Mount Elgon National Park is located in eastern Uganda, covers an area of 1,279 square kilometers and is bisected by the border of Kenya and Uganda, is an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24 million years ago. It became a national park in the 1990s and is also a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve and an important source of water for the Lake Victoria Basin. Together with the fauna and flora, including elephants that mine salt in the caves, the park has a variety of scenery including cliffs, caves, waterfalls, gorges, mesas, calderas, hot springs and the mountain peaks.
Mount Elgon is the fourth highest mountain in Eastern Africa, with the second-highest peak in Uganda (Wagagi Peak – 4321 metres). Mt. Elgon contains crater covering over 40 kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks. The park has magnificent waterfalls, caves, gorges and hot springs and is excellent for hiking. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required, and all major peaks are accessible to hikers.
Elephants and buffalo can be found on the lower slopes of this great mountain. The park is also home to a variety of small antelope and duiker, as well forest monkeys, including the black-and-white colobus and blue monkey. red-tailed monkey have been reported after being thought to be locally extinct. Both leopard and hyena existed there in the late 1990s.
Mount Elgon is home to at least over 300 bird species. Of particular interest are Jackson’s francolin, the eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turaco, the Tacazze sunbird and the endangered lammergeier, due to their restricted range.
Maathai’s longleg, an endangered dragonfly was discovered here in 2005 and named after Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai. Half of Uganda’s butterfly species have been reported in Mt. Elgon.
What to do at Mount Elgon.
The Forest Exploration Centre has three” day” trails ranging between 3 and 7 km. These trails offer an excellent opportunity to experience Mt. Elgon’s unique plants and wildlife in shorter time period. A fourth trail has recently been opened to reach the enormous Tutum Cave, 11 km from the centre. This trail also passes through a range of vegetation types and offers opportunities to see wildlife such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys and a variety of birds.
You can as well take a hike to Sipi Falls, which the most popular being a trio of short loops taking in valleys, ridges, and caves. A hike to cover up the 3 falls of Sipi is very rewarding and amazing, as you watch the beautiful falls, feel the splash of water onto your face, as you marvel around the coffee And banana plantation meeting the local community along the way, who will escort you as you have company. You will be able to visit and see some gardens with local food such as onions, cabbage, maize, until you get to the top where you will be able to have a great view of the slope and the valleys.
Birding in Mt. Elgon
Excellent birding opportunities exist around Kapkwai Forest Exploration Centre, in particular in the secondary forest and thick shrub along the loop trail to Cheptui Falls. It supports the African Goshawk; Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia and African Blue Flycatcher among others. If you’re a birder, this place is worth a visit, as you walk along the trail in search for these bird species.
Trekking to the Top
Mt Elgon is considered a good alternative to climbing Rwenzori in Uganda or Kilimanjaro in Tanzania since it offers a milder climate, lower elevation and much more reasonable prices. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes 4-5 days to complete. All visitors are encouraged to discuss options with an Information Clerk at the Male, Budadiri or Kapkwata Visitors’ Centres. There is a lot to see along the way ranging from beautiful scenery, wildlife such as buffaloes, elephants, duikers, waterfalls and number of bird species.
Cultural Encounters in Mt. Elgon
Find out where your coffee comes from! Grown on the mountain side of Mt Elgon is 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. You may take a community walk, where you will have a great chance to visit the local community and take part in coffee making process, right away from planting to processing of coffee.
Mountain Biking in Mt. Elgon
Mountain biking trails run from Sipi trading centre to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town. It should take 1.5 hours and provides views of various waterfalls. It’s very challenging here, as you paddle along the valleys and hills with a great view.
Nature walks in Mt. Elgon
Enjoy views of Sipi Falls, the Walls of Death and the African sunrise across the Karamoja plains on these peaceful walks just outside Mt Elgon National Park. There are fewer crowds here as you have time to take a cool forest breath, have time to see and love nature, as you’re surrounded by real wilderness.
Five basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit. Please respect Park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. No camping is allowed within the caldera. MENP camping is primitive, and all necessary camping equipment must be carried with you. Some items such as tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale. Make sure not to forget a warm jacket and rain gear, as extreme weather conditions will add to your Mt. Elgon adventure! Also please take a fuel-efficient camp stove if possible to avoid placing additional pressure on MENP firewood resources.
Accommodation facilities are available inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. Prior arrangements through the MENP Visitors’ office in Mbale are necessary as these facilities do not accommodate large numbers of visitors. Kitchen services are available, but visitors should bring their own food supplies or provide money to buy food on arrival.
The Forest Exploration Centre also conducts a four-day environmental program for school groups of up to 30 students which allow children to experience a living forest ecosystem while learning the importance of conservation. It has dormitory – style rooms and bathing facilities with running water. You can as well sleep as far as Mbale or Kapchorwa town and drive early morning. Sipi River lodge is one of the best lodges around. Those intending to camp, there are camping ground and facilities around as well.
Mount Elgon National Park lies 235 km 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. Porthole roads lead off the Mbale – Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads.