Mount Elgon is a treasure of eastern Uganda is an extinct dormant volcano lying on the border of Uganda and Kenya north of Kisumu and west of Kitale village. Mount Elgon is a vast feature covering 80 kilometers in diameter at the altitude of 10,070 feet is the oldest extinct volcano and according to geologists, it is more than 24 million years old. It is was once the highest mountain in Africa than mountain Kilimanjaro but due to constant volcanic process over years it was reduced to its current height of being the fourth highest in East Africa and seventh in Africa with the second highest peak in Uganda that is wagagai peak at the height 0of 4321 meters.
Mountain Elgon the largest intact mountain with a largest caldera in the world covering over 40 kilometers on top is found in the western province, north of Kakamega West of Kitale a town on its foothills is a perfect destination in Africa and most significant natural feature locally known as mount Masaba (Masaba was a founding ancestor of the Gishu people who is believed to have come from the caves found on the slopes of Mount Elgon a hundred years ago). Mount Elgon is of the best safari destination in Africa and home to mountain Elgon National Park with conducive climatic conditions,
The mountain receives rainfall throughout the year supporting the growth various vegetation zones at different heights that is open woodland filled with ferns and flowering orchids on floor of the mountain, dense forest trees on the lower slopes with lichen, vines like lianas and epiphytes, heathers in meadows of grass and flowers, bamboo forest at the altitude of 2000 metres, afro montane zone with giant lobelias and groundsel. Plants on the slopes of the mountain include various plant species which include Ardisiandra wettsteinii, Carduus afromontanus, Echinops hoehnelii, Ranunculus keniensis, and Romulea keniensis.
Mountain Elgon consists of many attractions with caldera and peaks as the major attractions, the Elgon caldera is one of the largest intact calderas the world at the area of 40 kilometers on the mountain top. It has 5 peaks in number which are good for hiking and major tourist attractions in the mountain. They include Wagagai the tallest of them at 4,321 meters and found in Uganda, Sudek peak standing at height of 4,302 meters found on the border of Kenya and Uganda, Koitobos at height of 4,222 meters found a flat-topped basalt column in Kenya, Mubiyi at height of 4,211 meters (13,816 ft.) in Uganda and Masaba peak at height of 13,652 ft. found in Uganda.
Mount Elgon is a UNESCO world heritage site which also harbors various fauna species which include mammals like buffaloes, small size antelopes, and elephants, Oribi, Defassa’s waterbuck, duiker, squirrels, spotted hyenas primates including forest monkey, white colobus monkey blue monkey and over 299 bird species making mount Elgon a paradise for bird lovers. Mount Elgon is a home to forest and endemic bird species on registered in this area including the 12 extinct bird species of Weyn’s weaver, Jackson’s francolin, Marsh Widowbird, Moorland Francolin, Alpine chat, Moustached green tinker bird, Hunter’s Cisticola, Red-throated wryneck as well as the black-collared apalis, other birds include Blackcap, Common Whitethroat Cape Robin-Chat, Blue-shouldered Robin-Chat, Little Rock-Thrush, Northern Anteater Chat, , Mountain Yellow Warbler, Nightingale, Spotted Morning-Thrush, African Reed Warbler, Little Rush Warbler, Upcher’s Warbler, Common Chiffchaff, the Uganda and Brown Woodland Warblers, Green Hylia, White-browed Crombec, Yellow-bellied Hyliota, the Stout, Thrilling, and Rattling Cisticolas.
Other outstanding tourist attractions on Mount Elgon include Old cave painting near the trailhead found at Budadiri and Hot springs inside the crater. The Famous Imbalu dances and ceremonies conducted by native people during the initiation ceremonies which are a culture to the Bagishu people attract alot of travelers. There are warm springs by the Suam River, Endless Bluff of 2,563 metres and Ngwarisha, Makingeny, Chepnyalil, and kitum. The Kitum cave cover is over 60 meters in the area with a penetration of 200 metres containing salt deposits which attract wild elephants to lick the salt exposed by gouging the walls with their tusks. The cave became famous after the publication of Richard Preston’s book in the names of The Hot Zone in 1994 for its association with the Marburg virus after two people who had visited the cave losing their lives, one in 1980 and another in 1987 the cave after contracting the disease. Mountain Elgon’s soil texture is composed of red laterite soils. The huge vast mountain is also a catchment area for several rivers which includes River Sipi that forms Sipi falls, the Turkwel downstream Suam River which drains into Lake Turkana, river Nzoia and Lwakhakha River which flows to Lake Victoria and Chebonet falls.
Mountain Elgon National Park is a road-less park where exploration is only done on foot having two sections one of Uganda and Kenyan sector. Kenya’s sector was the first sector to be gazetted and later Uganda’s sector was also gazetted, as a tourist you can do hiking in both sectors but requires making an arrangement with both authorities governing the two sectors that is Uganda wildlife Authority and Kenya wildlife service. The slopes of the mountain Elgon are home to four tribes that is Gishu people, Sapiinjak, Sabaot (Elgon Masai) and Ogiek (Ndorobo).
Major activity on mountain Elgon is Hiking to the peaks: Hiking is a thrilling main activity attracting a million of tourists to Mount Elgon because of the spectacular view observed. While hiking you get a chance to see the magnificent Sipi falls, stone age cave painting, scenic mountain peaks, the hot springs that bubble up at 4800°C, gorges and marvelous vegetation. Hiking is headed by a tour guide and follows various trails while lead you to the top of the Mountain, these trails include
- Sasa trail which is the most accessible trail close to Mbale town & it is a 4 days route starting from Budadiri town with a direct route to the peaks. On this trail leads to the Wagagai peak you come to navigate through bamboo forest and Jackson’s pool.
- Sipi trail of 7 days starting from the Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai a few kilometers Sipi Fall which lies just outside the park, on this trail you visit the spectacular Tatum cave found amidst the forest.
- Piswa trail of 7 days starts from at Kapkwata which is 30km beyond Kapchorwa, this trail is filled with a podocarpus forest and leads to the caldera.
- Suam trail, this trail is less famous starting at the village of Suam on the Kenyan border crossing. It trails down to Suam River Suam Gorge to the hot spring on the east of the caldera.
The best time to do hiking on Mount Elgon is during dry months of June – august and December–March though hiking is done throughout the year and you need the following essentials
- Waterproof clothes because it rains unexpectedly
- Parked lunch and water
- Strong less weighting hiking shoes
- Long-sleeved shirts
- Hiking stick and a porter to help you carry your bag
Other activities include Hiking to Sipi falls, touring the cave, birding, and wildlife.
Mountain Elgon is 235km east of Kampala the capital city of Uganda a 3-4 hours’ drive and can be reached using Kampala-Jinja-Mbale-Kapchorwa highway. Accommodation can be found at the Sipi River Resort, Mbale resort, and Forest Exploration Centre at Kapkwai.