Mount Elgon National Park is perfectly located at an estimated distance of 235square kilometers on the Eastern part of Uganda from Kampala. The Park in the east of Uganda stretches to cover a geographical spread of 1,279 km² split in the two parts with the Kenyan side taking 169km and the Ugandan side taking 1110 Sq.km
Mount Elgon National Park rests on the Elgon Mountain whose volcanic base is the largest in the world stretching to 4,000km and the mountain stands as the oldest free standing Volcano in the region of East Africa. The 80m diameter rise to 3,000m above the surrounding plains and the cool mountain tops present relief to the hot plains below providing a refugee of counts of flora and fauna.
It can be noted that Elgon Mountain was at one time the highest on Africa far exceeding Mount Kilimanjaro which currently stands at 5,895m before it was reduced to 4,321m above sea level by the forces of denudation standing as the fourth peak in the East African region and the 8th on the African Continent.
The slopes of Mount Elgon support counts of support a range of vegetation that range from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The vegetation changes with the change on altitude where the slopes of the mountain are covered by olive Olea hochstetteri and Aningueria adolfi-friedericii wet montane forest. At the raised landscape, there the vegetation is altered to olive and Podocarpus gracilior forest, and then a Podocarpus and bamboo Arundinaria alpina zone. As you continue higher, there is a Hagenia abyssinica zone followed by moorland with heaths Erica arborea and Philippia trimera, tussock grasses such as Agrostis gracilifolia and Festuca pilgeri, herbs such as Alchemilla, Helichrysum, Lobelia, and the giant groundsels Senecio barbatipes and Senecio elgonensis.
The park’s botanical diversity incorporates giant podocarpus, juniper and Elgon olive trees cedar Juniperus procera, pillarwood Cassipourea malosana, elder Sambucus adnata, pure stands of Podocarpus gracilior and many orchids. Out of the 400 Species noted in the area, the following thrive only in the high altitude broad-leaf montane forest: Carduus afromontanus, Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Echinops hoehnelii, Romulea keniensis and Ranunculus keniensis.
The Mount Elgon National Park is a habitat to around 300 bird Species among which include the endangered Lammergeyer. The park is also a home to small antelopes, elephants and forest monkeys. The raised landscapes of the Park present an extensive Trans boundary conservation area that has been declared a UNESCO Man & Biosphere Reserve.
The Mountain is a traditional to the two tribes namely the Bagisu and the Sabiny along with the marginalized Ndorobos who were forced to dwell deeper in the Benet forest. The Bagisu who are also known as the Bamasaba believe that Mount Elgon is an embodiment of their founding father Masaba and thus refer to the mountain by his name. The ascent to the Elgon Mountain presents a magnificent and virgin wilderness with not the summit oriented approach which seems to be common to many highlands. The ultimate encounter of reaching the Wagagai peak is not the final ascent to the Wagagai peak towering to 4321m above sea level but surprisingly the commencement to a descent to the expanse 40km2 Mount Elgon Caldera which is the largest Mountain Caldera in the World.
Elgon’s slopes support a rich variety of vegetation ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The vegetation varies with altitude. The mountain 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 alpina zone. Higher still is a Hagenia abyssinica zone and then moorland with heaths Erica arborea and Philippia trimera, tussock grasses such as Agrostis gracilifolia and Festuca pilgeri, herbs such as Alchemilla, Helichrysum, Lobelia, and the giant groundsels Senecio barbatipes and Senecio elgonensis.
The botanical diversity of the park includes giant podocarpus, juniper and Elgon olive trees cedar Juniperus procera, pillarwood Cassipourea malosana, elder Sambucus adnata, pure stands of Podocarpus gracilior and many orchids. Of the 400 species recorded for the area the following are of particular note as they only occur in high altitude broad-leaf montane forest: Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis (previously thought endemic to Mount Kenya), and Romulea keniensis.
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, 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 home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 56 of the 87 Afro-tropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinkerbird 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.
Forest Exploration Centre
The Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwaiis located just 13km from Sipi town, doubles as an educational Centre for schools and the trailhead for climbers using the Sipi trail to the caldera. Three circuits of between 3-7km run through the surrounding regenerating forest, where visitors can visit caves, waterfalls, escarpments and viewpoints; and observe birds and primates. Bird species encountered here include Hartlaub’s Turaco, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, Lemon Dove, Dusky-Turtle Dove, African Hill Babbler, Alpine Chat, Black-throated Wattle-eye, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Thick-billed Honey guide, Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.
Mount Elgon’s slopes are riddled with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits. The most accessible are Kapkwai Cave, near the Forest Exploration Centre, and Khauka Cave on Wanale Ridge. Historically, such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock; later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings. More recently, they were used by climbers and their porters, and even today, campsites are still located at Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave (near the hot springs), Mude Cave and Tutum Cave – ideal for overnight expeditions.
