Kidepo valley national park

kidepo valley national park

Kidepo valley national park is Uganda’s third-largest and most remote national park. Located in the northeast within the Karamoja subregion, it borders South Sudan to the northwest and only 5 km away from the eastern border with Kenya.

Renowned as one of the country’s  best safari destinations, this park boasts rugged mountains and captivating wilderness, providing an exceptional game viewing experience. The Narus Valley, in particular, is densely populated with lions, buffaloes, elephants, and numerous smaller ungulates.

Background of Kidepo valley national park

Kidepo valley national park was established in 1958, with a dual purpose of clearing the bush for tsetse fly control and protecting its larger wildlife from hunters. Before it was gazetted, the area was inhabited by two ethnic groups, the Dodoth Karamojong pastoralists, who herded cattle in the valleys, and the semi-nomadic Ik, who pursued a hunter-gatherer existence in the highlands. Tragically, the Ik, who speak a relict Nilo-Saharan language of uncertain affiliations, were evicted from the game reserve in 1958. Forced into agriculture, this transition resulted in a drought-related famine in the early 1960s, leading to the deaths of hundreds of elderly people and children.

Originally spanning 1,259 sq km, the reserve attained national park status in 1962 after Uganda’s independence and was expanded to its current size of 1442 sq km. The park derives its name from the Kidepo River, a term from the Karamojong language “Akidep,” which means “to pick.” This references the fruits of the Borassus palms that line the seasonal waterway, serving as a vital source of sustenance during past times of drought.

Climate in Kidepo

The altitudes in Kidepo Valley National Park range from 914 meters above sea level to the peak of Mountain Morungole at 2750 meters. This mountain stands as the highest point on an extinct volcanic range that runs along the southeastern border of the park. Across the 50-kilometer border shared with South Sudan, the slightly taller Mountain Lutoke, reaching 2797 meters, is also visible from various points within the park. The ruggedly mountainous terrain is interspersed with the Narus valley in the southwest and the Kidepo valley in the northeast.

Kidepo experiences a moister climate compared to other parts of Karamoja, with almost all of the average annual rainfall of 800mm occurring between April and October. As a result, the plains become notably hot and parched towards the end of the dry season. The Narus River, the only perennial river in the park, flows through the valley and attracts a profusion of game during the dry season.

Vegetation and wildlife

kidepo valley national park

The Narus Valley in Kidepo National Park is predominantly characterized by open grassland, adorned with tall sausage trees (Kigelia africana) known for their massive elongated fruits. On the other hand, the Kidepo Valley sustains drier acacia woodland, with significant stands of Borassus palms lining the watercourses. Additionally, there are patches of montane forest and riparian woodland scattered throughout the park.

Kidepo National Park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, boasting 86 mammal species, including 20 predator species such as lions, spotted hyenas, and leopards. Unique species like the bat-eared fox, black-backed jackal, aardwolf, cheetah, and caracal are exclusive to Kidepo among Ugandan national parks. The park also hosts five primate species, including the Patas monkeys.

Other notable animals found in Kidepo include elephants, buffaloes, Rothschild’s giraffes, Burchell’s zebras, Jackson’s hartebeests, Bohor reedbuck, oribi, warthogs, and elands. Kidepo is the sole park in Uganda harboring populations of greater kudu, lesser kudu, Guenther’s dik-dik, and mountain reedbucks. The localized white-eared kob occasionally ventures from South Sudan into Kidepo.

With a remarkable bird population of 470 species, Kidepo Valley National Park hosts more than 60 birds not found in any other Ugandan national park. It is home to East Africa’s only population of Clapperton’s francolin and the rose-ringed parakeet. Raptors are notably abundant, with commonly observed species including the tawny eagle, dark chanting goshawk, pygmy falcon, bateleur, and various vultures.

Kidepo specials in Uganda also include the secretary bird, common ostrich, white-eyed kestrel, fox kestrel, carmine bee-eater, white-bellied go-away bird, yellow-billed hornbill, little green bee-eater, red and yellow barbet, Abyssinian roller, Jackson’s hornbill, black-breasted barbet, Abyssinian scimitarbill, red-billed hornbill, Karamoja apalis, and purple grenadier.

What to do and see in Kidepo valley national park

Game drives in  Kidepo national park are majorly done in two valleys that is to say; Narus and Kidepo valley. The park offers 4×4 morning ,evening and night game drives,  morning game drives  begin early  between 6:00am  to 6:30 am as tourists are able to see a beautiful sunrise.  Night game drive starts between 7:30pm to 9:30 so as to spot the nocturnal animals for example leopards, lions, side striped jackals, hyenas, serval cats and birds like owls  

Game drive in Narus valley 

Kidepo valley national park

Wildlife is present in Kidepo National Park throughout the year, with a peak during the later dry season from January to March when the Narus River becomes the sole reliable water source for miles around. The valley can be explored using two road loops, both approximately 15-20 km long, starting from the south of Apoka.

The Kakine circuit, featuring the prominent Kakine rocks often frequented by lions, and the Katurum circuit, named after a cliffside lodge constructed during the Amin era, offer exciting opportunities for exploration.

