Mount Elgon National park is located in the Eastern part of Uganda, 140 kilometers Northeast of Lake Victoria. It covers an area of 1279 square kilometers and it’s bisected by the border of Uganda and Kenya; the Kenyan part of the park covers an area of 169 square kilometers while the Ugandan part of the park covers an area of 1,110 square kilometers. Furthermore, the Kenyan part of the park was gazetted in 1968 while the Ugandan part was gazetted in 1992.
Also known as “the world’s largest caldera”, Mount Elgon is an extinct volcano at 4,321 meters high with Wagagai being its highest peak and it first erupted over 24 million years back. History says that this mountain stood higher than today’s highest mountain in Africa (Mount Kilimanjaro). Although Elgon is the 4th highest mountain in East Africa, it has the biggest surface area of all extinct volcanoes on the planet. Even though Mount Elgon is found on Uganda’s border with Kenya, the Wagagai peak, which is the highest with 4321 meters, is found in Uganda and its best climbed while on the Ugandan side. In addition to this, the mountain has a collapsed crater Caldera that covers more than 40 kilometers at the summit and this is actually the largest known natural crater and it is bordered by a number of rocky peaks. The highest peak of Mount Elgon on the Kenya side is named “Koitoboss” measuring 4,155 meters and is easily reached by hikers in about two hours from the road’s end. Other peaks in Mount Elgon include; Jackson’s summit which stands at 4,165 meters, Kiongo peak at 4,303 meters and Mubiyi peak at 4,210 meters.
The park is named after Mount Elgon is an important water catchment for the Nzoia River which flows to Lake Victoria and Turkwel River which flows into Lake Turkana. It is also an extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya.
The climate in Mount Elgon is moist to moderate dry animals like elephants, leopards, hyenas and buffalos which can be found on the lower slopes of the mountain. The park is also a home to a variety of small antelopes and duikers as well as primates such as black and white colobus, blue monkey and red tailed monkey.
It is also a home to over 290 bird species with 12 endemic birds that cannot be seen in any other part of Uganda such as the Marsh Widowbird, Alpine Chat, Moorland Francolin, Mustached green tinker bird, Jackson’s Francolin, Black-collard apalis, Red-throated Wryneck, Hunter’s Cisticola and many more. Under the common bird species we have; the Eastern bronze-napped Pigeon, Jackson’s spur Owl, Tacazze Sunbird, Lammergeier Vultures, White-starred forest Robin, Black-shouldered Kite, Hartlaub’s turaco to mention a few.
Besides flora and fauna, the park has got a number of scenery which includes; the cliffs, waterfalls, mesas, caves, gorges, mountain peaks and hot springs. Of all the above mentioned scenery, the most popular areas are the four explored, vast caves where frequent night visitors such as the buffalos and elephants come to lick the natural salt found on the walls of the caves. Kitum cave with overhanging crystalline walls enters 200 meters into the side of Mount Elgon. At the endebess bluff, there are panoramic views of the area’s escarpments, mesas, rivers and gorges.
The park also consists of the Jackson’s pool which stands at 4,050 meters and is a natural pool with shallow waters. This pool lies in the shadow of the 4,165 meters 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 was the first European to climb Mount Elgon in 1889.
Mount Elgon National Park is a home to two tribes; the Bagisu and the Sabiny. The Bagisu speak a dialect of the Lumasaba language called Lugisu while the Sabiny speak Sebei, a Nilotic language. The Bagisu believe that Mount Elgon is the manifestation of their foundation father known as “Masaba” and they do call the mountain by his name. Both tribes undertake subsistence farming.
WHAT TO DO WHILE AT MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Activities inside the park
Hiking Mount Elgon
Hiking is one of the top attractions or things to do while in Mount Elgon National Park. Mount Elgon has got three main hiking trails; the Sasa trail, the Piswa trail and the Sipi tail but unlike other climbs in East Africa, its trails require no specialist climbing equipment and are accessible throughout the year. This is because they are less congested than other hiking trails in East Africa, allowing you to enjoy its stunning scenery without any distractions.
For the bird lovers, you come across various bird species such as the Cinnamon-chested bee-eater, African goshawk, African blue flycatcher Marsh Widowbird, Alpine Chat, Moorland Francolin, Mustached green tinker bird, Jackson’s Francolin, Black-collard apalis, Red-throated Wryneck, Hunter’s Cisticola, White-starred forest Robin, Black-shouldered Kite, Hartlaub’s turaco and the African goshawk. Don’t forget to move with your cameras and binoculars.
You will get a chance to visit some of the caves where animals like elephants and other mammals come during the night to drink some water due to it being salty.
ACTIVITIES OUT SIDE THE PARK
Hiking Sipi falls
This is one of the must do activities while on your visit to Mount Elgon National Park. The spectacular tutum cave which is hidden in the middle of the extensive forest is formed when River Sipi meets the end of the volcanic rock at the edge of the cave. Visiting Mount Elgon without reaching Sipi falls makes your trip incomplete.
Uganda’s finest coffee is produced from the Arabica seeds grown on Mount Elgon. Take a guided tour of a coffee garden to see how the coffee beans are grown, harvested up to the process of coffee making. Feel free to take part of these activities because they will make for safari memorable. While here, you will also get to know about the history of the people living in this area; the Masaba and the Sebei.
In 2012, the Uganda Wildlife Authority opened mountain biking trails. Mountain bike excursions range from casual exploration of many lovely trials in the vicinity to the challenging Elgon Enduro. You will follow trails from Sipi trading Centre to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town and this takes approximately one and a half hours providing you with views of various waterfalls and other beautiful views. If you are interested in doing this activity, you can contact Sipi River Lodge who is the hosts.
Many of the basalt cliffs around Sipi have been bolted and can be safely climbed. They are 14 cliffs requiring different levels of rock scaling techniques whereby the toughest is 35 meters climb while the easiest is 15 meters.
Sipi falls and Mount Elgon are known for having mountain/rainbow trout. These fish fascinates anglers because of their beautiful colors and act of struggling when caught. In the Sipi area, the fish are caught and released back to the water and for the highest success, the activity needs to be started in the morning and all anglers are requested to move with their fishing gears and permits.
Mount Elgon area has got nine basic campsites to offer, located at strategic points along the hiking routes. Camping should only be done at designated campsites and tourists are advised to carry along with them all the required camping equipment.
This involves going down a cliff with a firm rope-like device fastened around the harness. The activity is well organized with good imported equipment, well trained instructors and guides who ensure the safety of participants. This activity is organized at Sipi falls in Uganda
Best time to visit
Although Mount Elgon National Park is accessible throughout the year, we recommend you to visit it during the dry season in the months of June to August and November to March. This is because during the wet season, the trails are more slippery and can make your hike more challenging.
How to get there
The journey from Kampala to Mount Elgon National Park is approximately 235 kilometers that’s Kampala-Mbale-Kapchorwa which will take you around 10 hours drive.