Mount Elgon National Park
Mountain Elgon National Park is in Eastern Uganda near Mbale and lies across the Kenyan border covering 1,145 square kilometres. The park is very good for climbing and hiking adventures as well as sightseeing. Mount Elgon is branded as the fourth highest mountain in East Africa and with second highest peak in Uganda, towering up to 4321 meters with the second-highest peak in Uganda. This extinct volcano is believed to have first erupted more than 24 million years ago. Sipi Falls hiking is among the mostly done activities at the park.
Locally known as Mount Masaba, Elgon has got three other major peaks which are Kiongo (4303m), Mubiyi (4210m) and Jackson’s summit (4165m). Masaba is the name of the founding ancestor of the Bagisu believed to have emerged from a cave on its slopes several centuries ago. Masaba’s spirit is believed to be personified by Jackson’s Summit but may be the taller Kiongo peak. The mountain is also an important watershed for different rivers including River Sipi that forms the spectacular Sipi falls. The mountain slopes support a rich variety of vegetation zones like the montane forest, high open moorland covered by the worldly giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The mountain has crater covering about 40 kilometres on its top surrounded by a multiple rugged peaks.
Mount Elgon has a large variety of fauna and flora species, for instance the Bamboo, heath and moorland zones plus animals such as leopards, Blue and White Colobus monkey, hyena and buffaloes. The bird species comprise of the African Goshawk, Mackinon’s Fiscal, the Bablafecht weaver and many others.
Mount Elgon Activities:
Bird watching, mountain hiking, trekking, day hikes and forest exploration, camping, guide escorts are among the major activities. A variety of attractions outside the park like lodging facilities and campsites plus the magnificent Sipi falls situated 66 km from Mbale make a tour enjoyable. Community visits and involvement in Imbalu dances, nature walks from Budadiri trail head can also be done.
1. Flora and Fauna
As you move up along Elgon’s slopes, you will go through thick montane forest with mixed bamboo belts characterized by birdlife. You will then join interesting heath and moorland zones with several interesting endemic plant species that is the Giant lobelia and groundsels. Lovers of wildlife will spot primates such as the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, uncountable fascinating bird species like Golden Winged and Tacazze sun birds, Ross’s and Hartlaubs Turacos, Black and White Casqued and Crowned Hornbills. The vulnerable Lammergeier and the Jackson’s Francolin found nowhere in Uganda except here will be seen. With a keen observation, you can also see buffalo, elusive leopard, duiker and the shy hyena. Also interesting to see are the forest monkeys fill the forest canopy as giant forest Hog, Bushbuck, Antelope, Civet, Wildcat, Bush Duiker, Jackal, Rock Hyrax and Elephant move around the forest and moorland.
2. Bird Watching
Chubb’s Cisticola, African Goshawk, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catchers, Chin-spot Batis, Mackinon’s Fiscal, Doherty’s and Luhders’s Bush-Shrikes and Baglafecht Weaver are watched at the forest and thick scrub along the Chebonet River near camp.
3. Trekking in the Routes
There are two main starting points that lead to the Elgon peaks.
– Salsa Trail Buddukiro trail-head, this is most conveniently accessible from Mbale and a direct route to the peaks going via the Park’s largest area of bamboo forest. But is also a steep and rugged climb of about 1600 metres on the first day.
– Pisa trail/Kapkwata trail-head, a gentle climb can cover 660 metres on the first day deciding to ascend through via here. As you move on this route, you can explore a vast Podocarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife watching. A complete trekking journey to the mountain peaks runs for 4-5 days. It is advisable that visitors discuss trekking options with the information clerks at the Mbale, Budadiri or Kapkwata Visitors’ Centres.
4. Safari Activities
Hiking is the key tourism activity. Climbing the mountain is not so much tiresome meaning it can be done by medium and experienced climbers. Besides the interesting and unique plants and animals, one can experience the magnificent waterfalls, big caves, scenic peaks and gorges and marvelous hot springs which bubble up at 48’C. The ideal visiting periods are the dry seasons, that from June-August and December-March. But still even cold months, trekking is possible and enjoyable. Technically, with or without climbing skills, one can hike and hikers can go to all major peaks with ease.
