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Mount Elgon National Park and Sipi Falls
Mount Elgon is the eighth-highest mountain in Africa covering 1121 sq km and the 4th tallest mountain in East Africa. It is located on the border of Kenya and is one of the World’s Largest Mountain Caldera. Mt Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain, far exceeding Kilimanjaro’s current 5,895m but due to erosion, it is now the 7th highest mountain in Africa at 4321 meters above sea level.
The tallest peak is Wagagai at 4321m laying in the southwest caldera rim. Other peaks are Kiongo 4303m in the south, Mubiyi 4210m in the north, and Jackson’s Summit 4165m in the east. Besides the peaks in the park, there are hidden caves, clear waterfalls, and historic rock sculptures.
The park also boasts 305 bird species, including Antelopes, Elephants, Buffalos, and Forest Monkeys. Mount Elgon’s surroundings include the Sipi Falls on the upper slopes that cascade down the foothills by over 7kms forming 4 series of waterfalls. Sipi Falls is situated on the foothills of Mount Elgon one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Uganda in 3 levels. Mount Elgon National Park is managed and operated by Uganda Wildlife Authority. Elgon’s slopes support a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with giant lobelia, groundsel, and heather plants.
Top things to do in and around Mt. Elgon National Park
Hiking and Mountain Climbing.
The Sasa Trail is a 3-4-day round trip to the summit of 1650m from Budadiri and is considered the most easily accessible route. It gives you a chance to marvel at the vast bamboo forest, right through Jackson’s pool onto Wagagai Peak. The trail passes through the Mudangi cliffs into the bamboo forest.
The Sipi Trail begins at Forest Exploration Centre and takes 4- 7 days to descend via Sasa Trail passing through the Tatum Cave. Expect views of the surrounding forest and the various waterfalls.
The Piswa Trail is best for wildlife viewing and takes 6-7 days to descend through Sasa Trail (6 days) or Sipi Falls(7 days). The trail passes through moorland, expect wildlife, views of Karamoja plains in Uganda and Nandi and Kapegura hills in Kenya and it also passes via the hot springs to the caldera and the peaks.
Suam Trail is a 5-day route climbing through Suam Gorge right along the Kenya Border and it starts at a higher elevation.
There are five designated campsites at Sasa River, Mude Cave, Hunters Cave, Piswa Patrol Hut, and Kapkwata with basic amenities for mountain climbers.
Nature walks at Kapkwai Mt. Elgon Forest Exploration Centre.
Originally this center was an educational facility for students living around Mbale. It is about 1.5 hours from Sipi village and it’s now open with a network of nature trails for guided nature walks.
The 7km mountain bamboo trail proceeds to Kapkwai Cave passing through a montane forest to a large bamboo forest. The trail leads to the main viewpoint of Mt.Elgon on a clear day. Along the trail are many primates, birds, and rare trees such as Elgon teak and Elgon olive.
The 5km 3-hour Chebonet Falls Loop passes the Chebonet waterfalls and involves a climb up a rock and passing through montane and bamboo forest.
The 3km 2 hour Ridge View Loop involves an ascent of a ridge that connects to the other trails at the main viewpoint.
Mount Elgon National Park boasts over 305 birds with over 50 Afrotropical highland biome species and it has been recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA). Bird species include the cinnamon-chested bee-eater, Doherty’s bush strike, Golden-winged sunbird, Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinkerbird, Black and white casqued hornbill, Grey-throated barbet, Alpine Chat, Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis, Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird among others. Mount Elgon is also home to the endangered Lammergeyer which can be seen, soaring above the caldera and the Suam Gorge. Birding is done at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre along the trail to Cheptui Falls. Look out for the African Blue Flycatcher, White-chinned Prinia, and African Goshawk among others.
Exploring the Mount Elgon Caves
The most accessible caves are Kapkwai Cave near the Forest Exploration Centre, and Khaukha Cave on Wanale Ridge, Tutum Cave though there are several others both small and big at the mountain. The Kapkwai cave was meant for the traditional ceremony of Female Genital Mutilation, a local folklore has it that people trying to escape the marauding tax collectors in the 1960s and 1970s initially used this natural formation to hide. It is a 3km (Less than an hour) mountain bamboo trail following the ridge view trail and along the way, the trail offers an opportunity for viewing many primates, birds, and rare trees such as Elgon teak and Elgon olive.
A visit to Khauka Cave takes three to four hours and alternatively, it can be accessed through the Nabuyoga loop where you can see Jackson’s Summit and Wagagai peak.
In Budadiri, short day hikes are available covering the Mudangi Cliffs, Sasa River Camp, and Drigana lower falls where there are also Caves used by the local people in the 1940s and some caves are good for bird watching and overnight camping.
Abseiling involves going down a cliff with a firm rope-like device fastened around the harness. The Sipi Falls is the only area where abseiling is organized in Uganda. This thrilling activity is done down one of the cliffs of the Sipi falls at a 100m drop-down overlooking the ridge. Enjoy watching the different scenery as you abseil down the rock, on reaching down you can take a dip in the pool before ascending back up the cliff to the top of the hill.
The Sipi Falls area is ideal for rock climbing. The most demanding climb in the Sipi area is about 35 meters. Rock climbing at Mountain Elgon National Park takes place outside the park at Sipi and there are 14 climbs that need different levels of rock balancing skills. The most difficult climb is the 35 meters and the easiest is the 15 meters. Look out for the exceptional views of the main waterfalls as well as the Karamoja plains at a relatively far distance.
