Mount Elgon National Park protects Mount Elgon, a UN Biosphere Reserve and a wonderful place for adventure Uganda safaris. This 1,121 km2 park is located in eastern Uganda, the home adrenaline adventures. It is situated about 235 km from Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.
The drive to Mount Elgon National Park takes 4 to 5 hours. You pass through the lush Mabira Forest, Jinja city – the source of the Nile (the longest river in the world), and quite Uganda rural villages. The route is good and tarmacked from Kampala to Kapchorwa.
Visitors always combine their Mount Elgon National Park safari with sipi falls hike, as well as adventure tours of the Karamoja region and Uganda wildlife safaris in Kidepo Valley National Park – one of the last remaining true African wildernesses.
About Mount Elgon
Mount Elgon is a massive extinct shield volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya. It was one time, thousands of years ago, Africa’s tallest mountain, far exceeding Mount Kilimanjaro’s current 5,895m.
But it was gradually eroded at the peak reducing it to the current height of 4321m – 8th in Africa, 4th in East Africa. Mt Elgon is believed to have first erupted about 24 million years ago and last erupted 10 million years ago; so it is the oldest and largest volcanic mountain in East Africa.
At 4,000km² Mt. Elgon has the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world. Its base covers a staggering area of around 4,000km2 and it rises through a series of gradual slopes punctuated by steep cliffs to a height of 4,321m at Wagagai Peak, which lies on the Ugandan side of the mountain.
Mount Elgon’s lower slopes are clothed in tropical montane forest with extensive stands of bamboo. Above this lies a vast tract of unique Afro-Alpine moorland which blankets the caldera.
This collapsed crater covers some 40 km2 at the top of the mountain and it is the largest mountain caldera in the world. The moorland is studded with rare plant species, such as giant groundsel and endemic Lobelia.
Mount Elgon National Park was first gazetted as a forest reserve in 1938. In 1993, its status was upgraded to a National Park. In 2005, it was declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve.
Locally known as “Masaba” by the local Bagisu people, Mount Elgon was named by the British explorer, Joseph Thomson. Thomson was the first European to reach the mountain’s lower slopes in 1883. He named it Elgon, an anglicization of the Maasai name Ol Doinyo Ilgoon (‘Breast Mountain’).
The first person to document the existence of Mount Elgon was the British Explorer Henry Morton Stanley.Stanley obtained a distant view of the mountain’s peak in 1875. The first recorded summit took place in February 1890, when Frederick Jackson and Ernest Gedge ascended to the caldera from a base camp at modern-day Kapchorwa and climbed one of the subsidiary peaks.
Local People & Culture Around Mt Elgon
The area around Mount Elgon National Park is home of the Bagisu and the Sebei (Kalenjin people). It offers some of the best cultural tours in Uganda.
The Sebei or Kalenjin speak a nilotic language called Kupsabiny. They are believed to have come from highlands of Ethiopia and then moved to Kenya. From there, some continued to eastern Uganda and settled on the slopes of Mount Elgon.
Like their brothers in Kenya, the Kalenjins of Uganda also are well known as the world best athletes, which have made the Sebei region to be dubbed the land of champions. Remarkably, Joshua Cheptegei, Jacob Kiplimo, Peruth Chemutai, Stephen Kiprotich, Moses Ndiema Kipsiro, and Stella Chesang the world athletics champions are all come from the Sebei region and are pure Kalenjins.
Residing on the southern and western slopes of Elgon are proud Bagisu people. The Bagisu speak a dialect of the Lumasaba language called Lugisu. Their origin is not well known but their oral traditions simply assert that the founding father Masaba emerged from a cave from Mount Elgon, 500 years ago.
Masaba, also the local name of Mt Elgon is believed to still inhabit the mountain’s upper slopes where he holds meeting with lesser deities at a place where stone have been laid out to form chairs and tables. Bagisu people, however, are best known for their Imbalu – male circumcision ceremony – a pivotal occasion in their society that involves the entire local community.
It is this ceremony in which the Bagisu boys are publicly circumcised with a special knife without pain killer to initiate them into manhood. It is held in August and December of even-numbered years.
Wildlife In Mount Elgon National Park
Mount Elgon National Park has more than 300 species of Uganda birds, including the endangered Lammergeyer (Bearded vulture). Also of particular interest are Jackson’s Francolin (Jackson’s spurfowl), the eastern bronze-naped pigeon, Hartlaub’s turaco, the Tacazze sunbird, mustached green Tinkerbird, Red-throated Wryneck, Black-collared Apalis;
Hunter’s cisticola, Alpine chat, Weyn’s weaver, Moorland francolin, Golden-winged sunbird, African Goshawk, Chubb’s Cisticola, African Blue Flycatcher;
Doherty’s Bush-shrike, Baglafecht Weaver, Cinnamon-chested Bee-eater, Bar-tailed Trogon, Grey-throated Barbet, Montane Oriole, Mountain Greenbul and Black-collared Apalis.
The mammalian fauna of Mount Elgon is poorly known. The most common Uganda mammal species, or at least the most visible to trekkers, are blue monkeys and black-and-white colobus. A small number of Elephants and buffalos are residents of forests and several montane moorland endemics.
Sipi Falls On Mount Elgon
The Sipi Falls are arguably the most beautiful waterfalls in East Africa. The falls were named the most romantic waterfalls by the Lonely Planet guidebook.
They consist of a series of three waterfalls created by the Sipi River as it cascades downstream at 100m, 85m, and 65m from the top of Mount Elgon. After creating the waterfalls the Sipi River continues and pours into Lake Kyoga.
The area around Sipi Falls is also famous for Arabica coffee grown by Bagisu. Bugisu Arabica only grows at an altitude of between 1,600 and 1,900 meters. It is also one of the perfect spots for weekend trips from Kampala city.
Things To Do AT Mount Elgon National Park
1. Mount Elgon Summit Hikes
Climbing to the summit of Mount Elgon has its advantages compared to the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains or Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. It is less expensive and the mountain has gradual slopes up to the peaks on the crater rim.
Mount Elgon National Park also also offers a satisfying climb that doesn’t require expert skills or equipment. Trekkers are rewarded by the volcanic foothills, cliffs, caves, gorges and waterfalls along with panoramic views across the wide plains below.
Hikes takes 4 to 6 days depending on the trail used. Before trekking to the top of Elgon, hikers need to report to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) offices outside the main town.
Mount Elgon Hiking Trails
There are three main hiking trails – The Salsa Trail, Pisa Trail and Sipi trail. The Salsa Trail is a shorter trail but with very steep climbs.
It starts from near Mbale town and takes only 4 days to reach the peak. Though it is the most direct route, it goes through the thickest area of the bamboo forests in the park.
The Pisa trail starts from a forest in Kapkwata and passes through great Podocarpus forests. This is the longest (6 days) but with few steep areas. The trail provides opportunities to view the parks animals and birdlife. The Sipi Trail begins from the Kapkwai forest exploration center. It takes between 4 to 6 days to reach the peak through the Sipi trail.
In order to see the best of everything and see more of the mountain features, hikers can ascend via the Sipi Trail and descend using the Salsa trail. More adventurous hikers may start from the Ugandan side and descend at the Kenyan side. Hikers who choose to end their hike in Kenya need paperwork to cross the border. The migration office in Mbale can help with acquiring the border crossing papers is required by their colleagues in the Kenyan side.
Cost Of Climbing Mount Elgon
Mount Elgon hike costs $50 per day for foreign non resident visitor, $ 40 for foreign resident visitors with a work permit, and UGX 50,000 for East African citizens.
The climbing fees include park entrance fees. The amount also covers ranger/guide fees. Hikers also need to hire porters and cooks to escort them and help setting up camp. It is a good practice to give extra tip to the guides, porters, cooks and even park rangers.
2. Nature Walks – Waterfall Hikes
Exploring the foothills of Mount Elgon is an alternative activity for visitors who do not wish to climb to the top, and this is an excellent hiking area, very beautiful and virtually untouched by tourists.
There are caves to visit as well as the pretty cascading Sipi Falls, Chebonet waterfalls, endemic plants include giant lobelia, heather and groundsel.
Lucky walkers may spot blue and black-and-white colobus monkeys and rare birds in the forests, and most hikes lead to viewpoints where you can look up at the craggy peaks of brooding Mount Elgon.
3. Bird Watching
Mount Elgon NP boasts over 300 birds with over 50 Afrotropical highland biome species living here, including the Moorland Francolin, Moustached Green Tinkerbird and the famous Alpine Chat.
The Jackson’s Francolin and Black-collared Apalis are bird species that you will only find in Mt Elgon National Park. Among those limited to just a few mountains in eastern Uganda are the Black-shouldered Kite and Tacazze Sunbird. Mount Elgon National Park is also home to the endangered Lammergeyer which can be seen, soaring above the caldera and the Suam Gorge.
4. Cave Exploration
Mt. Elgon is penetrated by highly-unusual caves. These include the larger caves of Kitum, Ngwarisha, Chepnyalil, and Makingeny. It’s such an amazing stopover. Some other caves are small and link to Kenya however they are too dark to give you a proper direction to get to the border of Kenya.
5. Community Cultural Encounters
The Bagisu still practice an old culture of initiating young men into adulthood through a series of ceremonies that end with circumcision.
No man would be allowed to marry before undergoing the full ritual process and getting circumcised. No lady would marry a man who wasn’t circumcised or had not gone through the standard rituals.
During the months of August and December of every even numbered year, the whole town and villages of Mbale are full of crowds singing and dancing while escorting young men to receive blessings and gifts from their relatives before heading for the circumcision site.
The site brings together thousands of people to witness the public ceremony. Another interesting cultural activity is the Budadiri Cultural Walk near Mount Elgon. There is Bugusi cultural group that organizes cultural dances, storytelling and information about their cultural heritage. This group can teach tourists how to cook and eat tasty bamboo shoots locally known as malewa.
6. Coffee Tours
The area around Sipi Falls is also known for its many local coffee plantations. Coffee is Uganda’s leading export crop. Visiting a coffee plantation plot in a rural Ugandan village is a great way to support the farmers. They are extremely hospitable and are happy to show you the whole coffee process; from picking to shelling, grinding, and roasting.
Obviously, you finish by consuming a delicious strong Ugandan coffee, straight from the source.
Accommodation At Mount Elgon National Park Area
1. Sipi River Lodge
Quality accommodation is thin on the ground in near Mt Elgon Park, but Sipi River Lodge is a welcome exception. It stands in lushly wooded grounds on the slopes of Mt Elgon. This is a great base for hiking in the fertile Elgon foothills and visiting a trio of pretty waterfalls that adorn the Sipi River.
The main Sipi Falls is only a few minutes’ walk away, and the middle cascade actually stands in the grounds, within view of some of the cottages. With a cozy rustic feel that might be transplanted from the English countryside, this isn’t your average safari lodge, and the relatively high altitude ensures it enjoys a pleasant temperate climate.
2. Kapkwai Forest Cottages
Kapkwai Forest Cottages are located at the entrance of Mount Elgon National Park. The cottages were initially designed for students who come to visit the forest exploration centre but are now open to tourists. The facility has four simple cottages and four tents. You can buy food and drinks from the nearby canteen.
3. Mbale Resort Hotel
Mbale Resort hotel is a luxury hotel situated abou 2km from the centre of Mbale town and near Mount Elgon National Park. It has 94 rooms that offers amazing views of the Wanale Hill and Mount Elgon. The hotel has beautiful gardens with palm trees. Other facilities and services include a restaurant, a large swimming pool, a bar, a gym and Sauna.
4. Mount Elgon Hotel And Spa
Mount Elgon Hotel and Spa is owned by Italians. It is located about two away from Mbale town center along the Masaba road. The hotel has 30 self-contained rooms with quality bedding and a bathroom. It also has a large garden, a swimming pool, a restaurant, a bar, a pool table, spa, conference rooms, a small golf field and offers shuttle picks clients to and from town.
5. Kayegi Hotel
Kayegi hotel is also found along Masaba road. It offers mid-range priced quality rooms and good service. It has 25 self-contained rooms that are surrounded by beautiful gardens. There are conference rooms, a bar, a restaurant, a large parking place and free wireless internet.
6. Noah’s Ark Hotel
Noah’s Ark Hotel is built in the town of Kapchorwa along the slopes of Mount Elgon. The hotel has good views of the Teso and Karamoja plains. It offers luxury, mid-range and budget rooms.
The hotel serves good Bugisu Arabica coffee with a sweet aroma. Both local and international foods are served for breakfast and Dinner. Camping tents are available for clients who are interested in setting up a camp outside. The hotel also organizes activities like visiting the Sipi Falls, climbing Mount Elgon, Bike racing and marathons.
7. Masha Hotel
Masha Hotel is also is located in Kapchorwa town along the main road going to Mbale. The hotel offers budget services and self-contained rooms that are neat. It also has conference rooms, a pool table, a bar and a restaurant which prepares Indian, Ugandan and other international dishes. It is a perfect place for those who intend on climbing Mount Elgon, or visiting the Sipi Falls.
Mount Elgon National Park Weather
The climate at Mount Elgon National Park is moist to moderate dry. Annual rainfall is over 1,270mm. The dry seasons run from June to August and from December to March, although it can rain at any time.
FAQs About Mount Elgon National Park
1. What Is Mount Elgon National Park Known For?
Like the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Mountain Elgon National Park is more known for mountain climbing and nature walks. Apart from reaching the peak, climbing Mount Elgon offers great opportunities to explore a massive caldera, caves, cliffs, gorges, hot springs, mesas and waterfalls.
2. Where Is Mount Elgon National Park Located?
Mount Elgon National Park is located in Eastern Uganda on the Uganda-Kenya border. It is covers parts of Mbale and Kapchorwa Districts.
3. Which Animals Are Found In Mt Elgon National Park?
Mount Elgon National Park is home to a small number of Elephants and Buffalos found on the lower slopes the park. There are a number of small antelope and monkeys including the Black-and-white Colobus and Blue Monkey. The area is also home to over 300 bird species including the endangered Lammergeyer, African Goshawk and Baglafecht Weaver.
4. Is Mount Elgon In Kenya Or Uganda?
Mount Elgon is located on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. The mountain can be explored in both Uganda and Kenya. There is Mount Elgon National Park in Uganda and Mount Elgon National Park in Kenya.
5. How Do You Get To Mt Elgon National Park?
The road distance between Kampala and Mount Elgon National Park is approximately 235km. The road is made of tarmac. It takes between 4 to 5 hours to reach the town of Mbale from Kampala city through the towns of Jinja and Iganga.
The drive offers opportunities to stop and see amazing places like the source of the river Nile and Mabira forest. From Mbale town, one needs to drive to the park offices outside the town or head straight to the nearest mountain climbing starting point in Budadiri.
6. When Is The Best Time To Visit Mount Elgon National Park?
Mount Elgon in Mount Elgon National Park can be climbed at any time of year. However, during the long rains in April and May, the trails become slippery, slow and tedious. The dry seasons (June-August and December to March) are best, especially in the spring months of November to December when the wildflowers are in bloom.