5. What to bring for the tour.
Tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, gloves, hat, sturdy hiking shoes, flashlight, water bottle, rain gear, first aid kit, cooking equipment, sufficient food supplies.
6. Mount Elgon Camping.
There are 9 campsites situated at various points along the trekking circuit. It is advisable that tourists respect park regulations by staging camps only at gazetted sites. No camping is allowed within the caldera. The mountain camping is primitive and traditional requiring all essential camping equipment to be carried by the visitor. But items like tents and sleeping bags are readily available for hire at the park. Carry a warm jacket and rain gear for unpredictable weather conditions at the mountain during the tour. A fuel- camp stove is also necessary for domestic use to avoid abusing the nature firewood.
7. Park Rangers and Porters
Kindly hire a trained ranger to guide you on all trekking excursion since they are well-conversant with the routes, safety measures, communication and cultural histories of all the places trekked. Local porters will help in carrying up to 18 kilograms of your gear, prepare meals, setting up and removing your camp plus collecting water for use. Fees are set at Ush 8,000 (guide) and Ush 7,000 (porter) per stage. The wages cover the guide or porter’s park visitation fee and the cost of sufficient food and supplies. Trained ranger guides and local porters are available at all trail heads. Please ask for a guide’s license before hiring to ensure you are dealing with the right person. As a matter of safety, a ranger escort must be hired when visiting the calderas or ascending the peaks. You will meet your ranger escort at Sasa or Piswa patrol hut where you must present your park receipt before moving ahead upwards.
8. Mount Elgon Day Hikes.
At Mt. Elgon, the Forest Exploration Centre has a 3-day trail covering about 3 to 7 kilometres. The trails give a nice experience of Elgon’s rare flora and fauna a shot time. To reach the enormous Tutum Cave, 11 km from the centre, you are facilitated by s fourth trail that was recently opened. It goes through a range of vegetation types paving a clear sight for wildlife such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys and a variety of birds.
9. Attractions outside Mount Elgon National Park.
The wonderful Sipi Falls are located 66 km from Mbale, en-route to the Forest Exploration Centre and Kapkwata. Many local trails enable day hikes through friendly local villages with beautiful farming. Pleasant campsites, lodge facilities, including meal services and hot showers are offered at Crow’s Nest located near the Sipi trading centre. More luxurious accommodation is at the Sipi Falls Resort. Better get a guide to take you gradually through the one and half hour walk to the Forest Exploration Centre. Nagudi rock has 7 open rock-climbing routes, half-way between Mbale and Budadiri. Climbers need to carry their own rock-climbing equipment because these routes are bolted. Climbers pay to the local parish treasurer.
Accommodation Facilities around the park
Simple accommodation facilities are available inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and 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.
Going to Mount Elgon
The park is 235 kilometres east of Kampala. One drives via Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western axis. Murram roads lead off the Mbale Kapchorwa road to reach the various trail heads. In Mbale town Mount Elgon National Park Information Office is on Plot 19/21 Masaba Road, near Mount Elgon Hotel. This office which is open from 08.00-13:00 and 14, 00-17, 00, Mon-Fri and 09.00-13.00 on Saturdays is available to give you enough information about the park. You can book tour activities at this office or at Uganda Wildlife Authority offices in Kampala.
Hike Mount Elgon National Park
Other National Parks in Uganda
Apart from Mount Elgon, Uganda has 9 other national parks spread across the country offering different tourism activities. The Uganda national parks include Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Kidepo Valley National Park and Semuliki National Park among others. Others are Bwindi Impenetrable forest, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, Kibale National Park and Lake Mburo National Park among others. Queen Elizabeth national park and Murchison falls national park are the biggest parks in Uganda offering a variety of wildlife safaris safaris and tours.