Hikers can also drive to the nearest town Tororo which has a beautiful rock just next to the town center. The rock stands at 1,483 m high and is the main landmark in Tororo town. Climbing Tororo rock takes about 3 hours. The reward for reaching the top is beautiful views of the town below, villages, and mount Elgon.
Trails along Sipi Trading Centre to Chema Hill for 1.5 hours and provides views of the waterfalls. We recommend the 1 ½ hour trail that runs from Sipi Trading Centre at an altitude of 1,775m to Chema Hill in Kapchorwa. You have beautiful views of the Karamoja plains and several waterfalls en route.
Sport Fishing – Mountain Trout Fish
is done on the highest of the 3 waterfalls past Sipi Falls on Sipi River Lodge with a catch-and-release method. This is the only place where you can fish a Mountain Trout.
Community-Based Tourism in and around Mt. Elgon
Mount Elgon is home to two tribes, the Bagisu and the Sabiny, with the marginalized Ndorobos forced to dwell deep within the forest of Benet. The Bagisu, also known as the BaMasaba, consider Mount Elgon to be the embodiment of their founding father Masaba, and refer to the mountain by this name.
Sipi Widows’ Group – Coffee Plantation Tours
The Sipi Widow’s Group is a community-based project that introduces visitors to Arabica coffee Plantation where you get to learn about coffee planting and processing. Learn how to plant, pick, grind, store and wash the coffee. You will meet and learn more about the life of the Sabiny as you engage with the local residents and engage in traditional weaving, preparing local African cuisines, cooking, and tasting locally made dishes. There is a craft shop for visitors to get some souvenirs. The income from the handicraft shop is used to educate the local people about the dangers of female circumcision, pay school fees for orphans, and sustain the coffee plantation.
The Budadiri Community Tour and Eco-Tourism Experience.
This community-based tourism experience allows tourists to explore some of the verdant arabica coffee plantations and also learn or participate in the different regional cultural dance performances, traditional food preparation methods, and legends in addition to tasting the popular Malewa dish (prepared from bamboo shoots). There are three riveting hiking trails that include the Namugabwe Cave Trail (that lasts a full day) and transverses through the Bamasaba community land and large banana plantations ending at the historical Namugabwe Cave filled with bones, the three-day walk to Sipi falls that explores the culture of the two neighboring tribes (Bagishu and Sabiny) and finally the Dirigana Loop Trail that leads to the magnificent Dirigana falls and Gabushana Cave past several local markets and the popular “Walls of Death”.
Imbalu Bagisu Circumcision
Two local tribes live in the area around Sipi – the Bagisu, and Sabiny and they practice a rite of passage for the youth to adulthood through cultural initiation processes that conclude with circumcision. This takes place in August and December as a cultural heritage, a rite of passage for Bagisu men, and is done publically.
Nyero Rock Painting
Get to explore the three caves that contain the drawings. The paintings are found in Kumi, District which is about 2 hours drive from the Sipi area. The paintings give a glimpse of how our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. The local people around the area consider the place sacred and believe that the local gods still live there.
Nyero 1 – depicts geometric and abstract paintings probably used for sacred rituals, such as rain-making and fertility.
Nyero 2 – This is the biggest and highest painting, painted using ladders and made by Pygmies.
Nyero 3 – This depicts a small low shelter with ceiling paintings that include sets of concentric circles painted in white.
Hiking at Sipi Falls.
Visiting all three waterfalls takes between 3 to 4 hours depending on overall fitness. The hike to the top of the falls is about 7 km long and involves steep ascents, climbing ladders, and passing through local farms. There are several starting points and all depend on which particular waterfall you intend on hiking. For those interested in viewing all 3 waterfalls, it is better to start with the topmost falls and then go downstream for the main waterfall. Choosing to start from the top-most falls involves following the route from Budadiri and then joining the Sasa trail to reach the summit before descending down the Sipi trail to the waterfalls.
The first (main) Sipi falls drops at about 95m (the highest) and is where most people end their hike.
The second or middle falls is known as the Simba Falls and is about 74m tall. You hike past the first waterfall and then continue to a steep trail to an ancient cave. There are bats in the caves and hikers can stand near the entrance of the cave to view the waterfall safely taking in the wonderful breeze of the falls.
The third fall involves hiking further up more steep areas that can be challenging before reaching the topmost falls known as Ngasire. Ngasire is the tallest Waterfall at about 85 meters and can be seen from afar. Hikers will also have opportunities to take great photos of Mount Elgon, Lake Kyoga, and the Karamoja plains.
How to get to Mountain Elgon National Park
Mountain Elgon National Park is found above Mbale town, 235km East of Kampala. You will drive through Jinja and proceed along the Jinja-Mbale highway the drive time is approximately 3-4 hours.
Where to stay in Mount Elgon National Park
Lodge options in Mountain Elgon Park range from budget to mid-range to luxury.
Budget options include Sipi River Lodge Camp Site, Casa Sipi Falls Lodge, and Lacam Lodge
Mid-range options include Sipi River Lodge and Mt. Elgon Hotel
Luxury options include Protea Hotel Mbale
Best time to visit Mount Elgon National Park
The best time to visit Mountain Elgon is during the dry months of December to February and then June to October during this time the roads accessing the park are dry and driving through is easy. The wet season of March to May and Later October to November is not ideal to visit as trails become muddy and slippery.
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Best Time to Visit
|Best time to go:||December to February and June to July (Dry seasons)|
|High Season:||June to September (More people visit Uganda since it is the peak time for gorilla tracking)|
|Low Season:||March, April, May, October and November (A number of camps and lodges close)|
|Best Weather:||Mid-December to February (Less rainfall)|
|Worst Weather:||Mid-March to May and mid-August to November (High rainfall, roads can become impassable)|
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