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Mount Elgon National Park

Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

About Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park surrounds a giant, mist-wreathed extinct volcano straddling Kenya’s western border with Uganda. This is where mighty Mount Elgon, one of Africa’s oldest volcanoes, thrusts almost 3km into the sky above the plains of western Kenya. A mystical landscape crisscrossed by cliffs, caves, and waterfalls, interrupted by calderas and hot springs, all watched over by several towering mountain peaks. Come on a Mount Elgon National Park safari, to explore the depths of this remarkable volcanic landscape.

When to Visit Elgon National Park:

Year-round but June to August and December to March probably best.

Mount Elgon National Park – Walking in the Footsteps of Giants

Awesome is probably the first adjective that comes to mind when one considers how to describe Mount Elgon! This ancient extinct volcano is the largest free-standing volcano in the world, and has an enormous base that measures 80km in diameter! This colossus was created when the earth’s crust erupted during the formation of the famous East African Rift Valley, and the highest of the mountain’s peaks reach over 4kms (4320mt) above sea level.

The very remote situation of the Mount Elgon National Park ensures that it is well off the beaten track, and it remains one of Kenya’s last truly untouched wilderness areas. The park is bisected by the Kenya/Uganda border and is jointly managed by the Uganda and Kenyan Wildlife Services. The entire park has been declared a UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve, and it is also an IBA, (Important Bird Area).

Mount Elgon could also be one of the best National Parks in the country to enjoy game watching on foot – still completely wild with large unexplored tracts of forest, Mount Elgon National Park is a paradise for walkers, hikers, rock climbers, bird watchers and all true Nature lovers. There is plenty of wildlife to observe, caves to explore, peaks to scale and natural pools and waterfalls to discover.

One of the key features of the park is the diverse and unique vegetation, which ranges from lush Montane Forest up to 2,500mt, followed by a mixed Bamboo, Heath and Podocarpus zone up to 3,500mt. Above 3,500mt you come to the Moorland zone, which has the largest number of endemic plant species in the park and includes, among others, clusters of Giant Lobelia, which are unique to East Africa.

What to Do in Mount Elgon National Park

Although there are game drives available in the park, the greatest emphasis is on discovering this natural gem on foot.  Here are some of the activities you can look forward to:

  • 4X4 Game Drives

  • Walking and Hiking 

  • Climbing and Trekking

  • Cave exploration

  • Horse Riding

  • Bird Watching

  • Camping

4X4 Game Drives

There are various game drives that will take you to some of the best game-viewing areas of the park, as well as to a few amazing look-out points and picnic sites.  The KWS picnic sites are well signposted and are sited at a number of spots that offer magnificent vistas out over the dramatic landscape.  Make sure your drive includes a visit to Elephant Platform and Endebess Bluff, two of the best viewpoints.

Walking and Hiking

There are several marked trails for walkers and hikers, which will take you through some really spectacular scenery, and up to the caves.  Most of these are day-walks and pleasant rather than taxing, and making your way through the stunning scenery on foot is your best opportunity to spot the wildlife.  The walk from the parking lot to Endebess Bluff is quite steep and takes around 25 – 40 minutes, but the view is spectacular and makes up for the rather steep track.  

Climbing and Trekking

Mount Elgon is often overlooked as a trekking destination, but it has a great deal to offer visitors.  For one thing, it is a lot less crowded than Mt. Kilimanjaro and the routes are less strenuous, making for a much more relaxed (but still challenging!!) climb. There is less chance of developing Altitude Sickness, and no technical climbing skills are required. There are several different routes to the peaks on the Kenyan side (Lower Elgon, Sudek, Koitoboss and Endebess Peaks) and they are all accessible to anyone with a good level of fitness and reasonable hiking or trekking experience. You can scale one of the summits in a day, but this is not the ideal way! Rather take your time and plan to spend around 3 – 4 days trekking to give yourself enough time to enjoy all the sights along the way. You will need to bring all your own food, water, a good sleeping bag and a light, waterproof tent.

Caving

One of the most striking attractions of Mount Elgon National Park is its Lava Tube caves.  There are four accessible caves which can be explored on foot, namely  Kitum, Makingeni, Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha, and what makes them so unique is that they are a favourite visiting place for Elephants and other wildlife who come to lick and scratch the mineral-rich salt deposits, to supplement their diet.  Kitum Cave is the largest and extends over 200mt into the mountain; until fairly recently it was used by the local communities for traditional ceremonies.  It is also a good place to observe Bats.  Remember to bring a torch – the caves are dark!

Horse Riding

This a wonderful way to get really close to the wildlife which seems to be totally unfazed by humans when they are on horseback!  There are a number of trails available from KWS.

Bird Watching

Bird watching is excellent in Mount Elgon National Park, where 240 species of birds have been recorded.  Your best chance of seeing as many birds as possible is to avail yourself of the marked walking trails and set off quietly with your camera and binoculars.  The designated picnic sites are also good spots for birding.

Camping

If you love the idea of waking up to the dawn chorus of birds and stepping out of your tent into the pristine African bush, you will love camping in Mount Elgon National Park! There are three public campsites, namely Nyati, Chorlim and Rongai.  Ask your Tour Operator to book in advance through KWS in Nairobi. You need to be completely self-sufficient as there are no shops in the park.  