Jackson’s Pool and Jackson’s Peak
Jackson’s Pool stands at 4,050m and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165m high Jackson’s Peak, a free-standing volcanic plug rising from the western flank of the mountain. These features were named after the explorer Frederick Jackson, who in 1889 was the first European to climb Mount Elgon. The peak is used by the locals as a spot to communicate with their ancestors.
The peaks and the caldera
Mount Elgon’s highest peaks are formed by high points around a jagged rim enclosing one of the world’s largest calderas, at 40km long and 8km wide. The tallest peak is the 4,321m Wagagi, followed by Sudek (4,303m), Koitobos (4,222m) and Mubiyi (4,210m).
The Caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the chamber. When it could no longer support the overlying volcanic cone, it collapsed into a depression-like shape. In the eastern corner of the caldera, hot springs are found at the start of the deep Suam Gorge. In the northwest, Simu Gorge was formed by the sheer weight of the water in the caldera cutting two stream beds out of the weak volcanic ash and agglomerate walls.
Nkokenjeru Ridge and Wanale
Nkokenjeru Ridge is a distinctive finger of forest extending outwards from the main massif of Mount Elgon. It lies at an elevation of 2,347m and covers a 25km-long tongue of lava that flowed out of the side of the volcano after the cone collapsed to block the main vent. Nkokenjeru Ridge culminates at the superb Wanale Cliffs which tower above Mbale Town; the seasonal Nabuyonga and Namatyo Waterfalls are located here. A trail at this western end of the ridge leads you to Khauka Cave where petrified wood can be found.
This ridge also offers grounds for those interested in paragliding over the Mbale town.
The Nabuyonga Trail is a 5km loop with birding, fauna and flora. Viewpoints overlook Mbale town, Lakes Kyoga, Bisina and Salisbara, and the rugged mountains in Karamoja region. On a clear day, you may enjoy vistas of Wagagai peak and even areas of western Kenya. Beware of throwing a stone into the Nabuyonga stream – local folklore claims that if you do so, a thunderstorm will strike before you leave!
Outside the park
The northern and western sides of Mount Elgon rise in a series of massive basalt cliffs, often several kilometers in length, over which the mountain’s rivers plunge as beautiful waterfalls. The best known are the three waterfalls at Sipi on the Kapchorwa road, just outside the park. The lowest of these falls is the most spectacular as it cascades over a 100m cliff. The second, known as Simba, plunges 69m over the entrance to a cave. Visitors can stand in the cave and enjoy a view of the back of the falls. The third waterfall, also known as Ngasire, gushes over an 87m high ridge. Sipi Falls is less than an hour’s drive from Mbale on a paved road.
Easily accessible waterfalls are also found at Sisiyi, Bulago, Chebonet and Wanale and many more are scattered across the mountain, offering spectacular views.
Outside the park overlooking Sipi falls is the hill where, during the 1960s, Chemonges Kingo, King of the Sabiny would meet his subjects. From the top you can view the three falls, the Karamajong plains and the Wagagai peak.
Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve and Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve
The wild life Reserve is located in the plains of Karamoja region which is situated on the northern part of Mount Elgon. Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve and the expansive Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve is the second largest protected area in Uganda, with an estimated area of 2,788km2. Wildlife found here and these includes unique species of the roan antelope, lesser kudu, Bright’s gazelle and ostriches .These species are only found here and in the beautiful flora of Kidepo national park since they lie in the same region in the Uganda.,
Wildlife in this part of Uganda is mainly concentrated around one place called Loporokocho swamp. The swamps within the wildlife reserve also host different bird species and the most chich can be easily encountered here include Hartlaub’s Turaco, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, and Lemon Dove, Dusky Turtle Dove, Black-throated Wattle-eye, African Hill Babbler, Alpine Chat, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Thick-billed Honey guide and Grey Cuckoo-Shrike.
The interesting Rock paintings found at different sites within the Matheniko Bokora Wildlife Reserve are believed to date back over 3000 years and were created by the Kushite and Nilotic peoples.
Nyero Rock Paintings
The site is located in Ngora just a distance of 65km direve north of Mbale, the Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. Three panels are found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru Ikara, 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most impressive is Panel Two which includes two canoes bearing human figures.
Scenic Points outside Mount Elgon National Park
A detour to Bulago off the Mbale-Sipi road reveal a village standing high above a waterfall facing the Simu Valley towards Butandiga ridge. The route to Kapchorwa beyond Sipi Falls to the north provides a stunning view towards Mount Kadam and the vast plains of Karamoja. The top of the Sironko Valley in Budadiri, enclosed by the Mudangi Cliffs and the Nkonkonjeru Ridge, provides a picturesque view of the montane forest and caldera peaks. Visitors should also drive to the top of Wanale Cliff for panoramic views over the town of Mbale.
