Situated across the equator in East Africa, Uganda is a landlocked country with a total land area of 241,551 sq.km which is almost the size of Great Britain. The country is divided into four regions including Central, west, East and northern. The central area also known as ‘Buganda Kingdom is found in the Victoria basin with Kampala capital city and Entebbe international airport.
Visitors can start or end a trip with a Kampala city tour or visit Sesse islands in Lake Victoria. Buganda kingdom offers tours to rich cultural heritage sites including Kasubi Royal Tombs (UNESCO world heritage site) and bark cloth making in Masaka municipality.
The western part of Uganda lies in the Great East African Rift Valley with 8 of 10 Uganda protected areas. They include wildlife reserves like Lake Mburo, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Mgahinga Gorilla, Queen Elizabeth, Semuliki, Rwenzori Mountains and Murchison Falls National Park.
The western circuit offers incredible safaris like gorilla tours to trek the endangered mountain gorillas in Bwindi, chimpanzee tracking and seeing the amazing tree climbing lions. There are spectacular landscapes including the western Rift Valley and three Virunga volcanoes including Mount Sabinyo, Muhabura and Gahinga.
The eastern region is home to the source of the Nile River in Jinja city – “the adventure capital of East Africa”. Jinja offers white water rafting, kayaking and bungee jumping. Going further northeast lies Uganda’s most rural and semi-arid region known as Karamoja. This offers off-the-beaten track experience given that most of Uganda safaris take place in the west. Attractions in Karamoja region include Sipi Falls, Mount Elgon (4321 m), Kidepo Valley National Park and Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve. These areas offer a chance to spot wildlife that’s not found in other parts of Uganda including cheetah, Aard wolf and roan antelopes.
Travelers coming to Uganda are no longer subject to mandatory covid-19 testing on arrival at Entebbe international airport. Those who may show signs of severe illness on arrival may be required to undertake a test and self-isolate until results are back. People leaving the country will do a PCR test as required by their destination.
Flora and fauna
Uganda was nicknamed the “Pearl of Africa” by Sir Winston Churchill in his book my ‘African journey’ in 1902. The country is endowed with diverse ecosystems which support rich biodiversity including half of the world’s mountain gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. Kibale Forest boasts an impressive figure of 13 primate species including chimpanzees, black and white colobus monkeys and grey cheeked mangabays, among others.
There are over 120 mammal species in Uganda including big game like cheetah, lion, leopard, African elephant, Cape buffalo, 32 southern white rhinos at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, giraffe, zebra, among others. The country also has about 1061 species of birds of which 24 are Albertine Rift Endemics making it one of the best one of the best bird watching destinations in the world. The central forest reserves are home to 346 butterfly species, 202 tree species and 610 fern species.
The freshwater lakes of Uganda including Victoria and Lake Mburo provide habitat to over 90 tropical fish species including Nile Perch and Tilapia for sport fishing. Other fish species include Lake Victoria basin Endemic tilapiines such as Oreochromis variabilis, Oreochromis esculentus and Labeo victorianus (Ningu). They are listed as critically endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species.
Wildlife tourism in Uganda take place in protected areas managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA). They include 10 national parks namely; Bwindi Impenetrable forest, Mgahinga Gorilla, Queen Elizabeth, Lake Mburo, Murchison Falls, Semuliki Valley, Rwenzori Mountains, Kidepo Valley and Mount Elgon National Parks; 12 wildlife reserves, 5 Community Wildlife Management Areas and 13 wildlife sanctuaries.
Transport and communication
Uganda got independence from Britain in 1962 and English is the official language. Since the end of the civil war in northern Uganda in the early 2000s, the country has remained stable making it safe to visit. The peaceful environment has fueled rapid development of urban areas especially in central region with the capital Kampala and Entebbe the main gateway to Uganda among the fastest growing.
