Eastern Uganda is home to Mount Elgon National Park, which is dominated by the 4324-meter-tall Mount Elgon, whose highest peak is Wagagai. This volcanic mountain is also the biggest mountain caldera in the world. It was the fourth-highest mountain in all of east Africa, with the greatest foot base, and it stood near the boundary between Uganda and Kenya. It is believed to have erupted more than 24 million years ago.
Mount Elgon, one of East Africa’s tallest mountains and a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, has an area of 1145 square kilometres. It has distinctive altitudinal vegetative zones that are restricted to those areas, and it stands 3000 metres above the hot, dusty plains of Karamoja, giving the national park’s flora and fauna a cool place to live.
The slopes of Elgon are home to a diverse range of species, from montane forest to high open moorland with huge lobelia strewn across the area to a dense bamboo forest with thick, lovely flowers and ferns that make up the forest. Visitors can tour caverns, waterfalls, and escarpments from the Kapkwai Exploration Centre.
The national park is home to over 300 species of birds, including the African fly catcher, white chinned prinia, mountain yellow warbler, dusky turtle dove, African hill warbler, and the endangered lammergeyer, among others. Popular park activities include hiking Mount Elgon. The park’s many paths, nature walks, mountain biking, and rock climbing are thrilling and take place in a less crowded setting, allowing you to enjoy breathtaking views of the lower slopes of Karamoja. Outside of the national park, Sipi Falls is also a major attraction to hike up the rocky slopes and follow the cascades. Actually, a trip to Pain Upe, Matheniko Game Reserve, and Kidepo Valley National Park may be combined.
On the foothills of Mount Elgon, two ethnic tribes occupy the area. If one really made the decision to visit during these years, they would have the opportunity to witness how the Kalenjin and Bagisu, who are traditional farmers who cultivate coffee and bananas for both household and commercial purposes, celebrate rituals. The Bagisu, who live in the mountain’s southern and western regions, believe that Mount Elgon was the original home of their ancestor Masaba and refer to the peak by that name.
As Uganda’s weather is so unpredictable, especially in the mountainous regions where it can rain at any time, it is advised to carry boots, long sleeved shirts, insect repellants, and waterproof covers for phones and cameras. Although the park can be accessed all year round, the best season is during the dry season from December to February and late June to September.
In addition to being accessible via Kidepo, Mount Elgon is located above Mbale Town and is about a five-hour journey from Kampala to the Kapchorwa District. There is lodging available there. Around Sipi and Kapchorwa town, the Uganda Wildlife Authority has set up bandas and more luxurious to budget-friendly lodging options.
TOURISM ATTRACTIONS IN MOUNTAIN ELGON NATIONAL PARK
The national park’s flora and wildlife, the region’s numerous rivers that flow downward to generate stunning waterfalls, and other features combine to make the park one of the top tourist destinations in the country. In addition to the little streams that flow down the mountain, the Sipi Falls are the most beautiful and well-known.
The forest exploration centre splits off from Chema village in the Kapchorwa district and travels 12 square kilometres to the Kapkwai exploration centre. It is a learning hub with entry points into the national park, trails for climbing to the caldera start right here, and you can visit water falls, caves, escarpments, and stunning view points. Some animal species, such as the current primates, are visible.
One of the oldest mountains in East Africa, Mount Elgon is home to a variety of animals and plants, including mountain duikers, elephants, hyenas, buffaloes, deffassa waterbucks, oribi, as well as a few primate species, including black and white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys. More than 300 different bird species may be found there, some of which are unique to the region. These include the Jackson francolin, moustached tinker bird, African reed warbler, white winged sunbirds, crown hornbills, and black-colored apalis, to name a few.
In the national park, mountain climbing is possible on the summits of Mount Elgon, with Wagagai being the highest at 4521 metres above sea level, followed by Sudek (4503 metres), and Koitobos (4102 metres). The Khauka cave on the Wanale Ridge is only one of several caverns found on the mountainside of Elgon that were once used by people to live in and shelter their cattle. The caverns have recently been abandoned because of civilisation, but they are still open for bat hosting and tourism.