The famous Mountain is home to 300 birds including 40 restricted range species. 56 of the 87 Afro-tropical highland biome species live here, notably the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinkerbird and Alpine Chat. The existence of different bird species makes the park an excellent birding area in Uganda and around the park the unique bird spotting points include Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, in particular in the secondary forest and thick shrub along the loop trails extended to cover Cheptui Falls. It supports the African Goshawk; Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catcher, Chinspot Batis, Mackinnon’s Fiscal, Dohertys and Luhders Bush-shrikes, Baglafecht Weaver, Cinnamon Bee Eater, Moustached Tinkerbird, Hartloub`s Turaco, Tacazze Sunbird, Olive- and Bronze-naped pigeons, Black Kite and Black-collared Apalis.
In the mountain Elgon, Nature walks are done in the 7km mountain bamboo trail to Kapkwai Cave passes through tropical and bamboo forest and the walk takes around 4 hours for one to explore it. Along the trail one can watch the various species of the primates, birds and rare trees such as Elgon teak and Elgon olive. The 5km walk to the Chebonet Falls and 3km walk to the Kapkwai caves follow the ridge view trail. There is also an 11km hike to the Tutum Cave, with the option of camping overnight beside the cave.
In Wanale, a visit to Khauka Cave takes three to four hours. Alternatively one can go to the viewpoint through Nabuyoga loop where he or she can see Jackson’s Summit and Wagagai peak.
In Budadiri, short day hikes are available covering the Mudagi Cliffs, Sasa River Camp and Drigana lower falls. These are great for bird watching, nature walks and overnight camping.
Many travellers find Mt. Elgon an exciting alternative to the more strenuous climbs in East Africa. It is easier to access throughout the year, less congested and has many of the same attractions, with a milder climate and lower elevation. Climbing the peaks requires no special equipment or technical experience.
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. 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 gentlest 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’s 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.
Alternatively, the various routes can be combines, 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.
Transboundary hike/cross border tourism:
The higher slopes of Mount Elgon are shared with an adjacent national park in Kenya and a Tran’s boundary 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.
Sipi Widows’ Group
Find out where your coffee comes from. Grown on the mountain shambas (an area of cultivated ground) of Mt Elgon is the Arabica coffee also named Sipi or Bugisu by the farmers – who have a reputation for producing some of the finest washed Arabica in Kenya and Uganda. The Sipi Widows’ Group will take you on a guided walk through the coffee plantation demonstrating how to plant, pick, grind, store and wash the coffee.
Visitor will also learn about life of the Sabiny as one can meet local residents, and participate in different traditional weaving. Learn about interesting African cuisine through the preparation, cooking and tasting of local dishes. A visit to the women’s handcraft shop in the trading Centre is also highly recommended. Proceeds from the tour and shop are invested in maintaining the coffee trees; raising awareness about the dangers of female circumcision (traditionally practiced in this region); and paying school fees for orphans.
Budadiri Community Walks Ecotourism Experience
This community group, based in Budadiri, 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 Dirigsana 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 neighboring tribes.
Mountain Biking in Mt. Elgon
A mountain biking trail runs from Sipi trading Centre to Chema Hill in Kapchorwa town. It should take 1.5 hours and provides views of various waterfalls and the Karamoja plains. Bikes can be hired from Sipi River Lodge.
Nature walks in Mt. Elgon
A full-day nature hike leads from Budadiri to the Mudange cliffs, known as the Walls of Death, at the boundary of the national park. These cliffs are located in the tropical forest, and blue monkeys, black-and-white colobus and baboons are likely to cross your tracks. At Sipi Falls, guides from the local community can organize walks of a few hours up to a full day around local viewpoints. In Kapchorwa, a 20-minute Sunrise Trek at 6am from Noah’s Ark Hotel leads to the nearby Tewei Hill to watch dawn spreading across the vast Karamoja plains at the base of the mountain.
Rock climbing in Mt. Elgon
Rock climbing takes place outside the park at Sipi. There are 14 climbs requiring various levels of rock scaling techniques, and all equipment can be hired from the Sipi Falls Tourist Guides Association. The toughest is a 35m climb while the easiest is 15m. Both command a picturesque view of the main falls and the Karamoja plains.
Sport fishing in Mt. Elgon
Sport fishing is done above the highest peaks of the three waterfalls at Sipi outside the park. It provides exciting challenges to anglers who take pride in battling with the rainbow trout because of its beautiful coloration and fighting ability. The largest can weigh 3kgs.Fishing is restricted to designated sites and places and advance booking is not necessary. Interested sport fishers are urged to bring their own equipment and secure a permit from Sipi River Lodge.
Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Kampala. A tarmac road runs through Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western flank. Dirt roads lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.
Mount Elgon Hotel & Spa
Mount Elgon Hotel & Spa, conveniently located in Mbale opposite Mt Elgon National Park Offices is a hotel offering superb guest accommodation
that include standard rooms, superior rooms, executive rooms and Junior suites. All guest rooms now feature Satellite TV, free wifi access, complimentary access to swimming pool, sauna, steam bath and jacuzzi.