Other major cities that are rapidly growing in Uganda include Jinja (the adventure capital of East Africa), Mbarara city the main urban center in western region along with Kasese municipality the gateway for Rwenzori Mountain Treks. Kabale and Kisoro towns are found in southwest close to Lake Bunyonyi, Bwindi and Mgahinga Gorilla parks. These towns are linked by a good tarmac road network and public transport includes bus routes and taxis (matatu) which operate directly or use a combination of routes. Buses are better option for long journeys and motorcycles (Boda Boda) are convenient way to get around. Tickets for some buses are available for booking online through the bus operators association of Uganda.
People and culture
The people of Uganda belong to over 50 indigenous tribes of which Buganda kingdom in central region constitutes the largest ethnic group – Ganda. Important cultural sites of Buganda are found in Kampal including Kasubi Royal Tombs (UNESCO world heritage site) and Mpambire village in Mpigi district where a prehistoric technique of making African drums and backcloth is displayed.
Rural areas make up almost 80% of Uganda’s population at 45.7 million people according to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS). In terms of religion, majority of Ugandansbelong to Christianity and Islam faith. Dominant local languages include Luganda, Lusoga, Runyankore, Rutooro, Atesot, Acholi and Swahili. Kampala also hosts the only temple of Bahai faith on the African continent.
There are over 32 different languages spoken in Uganda with many closely related enabling peaceful co-existence hence making Uganda one of the friendliest nations in the world. Cultural conservatism exists in Uganda among north-east and western regions especially among the Karamajong and Batwa communities. Cultural safaris in Uganda offer a chance to visit these communities and experience their extraordinary way of life as well as their local activities including the pre-historic fire making among the Batwa, banana beer brewing, local food preparation using traditional tools such as millet and sorghum grinding stones.
Planning a safari in Uganda
A trip in Uganda can be short from 3 day gorilla tour to 18 days long safari depending on time and choice of destinations. Day trips are available too especially those in Kampala capital city or Entebbe town especially those intending to explore nearby places including equator for photoshoots, Uganda Wildlife Education Center (Entebbe zoo) where you can touch and play with chimps, Mabamba swamp for shoebill birding, Jinja city for white water rafting or bungee jumping, Mabira central forest reserve for zip lining, Sesse islands for beach vacation and Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Lake Victoria. Uganda Wildlife Authority requires cashless system of payment for all savannah park entry fees.
Popular safari destinations in Uganda
Lake Mburo National Park
The easiest to reach of Uganda’s 10 protected areas, Lake Mburo National Park is 234 sq.km (4-hour drive) south-west of Kampala capital city or Entebbe airport. The park offers stopover for the long journey to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park for gorilla trekking safari. Situated within the dry Ankole long horn cattle corridor, the protected area extends for (370 sq.km) including tall and short grass savannah dotted with acacia and euphorbia trees, metamorphic rocky ridges, mixed woodlands and 13 lakes that form the Nakivale wetland system and attract hippos, Nile crocodiles and sport fish including Nile Perch and Tilapia.
The variety of habitats offer spectacular scenery and support rich biodiversity including 317 species of birds of which 35 are raptors such as African fish, marital, long crested, brown and snake-banded eagles, lappet-faced and white-headed vultures, grey kestrel; 68 mammals species including plains zebras, impala, Rothschild’s giraffe and Cape buffaloes (the park has no elephants). Lake Mburo National Park offers greater advantage for bird watching in Uganda and east Africa due to large number of raptors and Lake Victoria Basin Endemics. These include Papyrus Gonolek (Laniarius mufumbiri) and the endangered African FinFoot (Podica senegalensis). Wildlife viewing activities can be enjoyed including day and night game drives, boat cruise on Lake Mburo, Sport fishing, guided bush walks, biking and horseback riding.
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest national Park
Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park is 512 sq.km (9-hour drive) south-west of Kampala capital city and 164 sq.km (4-hour) drive via Katuna or Cyanika border towns between Rwanda – Uganda. The park can be accessed by air through Kihihi airstrip for those intending to fly to Buhma sector or Kisoro airfield which serves Rushaga and Nkuringo sectors.
