Fairend Safaris

Mt Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park lies in eastern Uganda, on the border with Kenya. The park takes its name from Mount Elgon, an extinct shield volcano that was formerly the highest exceeding Kilimanjaro. Due to erosion,  its height has decreased to 4,321 meters, although it features the largest caldera in the world measuring to about 60km long and 40km wide. This makes it the 4th tallest peak in East Africa and the 8th highest mountain in Africa. Additionally, it is renowned for its diverse ecosystems, including montane forest, bamboo, heath, and moorland, which provide habitat for a great number of wildlife such as elephants, buffalo, antelope, and over 300 bird species.

Mount Elgon also features stunning waterfalls, caves, and hot springs, making it a popular destination for hiking, birdwatching, and nature walks. The Bagisu and the Sabiny are the two tribes living on the slopes of this mountain and are usually visited by travelers to experience and learn about the culture of the locals. Out of the total park’s 1,279 sqkm surface area, the Ugandan section covers 1,110 sqkm while the smaller section of 169sqkm lies on the Kenyan side.

How to get to Mount Elgon National Park

The distance to Mount Elgon National Park from Kampala is about 234 kilometers. Travelers use the Kampala – Jinja to Mbale highway and then head to Kapchorwa which is on Mount Elgon’s northwestern side. Traveling by road offers great opportunities for tourists to have stops at the River Nile and Mabira forest.

Alternatively, travelers can also use chartered flights from Entebbe Airport to Soroti Airfield which is near Mount Elgon. Upon arrival, travelers must travel by road for about one hour before reaching Kapchorwa.

Activities to do in Mount Elgon National Park

 Wildlife viewing and game drives

While Mount Elgon National Park is not as renowned for wildlife as some other parks in Uganda, it still offers opportunities to see diverse fauna. Travelers may encounter forest elephants, buffalo, duikers, bushbucks, and various monkey species such as colobus monkeys and blue monkeys. Game drives usually take the tourists to best locations where they can see these animals up close while keeping a safe distance.

Mountain climbing and hiking

Mount Elgon is a prime destination for hiking and trekking, with numerous trails of varying difficulty levels. Travelers can embark on multi-day treks to reach the summit or explore shorter day hikes to admire waterfalls, caves, and scenic viewpoints. The Sipi Falls area, on the slopes of Mount Elgon, offers some stunning hiking opportunities. There are other two trails besides the Sipi trail and these are the Salsa trail and the Pisa trail. Hikers who are  interested in climbing up to the summit require at least 4 days. The most direct route to the peak goes through the thicket. There is also an alternative of starting the hike from Uganda and ending it in Kenya however, you need paperwork to cross the border.  Immigration offices in Mbale can help with the travel paperwork.

Bird watching

The park is home to over 300 bird species, including various Albertine Rift endemics and migratory birds. Birdwatchers can spot species such as the endangered Lammergeier, Jackson’s Francolin, Hartlaub’s Turaco, and many others. The lush forests and montane habitats provide excellent birding opportunities. In Uganda, the endangered Jackson’s Francolin and Lammergeyer can only be found in Mount Elgon National Park.

Cultural encounters

Explore the culture of the local communities surrounding Mount Elgon National Park. You can visit villages, interact with residents, and learn about their traditions, lifestyles, and farming practices. There are Bagisu who still practice old cultures of initiating young men into adulthood through circumcision. Every man must undergo this ritual before he can marry for no woman would accept an uncircumcised man for a husband. There is also the Sabiny who practice female mutilation though this has been outlawed by the human rights activists and groups.

Exploring caves

The park features numerous caves formed by ancient lava tubes, some of which are easily accessible to visitors. Travelers can take a guided tour to explore these caves and marvel at their unique geological formations and resident bat colonies. The most visited caves are Mackingeny, Chepnyali, and Kitum. The caves attract species like elephants, and antelopes that come to lick salts from the cave’s walls. Additionally, there are other caves like Khauka, Kapkwai, and the Nyero rock painting cave that travelers can visit.

Nature walks

Guided walks led by knowledgeable local guides offer insights into the park’s flora, fauna, and cultural heritage. Travelers get to learn about the medicinal plants, the traditional uses of local flora, and the fascinating history of the area. During these nature walks tourists get to encounter numerous birds, wildlife species, and thick montane forest. There is an exploration center near Sipi Falls that organizes a 3 to 7-kilometer hike that offers opportunities to marvel at valleys, plants, ridges, and animals in the park.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is an exhilarating and adventurous way to explore the park’s stunning landscapes and diverse terrain. While the park may not have designated mountain biking trails, there are still opportunities for biking enthusiasts to enjoy the area. There is a route that starts from Sipi trading center to a hill in Chema Kapchorwa. There is also a running route designated for training runners that can also be used for biking.

Camping

Mountain Elgon National Park and the surrounding area are suitable for camping. The park authorities have set up camping bases along the mountain climbing trails for those hiking to the top of the mountain. Travelers are supposed to move with their camping gear including sleeping bags, tents, rain jackets, stoves, and fuel. Tents and sleeping bags can be hired from the Park offices.

Where to stay in Mount Elgon National Park

There are various accommodation facilities where travelers can stay when visiting Mt Elgon National Park and these include Sipi Rover Lodge, Mbale Resort Hotel, Noah’s Ark Hotel and Resort, Mount Elgon Hotel, Kayegi Hotel, Kapkwai Forest cottages and last but not least there are camping sites for adventurous travelers.

The best time to visit Mount Elgon National Park

Travelers planning to visit Mount Elgon National Park can visit any time throughout the year. However, the dry seasons from June to August and December to February are the best times to visit. During these months, the weather is typically clear, making it easier to enjoy activities like hiking, wildlife viewing, and birdwatching. Additionally, the trails are usually in better condition, and wildlife tends to be more active around water sources.