The park can be visited all year round, but it is best to go during the dry season when the game trails are dry and the rocks are less slippery, making it easier to climb mountains. It should be noted that the dry seasons aren’t completely dry; expect some rain since the park is in a forest area. Accommodations are available on Mount Elgon’s slopes, particularly at Sipi.
Road travels to Eastern Uganda may be connected to the Pian Upe wildlife Reserve and Matheniko for greater wildlife viewing under various environmental conditions. It is situated six hours’ drive from Kampala.
TOURISM ACTIVITIES IN MOUNTAIN ELGON NATIONAL PARK
There are many trails to follow through community land, such as the Sasa trail starting in Budadiri Siironko, the Sipi trail through the forest exploration centre, and the piswa trail, the longest of the trails starting in Kapkwata north of the national park passing through soft woods. Mountain climbing in the national park aims at the peaks and rocky surface of the national park, and it doesn’t require much experience or special equipment.
The Kapkwai exploration centre is the best place to go on a birding safari because there, among other species, you can see the moustachioed tinker bird, Tacazze sunbird, olive-naped pigeons, black kites, African blue fly catchers, and eagles. For the best experience, it is advised to bring a pair of binoculars so you can identify the birds and see them up close.
Walks to the Chebonet Waterfall
Walks to the Chebonet Waterfall, leads to caves, and camping around them are naturally interesting as you get to interact with nature and listen to the lovely sound of the water sloping downhill and song birds. These guided nature walks last for 2-3 hours and are held at the Kapkwai Exploration Centre. Along the route are primates, birds, and beautiful rare tree species like the Elgon olives.
One activity you shouldn’t miss is mountain biking from Sipi to Chema Trading Centre; it typically takes one and a half hours and offers views of the Karamojong Plains and water falls along the way. Bikes can be rented at the Sipi River Lodge, which is located in the foothills of Mount Elgon National Park.
They have one of the most fascinating cultures in Uganda, and cultural performances are held every even year to circumcise young teenagers in order to transform them into adults. Cultural performances are also held in Mount Elgon National Park, as well as visits to the local communities, where they will teach about how they lived in the traditional society and how they grow and maintain coffee. Strategically, it is important to target the even years for the finest cultural events.
It is possible to participate in most activities taking place in the national park thanks to the area’s main features, which include vegetation, animal and bird species, rocks, and mountains. While the park may be visited year-round, the dry seasons of December to February and June to mid-September are the ideal times to go. On an African safari, it’s a good idea to pack warm clothing, boots, insect repellents, water-resistant covers for phones and cameras, and any other personal items you might require.
The park is in Eastern Uganda, 6 hours by car from Mbale to Kapchorwa. Nearby lodging options range from luxurious to reasonably priced, however, it is recommended that visitors stay in Mbale town.
WHERE TO STAY IN MOUNTAIN ELGON NATIONAL PARK
There are several lodging options in the Mount Elgon National Park; visitors can choose to stay in the Kapchorwa or Mbale districts.
Sipi River Lodge
Sipi River Lodge is made up of the main lodge and seven guest bungalows, each of which is separately designed. The lodge is well-equipped with en-suite bathrooms and an open balcony with lovely views of the hills beyond. With the Kapsurur Falls and 17 acres of private property, Sipi Water Falls is an opulent facility that is also home to wonderful birds and picturesque vistas. The resort ensures that its environmental effect is sustainable while also giving locals work.
Mbale Resort Hotel
The Mbale Resort Hotel is located in Mbale Town and provides the best lodging for visitors to Mount Elgon National Park. It has 94 different luxurious rooms that are available for a comfortable stay and is well equipped with three restaurants, a health spa, a swimming pool, and many other room materials for use. It is one of the best hotels to stay at while on a tour of Mount Elgon National Park.
Noah’s Ark Hotel
On the slopes of Mount Elgon in the Kapchorwa district, the Noah’s Ark Hotel provides midrange lodging. The hotel has three sections and can accommodate 100 guests per night. It has both self-contained and non-self-contained rooms, indicating that it also provides affordable lodging. It is well-regarded in both the resort in town and that of Sipi.
Lacam Lodge is a mid-range establishment in the Kapchorwa area of Sipi in eastern Uganda. The lodge provides some of the best views of the Sipi Falls since it was built on the cliff edge of a mountain slope. It offers both wooden and non-wooden lodging options. Banda is welcomed by a friendly group of Sabiny, a Kalenjin-speaking people who are the sole race in the nation.
Crow’s Nest Camp
It has many different cabins with facilities offered as units and is a perfect place to stay for those interested in village walks, Sipi falls hikes, Bagisu, and Sabiny plantation tours, to name a few. Crow’s Nest Camp is a low-cost facility in Sipi offering accommodation to Mount Elgon travellers a few kilometres away from the exploration centre where most activities start.
Sipi Falls Resort
The Sipi Falls Resort is situated just next to the stunning Sipi Falls. It is surrounded by a stunning setting with lush greenery, has a variety of cottages constructed of indigenous materials like bamboo, banana fibres and that grass, and both a bar and a restaurant are on site.
It is advised to pack warm clothing, boots, bug repellents, caps, and basic hiking equipment since Mount Elgon is at a high height, full of rocks and cold weather, and it is windy even when it is hot. The above-mentioned accommodations benefit travellers ranging from the best budget to luxury.
BEST TIME TO VISIT MOUNTAIN ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Elgon is thought to have erupted 24 million years ago, leaving behind East Africa’s largest and longest caldera. Elgon is believed to have once been higher than Mount Kilimanjaro, but recently ranking to the fourth position in East Africa after the eruption with the largest foot base on which there are human settlements, including Bantu speaking groups (Bagisu) and Kalenjin’s (Swahili). Mount Elgon National Park is located in the eastern part of Uganda, cutting across Uganda and with Wagagai as its highest peak, the mountain is a superb place for walks. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992, and it has an area of 1145 square kilometres.
Despite certain seasons being better than others, you may visit the park any time of year since some of them offer a superior experience. The optimum time to climb Mount Elgon is between the months of December and February and between the months of June and mid-September since the rocks are less slippery and the routes are less overgrown. However, for the more daring traveller, they might choose to climb the mountain during the wet season.
It should be mentioned that because to Uganda’s erratic weather, the park area is not entirely dry at this moment. While most activities are preferred at this time of year, it is actually peak season for visitors entering the national park for any other tourism destination. Even though it is a time of year when it is easy to spot animals, there are high chances of encountering at least a hyena or an oribi in the park area on a nature walk or mountain hike.
The months of March through May and October through November get up to 3000 mm of rainfall yearly, which is a respectable amount for Mount Elgon National Park. Due to the fact that October and April are the wettest months, these months are also the coldest and have a lot of snow and hail. From the park’s edge to the heath and moorlands, there is montane vegetation. It is a water catchment region for the nearby village and a source of numerous rivers, including the Sipi. The park is lovely with an evergreen forest covered in a blanket of fans.
When visiting Mount Elgon National Park, visitors can see over 300 different bird species, including some endangered lammergeyer species like the Jackson’s francolin and hunter’s scist cola. They can also see animals like hyenas, monkeys, oribi, and deffasa water bucks. Mountain climbing, mountain biking, nature hikes, cultural experiences, birding safaris, and cave exploration are just a few of the available activities.
The national park is accessible all year round and is located 6 hours by automobile from a paved road to a 12 km dusty route leading to the Kapkwai exploration centre. Most routes leading to the forest’s treks and waterfalls begin there.