Where is Mount Elgon?

Mount Elgon sits astride the Kenya Uganda border and, while it offers similar trekking possibilities to Mount Kenya, its location makes it a far less popular goal. The lower altitude also means that conditions are not so cold, although rain can be more frequent here than on Mt Kenya. The mountain is an extinct volcano and the national park extends from the lower slopes right up to the border. The highest peak is Wagagai,4321 metres, which is actually on the far side of the crater in Uganda. The highest peak on the Kenyan side is Koitoboss. The Mt Elgon range is the fourth highest in East Africa after Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya and the Ruwenzori’s. There are warm springs in the crater itself. the floor of which is around 3500 m above sea level. The mountain’s biggest attraction is the elephants, renowned the world over for their predilection of salt, the major source of which in the caves on the mountain slopes. The elephants are such keen excavators that some have gone so far as to claim that the elephants are totally responsible for the caves. Sadly, the numbers of these saline loving creatures have declined over the years mainly due to incursions by poachers from the Ugandan side. There are three caves open for visitors, Kitum, Chepnyali and Mackingeny. Kitum is the one which you are most likely to see elephants, while Mackingeny is the most spectacular. Obviously a good torch is essential if you want to explore the caves. Kitum Cave has been associated with the fatal Ebola virus, following the death of two people who visited the cave. However, other people have safely visited the cave since. Research about Ebola is inconclusive, but there may be some risk of contracting it in Kitum Cave so the cave is probably best avoided at this point. A less obvious attraction is the range of vegetation found on the mountain. Starting with rainforest at the base, the vegetation changes as you ascend to the bamboo jungle and finally alpine moorland with the giant groundsel and giant lobelia plants. The lower forests are the habitat of the impressive black and white colobus monkey along with many other species of birds and animals. Those most commonly sighted include buffalo, bushbuck, giant forest hog and Sykes monkey. Elgon can be a wet place at any time of the year, but the driest months seem to be December, January and February. As well as the waterproof gear you are going to need warm clothes as it gets cold up here at night. Access to the 170 sq km national park is now permitted without a vehicle. A ranger will escort you to the campsite, which is one km inside the park. Escort is also required on any walks you may want to do on the lower forested slopes such as to the caves, for which a small fee may be payable

What to See in Mount Elgon National Park

A visit to Mount Elgon is not your typical Kenya safari! Yes, there is a good deal of wildlife to see in this beautiful national park, but this is one place where the landscape will definitely vie with the animals for your attention. After you have explored the caves and visited the amazing viewpoints, you can turn your attention to the wildlife and see how many of the following you can tick off your checklist:

  • Elephant – there are more than 400 Elephants in the park

  • Buffalo

  • Bushbuck

  • Red and Grey Duiker

  • Waterbuck

  • Giant Forest Hog

  • Zebra

  • Leopard (seldom seen – they always see you first!)

  • Colobus and Blue Monkeys

Birdlife is abundant in this protected mountain environment. Three of eight Kenya Mountain endemic bird species can be found here, namely:

  • Hartlaub’s Turaco, 

  • Bronze-naped Pigeon 

  • Tacazze Sunbird.

In addition, the following three rare species are also resident:

    • Hunter’s Cisticola

    • Jackson’s Francolin

    • Lammergeyer – highly endangered

These particularly rare birds are joined by a long list of other equally fascinating (but not so rare!) feathered friends.

Where to Stay in Mount Elgon National Park

There is the very limited choice when it comes to accommodation in and around the Mount Elgon National Park, and certainly, nothing that could be classed as luxurious; however, the unique location makes up for the fact that you may have to rough it a little for a night or two.

Inside the park, there are a couple of self-catering cottages and bandas that can be rented through KWS Headquarters in Nairobi. They provide basic but comfortable accommodation with hot water showers and equipped kitchens. You have to bring all your own supplies.

If you prefer to camp there are three public campsites – here you also need to be fully self-sufficient, but it is a most enjoyable experience for seasoned campers.

In the nearby towns of Kitale and Eldoret are various hotel and guesthouse options. One of these, that consistently receives great reviews from guests is the Karibuni Lodge, located just outside Kitale.  The lodge provides clean and comfortable lodging and excellent home-cooked meals.  

Mount Elgon Lodge is an impressive colonial structure in a very lovely setting, but has unfortunately not retained its former grandeur!  However, the location of the lodge is unbeatable as a base to explore Mount Elgon, National Park. If you decide to stay here, request one of the newer rooms in the outside wing, and you should have a comfortable stay.

How to Reach Mount Elgon National Park

You can get to Kitale by road from Nairobi, but it is a really long drive and will take at least 6-7 hours. If you are planning to drive, we would suggest you break your journey and spend a night or two at Lake Nakuru, which is about halfway.  If time is a factor, a much better option is to fly from Nairobi to Eldoret or Kitale.  

Have we whetted your appetite yet?  Are you ready for a really great adventure safari to explore the magnificent scenery of Mount Elgon National Park?  Let Tranquil Safaris put together the ideal itinerary for you to enjoy one of the best-kept secrets in Kenya.  Call our expert consultants now and get ready for an authentic Kenyan Mountain Safari Adventure.

 

Mount Elgon National Park Safaris

Wildlife at Mount Elgon National Park

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