Located in Uganda's remote north-eastern corner, some 700km from Kampala and tucked between the borders with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo Valley is our most isolated park. However the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja to visit it, would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa's finest wildernesses. From Apoka, in the heart of the national park, a savanna landscape extends in all directions, far beyond the gazetted area of 1442km2, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges. The park has a semi-arid climate with just one rainy season per year (April-September) and rainfall is light. The valley of the Narus river in the south of the park receives some S90mm of rain/year while just 635mm of rain/year falls in the Kidepo valley to the north. Both rivers are seasonal, and dwindle and disappear in the dry season. During these months, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools along the southern Narus valley near Apoka and as a result, wildlife is concentrated in this area. This consideration, combined with the valley's open, savanna habitat, makes it the park's prime game viewing location. Indeed it is possible to sight a good variety of wildlife simply by scanning the valley with binoculars from the comfort of the Apoka lodge.
How to get there
The park can be reached by both road and air. Driving is more rewarding, as much of Karamoja, like Kidepo itself, is a vast and unspoiled wilderness. However, road conditions are sometimes difficult and 4WD vehicles are usually essential.
There are four possible routes by road namely routes via Mbale pass to the east of Lake Kyoga to reach northern Uganda
and routes via Karuma pass to the west.
Visitors should note that the road mainly in use from Kotido to Kaabong passes via Kanawat not via Losilang as indicated on most maps. Enquire at Kotido. Prospective visitors should contact UWA Headquarters or Wild places (the Apoka lodge operator) to obtain up-to-date advice about road conditions and safety to identify the preferred choice of route.
Charter flights to Kidepo may be arranged from Kampala at Kajjansi, Kampala Aero club, or Entebbe with Eagle Aviation. Flights take about two hours. The Civil Aviation Authority has plans to make Lomej, to the east of Apoka, an international airport to enable visitors to fly direct to Kidepo from other countries.
Where to stay
Accommodation is concentrated at Apoka which is on the shallow slopes of the scenic Narus valley. The new, up market Apoka Lodge offers spacious and luxurious cottages with expansive views across the plains. Note that the lodge is unable to cater for walk-in guests. UWA provides simple cottages nearby at a self-catering hostel. Bottled drinks are available but visitors should bring their own food. Two basic campsites are sited in the Narus valley. Each is provided with a pit latrine and shower stall but visitors should bring all their own equipment and supplies.
Flora and Fauna
Kidepo’s expansive vistas, largely uninhibited by woodland and forest, are the result of the open tree savannah habitat that dominates the park. Hills have been colonised by dry mountain forest while some watercourses support Acacia forests. Many of the hilltops are capped by rock kopjes which provide habitats for klipspringer and give panoramic 360° views. The park contains one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan national park with 77 species of mammal, several of which are (in Uganda) restricted to the Kidepo and Karamoja region. Localised carnivores include the bat-eared fox, striped hyena, aardwolf, caracal and cheetah. Other carnivores present are lion, leopard, spotted hyena, and black-backed and side-striped jackal. Less common ungulates include the greater and lesser kudu, Chandlers Mountain reedbuck, klipspringer and Guenther’s dikdik. Other large ungulates include elephant, Burchell’s zebra, bushpig, warthog, Rothschild’s giraffe, Cape buffalo, eland, bushbuck, bushduiker, Defassa waterbuck, Bohor reedbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest and oribi. Five species of primates are found in the park including the endemic Kavirondo bush baby. The park boasts an extensive birdlist of 463 species confirmed and 26 unconfirmed– second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth NP. A few species of note, at least in a Ugandan context, are the ostrich, kori bustard, secretary bird, carmine, little green and red-throated bee eaters, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Abyssinian roller and Abyssinian scimitarbill, yellow-billed and Jackson’s hornbills and the Karamoja apalis. Kidepo is also notable for its birds of prey. Of the 56 species recorded, 14, including Verreaux’s eagle, Egyptian vulture and pygmy falcon, are believed to be endemic to the Kidepo and Karamoja region. There has however been no comprehensive survey of birds in Kidepo and visitors stand a good chance of adding to the current list.
Most of the people bordering the park are Karamajong, a cattle-keeping people who are adapting slowly to changes to their traditional way of life. Interested visitors may be able (by arrangement) to visit Karamajong manyattas (homesteads) to see traditional customs, stools, spears, head dresses, knives, bows and arrows and jewelry.
Around the park Narus valley
Since, for much of the year, the park’s wildlife congregates in the Narus valley, this area is well provided with game tracks. Three loop circuits explore the valley around Apoka. At the southern end of the Katurum loop, Katurum kopje (the site of a now derelict lodge) provides superb views north across the valley towards the Morungule mountain range. Visitors without transport can arrange game drives using a park truck. This is charged per kilometre.
The Morungule range rises from the plains a few kilometres north east of Apoka. This can be explored on foot with a ranger guide escort.
For most of the year, a lack of surface water means that little wildlife is found in the Kidepo valley. It is still worth the drive to visit the seasonal Kidepo River and to stroll along its 50m wide bed of white sand between banks covered with Borassus palm forest. Hot springs are found on the Sudan border 11km beyond the river crossing.
For information on fees for park entrance and activities, please refer to the UWA tariff sheet. 20% of all park entry fees are shared with communities living in park boundary parishes in order to spread the benefits of ecotourism and generate local support for conservation.