MOUNT ELGON NATIONAL PARK
Mount Elgon National Park is located in Eastern Uganda and on the western border of Kenya. It is majorly made up of Mt. Elgon where its name was derived from; the mountain is an extinct volcano and considered to be one of the oldest mountains in East Africa, it’s a large mountain covering 80km in diameter and around 3070m in height, its higher altitude harbors a lot of flora and fauna.
Mount Elgon has 5 major peaks of which Wagagai summit is the highest of them at 4321m above; this makes it the second highest in Uganda after Mt. Rwenzori and the fourth in East Africa. Furthermore, this park is believed to have the largest caldera in the world an interesting feature one would not want to miss visiting while on safari.
It is a habitat to over 300 bird species and other animals such as elephants, buffaloes, antelopes, zebras, blue tailed monkeys, waterbucks among others. Also many plants have it as a habitat which gives it a beautiful scenic appearance especially how the vegetation varies, the vegetation changes with altitude.
Mount Elgon National park is a major water catchment area with around 3000mm of rain fall throughout the year, plants, animals, Ugandans and also Kenyans benefit from this water.
The major tribes that live around this park are the Bagishu, the Sabiny, and the Ndorobo. They live on the slopes and near the mountain. The Bagishu and the Sabiny are farmers and apart from that they have various customs such as circumcision which is a ceremony done at a certain time in a year to initiate boys to adulthood (this is among the Bagishu) and among the Sabiny it’s both males and females but the circumcision of women is reducing lately due to the many voices that are against it. They carry out different activities like coffee growing among others.
When to visit
Basically one of the major activities done in this park is mountain climbing and it can be done anytime throughout the year but it is advisable to climb it during the dry seasons of June to August and December to March. Also climbing this mountain needs when you are at least physically fit.
How to get there
The park can be accessed on road whereby its 235km from Kampala the capital of Uganda, it is a tarmac road that runs through the outskirts of Jinja town, to Mbale town, then continue there are off Mbale –Kapchorwa dirt roads that lead to the various trails of the park.
There are several trails that lead you to the top of the mountain. Some of them include;
Sasa trail: This route is near Mbale and starts from Budadiri town, as you move along it, you go through the largest coverage of the bamboo forest and the Jackson’s pool. This is the most accessible route since it takes 4 days to hike to the top.
Piswa trail: This is a 7 days journey from Kapkwata and it is a longer route that requires around 7 days to hike, it is started at a higher altitude than Sasa and as you hike through there are nice spots of viewing wildlife.
Sipi trail: To hike here still it takes 7 days and the journey starts a few kilometers away from Sipi falls, while using this trail one of the things you see is the amazing cave in the widespread forest.
What to do (Activities)
Mountain climbing: This is one of the most exciting and adventurous things to, it does not require any special or unique experience to climb as long as you are physically fit and you have a skilled guide who is well informed about the area you are good to go. The park doesn’t have roads like most parks in Uganda so it can be explored on foot for example having hikes or just walks around.
It can be climbed using the above trails, as you climb there are spectacular views of the mountain, changes in vegetation and the low plains. The major destinations are the peak (Wagagai) and the Caldera, but there are other added attractions that are seen along the way such as caves, waterfalls, flora and fauna, lakes, hot springs and many others.
There are local porters that make it simpler for you; they help in carrying your things like food and any other bags, collecting firewood, water, organizing the camp, and also cooking. They are paid basing on how long they are to do the work.
Other things you need while climbing include enough drinking water, snacks, warm clothes, tents, cameras, hats, sunglasses, torches, hats, sturdy shoes, rain coats and guide books.
Bird watching: While in this park most birds are spotted around Kapkwai forest exploration centre in the forest and thick shrubs, the birds that can be seen include; the Chubb’s Cisticola, the Baglafecht weaver, African Blue Fly-catchers, Chin-spot Batis, African Goshawk and many others.
Mountain biking: This is another amazing activity where by the mountain biking trails start from the sipi trading centre up to Chema hill in Kapchorwa town, this takes around one hour and a half, it gives you chance to see most spectacular views such as the different waterfalls.
Day hiking: While hiking you can follow trails and the hike can be done between 3 and 7km, this gives an unforgettable experience as you will have an opportunity to see various birds, primates like the blue tailed monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, various tree species, waterfalls and caves.
Cultural encounters: Bagishu grow a cash crop on the mountain side. Be a part of the local harvesting, roasting and processing of coffee. This coffee is grown on the mountain slopes and it’s called Arabica coffee, a visit to the plantations and the talk you have with the people in charge is something you cannot forget.
Nature walks: They can also be done outside the park where by you cannot miss out beautiful sunrise across the karamoja plains, the spectacular sipi falls and other areas.
Where to stay (Accommodation)
There are some accommodation facilities provided in the park such as self contained wooden cottages and dormitories at the Forest center at Kapkwai, at the Kapkwata Rest House. Kitchen services whereby you can cook for yourself so in most cases this requires you to buy enough food or you can provide money to buy you food. Other up market and midrange accommodation is found in Mbale and the Sipi area.
Also prior bookings for accommodation are highly recommendable since most facilities don’t have many rooms.
There is another option which is camping and this is majorly for those who are to climb to the top of the mountain. There 5 major campsites in the park and are well situated. They are not modern enough so camping materials are required to be carried there and they can be hired through the park office in Mbale district, the equipments include; tents, camp stoves, sleeping bags. Also don’t forget to carry warm coats and sweaters, gloves, rain gears and any other thing you would need.
This park covers an area equal to 1279sq km on the border of Uganda and Kenya on the foot slopes of Mount Elgon. On the Kenyan side the park occupies 163sq km while the larger area of the park is found on the Uganda side.
This mountain is an extinct volcano on the border of Uganda and Kenya located 140km north of the vast Lake Victoria. It is the fourth largest mountain in Africa standing at 4321m above sea level. in Uganda it is the second highest peak at Wagagai after Margherita on the Rwenzori.
The mountain’s rugged peaks are crowned with a crater lake at the top, waterfalls such as sipi and is an important water catchment for East Africa
The slopes of the mountain are covered in dense montane forests but giant lobelia and groundsel cover the rock on the high altitude. The mountain is a classified bio-diverse region with more than 300 species of exotic plants including the Elgon olive trees.
Wildlife and Attractions
There are many mammals living in Mount Elgon national Park. Some of the animals in the bamboo forests include White & Black colobus, Blue monkeys, Elephants, buffalo, duiker, hyena, chameleons and others
There are more than 100 species of birds in the park including Turaco, African go shawk, white winged sunbirds, crown hornbill, Jackson’s francolin, lammergeyer, Baglafecht weaver and many others.The Maathai long legged dragon fly was discovered at the mountain slopes and named after the Nobel Prize winner late Wangari Mathaai for her undying efforts on environmental conservation.
Other attractions in the park include Mt Elgon caves, waterfalls, hot springs, rivers, hanging cliffs and many other interesting sights at the peak. Hiking is a favorite adventure on the mountain on two well maintained trails. The entire hiking trail Wagagai Peak takes nearly 4-5 days. Hiking and touring the park is good during the dry season that starts in June to August and later in December to March.
There is basic accommodation and camping at Kapwakwai in the park while a number of campsitesa re located on the five stops on Mt Elgon Hiking trails. Private equipment such as sleeping bags, tents is used on camping adventures