Lying in the rugged, semi-arid valleys of the Karamoja region in the country’s far northeast – in Uganda’s wildest and most isolated national park – is the Kidepo Valley. Half the fun of your Uganda safari is getting there, and its very remoteness means you’ll have intimate wildlife and cultural encounters all to yourself. You needn’t worry about roughing it though, staying at the lovely Apoka Safari Lodge.
We rose early at Apoka Safari Lodge, our luxury Ugandan safari lodge perched on a rocky kopje overlooking the water-rich Narus Valley. As the dawn light cast the plains with flecks of gold, we enjoyed excellent coffee then set out on a game drive to explore.
Tucked away as it is in the far northeast of Uganda, Kidepo Valley National Park enjoys an almost legendary status as one of the last surviving tracts of unadulterated wilderness left in the world. Straddling Kenyan, Sudanese and Ugandan ecosystems, it was sure to be interesting.
Due to low visitor numbers and a dedicated conservation policy, the park is flourishing, and it’s home to almost 500 bird species, over 80 different mammals and 20 predators that don’t appear in any other Ugandan park.
We drove through a landscape of open savannah interspersed with rocky granite outcrops and sprinkled with borassus palms, desert dates and sausage trees – one of which had a Jackson’s hornbill perched upon its branches.
As our guide was pointing out several grazing herds of skittish oribi, he came to a sudden stop near a granite rock. Upon it rested a supine male lion, stretched out like the king of the plains that he was. The molten gold mane of the lion juxtaposed against the stark grey rock provided some great photo opportunities, not least when we saw a Verreaux’s eagle soaring in the skies above.
After breakfast in the wild, watched by curious zebra, we continued on to the Kidepo River, a seasonal water source prone to flash floods. On the way, we passed several francolins and a rose-ringed parakeet – the only parakeet found in Africa – but it was the sight of gnu on the river’s sandy course that took our breath away. We’d only ever seen so many wildebeest during the Great Wildebeest Migration in the Serengeti, but here we were utterly alone.
Later, we watched as ostrich, Jackson’s hartebeest and kudu visited the Kanangorok Hot Springs, a small collection of bubbling pools. Soon a herd of elephant gracefully wandered down to join us.
Our next stop was a Karamojong village, where we met some of the people who have been living on the land for centuries, raising cattle and growing crops. Proud and excited to share their heritage, they welcomed us into their village. We learned about their history and beliefs, and their voices soared into the heavens as they sang a traditional worship song.
As we drove back to Apoka Safari Lodge, our guide told us of the smaller Ik tribe, who reside in the nearby Morungole Mountains. A visit to them requires a hike, so we’ll save it for our next trip to Uganda. For now, we congratulated ourselves on being intrepid enough to visit the Kidepo Valley. The rewards of an untamed and undiscovered Uganda and its people were rich indeed.