Mountain Elgon National ParkAncient
The park is found in the Eastern part of the country and it is shared between Uganda and Kenya though the biggest portion is in Uganda. It is 1121km2, and its peak is Wagagai. The main attraction is mountain Elgon hiking, though there are other interesting activities which can be added on your itinerary and these may include; visiting Sipi waterfalls, Birding, Nature walks, Biking Cultural visits, Abseiling, Caving and visiting ancient Rock Paintings in Nyero.
Mountain Elgon National Park was formed about 24 million years ago. It was was the tallest Mountain in Africa before its caldera was blown off the top of the mountain. Currently, this inactive Volcano is the fourth tallest mountain in East Africa. Its highest point stands at 4,321 meters above sea level.
At the center of attraction is the caldera (collapsed crater) which is the largest in the world; it is 40km2 and can be accessed using three trails. Unlike other mountains which are very challenging to climb, mountain Elgon is one of the easier mountains to hike.
As with any mountain, vegetation changes with altitude. The lower slopes are covered with dense forest; the next level has wild orchids and flowers. The Bamboo forest is at an altitude of about 2,000m, the bamboo forest is very important to the people living around the park because they harvest the bamboo shoots for food locally known as ‘’Malewa’’.
Despite the fact that mountain climbing is the major attraction, there other activities which make visiting the Eastern Uganda more interesting.
Attractions around Mountain Elgon
Hiking Mountain Elgon
The hike to Wagagai peak of Mountain Elgon takes a minimum of 4 days. Compared to other mountain hikes, the climb to the peak is considered moderate. You have to book in advance with Uganda Wildlife Authority to arrange for the hike as you have to be escorted by qualified rangers to the peak.
You have to carry along all the essentials you need, and there are local porters who are available to help with carrying your stuff.
There are other lower elevation trails for you to hike on half or full-day, so all you need is a packed lunch and water for the hike. The best time of hiking is during the dry season; June to August and December to February.
Mountain Elgon Hiking Trails
There are three main trails that lead to the peak of Mountain Elgon peak. Depending on where you choose to stay, will determine your stating point to the top.
Sasa trail(4 days)
This trail takes at least four days to climb to the top and back. The starting point is at Budadili town, so you can choose to stock up your essentials from Mbale, which is the biggest town in Eastern Uganda. Sasa trail is a more direct route than the other two trails to the peaks, though there is a stiff climb of over 1,600m on day one. The climbers cross the bamboo forest and go through the Jackson’s Pool on the way to the Peak.
Sipi trail (7 days)
The starting point is at the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai, not far from the Sipi waterfalls. Sipi waterfalls has a number of accommodation facilities around it and tourist love this place because its hidden away and with cool weather and good facilities for relaxing your body and mind. The trail leads you to Tatum caves found within the forest and then proceed to the peak.
Piswa trail (7 days)
The trail begins at Kapkwata, 30km outside Kapchorwa town, it is a longer route, which starts at a higher attitude but has a more gradual route to the caldera. Along the route is the Podocarpus forest.
This is a much longer route which starts at the village of Suam at Uganda / Kenyan border crossing. You follow the Suam River through the steep Suam Gorge and end up at the hot springs sprouting out of the caldera.
Other activities in Mount Elgon National Park;
Uganda is rich with different species of birds and Mountain Elgon National Park is not an exception. You can spot birds such as; Grey cuckoo, Mountain Yellow Warbler, Hartlaub’s Turaco, Thick-billed Honey guide African Hill, Alpine Chat Babbler, Lemon Dove, Eastern Bronze-napped Pigeon, Dusky-Turtle Dove, Black-throated Wattle-eye. Birding can be done within the park or on the Sipi falls trail.
Mountain Biking around Mountain Elgon and Sipi Falls
If you love Mountain biking, then visiting this park is the place to be. Trails have recently been opened and many visitors have taken to the sport. Other trails have been opened up around the Sipi waterfalls because of the many lodges around the area.
Rock Climbing is done both inside the National Park and around Sipi Falls Area, even along the falls. The activity requires specialist guides so arrange in advance for the climb.
Visit the Jews of Uganda
The Jew community is mainly found in the Eastern part of Uganda near Mount Elgon where a small community of Jews locally known as ( Abayudaya) lives. This community has been in existence in Uganda for nearly a century.
This community lives a totally different life style compared to the community living around mountain Elgon, so visitors are always keen to know and learn about their unique cultural and religious life style.
They have a modern hospital, schools and recreational centers which are often shared with the local communities around them. So visiting this community is worth a shot.
The Bamasaba or Bagisu peoples way of life is pretty interesting to know about, and visitors normally engage in Cultural Community Walks where visitors can visit coffee farms, homes; when visiting you get to taste the local foods including the (bamboo shoots) popularly known as Malewa, and also participate in the most famous culture in Uganda which is the circumcision ceremony where young boys are circumcised as a rite of passage to adulthood.
The Imbalu dance or Kadodi dance is a very colorful occasion and is enjoyed by many. It involves a traditional dance ‘’Kadodi’’ where people move through the different villages and towns. It then culminates in the circumcision of the young boys in front of the huge gatherings of on lookers.
The Nyero Rock Paintings
The Nyero Rock Paintings are said to be more than two centuries old. They are found in Kumi district Eastern Uganda. They are in three caves and local guides are always at hand to narrate the history about these rare paintings. The Nyero rock painting can be visited on your way to Kidepo National park.
Therefore, visiting Mountain Elgon and Sipi waterfalls areas can be a great way of starting your all round trip in Uganda. You can simply choose the parks that you are most interested in.