Mount Elgon national park
Mount Elgon national park is one of those least visited national parks of Uganda given that most travellers prefer wildlife and primates experiences as compared to mountain climbing experiences however it is one of Uganda’s best safari destinations having the biggest surface area of all extinct Volcanoes in the world. Mount Elgon was once the highest mountain in Africa however due to erosion, it became an extinct volcano which first erupted twenty million years ago forming what began the largest Caldera in the whole world measuring 40 square Kilometres. This eruption reduced its height to 4,320 meters and it became the fourth highest mountain in East Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro which is the highest, Mount Rwenzori which is the second highest, Mount Kenya which is the third highest and then Mount Elgon respectively. This is the largest solitary volcanic mountain in East Africa located in the Eastern part of Uganda close to the Kenya border.
Mount Elgon was locally called Mount Masaba by the natives of Mbale district given that the name was originally of the leader of the Bagisu people from Mbale district. “Masaba” is believed to have originated from one of the caves on the slopes of Mount Elgon centuries ago and hence the people from there are also called the Masaba people who are actually the Bagisu people. The Sabiny people are another ethic tribe who reside on the slopes of Mount Elgon; they are both subsistence farmers growing Coffee as their main cash crop and Banana as their main food crop. They also conduct an annual cultural ceremony of circumcision of young boys and girls initiating them into adulthood. The Bagisu people only do circumcision of the boy child while the Sabiny do the circumcision of the girl child however this circumcision of the girl child has been highly condemned and discouraged by the government of Uganda as it is very dangerous for the girls resulting into deaths. While on a Uganda Safari to Mount Elgon, Male circumcision among the Bagisu is one of the cultural ceremonies you will encounter as it involves singing and dancing all-round the villages. This is quite a good adventure of foreign travellers
With its unique feature, Mount Elgon was gazetted as a national park in 1992 by the Uganda Wildlife Authority a body that is responsible for the wildlife protection in Uganda. The park covers an area of about 1,145 square kilometres and it was declared as a UNESCO man and Biosphere reserve for its unique feature. Mountain climbing/hiking to the Caldera is the main tourist attraction on Mount Elgon national park to the highest peak called Wagagai which is at 4,321 meters, Sudek peak which is at 4,303 meters, Koitobos peak which is at 4,222 meters and Mubiyi peak which is at 4,210 meters respectively.
Although the beautiful scenery of the mountain is not the primary attraction, Mount Elgon has a rich flora and fauna features that make it one of the best tourist attractions in Uganda. In regards to its vegetation, Mount Elgon national park slopes has a great diversity of altitudinal vegetation zones ranging from montane forest mixed with bamboo-belt forest to the immense open moorland scattered with huge groundsel and lobelia plants which are rarely spotted in Africa. Its thick shrubs and brilliant wild eternal flowers are also not to be missed during the hike. Mount Elgon has a massive watershed from a good number of Rivers; most interesting one is River Sipi that flows and forms the remarkable Sipi falls which is one of the most visited attractions in the Eastern part of Uganda. Mount Elgon has a diversity of animals and birds’ species that can be found and for purposes of conservation, mountain was gazetted as a national park. Some of the animals that in Mount Elgon national park include; tinny antelopes, forest elephants, waterbucks, duikers, spotted hyenas, squirrels, buffaloes, Oribi to mention a few and some primates including the blue monkeys, and th white Colobus monkeys. Bird species that have been recorded found inhabit in the park is about 300, some of them being endemic birds which easily adapt to the montane moorlands of East Africa, forest birds or migratory birds. Some of the birds include; Tucazze sunbird, Montane Francolin, Jackson’s Francolin, Red-throated Wryneck, Weyn’s weaver, Alpine chat, Hunter’s Cisticola, Marsh Widowbird, Moustached green tinker bird juts to mention a few
Mount Elgon national park is relatively easy to hike but travellers still require good physical fitness to hike to the peak. Mount Elgon national park has about 3 trail heads that lead to the mountain peaks of Wagagai, Sudek, Kiotobo and Mubiyi, these trailheads include; Sasa trail, Sipi trail and Piswa trail. The Sasa trail is one of the most direct routes to the peaks and it provided shorter hikes that start from Budadiri covering some of the most interesting features including the Sasa River Camp, Mudagi cliffs and Drigana lower falls through the steep rugged climbs of over 1600 meters from the start. Hiking Mount Elgon takes about 7km that is about four hours hiking through the bamboo trial to Kapkwai caves, tropical and bamboo forest. The Kapkwata trail which is also called Kiswa trail is a 5 km walk hike to the Tutum cave hidden within the extensive forest offers views of the Chebonet falls and Kiswa trails takes about 3km walk to Kapkwai caves following the ridge view. It’s also an excellent place for wildlife viewing as compared to the other two headrails. Sipi and Piswa trails start at a higher elevations and have more gradual climbs to the peaks. In Wanale area, a visit to Kahauka cave takes about 3 to 4 hours hiking however, visitors can view through Nabuyoga loop where they can easily see Jackson’s summit and Wagagai peak. Sipi trail is the most interesting trial that leads to the famous Sipi falls providing spectacular views of the surrounding scenery
Climbing Mount Elgon in Uganda on a full trekking circuit to the peak takes about 5 days trekking to complete and each trekking route is provided with camping sites with water supply, washrooms and tents pads. During the 5 days hike, travellers are offered trained and armed ranger guides who are knowledgeable about the trails, provide rich information about the experience and also offer security to the visitors. Porters are also available and they are highly recommended come along with an extra fee. On the start of your hoking experience, you will be briefed about the hike and ensure you have your hiking gears with you including the tents, beddings and trekking wear of good hiking shoes, bottled drinking water, long light pants, long sleeved shirts, and camera and binocular to complete the hike for the 5 days.
Other attractions to enjoy while on a Mount Elgon national park safari include; nature walks through the trials leading to incredible features like the caves, different vegetation, and wildlife species. Activities that can be enjoyed on a Mount Elgon national park include; bird watching, nature walks, Caves, hiking safaris, Mountain biking, hot springs visits, waterfalls and the ancient rock painting to mention a few
How to access Mount Elgon national park; Mount Elgon national park can be accessed from Kampala about 235kms to the Eastern part of Uganda on a tarmac road through Mabari forest – Uganda’s largest rainforest forest, Jinja town – home to the source of the Nile, then to Mbale district taking about 5-6 hours driving on road. As you approach Mbale area, sights of Mount Elgon can be spotted at a far given the weather conditions of the day. From Mbale town, the park can be accessed from the western base of Mount Elgon and also from Kapchorwa district on a tarmac road off Mbale – Soroti road to reach the various trailheads. The park can also be easily accessed by road for visitors driving from Kenya via Busia border or Malaba border and it is about 8 to 9 hours from Nairobi however a flight to Entebbe airport would be the best option. The park is divided by Uganda and Kenya border and the entire mountain on both sides are gazetted as national park.
When to visit Mount Elgon national park; Mount Elgon national park can be visited at any time of the year however you are advised to visit during the dry seasons when the rains are less. This is during the months of January, February, June, July, August, September and December. The low months of March, April, May, October and November. The park is always open year round for visitor. During the wet seasons, the hiking trials are quite slippery
Where to stay in Mount Elgon national park; Mount Elgon national park has less of accommodation facilities close to the park. The nearest best accommodations facilities are around Mbale town where is about 1 or 2 hours’ drive away from the starting point of the hikes. However, Sipi falls has very close and nice accommodation facilities close where visitors can stay. Some of the hotels around Mbale town include; Wash and Wills hotel, Mbale Resort Hotel while lodges around the Sipi fall include; Sipi River lodge, Lacam lodge, Sipi Falls resort, Noah’s Ark Hotel, Crown’s Nest Rest Camp and camping sites for those interested in camping.
In conclusion, Mount Elgon national park is not as popular as Mount Rwenzori or Mount Kilimanjaro however; its tourist visits keep increasing every year. A trip to Mount Elgon national park is a perfect get away from the hustle of the city. Plan a safari to the Eastern part of Uganda and visit incredible Sipi falls and climb to the the highest peak of Mount Elgon national park.