WHY THIS HIDDEN GEM IN UGANDA IS A TOP DESTINATION FOR 2016
Kidepo National Park, Uganda There's a reason Uganda is known as the Pearl of Africa. It's been a top tourist destination for a few years now, due to its stunning scenery and wildlife.
One of its best treasures, however, remains hidden.
Off the beaten track, Kidepo National Park is nestled among the rugged hills and valleys of Northern Uganda. It's a place so hidden away it's beauty has mostly gone unnoticed... until now.
Home to a legendary tribe
Kidepo National Park is home to one the smallest ethnic groups in Africa, a people called the Ik. According to folklore, the Ik have wandered through much of East Africa, and came from Ethiopia hundreds of years ago.
Praying to ancient gods, the Ik believe they will one day have to move on from Kidepo Valley. But they are fighting to preserve their unique culture and language, which no rival tribes understand.
Terrill Schrock is a linguist working with three generations of Ik to uncover the secrets of the Ik language. He's found evidence linking them to cultures as far away as southern Egypt.
"It's like a museum," he says. "It's a storehouse of historical information, cultural information, ecological information. When a language like that dies, you could liken it to a library burning down. Losing a window to the past that will never be recovered in the future."
On the cusp of a wildlife revival
The heart of Kidepo National Park, Naru's permanent wetland, has a troubled past. Tribal warfare in the 1980's and 90's drove away wildlife populations, but the area is now bouncing back as animals begin to thrive once again.
The 540-square-mile park contains diverse landscape, from lush mountain ranges to vast plains, and is home to almost 500 bird species and 77 different mammals. Roam the savannahs, and you'd likely see an impressive collection of fauna including ostriches, hartebeest and giraffes.
Chief Warden Johnson Masereka says: "This uniqueness, you may not find all these species in a single park, at some time. This to me is the best of Uganda."
Incredible bodies of water
In a hidden pocket of the park, a small collection of pools bubble away with the heat of an ancient volcano. These are The Kanangorok Hot Springs, an unexpected attraction just a short walk away from the international border between Uganda and South Sudan.
Further south, the flat Kidepo Valley is dramatically shaped by the river that runs through it. During heavy rains, the river flash floods and flows through the park into South Sudan. Hours later, it disappears, leaving a river of sand as wide as 165 feet in some parts.
"You find that underground the sand there is still water. This can be dug out by some animals, (like) baboons and elephants," says park guide Phillip Akorongimoe.
"There is plenty of water... and that is why there are more animals in Kidepo Valley."
Source: Colin Hancock and Heenali Patel, CNN International