The protected area is part of the Albertine Rift Valley covering 321 sq.km of Afromontane and lowland tropical forests with bamboo and swamp patches at an elevation of 1190 – 2607 m above sea level. Due to varying altitude and diverse array of vegetation, Bwindi Impenetrable forest is rich in biodiversity including half of the world mountain gorilla population (about 459 individuals which is almost half of 1063 world’s gorilla population), 347 species of birds of which 24 are Albertine Rift Endemics including Shelly’s Crimsonwing, stripe-breasted tit, Chapin’s flycatcher, strange weaver and African Green Broadbil, 120 mammal species including forest elephants and 8 primate species including chimpanzees, L’hoest monkeys, red-tailed monkeys among others. The area receives high rainfall (1800 – 25000 mm) throughout the year.
Hiking trails muddy and slippery during April to May and October to November. The dry season during the months of June to September and December offers the best time for gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. The park has 22 gorilla families including 2 for gorilla habituation experience. There are four gorilla centers including Buhoma (park headquarters), Ruhija, Rushaga and Nkuringo. Ruhija and Buhoma offers greater opportunities for less strenuous treks, waterfalls and birding safari while Nkuringo has spectacular views. Rushaga offers a wide range of accommodations including lodges on the shores of Lakes of Mutanda and Mulehe. After gorilla trekking, Lake Bunyonyi is an ideal spot to relax, enjoy scenery and explore some of the 19 islands by boat ride, canoe or village walk.
Lake Bunyonyi meaning a place of little birds is 112 sq.km (2-hour drive) south of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park and 53 sq.km (1-hour drive) west of Kabale municipality. The lava dammed lake has 19 islands that provide spectacular scenery and opportunity for birding safari in Uganda with over 200 species of birds.
There’s a variety of accommodation including resorts to stay and relax after gorilla trek at Bwindi. Swimming is safe given that the lake doesn’t have hippos, crocodiles or bilharzia. Guided boat ride or canoeing offers a chance to explore the islands including Punishment Island the smallest of the 29. Locally known as Akampane, the island is associated with dark history of a traditional practice. Young girls were forbidden to get pregnant before marriage.
Those caught in the act would be taken and tied to the tree and left there to starve and die. The practice was abolished with the coming of missionaries who settled at the lake including Leonard Sharp who set up a leprosy treatment center on Bwama the largest island. The privately owned Kyahugye Island is home to zebras and waterbucks. There are other fun activities to enjoy on Lake Bunyonyi including zip lining, mountain biking and community walks. Those intending to shop local souvenirs can visit a local market.
Queen Elizabeth National Park
Uganda’s most visited savannah protected area, Queen Elizabeth National Park is 371 sq.km (6-hour drive) west of Kampala capital city. The park can be accessed by air (1-hour flight) through Kasese and Mweya airstrips. Spanning for 1978 sq.km (764 sq. Miles), the area forms part of the western arm of the Great African Rift Valley south of Rwenzori Mountains.
The park is divided into two sectors including Ishasha wilderness and Kasenyi plains. The latter is the main area for game drives and boat cruises on Kazinga channel – 32 sq.km long Kazinga channel which connects Lake Edward and George. The park headquarters are found at Mweya peninsular and most of the accommodations in Queen Elizabeth National Park are in Kasenyi. The area offers spectacular savannah, explosion crater lakes including Lake Katwe which offers salt mining experience. It also contains Kalinzu forest reserve and Kyambura gorge an underground tropical forest that offers chimpanzee trekking. On the other hand, Ishasha wilderness in the south of the park offers a chance to spot the tree climbing lions of East Africa.
Due to a variety of ecosystems, Queen Elizabeth National Park is rich in biodiversity. There are over 600 species of birds and 95 mammal species including lions, tree climbing lions, leopards, African elephants, Cape buffalo, spotted hyena, Uganda kobs and waterbucks. The park doesn’t have giraffes and zebras. Kazinga channel attracts a large concentration of hippos and water birds including African fish eagle, malachite kingfisher among others.
