Expert Reviews – Kidepo Valley NP

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Blissfully remote and stunningly gorgeous
Overall rating
4/5

My favorite park in Uganda, Kidepo is by far the most difficult to reach (unless you fly) but absolutely worth the time and effort to get there. Ringed by mountains, this short-grass savannah-filled valley in the far northeast of the country is one of the loveliest places in not just Uganda, but all of East Africa; yet it is seldom visited, allowing a primeval wilderness vibe that can’t be topped elsewhere in Uganda. Wildlife watching is good year-round with healthy populations of the Big Five (except for a lack of rhino) and many species not found elsewhere in Uganda such as cheetahs, aardwolves, ostriches, and greater and lesser kudus. While I didn’t get to see the tree-climbing lions in the Narus Valley I did get really near some buffalo on my bush walk and had two up-close encounters with the park’s famously fearless elephant (named Bull Bull) who routinely hangs around the headquarters area. As with the mammals, there are plenty of birds exclusive to this park and with nearly 500 species on the checklist, it should be a must visit for birdwatchers.

Uganda’s secret northern wilderness
Overall rating
5/5

With sprawling savannah and soaring mountains, Kidepo Valley National Park might be the most picturesque park in all Africa. Sharing borders with South Sudan and Kenya’s Northern Frontier District, it is Uganda’s most remote and least-explored park.

The estimated population of 120 lion include formidable prides that prey on the park’s 13,000 buffalo. I’ve visited the park twice, had lions in camp on both trips and have seen incredible herds of more than 4,000 buffalo and hundreds of elephant. Apoka Lodge is one of Uganda’s finest accommodation options and, although game-driving from here can be unforgettable, you have a good chance of spectacular sightings without even stepping off your veranda. Kidepo was once the playground of Idi Amin, and the haunting ruins of a lodge that could just as easily have been designed as a massive bunker is currently (although slowly) being converted into a lodge.

Kidepo Valley was the traditional hunting territory of the mysterious Ik tribe, one of Africa’s most culturally-intact communities. The 3-hour trek up to the Ik villages high on the slopes of Morungole Mountain offers an unforgettable opportunity to make friends among the charming people who were (inexplicably) portrayed as the world’s nastiest people in the 1973 best-seller The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull.
I’ve worked on photographic assignments in Kidepo in both the dry and rainy season. Although accessibility to some parts of the Narus Valley (‘muddy valley’ in the Karamojong language) can be difficult during the rain, the spectacular play of light on the mountains and plains makes this an unbeatable time to visit for a photographer. This is when you truly get the feeling that you’re in one of Africa’s most unforgettably beautiful corners.

Kidepo is home to 500 bird species and 86 mammals: lesser kudu, mountain reedbuck, caracal, Guenther’s dik-dik and cheetah are among 28 mammals which can be found nowhere else in Uganda. There’s an estimated 700 elephants here and recent relocation efforts have boosted the population of eland and Rothschild giraffes and established a growing herd of Ugandan kob. There have even been discussions about relocating black rhino here from Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary but until the rhino-horn problem has been solved, there’s little hope of such a move in a park that shares a border with South Sudan and northern Kenya.

The security issues that were a definite preoccupation – requiring driving in a convoy – during my first visit are now a thing of the past. Although flying into Kidepo is preferable if you have the budget, the road condition is ‘decent’ and security is unlikely to be a problem. Many people split the 12-hour drive (a wonderful chance to see so much of the country) from Entebbe across two days, but I’d recommend making the drive in one bash and having more time in the park. Kidepo’s isolation is also part of its great charm: those who take the trouble to get here are rewarded with phenomenal wildlife sightings and a level of exclusivity that can rarely be had at any cost in neighbouring countries.

A Long Forgotten Eden
Overall rating
4/5

Imagine a place that looks like the Mara-Serengeti but surrounded by jagged mountains; a place full of wildlife but without another person in sight and you’re on the right track. Kidepo is Uganda’s slice of quintessential East African savanna. The Narus Valley teems with wildlife in the dry season and it’s not uncommon to see buffalo gatherings numbering in their thousands and elephants in their hundreds. I have often seen lions climb the koppies or lie in the park’s shady sausage trees from where they spot their quarry. This is also Uganda’s only park where cheetah can be seen. I love this place: it’s a true African wilderness of extreme beauty with large concentrations of wildlife still enduring. It is also the definition of remote; and the reason there are so few tourists here is that it is a hard place to reach and security can be an issue at times in this volatile region.

Uganda’s forgotten savannah reserve
Overall rating
4/5

Nestled up against the remote South Sudanese border in the far northeast of Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park has long been a byword for inaccessibility and remoteness. This is partly due to geographical distance from Kampala and the southwest safari circuit, an isolation exacerbated by the risk associated with road travel in the north during the reign of terror wrought by the the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) between 1986 and 2005. However, this sensationally scenic national park is now relatively easy to reach from Kampala, and the presence of a good lodge and adequate rest camp make it a thoroughly viable safari option. It’s more than worth the effort of getting there. Visiting in 2015, we were blown away by the wildlife viewing. On most game drives, we saw herds of 20-plus elephant marching to or from the Narus Valley, while other highlights included a 1,000-strong herd of buffalo and lions lounging up on one of the immense granite boulders that characterize the Narus River Valley, which is the main wildlife viewing circuit. Other wildlife associated with the Narus Valley includes Rothschild’s giraffe, Burchell’s zebra, Bohor reedbuck and oribi, while characteristic birds with a very limited distribution elsewhere in East Africa are Clapperton’s francolin and rose-ringed parakeet. Game viewing is less reliable in the more northerly Kidepo River valley, but this is a good place to look for Uganda’s last wild ostriches and the very localized Jackson’s hornbill and Karamoja apalis. Overall, while game densities are not quite on a par with Murchison Falls or Queen Elizabeth, Kidepo offers an excellent balance between good wildlife-viewing and the genuine wilderness atmosphere craved by most repeat safari-goers.

Uganda’s remote valley
Overall rating
4/5

Kidepo Valley National Park is by far the most remote park in Uganda. Most people fly here, but we drove the long bumpy road north, which made us appreciate its remoteness even more. The open grassland surrounded by mountains makes a stunning setting for a wide variety of animals including cheetah, which doesn’t occur in other Ugandan parks. We were welcomed by a large herd of slightly nervous elephants when we entered the park and we saw lions on several occasions. We stayed in Apoka Safari Lodge and there is a constant stream of animals coming to drink at the waterhole in front of the lodge. Waterbuck would even come up to drink from the lodge swimming pool. Patas monkeys can often be seen sitting on termite mounds and are a real specialty of the park. All in all, there was a lot more wildlife here than I expected. I was prepared to enjoy true wilderness with a few animals, but animal numbers are more than healthy. One oddity was the white-eared kob which seemed slightly lost outside its distribution as it must have crossed over from South Sudan.

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