Lying on the border between Kenya and Uganda, Mount Elgon is said to have the largest surface area of any extinct volcano in the world and a caldera which covers over 40km2 at the top of the mountain. The highest peak, Wagagai, sits at 4,321m and is the second highest in Uganda (after Rwenzori) and the eighth highest in Africa, though millions of years ago it was the continent’s tallest.
Its cool heights offer respite for humans from the hot plains below and its higher altitudes provide diverse habitats for flora and fauna. The lower slopes are clothed in tropical montane forest with extensive stands of bamboo. Above 3000m the forest fades into heath and then afro-alpine moorland, which blankets the caldera. Rare plant species present here include the giant groundsel and the endemic Lobelia elgonensis. As far as mammals, the duiker are more commonly seen, but lucky visitors may catch a glimpse of leopard, buffalo, hyena or elephant. Birdwatchers will enjoy the endangered Lammergeier vultures, Jackson’s francolin, and white-starred forest robin.
Numerous day hikes depart from the Forest Exploration Centre near Sipi Falls, which the most popular being a trio of short loops taking in valleys, ridges, and caves.
From the Mbale side of the mountain it is possible to access the Wanale Ridge where day-long hikes can be organised to pass through a variety of heath and moorland landscapes with caves along the way.
Trekking to the Top
Mt Elgon is considered a good alternative to climbing Rwenzori in Uganda or Kilimanjaro in Tanzanis since it offers a milder climate, lower elevation and much more reasonable prices. The full trekking circuit to the peaks takes five days to complete, following either Sasa or Sipi trails.
GO 2East Africa organises this tour to start from Sipi Falls. Full-board accommodation before and after the trekking is included at the great Sipi River Lodge overlooking one of the many waterfalls. A day of hiking to the falls (1800m) is also included to help you adjust to the altitude and climate. Hence, you will need to allow a total of six days for this option.
All equipment is included, so you only have to bring good clothes, your camera, and… eh… yourself!! The best times to climb Mount Elgon are during the dry seasons of June-August and December-March. No technical climbing equipment or skills are required to reach the main caldera or the peaks. A choice of trails are available, making for interesting and unique flora, fauna, waterfalls, lakes, caves, gorges and hot springs.