Mohit Advani of Global Interlink Travel Services worked with me to set up a recent safari to Kidepo Valley National Park in northeast Uganda. He was recomneded by a friend, handled all the details by email, and was great to work with, finding us a great deal on our stay at Apoka Lodge with the off-season rates and helping us to navigate the challenging details of transport there and back. Below is my review of our stay. Hats off to Mohit!
My son and I recently visited Apoka Lodge for the first time as the capstone to a spring break trip to Uganda visiting friends serving in the Gulu area. And what a capstone it was! Although I hadn’t been on safari in a number of years, I have traveled pretty extensively in a dozen African countries, and this was without a doubt one of the all-time highlights. (The length/detail of my comments is befitting how highly I rate this experience!)
1) The Setting: it doesn’t get anymore prototypically “wild Africa” than this! Kidepo National Park lies near the crossroads of some of the remotest corners of South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya. As such, it’s not an easy stop for the casual traveler. But for those who persevere in getting there, the payoff is a vast, unspoiled landscape of rugged beauty, countless animals, and very, very few other people. Indeed, during our three night stay there were only 2-4 other guests besides my son and I and our friends (a family of 4). During two of our six game drives, we never even saw another vehicle! The quiet and immensity of the landscape was magical—and that’s before even mentioning the animals.
A note on travel: through our friends (not Mohit) we hired a driver (200K Ugandan shillings/day + gas and fees) to drive us from Gulu. The roads were a mix of finished tarmac and bumpy gravel, but all-in-all not too bad. Overall travel time was about 5 hours, including a stop for lunch. On the way home, Mohit arranged for my son and I paid the extra fee to charter an Aerolink flight (1.5 hrs direct) back to Entebbe in order to save the 11-12 hour road journey and make our international flight home that evening. You can save on this pretty high cost by flying on regularly scheduled itinerary or sharing the plane with a minimum of four total passengers.
2) The Sights: As part of our all-inclusive package, we enjoyed six different game viewing activities of our choosing: 5 drives and one walking safari, mostly in the Narus River valley near the lodge. We had the same outstanding guide (Patrick) and vehicle (an open-air Land Cruiser with 12 seats) to ourselves throughout. On the very first drive, we saw most of the most prevalent species would we see over the course of our stay (zebras, elephants, warthogs, many species of gazelles/antelope, giraffes, cape buffalo, jackals), but the drives each had their own unique flavor and focus. We had to work harder to find a few lions, and eventually spotted a leopard on our last day. In between, we mixed up the activity by taking a morning game drive out to the very different landscape of the Kidepo Valley, spotting ostriches, and eating breakfast just across the border in South Sudan! Another afternoon we mixed in a visit to a local Karamajong village (where a former Apoka guide from the village led us on a cultural tour) and visited the remains of a vast, partially completed compound built into a rocky hillside by Idi Amin.
3) The Accommodations: As you can see from the Apoka Lodge website, it’s a first-class facility. Perhaps not as completely over-the-top high end as some of the luxury safari lodges in Kenya or elsewhere, but definitely 4-star in my view. The limitations were expected: limited electricity during certain hours only, weak, satellite-dependent wifi connection in the main lodge, and no A/C or fans to take the edge off of the muggy air at bedtime. But those are small (and appropriate) prices to pay for the experience of being utterly surrounded by vast swaths of wild African savannah and mountains. The individual bungalow units are beautifully if rustically appointed, amply supplied with full baths and hot showers, and all situated around the circumference of the property to maximize the sense of having your own private view. There’s even a tub that can drawn with a hot bubble bath to soak in while zebra and other animals walk by in the distance. There’s a game viewing tower, beautiful common area for meals, games, or drinks at the bar, and a delightfully cool pool hewn straight out of the granite rock!
4) The Hospitality: We felt utterly spoiled by the availability and attentiveness of the Apoka staff, who outnumbered us easily. (I don’t know what it’s like in the “high” season, but the roughly 10 unit maximum makes it likely that it would still be a similar feel). From our faithful guide, to our personal “butler” Alfred, to the assistants who escorted us to/from our bungalows after dark, to Cory the resort manager and the rest of his team, we felt like true guests in the best sense of the word. There was expert guidance to maximize our stay, turn-down and wakeup service in our rooms, special meal requests easily handled, and assistance in troubleshooting travel arrangements. And the food was incredible as well. I’m not sure how they do it, but there were delicious fresh salads, diverse ingredients, artfully prepared soups, and fine cuts of beef and fresh fish (likely compliments of the Aerolink service). 3-course meals with dessert with the norm, and wine/non-permium spirits included in the meals.
In sum, we cannot recommend Global Interlink and Apoka Lodge / Kidepo National Park highly enough! The all-inclusive price for three nights with a special off-season, buy-two-nights-get-one-free offer ($760 US for each of us) felt like a splurge, but also seemed to be a great value in the end. And the travel by road, though long, is not as arduous as it once was. If you can afford to go, I encourage you to visit for at least two or three nights, just to take in the relaxing atmosphere, but even one night here would be a memorable experience.