fly-in or chartered small aircraft from Entebbe to Kidepo airstrip near Apoka. Check with your operator to find the best times to take the flight.
The best accommodation facility in Kidepo National Park is the idyllic Apoka Safari Lodge. The pioneer luxury safari getaway is located on a picturesque kopje overlooking the Narus valley in the southwestern sector of the park. The lodge has a relaxed classic safari feel, quietly providing a peaceful and private wildlife experience from the privacy of your veranda.
Other cheaper accommodation options around the park boundaries are Kidepo Savannah Lodge, Apoka Rest Camp, and Nga’Moru Wilderness Camp. However, none of the others can match the classic wilderness elegance of Apoka Safari Lodge.