Climbing Uganda’s Mount Elgon

Straddling the border with Kenya and one of Uganda’s 10 national parks, Mount Elgon is Africa’s eighth-highest mountain. Millions of years ago a volcanic eruption created the world’s largest mountain caldera and three of the five major peaks that now surround the cadera lie in Uganda, including the highest – Wagagai (4321m).

After celebrating new years in Jinja, and an epic day white water rafting, we jumped on a couple of taxis to the park headquarters in Mbale. (Confusingly in Uganda, taxis are actually 14 seater minibuses that usually seat 20!).

There are three trekking routes on the mountain and we chose a four-day route up the (steep) Sasa River trail and ‘down’ the (incredibly undulating) Sipi trail. We were planning to spend a few days relaxing near Sipi falls after the trek and this was a great way to get there.

Views heading up to the summit (not the mountains you see!)

It was a very pretty trek through ever-changing vegetation zones; lush bamboo forest, thick rain forest with moss-covered tress, afro-alpine moorland studded with giant sonecias, a close cousin of the lobelia, and heath teeming with colourful wild flowers.

Heading up to the summit past wild flowers and sonecios
Views on day three

From the summit, which luckily was framed by a bright-blue sky, we enjoyed wonderful views across the caldera into Kenya.

What a feeling
Views across the caldera

We had lots of time to admire the vegetation as days were long and we trekked 78 km over the four days. It was a tough trek: altitude gains of 1800m and 800m in the first two days respectively while not a single km of the the third day’s 32 km was flat as we went up and over ridge after ridge after ridge after ridge!

We walked through lots of forest and this was taken on the first day up to Mude River camp

The long days were dry and often hazy though we were very lucky with our views on the summit day. We were trekking just after the rainy season so everything was incredibly lush and green.

View of Sipi waterfall 2

We were knackered as we made our way into Sipi and decided against walking to the waterfalls; choosing instead to admire then from various view points whilst enjoying local coffee and beers!

Nor a bad spot for some trip planning! Overlooking Sipi”s main 99m high waterfall

Detailed Trek:

Day 1 – Boda boda from Budadiri to Bumisola (1700m), 1800m altitude gain, 11.5 km and 8 hours to Mude River Camp (3500m)

Day 2 – 800m altitude gain, 18 km and 3.5 hours to the summit (and 2 down)

Day 3 – Mude River Camp to Tutum Camp (2600m), 32 km and 10 hours

Day 4 – Tutum Camp to Sipi (1700m), 17 km and 4.5 hours

Can you arrange independently?

Absolutely! And it’s incredibly easy to do so – we made our way to the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) park headquarters in Mbale to discuss route options and then organised our trek at the UWA office in Budadiri, one of three trailheads and an hour’s ‘taxi’ away.


1. We were advised to buy our dry food (pasta, tea, coffee, biscuits etc) in Mbale; fresh fruit, eggs, bread etc can be bought in Budadiri.

2. It gets cold at Mude River Camp so be sure to have warm gear and a warm sleeping bag.

3. The start of the trek on the final morning is through thick forest with loads of stinging nettles so best to keep long trousers on.

Costs (US $)

  • Park Fee – 75/person (this includes the mandatory guide)
  • Camping – 4/person/night
  • Cook – 5.5/day
  • Porter – 5/day
  • Food – 50
  • Boda Boda – 8 (motorbike transport to the start for the whole group)

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