Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve – Uganda

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve – Uganda

Pian Upe is the second largest conservation area in Uganda, covering an area of about 2,788 square kilometers in the northeastern part of the country. It is located in the Karamoja subregion, a semi-arid area that is culturally and geographically distinct from the rest of Uganda.

If you are looking for a safari destination that offers authentic and unspoiled African experiences, you should consider visiting Pian Upe Game Reserve in Uganda.

The reserve was established in 1958 as the Debasien Animal Sanctuary, and later renamed as Pian Upe Game Reserve in 1964. It is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, under the Mount Elgon Conservation Area.


Pian Upe is divided into two ecological zones: the southern part is dominated by wooded savanna and grassland, while the northern part is mainly semi-arid with acacia woodland and rocky outcrops. The reserve is drained by several seasonal rivers, such as the Chepkararat, Lopirpir, and Morunyang.

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve


It is also home to a variety of wildlife, including some rare and endangered species, such as the roan antelope, the cheetah, and the ostrich.

The wildlife in Pian Upe Reserve is diverse and abundant hosting over 40 mammal species, including plains zebra, eland, topi, waterbuck, impala, oribi, dik-dik, klipspringer, buffalo, giraffe, leopard, hyena, jackal, serval, civet, wildcat, baboon, vervet monkey, patas monkey, rock hyrax, aardvark, porcupine, hare, and hedgehog.

The reserve is also one of the few places in Uganda where you can see the roan antelope and the cheetah, which are both endangered and elusive. In 2019, UWA (Uganda wildlife authority) reintroduced 15 giraffes from Murchison Falls National Park to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve to boost their population and enhance tourism – and their numbers have been increasing steadily.

The reserve is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, with over 240 bird species recorded. Some of the notable birds include the ostrich, the kori bustard, the secretary bird, the Abyssinian ground hornbill, the white-headed buffalo weaver, the northern carmine bee-eater, the pygmy falcon, and the black-breasted barbet.

Things to do in Pian Upe

This hidden gem, often overlooked by mainstream tourism, offers a unique and immersive experience for nature lovers and wildlife enthusiasts. Here are some of the things you can do in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve.

1. Wildlife Viewing

Pian Upe is one of the few places in Uganda where you can see cheetahs, the fastest land animals in the world. You can also spot other rare and endemic animals such as roan antelopes, greater kudus, dik-diks, zebras, buffaloes, lions, leopards, giraffes, and more.

The best way to explore the reserve is by taking a guided game drive in our 4×4 safari vehicles with an open roof for excellent views.

2. Bird watching

Pian Upe boasts of over 240 bird species, some of which are only found in this region.

You can see ostriches, the largest and heaviest birds on earth, as well as other spectacular birds such as Abyssinian ground hornbills, secretary birds, superb starlings, Karamoja apalis, Jackson’s hornbills, white-headed buffalo weavers, and more. The best time to go birding is in the early morning or late afternoon when the birds are most active.

3. Rock/mountain climbing

Pian Upe is surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains that offer amazing hiking opportunities. You can climb Mount Napak (2538m), Mount Kadam (3063m), or Mount Moroto (3083m) and enjoy panoramic views of the reserve and the surrounding landscapes.

The hikes vary in difficulty and duration, so you can choose one that suits your fitness level and preference.

4. Cultural tours

Pian Upe is not only a wildlife paradise, but also a cultural hub. On these cultural tours, you will learn about the rich and diverse cultures of the Karamojong people who live in harmony with nature and their livestock.

You can visit their traditional homesteads, markets, kraals, and sacred sites. You can also interact with them and learn about their customs, beliefs, dances, and songs.

5. Sightseeing

Pian Upe offers stunning scenery that will take your breath away. You can admire the vast savannah plains dotted with acacia trees, shrubs, and flowers. You can also visit Napedet Cave, a natural wonder that houses ancient rock paintings dating back to over 3000 years ago. The cave is also a good spot to see bats and rock hyraxes.

You can also combine your visit to Pian Upe with other nearby attractions, such as Mount Elgon National Park, Sipi Falls, or Kidepo Valley National Park.

To visit Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, you will need to book your safari with Primate World Safaris, a reputable tour operator who can arrange your transport, accommodation, permits, and guides.

Best Time To Visit

The best time to visit Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve depends on what you want to see and do. Generally, the dry season from December to March is ideal for wildlife viewing, as the animals congregate around the water sources and the vegetation is less dense.

The wet season is good for birdwatching, especially during the light rains from June to early September. The wet season offers scenic views of the green landscape and the surrounding mountains. This is also when the migratory birds arrive and the resident birds breed.

Getting to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Pian Upe headquarters are located just right alongside the direct Mbale-Moroto road just approximately 90 km from Mbale and 11kms north of the reserve’s northern boundary.

Pian Upe Reserve can be accessed by road from Kampala via Mbale and Soroti or from Moroto via Nakapiripirit. The journey takes about 8 to 9 hours from Kampala or 4 to 5 hours from Mbale or Moroto. The roads are mostly murram (gravel) and can be rough and dusty during the dry season or muddy during the rainy season.  Our 4×4 safari vehicles are recommended for this trip.

Alternatively, visitors can fly to Amudat airstrip from Entebbe or Kidepo and then drive to the reserve. You can also fly to Kidepo and then take a scenic 6-hour drive to the reserve.

Where to stay in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

The reserve has a few accommodation options, such as the UWA bandas (cottages), the Pian Upe Safari Lodge, and the Moru-Angol Guest House. Visitors can also camp at designated sites within the reserve.

You can also stay in accommodations outside the reserve in Moroto, Sipi, or Mbale town.

Relevant Safari Packages for Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve

Here are some of our safari packages that include a visit to Pian Upe for game viewing, birding, as well as other activities.

Take a look through one or two of these packages so that you can get a good idea of what a visit to Pian Upe would feel like. Remember that regardless of your specific needs, all our safari packages can be personalized for you.