Mount Elgon National Park

Mountain Elgon is yet another attraction of Uganda’s national parks with a unique feature being the Mountain, which attracts travelers for hiking. Mountain Elgon was once Africa’s highest mountain far exceeding mount Kilimanjaro however, millennia erosion  have reduced its height to 4321m making the mountain the 4th highest peak in East Africa and 8th in Africa. Mountain Elgon is an extinct shield volcano, which is located in the eastern region close to Uganda-Kenya border in the districts of Mbale, Bududa, Manafwa, Buhugu, Budadiri, Sipi, and Bufumbi to mention but a few on the Uganda side.

The mountain covers about 1121 square kilometers with the highest peak- Wagagai peak at 4,321 meters second to Margherita peak of Mountain Rwenzori. Mt Elgon contains the largest intact caldera, a collapsed crater covering over 40kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks. Other outstanding peaks include; Mubiyi (4,211m or 13,816 ft.), Masaba (4,161m or 13,650 ft.), Sudek (4,302m or 14,140ft) in Kenya, Koitobos (4,222m or 13,248 ft.), a flat topped basalt column (Kenya Side). Mount Elgon forms a great number of rivers, most remarkable the River Sipi which forms the specular Sipi falls and other flowing rivers. Elgon’s slopes support a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with lobelia and groundsels. The vegetation varies with altitude. The slopes are covered with olive Olea hochstetteri and Aningueria adolfi-friedericii wet montane forest. At higher altitudes, this changes to olive and Podocarpus gracilior forest, and then a Podocarpus and bamboo Arundinaria alpine zone. Higher still is Hagenia Abyssinia zone and then moorland with heaths Erica arborea and Philippia trimera.

The Park supports a variety of wildlife including rock and tree hyraxes, elephant, buffalo, Defassa waterbuck, Oribi, bushbuck, duiker, forest hog, bush pig, leopard, civet and serval cats, spotted hyena: aardvark and several rodent species. However, these animals are rarely observed in the forest setting. More commonly seen creatures are the black-and-white colobus; baboons; red tailed, vervet, De Brazza’s and blue monkeys; duiker and tree squirrel.

The mountain is also a home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species, 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinker bird and Alpine Chat. Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include the Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis. Among those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda are the Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird. Mount Elgon is one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen soaring above the caldera and Suam Gorge.

The local people named the mountain Masaba after a founding ancestor called Masaba who was believed to have come from the caves created on the slopes of the mountain. The two prominent local tribes that leave around the mountain are the Baguish, which dominate the mountain surrounding, and Sabiny, which are found on the other side. The mountain acts as the strong livelihood of the Baguish, water catchment area for the River Sipi, which forms the spectular Sipi falls. The locals hike to the mountain to get Malewa one of their favourite sauce.

What to do in Mount Elgon National Park

Mountain/volcano Climbing

Mountain Elgon National Park is among the best mountain climbing destination in Uganda, having the biggest surface area of all extinct volcanoes on the planet although it is the 4th highest mountain in East Africa. The park has the most impressive attractions, with milder climate and lower elevation that requires no technical experience.

The park can be explored on foot via different routes and trailheads ranging from day walks to hikes over several days.

The Sasa trail is the shortest but toughest route to the peaks, traversing the community land and allowing you to explore BaMasaba farming settlements and culture. The round trip takes four days and starts at Budadiri town at an elevation of 1,250m. The toughest climb of over 1,600m is completed on the first day, before crossing the park’s largest area of bamboo forest and passing Jackson’s Pool on the way to Wagagai Peak.

The Sipi trail (four to six days, 56km round trip) starts at 2,050m at the Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre and it is the longest trail to the peaks, passing through the northwestern mountainside through Tutum Cave to enter the caldera and reach Wagagai Peak. The trail begins gently, but becomes tougher on the third day from Kajeri Camp.

The Piswa trail (seven days, 49km round trip) is long and the most gentle trail. Starting at the village of Kapkwata on the north side of the mountain, it traverses the soft wood plantation to the Podocarpus forest. It is notable for its rich wildlife and spectacular views of the Karamoja plains in Uganda and the Nandi and Kapeguria hills in Kenya. The Piswa trail also passes the hot springs on the way to the caldera and the peaks.

These various routes can be combined, ascending the Sipi/Piswa/Sasa Trail and descending along the Sasa/Sipi Trail for example. This allows a traverse of the caldera and a visit to the hot springs.

The higher slopes of mountain Elgon are shared by two countries-Uganda and Kenya, a transboundary hike can be arranged. After ascending to the caldera with a UWA guide, climbers cross the border to descend with a Kenya Wildlife Service escort.

 

Birding

Other than mountain climbing at Mountain Elgon National park, visitors can also enjoy bird watching encounters as they watch numerous species of birds fly from one place to another in their natural forest vegetation around the Park. The mountain is home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinker bird and Alpine Chat.

Birds whose Ugandan range is limited to Mount Elgon include the Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis. Among those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda are the Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird. Mount Elgon is one of the few places in Uganda where the endangered Lammergeyer can be seen soaring above the caldera and Suam Gorge.

The park has different area where visitors can experience Mount Elgon species such as the Kapkwai Forest Exploration center. The centre is located inside the park offering excellent birding opportunities. At this spot, visitors can possibly see the African Goshawk, White-chinned Prinia, Moustached Tinkerbird and African Blue Flycatcher among others.

