Kidepo valley national park is Uganda’s most isolated national park, but the few who make the long journey north through the wild frontier region of Karamoja would agree that it is also the most magnificent, for Kidepo ranks among Africa’s finest wildernesses. From Apoka in the heart of the park, a savannah landscape extends far beyond the gazetted area, towards horizons outlined by distant mountain ranges. During the dry season, the only permanent water in the park is found in wetlands and remnant pools in the broad Narus Valley near Apoka. These seasonal oases, combined with the open, savannah terrain, make the Narus Valley the park’s prime game viewing location.
Areas of Interest
Apoka Tourism Centre
Overlooking the game-rich Narus Valley and home to an up-market lodge and simple UWA-run cottages, Apoka is the park’s tourism hub. Ranger guides are stationed at Apoka to escort tourists on game drives and walks. For those without their own transport, park trucks can be hired. There is a craft shop with books and souvenirs; bottled water, sodas and alcoholic beverages can also be purchased here. Food is cooked on request and cooking gas and utensils can be hired by individuals who wish to cook for themselves.
Narus Valley is a rolling grassland plain enclosed by distant mountains. The valley has permanent water, and for much of the year the park’s wildlife congregates here. Thus, the area is well provided with game tracks, with four loop circuits exploring the valley around Apoka. Many creatures such as lions, Jackson’s hartebeest, buffaloes, giraffes, oribis and reedbucks can be seen in the valley. Less commonly seen are cheetahs and leopards. The Narus dam and the water hole near the Tourism Centre are perfect observation points for game, especially during the dry season. At the southern end of the Katurum loop, Katurum kopje (the site of a derelict lodge) is an attractive destination with superb views north across the valley towards the Morungule mountain range.
Kidepo Valley and Kanangorok Hot Springs
For most of the year, a lack of surface water means that little wildlife is found in Kidepo Valley, though it is still worth the drive to visit the dry Kidepo River to stroll along its 50m wide bed of white sand between banks covered with borassus palms. Kidepo means to pick from below and the valley was visited by people coming to gather fallen borassus fruit for fermenting to make palm beer. The Kanangorok Hot Springs lie 11km beyond the Kidepo River on the Sudan border. This is a glorious place to sit and view the mountains beyond the frontier.
Mount Morungole stands at 2,750m and is crossed by the Kidepo and Narus Rivers that nourish the park’s wildlife and this natural habitat as a whole. The Morungole Range marks the southern boundary of the park and rises from the plains a few kilometres northeast of Apoka. This region can be explored on foot with a ranger. The mountain slopes are home to the IK people, the smallest ethnic group in Uganda, with their own unique culture.
Namamukweny is a Napore word meaning a place with no birds or a lonely place with few people – though regarding the birds, quite the opposite is true! The valley is inhabited by a large number of bird species such as the Eastern Paradise Whydah, White-crested Turaco, Common Bulbul, Abyssinian Roller and Green Wood Hoopoe among others. It is located in the north-west of the park and can be accessed by car or on foot.
The Lomej Hills are a short drive from the headquarters. They are a good viewing point for birds and wildlife, including the mountain reedbuck.
Lying between Kitgum and the Sudan border, Lonyili Mountain is largely covered in montane forest and home to primates such as colobus monkeys. Due to poor conditions in this area the road is currently out of use. There are plans to repair it – you are strongly advised to contact UWA for updates before embarking on your journey to the mountain.
Wildlife and Birding Summary
Kidepo valley national park contains one of the most exciting faunas of any Ugandan national park. Along with the neighboring Karamoja region, it houses many species found nowhere else in Uganda, including the greater and lesser kudu, eland and cheetah. Carnivores here include the lion, leopard, spotted hyena and black-backed and side-striped jackals. Other large species regularly seen here are elephant, Burchell’s zebra, bushpig, warthog, Rothschild’s giraffe, Cape buffalo, bushbuck, bushduiker, Defassa waterbuck, Bohor reedbuck, Jackson’s hartebeest and oribi.
Kidepo valley national park boasts an extensive bird list of around 475 species, making it second only in Uganda to Queen Elizabeth National Park. A few species of note are the Ostrich, Kori Bustard and Karamoja Apalis.
Kidepo valley national park is 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.
Activities in Kidepo valley national park
Apoka Rest Camp is a great spot to begin your Kidepo birding experience. Birding can also be done on the fringes of the Narus and Namamukweny Valleys. Among the birds seen are the Abyssinian Roller, Purple Heron, Abyssinian Ground Hornbill and Clapperton’s Francolin, which is found only in Kidepo. The activity can be arranged both in the morning and evening.
Lorokul Cultural Group
The notorious, cattle-herding Karamojong occupy northeastern Uganda, in an area covering one tenth of the country. Discover the unique culture of this remote tribe with the Lorukul Cultural Group, located just outside Kidepo Valley National Park.
Their main livelihood is herding livestock, and the social and cultural importance will be explained as you walk with the guides to the traditional Karamojong manyattas (homesteads), granaries and cattle enclosures. Learn how the villagers make their distinctive beads, sample the local cuisine, and even meet the Karamojong King, who will narrate the tribe’s folklore and beliefs.
The fee for this tour has contributed to the construction of a clinic and the training of midwives – essential facilities in this isolated region.
The Lomej Mountains can be reached on foot in four hours, the hike starts at 7am. Shorter guided walks of around two hours can be taken through the Narus Valley extending over a 5km radius from Apoka Tourism Centre.
Visitors can also wander along the splendid Kidepo River Valley between banks of attractive borassus palm forest. Namamkweny Valley can be reached in one hour from Apoka. Visitors can also meet members of the IK tribe during prearranged hikes to the Morungole Mountains outside the park.