Uganda, deservedly dubbed the Pearl of Africa, is located in the Great Lakes Region in East Africa and boasts an ecological diversity that rivals many larger countries. Here, Eastern savannah meets West African jungle – Uganda really does offer visitors incredible diversity with its multitude of varying ecosystems. Bordered by the Rwenzori Mountains (often called the Mountains of the Moon, the 3rd highest in Africa), the Virunga Mountains and Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria, it’s a beautiful country bursting with bird and wildlife.
Mount Elgon National Park
Mt. Elgon is an extinct volcano that first erupted more than 24 million years ago. With the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world (50 km by 80 km ), Mt. Elgon is the fourth highest mountain in Eastern Africa, with the second-highest peak in Uganda (Wagagi Peak – 4321 metres ). Mt. Elgon contains crater covering over 40 kms at the top of the mountain, surrounded by a series of rugged peaks.
The secondary forest and thick scrub along the Chebonet River near camp supports, African Goshawk, Chubb’s Cisticola, White-chinned Prinia, African Blue Fly-catchers, Chin-spot Batis, Mackinon’s Fiscal, Doherty’s and Luhder’s Bush-Shrikes and Baglafecht Weaver.
FLORA AND FAUNA
While ascending Mt. Elgon’s enchanting slopes, you will pass through dense montane forest and mixed bamboo belts teeming with birdlife. You will then enter the fascinating heath and moorland zones containing several interesting endemic plant species such as Giant lobelia and groundsels. Wildlife enthusiasts will be pleased to spot primates such as the Black and White Colobus Monkey, Blue Monkey, and hundreds of fascinating bird species, including Golden Winged and Tacazze sunbirds, Ross’s and Hartlaubs Turacos, Black and White Casqued and Crowned Hornbills, the endangered Lammergeier and the Jackson’s Francolin which is found nowhere else in Uganda. If you are particularly observant you can also see buffalo, duiker, hyena or even the elusive leopard.
Visiting Mount Elgon National Park ( MENP ) presents an exciting setting for extended hikes. In addition to the interesting and unique flora and fauna, you can expect to experience magnificent waterfalls, enormous caves, scenic peaks and gorges, and hot springs which bubble up at 48’C. The best times to visit are during the drier seasons from June to August and December to March. However, even in the wetter months trekking is manageable. No technical climbing equipping or skills are required, and all major peaks are accessible to hikers.
TREKKING TRAILHEADS AND ROUTES
There are two main trailheads (
starting points ) which lead to the mountain’s peaks. Salsa Trail ( Buddukiro
trailhead ) is the most easily accessible from Mbale and is the most direct
route to the peaks. It passes through the Park’s largest area of bamboo
forest. However it is also a steep and rugged climb of over 1600m on the
first day. For a more gentle climb ( 660m first day ) you may choose to
ascend via Pisa trail ( Kapkwata trailhead ). Along this route you can explore
a vast Podocarpus forest, an excellent place for wildlife viewing.
Five basic campsites are located at strategic points along the trekking circuit. Please respect Park regulations by camping only at designated campsites. No camping is allowed within the caldera. MENP camping is primitive, and all necessary camping equipment must be carried with you. Some items such as tents and sleeping bags can be hired through the Park office in Mbale. Make sure not to forget a warm jacket and rain gear, as extreme weather conditions will add to your Mt. Elgon adventure! Also please take a fuel-efficient camp stove if possible to avoid placing additional pressure on MENP firewood resources.
GUIDES PORTERS AND RANGER ESCORTS
Please support local community members and encourage continued conservation of MENP’s valuable resources by hiring local guides and porters. All certified guides have received training in natural/ cultural histories, emergency first aid and communication. Porters will assist you by carrying up to 18 kg of your gear as well as preparing meals, setting up/taking down your camp, and collecting your water. 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. Make sure to ask to see a guide’s license before hiring. For additional safety reasons, a Park 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 proceeding upwards.
The Forest Exploration Centre has three ” day ” trails ranging between 3 and 7 km. These trails offer an excellent opportunity to experience Mt. Elgon’s unique plants and wildlife in shorter time period. A fourth trail has recently been opened to reach the enormous Tutum Cave, 11 km from the centre. This trail also passes through a range of vegetation types and offers opportunities to see wildlife such as Black and White Colobus Monkeys and a variety of birds.
Simple accommodation facilities are available inside the Park at the Kapkwata Rest House and the 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.
LOCAL ATTRACTIONS OUTSIDE THE PARK
The magnificent Sipi Falls are located 66 km from Mbale, en-route to the Forest Exploration Centre and Kapkwata. Several trails in the area allow for intriguing day hikes through friendly local villages and beautiful farming country. Pleasant campsites and lodge facilities, including meal services and hot showers are available at Crow’s Nest located just before the Sipi trading centre. More expensive accommodation is available at the Sipi Falls Resort. Please enquire about guides to escort you on the gradual 1.5 hour walk to the Forest Exploration Centre. Seven rock-climbing routes are open at Nagudi rock, half-way between Mbale and Budadiri. The routes are bolted, but climbers must bring their own rock-climbing equipment. Each climber pays to the local Parish treasurer. More information and directions are available at the MENP Visitor’s Centre office in Mbale.
WHAT TO BRING
Tent, sleeping bag, warm clothes, gloves, hat, sturdy hiking shoes, flashlight, water bottle, rain gear, first aid kit, cooking equipment, sufficient food supplies.