Activities to do in the park include day and night game drives, boat cruise on Kazinga channel, bird watching and salt mining tours at Lake Katwe. There are experiential tourism activities in Kasenyi plains which support conservation including lion tracking, mongoose tracking, hippos and bird counts.
Stretching for 3840 sq.km, Murchison Falls National Park is the largest conservation area in Uganda. The park is 305 sq.km (5-hour drive) north-west of Kampala capital city via Kichumbanyobo southerner entrance gate. This route allows a chance to stopover at Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary for rhino trekking on foot.
The Tangi gate in the north is longer and gives you direct access to the main area for game viewing. Alternatively, the park can be accessed by air through Pakuba airstrip. The protected area is home to 76 mammal species and 451 species of birds including shoebill stork. The Nile River is the park’s most spectacular feature. At Murchison Falls, the Nile squeezes through a narrow canyon and plunges over a 40m cliff with a thunderous roar into the “devil’s cauldron” creating a trademark rainbow.
The boat cruise from Paara the park headquarters to the bottom of the falls offers a chance to see hippos, Nile crocodiles, water birds and scenery. During the launch trip, elephants and buffaloes can be spotted coming down to drink on the riverbanks. The area north of the river contains borassus palm dotted savannah grasslands. Game drives offer a chance to spot a lot of mammal species including lion, leopard, elephant, Cape buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffe, Jackson’s hartebeest and Uganda kobs. Bird watching in Murchison falls can be done by nature walk, game drive and boat cruise. Small boats are available for those intending to explore the Nile-Albert delta wetlands beneath Paara in search of shoebill stork.
Southern sector of the park contains Budongo central forest reserve which offers chimpanzee trekking experience at Kaniyo Pabidi eco-tourism site. There’s also a royal mile walk and a honeymoon track for those intending to walk through the African bush.
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary
Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary is 176 sq.km (3-hour drive) north-west of Kampala capital city towards Murchison falls National Park and 56 sq.km north of Masindi town. Rhinos in Uganda became extinct due to insecurity and poaching in the 1980’s. In 2005, the government of Uganda in partnership with Rhino Fund Trust created the Sanctuary in Nakitoma village, Nakasongola district and six southern white rhinos from Kenya and USA were introduced.
Set in a 70 sq.km private land, the sanctuary is in the Kafue River basin surrounded by 2 meter-high electric fence and guarded by a team of 78 armed wildlife rangers. The rhino population in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary has increased to 32 individuals due to maximum security. As the numbers grow, there’s hope in the future to introduce the animals back into Murchison Falls National Park and other protected areas. This can be achieved through visiting the sanctuary which contributes directly to the Uganda National Rhino Conservation Strategy 2018 – 2028.
Rhino trekking at Ziwa cost is $50 for foreign non-residents and 30000 UGX for East Africans. Tracking is done on foot with the help of armed ranger and expect to spot a crash of 3 or 6 rhinos. The sanctuary also contains a restaurant, basic budget rooms, camping and a guest house (bed and breakfast). This provides a chance for overnight visits for those intending to do more activities including shoebill trek, canoeing on Kafue River and night walks. Wildlife you may spot include waterbucks, black fronted duiker, hippos, crocodiles and over 100 species.
Sese Islands, Lake Victoria
Shared between Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa covering 69484 sq.km (26,828 sq. Miles). Uganda contains almost 45% of its share including Sese islands, a group of 64 scattered islands in Kalangala district at the lake’s northern shores. Entebbe international airport and town – the main gateway to Uganda provides a chance to stay or live on the lakeside.
Kampala capital city is 36 sq.km (1hr 30 min drive) north of Entebbe. Day trips to Sesse islands from any of the towns include road transfers to Nakiwogo landing site. Travelling to Sesse islands is done by ferry which takes 3 hours 30 minutes. Tickets are available for booking on arrival or through National Oil Distributors Ltd. Alternatively, motorized canoes or speed boats can be hired from Entebbe waterfront beach at Uganda Wildlife Education Center (UWEC).
