ABOUT MOUNT ELGON
Locally known as “mt. masaba” a name of the founding ancestor of the Bagisu who assumed to have emerged from the cave of its slopes several centuries ago. The Masaba’s spirit is believed to be embodied by Jackson’s Summit but may be the taller Kiongo peak. Mt. Elgon is located on the Uganda-Kenya border only about 250 km from Kampala. It is also the oldest and largest solitary, volcanic mountain in East Africa with the largest volcanic base in the whole world. It is a vast form, 80km in diameter, rises more than 3,000m above the surrounding plains.
The mountain’s cool heights offer respite from the hot plains below, with the higher altitudes providing a refuge for flora and fauna which attract tourists.
The area receives a bimodal pattern of rainfall, generally, with the wettest period occurring from April to October. The mean annual rainfall ranges from 1500 mm on the eastern and northern slopes, to 2000 mm in the southern and the western slopes. The mean maximum and minimum temperatures are 23° and 15 °C respectively. Mid-slopes oriented towards the east and north, at an elevation between 2000 and 3000m which tend to be wetter than either the lower slopes or the summit.
Mount Elgon National Park covers 1,145 square kilometers which makes it to be ranked as the fourth highest mountain in East Africa and second in having the topmost peak in Uganda, towering up to 4321 meters. An extinct volcano, Mt. Elgon is believed to have stood taller than Mountain Kilimanjaro of today during the ancient times but because of erosion and other natural forces, the mountain has reduced its size and this mountain is also believed to have first erupted more than 24 million years ago. Although mountain Elgon is shared by the two neighboring countries (Uganda and Kenya), its highest peak the Wagagai peak found at 4321 meters is found on the Ugandan side. There are three other outstanding peaks on this mountain which are Kiongo (4303m), Mubiyi (4210m) and Jackson’s summit (4165m).
Mount Elgon National Park is a home to over 300 hundred bird species including the endangered Lammergeyer, mammals like small antelopes, elephants, buffaloes, forest monkey which live on the mountainside. The higher slopes of the mountain are protected by national parks in Uganda and Kenya, creating an extensive trans-boundary conservation area which has been declared by UNESCO and the Biosphere Reserve
A climb on Mt. Elgon’s deserted moorlands unveils a magnificent and uncluttered wilderness without the summit-oriented approach common to many mountains: the ultimate goal on reaching the top of the mt. elgon is not the final ascent to the 4321m Wagagai Peak, the descent into the vast 40km² caldera. This climb can take a full-day nature hike which leads from Budadiri to the Mudange cliffs, known as the Walls of Death, at the boundary of the national park. These cliffs are located in the tropical forest, which will give you a chance to encounter the blue monkeys, black-and-white Colobus and baboons which will be crossing the tracks
The mountain is also an important watershed for different rivers including River Sipi that forms the splendid Sipi falls which is one of the major attractions to this national park or area. The mountain slopes support an affluent range of vegetation zones like the montane forest, high open moorland covered by the mature giant lobelia and groundsel plants. The mountain has crater covering about 40kilometres on its top surrounded by a several rocky peaks. Mt. Elgon Park has a large collection of fauna and flora species, for example the Bamboo, heath and moorland zones plus animals such as leopards, Blue and White Colobus monkey, hyena and buffalos. The bird species comprise of the African Goshawk, Mackinon’s Fiscal, sthe Bablafecht weaver and many others
COMMUNITY / ETHINICITY
The Gisu people, or Bagisu (people of bagisu sub region), alternately Gishu, Masaba, or Sokwia, are the tribes of the Masaba nation of eastern Uganda who live on the slopes of the Mount Elgon. The bagisu are closely related to the Bukusu people who live on the boarders of Kenya, the Bamasaba live mainly in Mbale District. Gisu speak a dialect of the Lumasaba language called Lugisu, which is fully understandable by other dialects, and is also understood by the Bukusu.
The Gisu is one of Uganda’s Bantu tribes who inhabit the sunset gradients of Elgon Mountain. Their ancestral origins date back to 500 years ago when their masaba father emerged from caves of the Elgon Mountain locally known as Mount Masaba. It is believed that Masaba dwells in the upper slopes of the Mountain where he conducts his assemblies with lower divines; a frightening thing that can be compared to an encounter with Mudange Cliff while hiking on the same Mountain. The Bagisu community is one of those communities in Uganda without central authority in form of Kingdoms thus leadership is on clan basis with a non-hereditary chief elected by a council of elders. Holding that aside, the Bagisu people are well known for their Imbalu circumcision ceremony a tourist product worth visiting while on Uganda safaris. This practice date back to the tale that a certain Mugisu man was summoned by the council of elders because of stealing other men’s wives and then he was subjected to circumcision as a punishment and preventive action only to yield nothing as he became more powerful and admirable to women than ever before. The counterparts retaliated by circumcising themselves so as to compete favorably for women.
However other folks have it that the practice arose through contact with the adjacent Kalenjin of western Kenya who had similar tradition, which leaves the story about the Imbalu uncovered and one should always ask questions about this practice while in Bugisu land
ACTIVITIES TO DO AT MT. ELGON NATIONAL PARK
While at elgon you will be able to carry out Bird watching, mountain climbing, trekking, day hikes, caves and camping are among the major activities that you can involve into while at mt. elgon. A selection of attractions outside the park like lodging facilities, rock paintings, campsites in addition to the splendid Sipi falls placed 66 km from Mbale makes a trip pleasant. Community visits and participation in Imbalu dances, scenery walks from Budadiri trailhead can also be made and the incredible sipi experience
- Bird watching
Mount Elgon national park is one of the best national parks in Uganda you can carry out bird watching since it has about 300 bird species some of which are range specific on the other side on the Kenya-Uganda boarder.
Examples of range specific birds
- Bronze naped pigeon
- Tacazze sunbird
- Hartlaub’s Turaco
These range specific birds can only be found in Mount Elgon and also some other few mountains in the whole world, so if you are a birder or want to be one, this is the best place to do the bird watching. Besides the range specific birds, Mount Elgon has also a number of bird species like
Other bird species at elgon
- Yellow-billed Shrike
- Cape Robin-Chat
- Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat
- Spotted Morning-Thrush
- Mountain Yellow Warbler
- African Reed Warbler
- Little Rush Warbler
- Upcher’s Warbler
- Common Whitethroat
- Common Chiffchaff
- Brown Woodland Warblers
- Chubb’s Cisticola
- White-chinned Prinia
- Jackson’s Francolin
- Flora and Fauna
Mount elgon is also blessed with the beautiful vegetation and animal species because as you move along the slopes of Elgon; you will go through the chunky montane forest with mixed bamboo belts intensely characterized by a number flowers, birds as you will then join attractive moorland zones with several interesting endemic plant species like the Giant lobelia and groundsels. Lovers of nature will spot primates such as the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, buffalo, elusive leopard, duiker and the shy hyena. Attractive to see also at elgon are the forest monkeys that fill up the forest top, Bushbuck, Antelope, Civet, Wildcat, Bush Duiker, Jackal, Rock Hyrax and Elephant move around the tropical rain woodland which makes this national park favorite for the tourists who want to get the best experience and Nungi Safaris will be waiting for your inquiry to take you around
Mountaineering / Volcano climbing
Mount Elgon was once the highest mountain in Africa, but volcanic activity reduced over the centuries to where it is now. It is no longer an active volcano and is the largest intact mountain caldera in the world which makes it a best spot for climbers and it can be accessed from both countries of Kenya and Uganda since it’s located on the boarder of these two counties. The Ugandan side is the most used by all climbers because it gives you the best experience to reach the Wagagai peak. Many visitors interested in mountain climbing see Mount Elgon as an easier mountain to climb and yes it is easy because there are no skills required to enjoy a mountain climbing experience on Mt elgon thus an average hiker or biker can enjoy this experience as well and this is made easy by your guide and porters who guide you up and down the mountain and also help you carry you bags to make the climb lighter
What you should expect while on a climb at Mount Elgon
While on the climb, you are guaranteed to see the change of vegetation belts as you go higher on the mountain and this is because of the varying climatic conditions on the different levels on the mountain. On the lower slopes you will find dense forest and due to the rainfall in the area the trees are often covered with thick leaves, vine like lians and epiphytes while the forest floor seems to be carpeted with ferns and flowering plants such as wild orchids. The Bamboo forest region is next at about 2,000M high, beyond that level there is an open woodland forest, further on up you have giant heathers in meadows of grass and flowers, onward and upward to the Afro-Montane zone with its giant lobelias an groundsel and this could be the best moments in life to experience climatic changes in one day and yes…..you have to let us make you discover for yourself. There is a lot of history and geography to be learnt as you climb and explore this great caldera because your guide and the local porters will be narrating more history and geography about this mountain and its features
On the foothills of the mountain, you can hear the sounds of the sipi falls flowing down the stream sipi river and yes before you leave eastern part of the country, sipi falls is a must visit because it will give a spectacular experience of the trip adding it to the climb because while on top of the sipi falls, you will be able to have a clear view of kapchorwa and lake kyoga
Trekking Routes to the elgon highest peaks
- Salsa river route/ trial head. This is mainly reachable easily from Mbale and a direct route to the peaks going via the Park’s largest area of bamboo wooded area which will also give you a good chance of seeing Colobus and Blue Monkeys, as well as other wildlife, and side trips to waterfalls, hot springs, the crater floor and other summits. And this route is mostly used by several climbers because it is short though steep.
