Located in Uganda’s north-eastern corner, some 700kms from Kampala and tucked between the borders with Sudan and Kenya, Kidepo valley is the most isolated park. However those who are able to make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent for it ranks among Africa’s finest wilderness. From Apoka in the heart of the Park, a savanna landscape extends in all directions far beyond the gazetted area of 1442 sq.kms, 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 890mm of rain per year while just 635mm of rain per 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 valleys open savanna habitat makes it the Parks 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 your Lodge in Apoka.
Kidepo valley National Park can be reached by both Air and road. 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 very essential
There are Four possible routes by road; routes via Mbale pass to the east of Lake Kyoga to reach northern Uganda; routes via Karuma pass to the west
a). Kampala – Mbale – Soroti – Moroto – Kidepo = 792 Kms
b). Kampala – Mbale – Sironko – Kotido – Kaabong – Kidepo = 740 Kms
c). Kampala – Karuma – Lira – Kotido – Kidepo = 705 Kms
d). Kampala – Karuma – Gulu – Kitgum – Kidepo = 571 Kms
Charter flights to Kidepo can be arranged from Kampala at Kajjansi Aeroclub or Entebbe with Eagle Aviation. Flights take 2 hours and the Civil Aviation authority has plans to make Lomej, to the east of Apoka an International airport so as to enable visitors to fly direct to Kidepo from other countries.
ACCOMMODATION IN KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Accommodation is concentrated at Apoka which is on the shallow slopes of the scenic Narus valley. The new upmarket Apoka lodge offers spacious and luxurious cottages with expansive views across the plains. Uganda Wildlife Authority provides simple cottages and a self-catering hostel. There are also 2 basic campsites in the Narus valley each with a pit latrine and shower stalls but visitors should bring their own equipment and supplies. There is also Ngamoru wilderness camp that offers budget accommodation to Visitors.
FLORA AND FAUNA IN KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
Kidepo Valley National Parks expansive vistas, largely uninhibited by woodland and Forest are the result of the open savannah habitat that dominates the park. Hills have been colonized 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 degrees views.
The Park contains one of the most exciting Fauna 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, black-backed and side-striped jackal. Less common ungulates include the greater and lesser kudu, chandlers mountain reedbuck, klipspringer and Guenthers dikdik. Other large ungulates include elephant, Burchelle zebra, bushpig, warthog, Rothschild giraffe, Cape buffalo, eland, bushbuck, bushduicker, Defassa waterbuck, Bohor reedbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest and oribi. Five species of primates are found in the Park including the kavirondo bush baby.
The Park boasts of an extensive bird list of 463 species confirmed and 26 unconfirmed – second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth N.P. A few species of note atleast in the Ugandan context are the ostrich, kori bustard, secretary bird, carmine, little green and red-throated bee eaters, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Abyssinian roller and scimitarbill, yellow-billed and Jackson’s hornbills and the Karamoja apalis.
Kidepo valley National park 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 some to the current list.
TOURIST ATTRACTIONS AND ACTIVITIES IN KIDEPO VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
A). THE NARUS VALLEY
Since for much of the year the Parks wildlife congregates in the Narus valley, this area is suitable for game drives and is well provided with game tracks. Three loop circuits explore the valley around Apoka. At the southern end of the Katurum loop, Katurum kopje provides superb views north across the valley towards the Morungule mountain range. Visitors without transport can arrange game drives using the Park vehicles which are charged per kilometer.
B). KIDEPO VALLEY
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.
C). MORUNGULE MOUNTAIN
The Morungule range rises from the plains a few kilometers north east of Apoka and can be explored on foot with a ranger guide escort and have spectacular views.
D). THE LOCAL PEOPLE
Most of the People bordering the Park are Karamojong, a cattle-keeping people who are adapting slowly to changes from their traditional way of life. Interested visitors may be able to visit Karamajong manyattas( homesteads) to see and experience traditional customs, stools, spears, head dresses, knives, jewelry, bows and arrows used from ancient times.