The ferry MV Kalangala departs at 8:00am from Entebbe dock and 2pm from Bulago Island. Transportation tickets cost 14000 Uganda shillings for first class, 10000Ugx for economy and 50000Ugx for those going with vehicles. Another route to Kalangala is in Masaka municipality called Bukakata landing site and there are motorized canoes only.
Kalangala is one of the most densely populated areas in central Uganda. This is due to abundance of 200 tropical fish species including Tilapia and Nile Perch the main catch for sport fishing tours. Among the many islands, Buggala is the largest and one of the most developed beach destinations in Uganda is Bulago Island.
There are tropical white sand beaches and a wide range accommodation including waterfront resorts and Airbnb vacation rentals. Sesse Islands provides a place to relax at the end of your trip in Uganda. The patches of tropical forests and planted trees attract wildlife such as velvet monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, monitor lizards and birds.
There are many things to do in Sesse islands including boat riding, canoeing, sport or traditional fishing, birding and camping. Mutambala beach on Buggala Island offers nature walks and swimming in the lake. Though there are no crocodiles and hippos, you can opt to stay at a lodge that offers pools. Those looking to stay active can go for all terrain quad biking or biking the trails on Bulago Island.
Kampala capital city is the main business and administrative center of Uganda. The city is 34 sq.km (1hr drive) south-west of Entebbe international airport and town on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. The wider urban area has a population of 1.6 million people and stretches over the 7 hills.
They include Mengo the capital of Buganda Kingdom, Rubaga, Namirembe, Makerere, Kololo and Old Kampala. History of Kampala goes back to 1890 when Frederick Lugard settled on old Kampala hill which served as headquarters of the Imperial British protectorate. At the time, the area (1190 m) the undulating hills and papyrus swamp valleys were a habitat to Impala.
This antelope specie, now found on game safari in Lake Mburo and Kidepo Valley National Parks was a favorite for hunting among the Buganda royal family. The hunting grounds were referred to as “Akasozi K’empala” meaning hills of the impala in English. The word was collectively adopted under the British accent.
Kampala officially became the capital of Uganda on 10th October 1962 at independence. The city has experienced rapid growth stretching over 21 hills. This was due to fertile soils and availability of raw materials for the manufacturing industries. Under this influence, the urban area took shape with narrow streets resulting into ‘chaotic’ heavy traffic jam and vibrant nightlife.
There are three areas of Kampala including downtown and city square. For those intending to shop new or secondhand clothing downtown Kampala offers HAM shopping mall and Owino market. The city center around Nakasero hill and city square comprises of electronic shops along Kampala road, Nakasero fresh food market and supermarkets. There are also fast food restaurants including KFC and hotels such as Pearl of Africa, Serena and Sheraton. This area also hosts the Uganda National Theatre (Uganda National Cultural Center).
Live bands featuring performing artists are available every Thursdays. Nightlife spots in Kampala are mostly concentrated in Kabalaga towards Gaba with places to hangout by the lakeside. The Uganda National Museum is 5km outside the city along Kira road next to Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) headquarters.
Other important cultural sites in Kampala are at Mengo including the Kabaka’s palace (Lubiri) and Bulange parliamentary building of the kingdom of Buganda. The Royal Mile walk which connects the two sites features various sculptures which represent the 42 clans of Baganda Uganda’s largest ethnic tribe.
Mengo also hosts Amin’s torture chambers a historical site of Uganda’s past civil unrest. Elsewhere, Kasubi hill next to Mengo is home to royal Kasubi tombs a UNESCO world heritage site. At Makerere hill stands Makerere University which became of the first educational institutions in East Africa in 1922. Naguru hill at an elevation of 1300m is the tallest hill in Kampala and a residential area. Despite being the tallest, it doesn’t offer good views of the urban area. The spectacular aerial view of Kampala capital city are found at old Kampala hill standing on the Gaddafi Mosque minaret.