 

Cultural Encounters

Mountain Elgon national park is one perfect mountain hiking destination situated in the Eastern region of the country. In the region where the Mount Elgon sits are very interesting cultures of the mainly two tribes of the Bagisu and the Sabiny, taking off time for a cultural encounter with the locals is a good way to understand the people of this region.

The Bagisu famously known as the Bamasaba consider Mount Elgon to be the manifestation of their first father Masaba and hence they call the mountain by this name. They have an interesting culture and practices for insistence the famous Imbalu ceremony. The Sabiny people famously known for various cultures and customs but the most prominent practice is the Female Genital Mutilation.

The interesting cultural encounters in Mountain Elgon is experienced when a visitor is taken to meet the Sipi Widows Group– they will transfer you through the coffee plantations and find out where the coffee you take originates from. They will show you 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 of locally made dishes. Visit the local women’s handcraft shop located in the nearby trading center where visitors can buy the art and crafts made by the local women.

There is also the Budadiri Community Walks, a community group found in Budadiri and offers accommodation, car hire, cultural dances, guided coffee tours and community nature walks. Visitors can discover the region’s cultural dances, food preparation, folklore and its famous malewa bamboo shoots.

There is also a tour of Mt Elgon’s famous Arabica coffee processing plants, which supports local farmers.

Nature lovers can indulge in one of the three trails – the full-day Namugabwe Cave Trail, passing through BaMasaba community land and banana plantations to reach a historical cave filled with bones.

The Dirigana Loop Trail to the Dirigana Falls and Gabushana Cave past local markets and the “Walls of Death”; or the three-day walk to Sipi Falls, which reveals the culture of two neighbouring tribes.

 

Mountain Biking

Mountain Elgon National Park is among the most prominent biking Safari Destinations in Uganda due to the unique biking safari encounters it offers to all kinds of travelers around the world. Mountain biking  is a very exciting safari activity to all travelers interested in viewing the unique vegetation terrain, birds, mammals, etc. We advise you to transfer with your bikes and equipment as you are travelling into the country for the remarkable experience.

Mountain biking takes about 1.5 hours to finish and the trails run from Sipi Trading Center to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town and while on this you will have beautiful views of the magnificent waterfalls as well as the Karamoja plains. The bikes used can be hired from Sipi River Lodge.

The trails taken are rugged stretching through the Pristine Forest Valley, stunning streams, and different vegetation zones offering bikers unique exceptional adventures that last for ages.

 

Guided Nature Walks/Hiking

Hiking/ guided nature walks to the majestic Mountain Elgon is very exciting and rewarding to all that adventure in Mountain Elgon National Park where they will watch numerous primates, rare tree species, birds of the air and the beautiful green vegetation terrain. There are trails that go through the caves, viewpoints and waterfalls.

For nature walks, there are various trails that can be taken and these include the 7 km (four-hour) Mountain bamboo trail to Kapkwai Cave which goes through tropical and bamboo forest offering travelers an opportunity to spot many different primates, birds as well as rare trees like the Elgon teak and Elgon olive.

The 5 km walk to the Chebonet Falls and 3km walk to the Kapkwai caves where you will go through the ridge view trail.

There is also an 11km hike to the Tutum Cave. Around Wanale, a visit to Khauka Cave takes 3-4 hours although; you can opt to transfer to the viewpoint via Nabuyoga loop where you will spot the Jackson’s Summit and Wagagai peak.

Short day hikes are also available in Budadiri and these cover the Mudagi Cliffs, Sasa River Camp and Drigana lower falls. They are perfect for birding, nature walks and camping in the night.

 

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing at Mountain Elgon National Park is a very exceptional safari activity to be carried out and requires no hiking experience, for this can be done by all kinds of travelers from all over the globe. The activity can be done along with other activities such as mountain climbing, nature walks and hiking among others.

Rock climbing at Mountain Elgon National Park takes place outside the park at Sipi and there are 14 climbs, which need different levels of rock balancing skills.

The most difficult climb is the 35 meters whereas the easiest is the 15 meters and these provide exceptional views of the main waterfalls as well as the Karamoja plains in a relatively far distance.

All rock climbing equipment can be hired from the Sipi Falls Tourist Guides Association.

WhEN TO VISIT Mount Elgon National Park

The park is open throughout the year though the best time to visit the park is especially during the drier seasons (January – March and June – August).

HOW TO GET To Mount Elgon National Park

Mountain Elgon is located in the Eastern region of Uganda approximately 235 kilometers from Kampala-Uganda’s capital city. The park can be reached by either road or air transportation. Most travelers prefer road because it is more rewarding than air transportation. Travel by road rewards views of the green scenic landscape, tea plantations, hills, mountains and lakes among others as compared to air transportation with no views of scenic landscape.

Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Kampala. A tarmac road runs through Jinja to Mbale town a city in the eastern region of Uganda, the road then climbs to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s northwestern flank.

This route offers an opportunity visit Sezibwa falls a cultural site related to Buganda kingdom, Mabira forests for nature walks and Zip lining as well as white water rafting in Lake Victoria around Jinja town, boat cruise to visit the source of the Nile among other activities in Lake Victoria around Jinja town.

There is also another journey on dirt roads that lead off the Mbale Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.

 

By Air: there are flights from Entebbe International Airport to Kisumu, which is the only airport near the park. The flight can take 1 hour and 15 minutes and travelers are advised to book their flights in advance. Once you reach Kisumu airport, your driver guide will drive you to the park and this lasts only 50 minutes.