On either circuit, tourists may spot herds of elephants gathering at the Narus River for a drink, as well as buffalo herds from Apoka that prefer wooded savannah over open grassland. Kidepo’s lions are frequently seen atop the park’s trademark granite outcrops, using them as lookout points. Other large mammals commonly observed include Burchell’s zebra, Rothschild’s giraffes, Jackson’s hartebeest, warthogs, oribi, and Bohor reedbuck.

For bird enthusiasts, Clapperton’s francolin and rose-ringed parakeet are quite common around Apoka. Other special bird species, such as the bateleur, Abyssinian ground hornbill, Meyer’s parrot, superb starling, and black coucal, are typically seen only during the rainy seasons.

Game drive in Kidepo valley

Game drives in Kidepo Valley are relatively scarce, primarily due to the region being drier than Narus Valley and facing challenges stemming from poaching activities by individuals from South Sudan. Kidepo Valley is characterized by a Borassus palm forest lining, and it remains predominantly dry for approximately 95% of the year. The valley’s 50-meter-wide course is a striking expanse of white sand.

The Kanatarok hot spring, situated on the southern Sudan border, is a somewhat understated attraction, paling in comparison to its counterpart in Semliki National Park. Despite the challenges, the thicker bush in this area holds promise for sightings of greater and lesser kudu. It’s also a promising location to search for Uganda’s only population of common ostrich, along with sightings of the secretary bird, Jackson’s hornbill, speckle-fronted weaver, and Karamoja apalis.

Cultural tours

Cultural community walks provide an opportunity for tourists to engage with local Ugandans and gain insights into their rich traditions. In Kidepo Valley, cultural encounters lead you to the Karamajong Manyattas, the traditional homesteads of the Karamojong people. Here, visitors can engage themselves in the dance styles, traditional clothing, hunting practices, and cherished jewelry of the Karamojong community. 

Bird watching

Kidepo Valley National Park is a paradise for bird enthusiasts, boasting approximately 475 bird species. Bird watching opportunities abound throughout the day along the Narus and Namamukweny valleys, providing morning, afternoon, and late evening excursions. Notable sightings include the purple heron, Verreaux’s eagle, Egyptian vulture, pygmy falcon, super starling, Abyssinian roller, and Abyssinian ground hornbill. Notably, Kidepo Valley National Park is the exclusive location to observe Clapperton’s Francolin.

Nature walks

Visitors have the option to have a four-hour hike to the Lomej Mountains or choose a two-hour guided tour. These guided treks lead you to the Narus Valley where numerous animals gather seeking for water. Additionally, visitors can explore hikes in the Morungole Mountains, providing an opportunity to encounter the distinctive IK tribe.

Entrance fee

Entrance to Kidepo National Park is priced at $30 for foreign residents and $40 for foreign non-residents, payable for each 24-hour period. Additionally, standard vehicle entrance fees apply, but they are a one-time charge per entry. These fees can be conveniently paid at the park entrance, ensuring access for an immersive experience in the breathtaking landscapes and diverse wildlife that Kidepo National Park has to offer.

The best time to visit Kidepo valley national park

The optimal period to visit Kidepo Valley National Park for optimal animal sightings is during the dry season when many congregate around the park’s water sources. The extended dry season spans from September to March, with December, January, and February representing the peak of heat. Game drives are conducted in the early morning during this period. The rainy season, on the other hand, also offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities as animals tend to disperse across the plains. Moreover, the rains hardly ever hinder travel since the sun promptly dries the earth.

How to access the park

For road transport, the journey from Kampala to Kidepo Valley National Park covers a distance of 563 kilometers and takes approximately 10 hours and 30 minutes. Tourists can access the park through different routes, either eastern or western, with the western route passing through Murchison Falls National Park.

When using the eastern route, there are various entry points. Traveling from Kampala via Mbale, Sironko, Moroto, Kotido, and Kabongo to Kidepo National Park covers a distance of 740 km and takes approximately 12 hours. Another option is driving from Kampala via Mbale, Soroti, Moroto, Kotido, and Kabongo, covering 793 km in about 13 hours.

On the western route, the most commonly used path is driving from Kampala via Karuma, Gulu, Kitgum, and then to the park, covering a distance of 571 km in approximately 10 hours. Another option on the western route is traveling from Kampala via Karuma, Lira, Kotido, Kabongo, and then Kidepo National Park, which spans 705 km and takes around 12 hours.

The western route provides an adventurous experience, allowing tourists to visit Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for rhino tracking, Murchison Falls National Park, and Karuma Falls.

For those seeking convenience and speed, air travel provides a seamless option. Tourists can board a chartered aircraft or take the daily scheduled flight from Kajjansi Airfield and Entebbe Airport. The flight takes just under two hours to reach Kidepo Valley National Park, with Kidepo and Apoka airstrips serving as landing sites. When booking flights to Kidepo Valley National Park, tourists can contact domestic airline offices through emails or telephone calls, or they can go through tour operators.


The park provides a wide range of accommodation ranging from budget, middle range and luxury lodges  inside and outside the park; these include; Apoka , Adele, Ngamoru camp and Savannah lodge.