Destinations in East and Karamoja region
Jinja city also known as “the adventure capital of East Africa” is 81 sq.km (3-hour drive) east of Kampala capital city. The urban center is situated near source of the Nile River on the northern shores of Lake Victoria. Due to abundance of tropical fish, Jinja began as a fishing village. When the British begun construction of Uganda Railway in 1895, most of the Indian labor force stayed and their architecture still stands today.
In 1954 Owen Falls Dam was constructed which attracted development of industries including fish, sugar, beer and textile factories. The hydro-power station affected the scenery with destruction of waterfalls and rocks. The name Jinja comes from the local dialect “ejinja” which means a place of rocks in English.
With increase of industries and power demand, another hydro-power plant Bujagali falls dam was completed in 2012. Much of the falls were erased. Besides, a stretch of 26 sq.km km grade V and II rapids remained. Jinja offers great opportunity for white water rafting and kayaking. In addition, there’s a wide range of adventure activities including river tubing, bungee jumping, all terrain quad biking, boat riding, sport fishing and horseback rides.
Village walks and bird watching is available for those intending to explore the local cultural heritage of Buganda kingdom. Jinja also provides a wide range of accommodation including those with a view of the river. The Source of the Nile is 5 sq.km south of the city and can be explored by a boat ride with opportunity for bird watching. There’s a souvenir market, bar, restaurant and gardens to relax or enjoy camping by the riverside.
Sipi falls in Kapachorwa district is 275 sq.km (6-hour drive) north-east of Kampala capital city, 259 sq.km (3-hour drive) east of Jinja and 52 sq.km (1-hour drive) from Mbale municipality. At Sipi, the water drops 100 meters over a volcanic cliff from the flowing Sipi River on the lower slopes of Mount Elgon National Park. Sipi is the tallest waterfalls in Uganda.
There are three series of waterfalls and visiting them involves moderate guided hiking a 7 sq.km long trail at 1,775 m above sea level. Reaching at the top of the cliff offers spectacular view of Karamoja wilderness area. In addition to the hike, visitors can do abseiling down the falls. Abseiling at Sipi falls cost is $50 per person.
Swimming at the bottom of Sipi falls is allowed. The falls can be viewed from several places of stay including Sipi River Lodge among others such as Sipi Guest House. The surrounding area has rich volcanic soils of Mount Elgon which supports Arabic coffee growing. There are several local community coffee farms you can visit for a cultural experience.
Meet the local farmers and learn how the coffee beans are locally turned into tea. The Sipi falls coffee tour cost is 53000 UGX and lasts for 3 hours depending on your interests. The host will provide a fresh cup of coffee and snack at the end of the tour. Furthermore, the volcanic rocks at Sipi offer a chance for rock climbing in Kapchorwa. Getting to the rocks can be done by mountain biking tour from Sipi River Lodge or Kapkwai Forest Exploration Center – the Uganda Wildlife Authority park headquarters.
Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park is 235 sq.km (6-hour drive) north-east of Kampala capital city. The tarmac route passes through Jinja and Mbale cities. The final roads leading to the park are dirt and require 4×4 vehicle. Mount Elgon’s Wagagai with an elevation of 4321 meters above sea level is the 4th tallest peak in Africa. There’s a large extinct volcano at the summit with a base of 4000 sq.km. Several features including caves, waterfalls and unique vegetation such as desert moorlands, giant lobelias can be seen while hiking in Mount Elgon National Park. Straddling the border between Uganda and Kenya, the protected area is recognized as a UNESCO man and biosphere reserve due to rich biodiversity.
Wildlife in Mount Elgon National Park includes 300 species of birds including Tacazze sunbird and Lammergeier (endangered bird of prey). The savanna plains below the slopes are home to large mammal species such as buffalo, zebra among others such as Uganda kob, spotted hyena and leopard.
