Kidepo National Park
Kidepo National Park in Uganda is a notable exception. Stunningly beautiful yet rarely seen in the average tourist itinerary, its rugged mountains and sprawling plains paint Africa in its purest, wildest form. At 700km north of Kampala, its remote location means that few attempt the journey (although those who do invariably claim it was worth it!). Not only is the scenery stunning, the park also boasts incredible biodiversity, with 77 species of mammal and over 475 types of bird.
The thrill of the ‘hunt’: Photographing Wildlife; When the Hunts Fails
Into the Wild
Thanks to its unique wildlife and natural surrounds, Kidepo is different to other Ugandan National Parks. The landscape is dominated by the park’s twin valleys, Kidepo and Narus, and the panoramic grasslands are ringed by mountains and dotted with oases. The resident cheetahs, Mountain Reedbucks and Patas monkeys cannot be seen anywhere else in the country, making it Uganda’s most biodiverse nature reserve. Unlike its more popular sister parks – Queen Elizabeth and Murchison Falls – Kidepo National Park has not yet been adapted to cater for high tourists numbers. Named a protected reserve in 1962, it is still wild and raw; home to a mere handful of lodges and tented camps (so you won’t be sharing the plains with hordes of 4x4s). It is perhaps one of the most authentic wildlife strongholds still on offer in Africa, and sure to leave you stunned during any safari trip.
Best experienced over a couple of days, there’s no shortage of expeditions on offer in Kidepo. For starters, a dawn game drive is a great way to get acclimatised. Watching the reserve come to life, and seeing the colours of the sunrise behind the park’s mountain peaks, you’re sure to feel a million miles from the frantic pace of modern life. It’s also a fantastic opportunity for photographers to capture gorgeous scenes during the ‘magic hours’ when the light is at its softest. From herds of elephants to darting cheetahs, early morning is the best time to see the wildlife at its most active.
In terms of classic game drives, few places boast better viewing opportunities than the Narus Valley. Its rolling grass plains are home to a year-long water source, meaning that much of the park’s wildlife congregates here during the dry season. With the Morungule range silhouetted against the horizon, it’s arguably one of the most picturesque safari spots in Africa. Lions, wildebeests and buffaloes can be seen in the valley, most commonly in the afternoon when the heat drives them to the water’s edge to cool down.
An adventure in nearby Rwanda: Trekking for Gorillas in the Mist – Rwanda
Also on offer at Kidepo, and slightly rarer among African National Parks in general, is a walking safari. Far more immersive than your classic jeep option, Kidepo’s on-foot offerings are something of a unique selling point. Guided by a representative of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority, visitors can walk alongside grazing zebra, herds of antelope and towering giraffes. The distance kept in a safari jeep doesn’t apply here – the park’s lack of footfall has kept its wildlife bold and curious, allowing you to get up close and personal with nature.
Unmissable among Kidepo’s wildlife experiences is its large populations of ostriches. Living in flocks, they group together in the parched Kidepo river basin during the dry season. Generally fearful of humans, these magnificent birds are best viewed from afar as they stream across the plains. Slightly further north, close to the border with South Sudan, are the Kanangarok hot springs. The thermal water is believed to have healing powers and, still relatively untouched by tourism, there are no signposts or footpaths guiding visitors to the springs. With a Ugandan Wildlife Authority ranger on hand, the network of dirt tracks becomes a lot easier to navigate. The clear, carbonated waters are the perfect place to sink and unwind, as you take in the incredible surroundings and spot the odd lion in the distant Savannah.
Uganda is fast emerging as a wildlife hotspot to rival the likes of Tanzania and Kenya – and Kidepo National Park is, perhaps, its last frontier. Still raw, still remote and still waiting to be explored by those adventurous enough to embrace its endless plains.