Pian Upe Wildlife reserve is nestled in the northeastern part of Uganda characterized by semi-arid climate and covering a total area of 2043 sqkm. Currently, Pian Upe is the largest wildlife reserve in Uganda and the second largest conservation area in Uganda after Murchison Falls National Park.
The headquarters of Pian Upe wildlife reserve are located at MoruaJore; approximately 8hrs drive from the capital of Kampala by road and just 3 hours’ drive from Sipi falls in currently district of Kapchorwa. More still, the reserve is 90 kms from Mbale city and about 5 hours’ drive to Kidepo Valley national park.
This wildlife reserve is endowed with magnificent landscape sceneries surrounded with undulating hills and mountains offering the best experiences for nature lovers.
The southern part of Pian Upe was gazetted as the Debasien animal sanctuary in 1958 before being extended to northward in 1964. The reserve derived its name from two most popular pastoral tribes i.e. Pian- sub group of Karamajongs and the Upe- Kalenjin speaking group hence the name Pian Upe wildlife reserve.
The reserve is one of the remotest travel destinations in Uganda and attractive wild place with distinct wildlands dominated by plateaus covered by green and golden dotted vegetation and thatching grass featuring bristle species, lemon grasses, and beard grasses. In addition, the landscape is covered by red acacia, desert date, bush willows and shrubs like the wooly caper bush and the butterfly pea.
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is most notable for being a home to a number of rare animals such as Cheetahs and Roan Antelopes. Visitors to this reserve may encounter other mammals such as zebras, elands, gazelles, oribi, hyenas, civets, jackals, serval cats, Duikers, Dik-dik, the Ugandan Kob, leopards, topi, wildcats, buffaloes, reebucks, waterbucks, hares, porcupines, the rock hyrax, aardvark and hedgehogs. The primates include Olive baboons, Vervet monkeys and patas monkey. Pian Upe wildlife reserve is also hosts reptiles like rock pythons, water snakes, puff adders, chameleons, skinks, geckos and monitor lizards.
Headquarters of Pian Upe are located at Murujaore on right side of Mbale-Moroto Road highway, approximately 90km north of Mbale city and 50km south of Nakapiripirit district. If you are coming from the south, the first 30km from Sipi falls junction, the road is surfaced and in good state of repair. However, the condition of the subsequent dirt road is erratic and can be extremely terrible after a heavy downpour. You will know that you have entered Pian upe shortly after passing through Chepsikunya trading center via a road that crosses a bridge over the forest-fringed Kerim River. Currently, foreign non residents are charged $35 per person, $25 to foreign residents and UGX 15000 for East African residents as entrance fees. The permit is valid for 24 hours. Guided nature walks go for 30 dollars per person and $20 for guided game drive per vehicle.
January, February and March are the best months to visit and explore the beauty of Pian Upe wildlife reserve. During this period, the reserve is relatively dry with golden grass to give clearer views of the true African wilderness and animals tend to gather around water sources, giving a great wildlife encounter during game drive. It is always rainy season from April to October and roads are often muddy and even impassable hence accessing the reserve may be challenging for some activities. From November to December, it is a bit dry but still lush vegetation makes it difficult to spot animals since the hide in tall grasses and shrubs of the reserve.
Pian Upe wildlife reserve has a number of activities ranging from wildlife encounter to community interactions. All these complement visitors’ experiences on their visit to Kidepo national park and Sipi falls as some of the key travel destinations in the eastern circuit of the country.
Game drives: Guided game drives in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve present endless opportunities to spot rare animals and birds such as like cheetahs, Roan antelopes and ostriches. It is the only protected area where you can meet the roan antelopes in Uganda. We recommend for go for game drive activities in the reserve during dry season as discussed earlier however, a visit during wet season is also possible using a 4 x 4 Wheel drive vehicle to maneuver through the muddy roads.
Bird watching: Pian Upe wildlife reserve is among the best bird watching destination in Uganda with a variety of bird species hence ranking the second spot immediately after Queen Elizabeth National Park. The most attractive bird species in the reserve are the African ostriches. Other species include; African eagles, cormorants, hornbills, jacanas, plovers, turacos, lapwings, cranes, darters, egrets, grass birds, hawks, herons, owls, pelicans, vultures, weaver birds among others. The reserve hosts over 240 bird species however, it hasnt been studied extensively by bird researchers perhaps more species will be discovered. The best birding spot in Pian Upe wildlife reserve is Cheposukunya hot springs.
Mountain and rock climbing: Pian Upe Wildlife reserve is endowed with impressive rocks and mountains perfect for hiking experiences. The notable mountain the reserve is mount Kadam. If you are a mountain climber, you may try out either Mountain Rwenzori and Elgon to explore their respective biodiversity on your visit to the Pearl of Africa!
Nature Walks: Uganda Wildlife authority arranges nature walks with help of a ranger guide to enable guests explore the reserve and have a sense of feeling for the true African wilderness. Nature walks can also be one in Kidepo valley national park and Lake Mburo national park in Uganda. You may meet a number of bird species and antelopes during nature walk experiences.
Cultural Encounters: Pian Upe Wildlife reserve is surrounded with the Karamajongs and Kalenjins with unique rich cultures. These nomadic pastoral tribes depend on their cattle for survival in this semi-arid region and at times growing dry food stuff like maize, sorghum and millet. Therefor during community tours, you may explore their culture through music, dance, drama and traditional marriage ceremonies on a lucky day!
Cave exploration: Rocks found within Pian Upe wildlife reserve hide ancient rock paintings with cultural attachment for example the Napendio cave where local communities consider it to be holly and normally ask for blessings from the same cave. The Napedet is another fascinating cave in the reserve; positioned at a former significant hunting area for the Pokwot and Karamojong people. These people used to roast their game meat after hunting and cooking stones dating back to over 500 years can still be seen in Napedet cave. Curious visitors may do bush camping close to these caves at a fee of UGX 15000.
Mountain Biking / Cycling: Visitors may take cultural mountain biking through the local communities of Karamoja to discover the untouched northeast of Uganda; driving through old colonial roads and enjoying the views of undulating landscapes, interact with the local community and immerse in East Africa’s last living cultures.
Accommodation in Pian Upe wildlife reserve is divided into two; that is to say; accommodation within the game reserve and accommodation in towns outside the reserve. Uganda Wildlife Authority provides self-contained bandas with in the park and they are affordable and clean with a single banda at UGX 40000 and UGX 55000 for a double however prices are subject to change. The menu is basic and includes rice, chicken, spaghetti, rolex and chapatti. Alternatively, you may pack your own food and engage someone to prepare for you at a fair price.
Adventurous travelers may opt to go camping at a cost of $5 however, we advise you to go with your own tent
For those looking for comfortable accommodation, you may reside outside the reserve to places like Sipi, Mbale city among others and later drive for like 2 hours to the reserve for your intended activities.
Just like any other safari or tour to the African bushes, visitors to Pian Upe wildlife reserve Uganda should prepare their trips in advance to avoid any disappointments. For international travelers, besides packing key documents such as your Passport & VISA, yellow fever vaccination card, negative PCR test certificate among others, we advise you to double check on the following list;
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