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Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, located in northeastern Uganda, is the second-largest protected area in the country, covering an impressive 2,788 square kilometers.

Unknown by many, it is a hidden gem - offering a pristine wilderness experience that remains largely untouched by mass tourism. The reserve boasts a diverse landscape, ranging from vast savannah plains to rocky hills and scattered woodlands, providing a habitat for a wide array of wildlife.

pian upe ostriches

Location & Accessibility

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is situated in the Karamoja sub-region, straddling the districts of Nakapiripirit, Amudat, and Katakwi. The reserve is approximately 90 kilometers north of Mbale and about 320 kilometers from Kampala, Uganda's capital.

By Road

The most common route to Pian Upe is via Mbale, which is accessible from Kampala on tarmac road. From Mbale, the journey continues northwards on a mix of paved and unpaved roads to reach the reserve. The road conditions can vary, especially during the rainy season, so a 4x4 vehicle is recommended.

By Air

For those seeking a quicker mode of transport, chartered flights are available from Entebbe International Airport to nearby airstrips such as Amudat or Moroto. From there, it's a short drive to Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve.

Things to Do (Activities)

1. Game Drives

Pian Upe is home to a variety of wildlife, including giraffes, zebras, hartebeests, buffaloes, and the rare roan antelope. Game drives are the best way to explore the reserve and observe these animals in their natural habitat. 

Early morning and late afternoon are the best times for game drives.

2. Bird Watching

The reserve is a birdwatcher's paradise with over 300 bird species recorded. Notable species include the ostrich, Secretary bird, Karamoja apalis, and Jackson's hornbill. Both guided and unguided bird watching tours are available.


3. Nature Walks

For those who prefer a more intimate experience with nature, guided nature walks offer an opportunity to explore the reserve's diverse flora and fauna on foot. These walks often include visits to scenic spots like the Girik River and the lush riverine forests.

4. Cultural Experiences

The local Karamojong community offers a rich cultural experience. Visitors can engage with the community, learning about their traditional way of life, dance, music, and crafts. This interaction provides a deeper understanding of the region's cultural heritage.

5. Camping

For an immersive wilderness experience, camping is a popular activity. The reserve has designated camping sites equipped with basic facilities. 

Camping under the vast African sky, surrounded by the sounds of wildlife, might not be for all, but those who love looking at stars and knowing they are part of this beautiful nature will love camping in Pian Upe.

Places to Stay

1. UWA Bandas and Campsites: The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) manages basic bandas and campsites within the reserve. These accommodations are budget-friendly and offer an authentic wilderness experience. Facilities are basic, with shared bathrooms and cooking areas.

2. Karamoja Safari Camp: Located in Moroto, this camp offers comfortable accommodations with en-suite facilities, hot showers, and a restaurant. It is a good base for exploring the reserve and the surrounding area.

3. Mount Moroto Hotel: Situated in Moroto town, this hotel provides more upscale accommodations with modern amenities such as air conditioning, Wi-Fi, and a swimming pool. It is ideal for those seeking comfort after a day of exploring the reserve.

4. Pian Upe Guesthouse: This guesthouse, located near the reserve entrance, offers simple but comfortable rooms. It is a convenient option for travelers looking to stay close to the reserve.

Seasons & Best Time to Visit

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve experiences a semi-arid climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons.

Wet Season 

The wet season in Pian Upe lasts form April to October. The wet season brings lush vegetation and an abundance of water sources, making it a good time for bird watching and photography. 

However, heavy rains can make roads difficult to navigate, especially in remote sections of the reserve.

Dry Season 

The dry season in Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve lasts from November to March. The dry season is characterized by sparse vegetation and limited water sources, which makes wildlife easier to spot as animals gather around the few available permanent water sources.

This is the best time for safari game drives and camping.

Related article: Best time to visit Uganda

Climate Chart

Here is a climate chart for Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, showing average monthly rainfall and temperatures:

Month Rainfall (mm) Min. Temp (oC/oF) Max. Temp (oC/oF)
January 12 17 / 63 30 / 86
February 18 18 / 64 31 / 88
March 45 18 / 64 30 / 86
April 90 17 / 63 28 / 82
May 120 17 / 63 28 / 82
June 85 16 / 61 27 / 81
July 60 16 / 61 27 / 81
August 70 16 / 61 28 / 82
September 85 17 / 63 28 / 82
October 100 17 / 63 29 / 84
November 60 17 / 63 29 / 84
December 20 17 / 63 29 / 84

Nearby Attractions

1. Mount Elgon National Park

wagagai peak on mount elgon

Located to the southeast of Pian Upe, Mount Elgon National Park offers stunning mountain scenery, waterfalls, and caves. The park is home to a variety of wildlife and bird species, and it’s a great spot for hiking and mountaineering.

2. Sipi Falls

sipi falls uganda

These picturesque waterfalls are located on the slopes of Mount Elgon. 

Sipi Falls consists of three falls, with the main one plunging about 100 meters. The area is popular for hiking, abseiling, and coffee tours.

3. Kidepo Valley National Park

Situated to the north of Pian Upe, Kidepo Valley National Park is one of Uganda’s most remote and wild national parks. It is known for its stunning landscapes and diverse wildlife, including lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras and cheetahs.

4. Moroto Town

This vibrant countryside town is the heart of the Karamoja region and offers a glimpse into the Karamojong culture. Visitors can explore local markets, visit cultural centers, and enjoy the scenic views of Mount Moroto.

mount moroto

Closing Thoughts

Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is a remarkable wild destination that is still less know and untouched by mass tourism - making it a perfect hidden gem. The diversity of wildlife, birds and nearby attractions could see it becoming one of Uganda's popular attractions in the years to come.

For the explorer who knows the magic of paths less trodden, Pian Upe should be on your bucket list for Uganda - especially as a perfect combination with Elgon and Kidepo national parks.

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