- Pisawa /Kapkwata route/trail head, a calm climb can cover up 660metres on the first day deciding to climb through here. As you move on this route, you can see the sights of the vast Podocarpus forest, an admirable place for flora and fauna watching. An entire trekking journey to the mountain peaks runs for 4-5 days. It is worthwhile that visitors talk about the trekking options with the information clerks at the Mbale, Budadiri or Kapkwata Visitors’ Centers. This route is longer than the salsa route but less steeper
- Sipi route. This is a new route that has been constructed from Sipi Falls which makes a fine loop with the Salsa River Route, and the round trip distance is 56km
What to come with for Mount Elgon climbing
- Sleeping air bag
- Good hiking shoes
- Enough / plenty drinking water
- First aid kit
- Warm cloths/ rain coats
- Gloves and hat
- Flash light
- Cooking materials
- Enough foodstuffs
- Fuel cooking stove to save the wood fuel
Since you are going to camp, tourists are advised to respect the camping rules by staging camps on only gazzated sites and no camping in the caldera will be accepted. Also you are requested to support the local guides who will be helping you to carry you bags and on other things, so carry with you enough tipping money
- Visiting of the Caves
Mount Elgon’s slopes are covered with caves left by moving lava and erosion of soft volcanic deposits during the formation of this volcanic mountain. The most accessible are Kapkwai Cave, near the Forest Exploration Centre, and Khauka Cave on Wanale Ridge. Historically, such features acted as shelters for locals and their livestock; later on they provided manure in the form of bat droppings and this manure has been collected by local people to use in their gardens. More recently, these caves have been used by climbers and their porters, and even today, campsites are still located at Hunters Cave, Siyo Cave (near the hot springs), Mude Cave and Tutum Cave and yes these caves are ideal for overnight expedition which you do not have to miss while on your mount elgon trip
ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE MT. ELGON NATIONAL PARK
- Imbalu circumcision ceremony
Whatever the origin, the Imbalu circumcision ceremony held during even years is personal rite of passage to man hood among the Bagisu. The year for initiation is determined by the person himself and not necessarily a council of elders or a convention. The age range between 16 and 26 is acceptable. Those who elect to be circumcised in any given year announce their intention in May or June and spend the next few months preparing for it. The key observable aspect of the arrangements involve the initiate, decorated in plantain fronds or animal skins and ash plastered face and escorted by a crew of encouraging friends marching and dancing via the streets to connect to his close relatives and seek their approval. The function is conducted in august thus can be incorporated in your Ugandan safaris and usually occurs before 10:00am.
Regardless of other African areas where circumcision is carried out indoors with few associates in presence, the Bagisu declared it a public function even allowing tourists to attend. The operation lasts one hour in which the circumciser makes three bold cuts to remove the foreskin before the whistle is blown to mark the exercise completed. The initiate raises his hands victoriously, dancing, proudly exhibiting his blooded fellow to an ululating crowd. Crying during the process would mean cowardice thus forbidden. He is then led to the quiet place seated and wrapped in a cloth before bleeding ceases. He is continued to the fathers home and hand fed for three consecutive days before he is ritually washed and permitted to eat with own hands marking the end of the ritual. This is one of those last amazing experiences that can still authentically be traced on the African continent thus considering it when planning for your safari in Uganda and Nungi safaris will be glad if you book with us and we take you through such kind of experience even its outside the national park, you can’t miss to enjoy it
- Sipi falls experience
Sipi falls is truly a gem in the East, in that no one leaves the eastern part of Uganda without visiting such an incredible site because the waterfalls are a sight to behold. They have such a scenic beauty and the roaring sound of waters falling down a steep rock which makes it so…….so…….magnificent!! For you to enjoy it before you leave the place. Sipi fall tour is worth a trip to the eastern parts of Uganda because it gives you a chance to explore the caves behind the falls and the trails can take you to the top of the falls where you will be able to see the beauty of water from the above. And yes this aerial view is breathtaking and spectacular!!
