Mount Elgon, perched in eastern Uganda – approximately 140 kilometers away from Africa’s largest great lake (Lake Victoria), has the largest volcanic base in the whole world. Back in the days, the mountain was the highest in Africa exceeding Mountain Kilimanjaro’s current height of 5,895 m but due to the millennium of erosion, its height has been reduced to 4,321 m and thus making it Africa’s eighth highest mountain. Mountain Elgon comprises of five major peaks; Wagai, Sudek, Koitobos, Mubiyi, and Masaba.
A hike on Mountain Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a fantastic and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains – the ultimate aim on reaching the summits of Mount Elgon is not the final ascent to the 4,321m Wagagai Peak, but the descent into the vast 40 square kilometers Caldera. The mountain is inhabited within a large national park, Mount Elgon National Park, which is shared between two East African countries; Uganda and Kenya. The Park covers an area of 1,279 square kilometers (494 square miles) and it is bisected by the border of Uganda and Kenya, of which the Ugandan part of the Park covers 1,110 square kilometers (430 square miles) well as the Kenyan part covers 169 square kilometers (65 square miles). The Uganda part of the Park was gazetted in 1992, well as the Kenyan part was gazetted in 1968.
You will drive 235 kilometers east of Kampala on a good tarmac road passing through Jinja town to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa town on the mountain’s north-western flank. The dirt roads lead off the Mbale – Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.
When to Visit the Park?
The Park is open and can be visited all-year-round for mountain hiking and game viewing however; the most convenient period to visit the Park is during the two Uganda’s dry seasons which occur in months of January to late February, and then June to October. However; it is not a guarantee that rains will not appear during the dry seasons, as the weather keeps on changing, more so in the wet seasons; it is of course not a guarantee that you will not notice sunshine at some days. Therefore, the weather should not be a main remedy for you to go enjoy the climbing trails at Mountain Elgon – an experience out-of-this-planet.
What to see and do?
There is a variety of activities to do in Mountain Elgon National Park, such as; mountain climbing, game viewing, bird watching (over 300 bird species), spot fishing at Sipi falls, nature walks, mountain biking, rock climbing, and cultural encounters (the Bagisu; who believe in circumcising the grown-up youths in order to turn into a real man). Mountain Elgon is the oldest volcanic mountains in East Africa and one of the oldest in Africa, and it is surrounded by forests, inhabited by mammals and birds. It unveils beautiful vistas; various caves, cascading waterfalls such as; Sipi falls, that enchant you as you enjoy a hike up to the Wagagai peak and the world’s largest caldera. Although the beautiful scenery is the major attraction, the Park also comprises of a diversity of wildlife species of which the varied vegetation cover along the mountain slopes and some of the inhabitants include; African elephants, Cape buffaloes, Oribis, Defassa’s waterbucks, duikers, squirrels, spotted hyenas, and a few primates such as the white Colobus monkeys and the blue monkeys.
Sipi falls in the Park
The Sipi falls, one of the most romantic places in Uganda, is a series of three waterfalls on the edge of Mountain Elgon National Park near the Kenyan border. The Sipi falls area is the starting point from many hikes up to Mountain Elgon, of which the hikes around the falls provide stunning views of Lake Kyoga, Karamoja plains and the beautiful slopes of mountain elgon. The waterfalls are a sight to behold as they provide a very scenic beauty, well as the roaring sound of waters falling down a steep rock makes the all safari just fabulous!!! A visit to these falls and exploring the caves behind the falls is very exciting and one of the trails can take you to the top where you will be able to see the water from above – which is surely breathtaking! The spot fishing activities in Mountain Elgon National Park take place from the stunning Sipi falls and you are guaranteed memorable escapades.
As already noted above, the Park is a home to several attractions and besides the noted ones above, visitors will also enjoy views of the Arabica Coffee Plantations, ancient cave paintings near the trailhead at Budadiri, and the hot springs in the former volcano’s crater – which bubble at temperatures of 48 Degrees Celsius. The other interesting attraction you will enjoy is the Bagisu tribe and culture which invades the region. The Bagisu tribe is well known in Uganda for performing the circumcision rituals on the grown-up youths, of which the particular youth to be circumcised will first have to dance place to place in the surrounding villages for a specified period of time. On the day of circumcision, people will gather at the boy’s parents’ home to witness the braveness of the boy and once you perform this ritual, according to the Bagisu you are considered to be a man and you are free to marry. During the ritual, various individuals give out their donations to such a brave youth and you too it will of course be a pleasure to the youth if at all you do some contribution as this activity is really fierce and requires brave people only.
What is necessary / needed?
Like any other mountain, hiking the summits of Mountain Elgon you will need to pay some amount of money (US$ 75) in order for you to attain this superb experience. More so, whenever you are planning to go for mountain climbing at Mountain Elgon, always the warm clothing, such as; sweaters, jackets, a good raincoat and waterproof trousers, are very essential as it gets very cold in the night at the summits of the mountain. Other gadgets to bring include; energy-giving snacks, plastic bags, enough drinking water, good and light hiking boots, tents, camping mats, and others which will actually be hired with prior arrangements by your tour company that you will have used for bookings. You will need the porters (local community support staff) to assist you in carrying your bags and all of your belongings such that you don’t get tired easily while hiking. You will however need to move with some extra money to buy some of your extra necessities on the way, and to pay the porters – of course they are very cheap, so don’t get worried.
Where to stay?
There are various good accommodations within and around Mountain Elgon National Park and the spectacular Sipi falls, which include; Mbale Resort Hotel, Sipi River Lodge, Lacam Lodge, Moutain Elgon Hotel & Spa, Masha Hotel, Noah’s Ark Hotel, Noah’s Ark Resort VIP, Noah’s Ark Sipi Falls Resort, Sipi Falls Resort, Crow’s Nest Rest Camp, Kapkwai Forest Cottages, Kapkwata Guesthouse, Moses Campsite, Twilight Campsite, Rose’s Last Chance, and Suam Guesthouse, Savanna Guesthouse, Sasa River Camp, Kayegi Hotel, among others.