Kidepo Valley national park is Uganda’s most beautiful, remote and least explored park however those that take trouble to visit the park, are rewarded with phenomenal wildlife sightings and a level of exclusivity that can rarely be had at any cost in neighbouring countries, for Kidepo park is ranked among Africa’s top finest wildernesses.
Initially before Kidepo national park was gazetted as a game reserve by the British colonial government in 1958 and later as a national park in 1962, it was occupied by the local Karamojong people called Dodoth who practiced pastoralism. It so happened that the park had fruit trees that would fall off the trees when ripe and the local people would enter the park to pick up the fruits. Kidepo as a name comes from a Dodoth word that means “to pick up”, so every time someone describes where another would be, the white man would mispronounce the word kidep to Kidepo, hence the name Kidepo national park.
Kidepo national park is a semi-arid region with relatively no rains in most months of the year. It has only 2 rainy seasons with very light drops of rain, annually rainfall amounts to approximately 890 mm with temperature ranges of about 12 to 34 degrees Celsius. However its best advised to visit the park during the dry months of January, February, March and December given the still poorly developed transport to the park though weather conditions keep fluctuating during the year. During the night, the park tends to be very cold so tourists are advised to include both warm and light clothes when visiting the park. The wet months include; April May, June, October and November. Therefore the best time to visit Kidepo Valley national park is during the dry seasons when the animals can much easier be seen around the various water places.
Kidepo national park is located in Karenga Sub County in Kaabong district in the Northern East corner of Uganda’s border with Kenya and Sudan. It covers an area of 1,442 square kilometres in Karamoja region and rugged savannah dominated by Mount Morungole with an altitude of 2,750 meters above sea level, transected by Kidepo and Narus Rivers. Kidepo national park is the most isolated of all Uganda national parks with Africa’s finest wilderness with savannah landscape extending far beyond the gazetted area towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges. Hence leading to a number of tourist activities;
Kidepo national park boosts an extensive birdlife of around 475 different species. Some of the birds spotted in the park include the Kori bustard, secretary birds, ostriches, Jackson’s hornbill to mention but a few.
The park has the highest concentration of game with a great variety of animal species than any other park in Uganda. It’s the only park in Uganda where you can see the ostriches and cheetahs. Other large wildlife species found in the park include different antelope species, Lions, Elephants, giraffes, cape buffaloes, Leopards to mention a few. Kidepo national park is fully supported by game drive through the park and the major areas for the game drive is Narus Valley best known to possess the largest buffalo herds than anywhere else in the entire world. There are also high chances of spotting big cats on a hunt and on a lucky day; the rare cheetahs too which are endemic to Kidepo in the whole of Uganda. The other is Kidepo valley close to South Sudan border, whilst here you will see most of the birds like the ostriches. On your game drive, adding a stop at the hot springs (kana ngorok-the place of black stones) will increase on your adventure. For anyone interested in exploring the park wildlife, you will be required to pay a fee of 40$ to enter the park and you are entitled for a game drive for only 24 hours, Foreign residents only pay 30$ while East African citizens pay 8$.
Night game viewing
Kidepo national park is a great destination for night game drives, unlike the other national parks, Kidepo is very rewarding during the night game activity. You are required to take a ranger guide with you on a night game drive. It’s a good opportunity to find the wild cats hunting and feeding on their prey.
Kidepo national park is one rich park in cultural tourism. The history of the Karamojong people in relation to their way of life, cultural affiliations of different ethnic groups is an interesting experience. The main livelihood of the Karamojong people is cattle herding and they also do some farming on their land. Cattle have a significant importance in the day to day lives of the Karamojong people. They are similar to the Masai of Kenya as they have similar characteristics.
The most interesting ethic group is the IK people, also known as the mountain people of Uganda. They are the smallest number of Karamojong ethnicity with about 10,000 people living on Mount Morongole serving on only pastoral activities. Visiting the IK village is a full day hiking up the mountain however meeting them is excitingly rewarding as they are very humble, loving and welcoming people.
Kidepo national park also has other small communities that stay close to the national park and the park authorities have seen to it that these communities benefit a lot from the existence of the park through construction of schools for the children, provision of water and health facilities. Guided tours to these communities will amaze your experience. For example the most common is Lorukul village, you will be taken through their food process, the cultural matters in the village and finally you will be entertained in the local dance and songs of the villages and have time to also interact with the village.
Kidepo national park is one of those parks in Uganda where you can get off your vehicle and explore on foot. For a nature guide activity, you are provided with a ranger guide who will guide you through the walking trails along the dry river banks and bushes. This will give you a breath of nature beneath the Savannah landscape.
Kidepo national park being the farthest of the 10 Uganda national parks can be accessed in 2 ways that is the road transport and the air transport means. There are 2 routes to access the park; the Northern route which is actually the shortest taking about 9-10 hours driving from Kampala/Entebbe through Nakasongola-Gulu-Kitgum and finally Kaabong district. The other route is the Eastern route which is the longest taking about 10-12 hours connecting via Jinja, Mbale, Sironko, Moroto, Kotido and finally to Kaabong district or from Mbale, Soroti through Nakapiripiri districts then connect via Moroto. Both routes are interesting driving through with en route stops for lunch, stretching and exploring the different landscapes and people.
To reduce on the amount of time spent driving on the bumpy roads commonly known as the “African massage”, Kidepo national park is easily accessed through domestic flight to the park for only 2 hours. Organised charter flights and scheduled flights can be arranged by Aerolink Uganda Limited and Fly Uganda. These are the only flight companies that operate flights to Kidepo Valley national park. Apparently it’s only Aerolink Uganda limited that operates scheduled domestic flight from Entebbe airport to Apoka airstrip and the vice versa, flying only on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays departing at 12:30 hours from Entebbe airport and arriving Kidepo at 14:45 hours at Apoka airstrip. The beautiful Arial views give you a great experience of the lush countryside. Flight fares can be got from Aerolink websites.