The lower forested slopes provide home to primate species including black and white colobus monkeys, red-tailed monkeys, velvet monkeys and olive baboons. Activities in Mount Elgon National Park range from summit hiking, nature walks, cave exploration, mountain biking to safari game drives and bird watching.
Kidepo Valley National Park
Kidepo Valley National Park is 700 sq.km (11-hour drive) north-east of Kampala capital city. The park can also be reached by air through Apoka airstrip just 3km away from the main entrance gate. The 1442 sq.km protected area is situated in a semi-arid wilderness area known as Karamoja.
This is Uganda’s most rural region with traditional culture including Karamojong (semi-nomadic pastoralists) and IK Bushmen. They are more or less similar to Masai warriors and San Bushmen of East and Southern Africa respectively.
Due to isolation, Kidepo Valley National Park offers off-the-beaten track wildlife and cultural safari experience. The scenery and wildlife is unique. The park is home to 77 mammal species including big four (lion, leopard, African elephant and buffalo).
Some of the animals including cheetah, Aard wolf, ostrich, stripped hyena and side-striped jackals are not found in other protected around Uganda. Zebras, Rothschild’s giraffes, impala, Uganda kobs, Jackson’s hartebeest and hippos are present. Given that the area is semi-desert, there are two river valleys including Narus and Kidepo which provide water for wildlife. Permanent swamps remain in the Narus Valley during the dry season March to September.
This is the best time to visit the park for game viewing safari. Birding in Kidepo Valley is excellent with over 475 species of birds of 55 are birds of prey including Abyssinian ground hornbill, white-headed vulture, pygmy falcon among others. There are rare Somali-Masai Biome Endemics such as Karamoja Apalis, three-streaked tchagara and Somali-breasted bunting.
From the low-lying savannah in the Narus valley at 914m the landscape rises to 2750m above sea level forming the Morungole dry mountain ranges along the border with South Sudan. These mountains are inhabited by the IK Bushmen (more or less similar to the San people of Kalahari Desert – Botswana).
Nature walks are available including a 15 sq.km trail along the park borders. Shorter hikes of 2 to 3 hours offer a chance to walk through Narus and Namamukweny valleys in search of birds and mammals. Outside the park borders, you can visit the Karamojong communities.
The Nilotic semi-nomadic pastoralists still live in traditional grass thatched houses in a circular enclosure together with their cattle. Their strong affection for cows has for long created cattle raiding conflicts with their brother – the Pokot and Kelengin in north-eastern Kenya. Some of the historical sites and hills that acted as a base to launch raids can be found in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve south of Kidepo.
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve extends for 2275 sq.km (23400 ha) south of Kidepo Valley National Park and forms part of Mount Elgon Conservation Area. The area was gazetted in 1958 as Debasien Animal Sanctuary and later expanded and renamed in 1964. Neglect of the park during Adi Amin’s war in 1970’s led to extensive poaching.
There was an attempt to turn the southern part of the reserve into a commercial fruit farm project which failed in 2003. Despite the extinction of elephants, lions and black rhinos, Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve remains an undisturbed semi-arid wilderness area. The vegetation contains red acacia savannah grassland with volcanic rock kopjes and Mount Kadam (3063 m) which rises above the plains towards the border with Kenya.
The arid habitats provide home to rare mammal species including cheetah, roan antelope, Grant’s gazelles, white-eared kob, greater kudu, bohor and mountain reedbuck. These are not found in parks of western Uganda. There are zebras, Uganda kobs, topi, common eland, Cape buffalo, Rothschild’s giraffe, impala and oribi among others. Big and small cats are present including leopard, spotted hyenas, serval cats, jackals, wild cats, African civets and rock hyraxes.
The Uganda Wildlife Authority has opened new game tracks, Muruajore visitor center and basic camping and budget facilities are available for overnight visits. Activities to do in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve include game drives, birding and hiking Mount Kadam and Napak. Biking tours offer a chance to explore the ancient rock arts and Napendio caves. Day trips can be done from the park to explore the neighboring towns of Kotido, Moroto and Kaabong.