Also at Sipi Falls, guides from the local community can organize walks of a few hours up to a full day around local viewpoints. In Kapchorwa, a 20-minute Sunrise Trek at 6am from Noah’s Ark Hotel leads to the nearby Tewei Hill to watch dawn spreading across the vast Karamoja plains at the base of the mountain
All in all Mount Elgon and Sipi falls are two very good reasons to visit Eastern Uganda while on your Uganda safari that’s why we recommend you to not miss it on your itinerary and if you want to check more packages about this wonderful experience in the eastern parts of Uganda you can check out our site
Scenic viewing point
A trip to Bulago off the Mbale-Sipi road reveals a village standing high above a waterfall facing the Simu Valley towards Butandiga ridge. The route to Kapchorwa beyond Sipi Falls to the north provides a stunning view towards Mount Kadam and the vast plains of Karamoja. The top of the Sironko Valley in Budadiri, enclosed by the Mudangi Cliffs and the Nkonkonjeru Ridge, provides a picturesque view of the montane forest and caldera peaks. Visitors should also drive to the top of Wanale Cliff for panoramic views over the town of Mbale and at this spot you will enjoy the clear view of the old Mbale town and also take photos with Mbale town in your back ground thus you cannot leave the east without visiting such a beautiful and magnificent spot
- Visiting of the nyero rock paintings
These ancient rock paintings are 65km north of Mbale; the Nyero Rock Paintings are the finest of several rock art sites in the region. Three panels are found within the extensive granite outcrop of Moru, Ikara, and 10km from Kumi Town and 55km from Mbale on the Soroti road. The most impressive is Panel 2 which includes two canoes bearing human figures and yes about historical rocks you need to see these fingers by yourself because they real ………..!!!!!
Mount Elgon National Park lies 235km east of Kampala where you drive on a tarmac road which runs through Jinja to Mbale town at the western base of Mount Elgon, before climbing to Kapchorwa on the mountain’s north-western flank; you will drive on the dirt roads that lead off the Mbale-Kapchorwa road to reach the various trailheads. After reaching these trailheads, you will get off the car and start the beautiful experience of climbing the mountain with a goal of reaching the highest Wagagai peak.
A 4*4W car advised to be used through all the Uganda safaris because some of the roads can be muddy during the rainy seasons
WHEN TO VISIT MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Mount Elgon lower slopes are fine and ideal for visiting throughout the year so if you love traveling around the world, this is the best place to visit because you can come at any time of your convenience However, June to August are the most favorite months to give you the best of mount elgon national park to carry out all activities and then December to March are the most outstanding months for those interested in the most beautiful Elgon climbing experience though you can visit the national park at any time of your convenience throughout the year and Nungi safaris will always be at your service to make you discover and adventure more about elgon and East Africa as a whole.
ACCOMMODATION AT Mount Elgon national park
Easy accommodation facilities are on hand inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai. Early arrangements through the Mount Elgon National Park Visitors’ office in Mbale are necessary as these facilities do not provide accommodation for large numbers of visitors. Cookery services are offered, but visitors should bring their own food supplies or have money to buy food upon arrival. The Forest Exploration Centre also carries out a four-day environmental program for school groups of up to 30 students which allow children to experience a living forest environment while learning the importance of environmental conservation this place has a dormitory -form rooms and bathing facilities with running water, there is also gazetted camping areas on the mountain which require one to have his or their own, tents, cooking stove, sufficient food stuffs and others
Other accommodation places out the national park
- Mbale resort
- Sunrise inn
- Crown suites hotel
- Mount elgon hotel
- Kayegi hotel
- Green gardens hotels