Mount Elgon in Uganda (1)
Mount Elgon has the world's largest caldera, measuring approximately 60 kilometres long and 40 kilometres wide.

At 4,321 meters (14,177 feet) above sea level, Mount Elgon in Mount Elgon National Park is the second highest mountain in Uganda after the Rwenzori Mountains.

Table of contents: Facts about Mount Elgon in Uganda

Mount Elgon in Mount Elgon National Park is one of the highest mountains in Africa and the second highest in Uganda, after the Rwenzori Mountains, standing at 4,321 meters (14,177 feet) above sea level.

It is also the fourth highest peak in East Africa, with the highest peak being Wagagai, named after Masaba’s wife, who was the region’s king at the time.

On the Ugandan side, the mountain covers an area of approximately 1,121 square kilometres, including the districts of Mbale, Manafwa, Bududa, Sironko, and Kapachorwa.

The locals named the mountain Mount Masaba after a founding ancestor named Masaba who was said to have come from one of the mountain’s caves.

Elgon’s history

Mt. Elgon is also an extinct volcano formed by a volcanic process. This mountain first erupted almost 24 million years ago and last erupted ten million years ago, making it the world’s oldest and largest extinct volcano.

Mount Elgon features the world’s largest caldera, measuring around 60 kilometres in length and 40 kilometres in width. This particular caldera was formed as a result of magma being drained from the bottom, resulting in the cone collapsing. 

Scientists think that at one point in time, Mount Elgon was Africa’s highest peak until millions of years of erosion significantly diminished its height.

Mount Elgon’s rich slopes promote the growth of vegetation that varies in composition according to height. They consist of montane forests in the lower elevations, bamboo forests in the upper elevations, and alpine moorlands at the peak. Over 400 plant species and 143 bird species have been identified. 

Mount Elgon National Park is home to half of Uganda’s butterfly species, including the rare Maathai’s Lonleg dragonfly, which was discovered in 2000. 

The lower slopes of the mountains are home to a diverse range of species, including black-and-white colobus, blue monkeys, buffalo, elephants, red-tailed monkeys, spotted hyenas, Oribi, Defassa waterbuck, Bushbucks, and lesser antelopes.

The Sabiny and Bagisu are the two major tribes on the Ugandan side of the mountain.

These tribes depend on subsistence agriculture. The Bagisu tribe has specialized in the cultivation of Arabica coffee, which thrives in the lush soils of the mountains’ lower slopes. 

The Mountain Elgon national park headquarters are located in Mbale town along Masaba Road. This is the location where travellers can obtain information about the park or obtain permits for park-related activities such as hiking. 

Permits for activities in Mountain Elgon National Park are also issued by the Uganda Wildlife Authority’s office in Kampala.

The Elgon region receives abundant rainfall and has extremely fertile soils ideal for growing Bugisu Arabica coffee

Visitors can arrange an organized tour to learn about the coffee plantation, harvesting, and processing process. Typically, a local guide will take guests to the home of one of the area’s notable farmers. 

This activity can be carried out near the Sipi Falls or directly at the processing factory at Budadiri that purchases and processes agricultural products.

Climbing Mount Elgon

Climbing Mount Elgon (1)
There are numerous advantages to climbing Mount Elgon, including being less expensive, less difficult, and more comfortable even at the summit. PHOTO/UWA

Climbing Mount Elgon has several advantages over climbing the Rwenzori Mountains or Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro. It is less expensive, less difficult, and offers comfortable temperatures even at the summit. 

The distinctive aspect of ascending Mount Elgon is not reaching the Wagagai top, but rather descending from it to view the world’s largest caldera.

Mount Elgon takes between four and seven days to climb, depending on the trail used. There are three primary trailheads: the Salsa Trail, the Pisa Trail, and the Sipi Trail. 

The Salsa Trail, also known as the Buddukiro trailhead, is shorter but steeper. It begins near the town of Mbale and takes only four days to reach the summit. Though it is the shortest route, it passes through the park’s most dense bamboo forest. 

The Pisa trail, also known as the Kapkwata trailhead, is the second trail. This trek begins in woodland near Kapkwata and winds its way through magnificent Podocarpus trees. This is the longest (7 days), however, there are very few steep sections. 

The route offers views of the park’s animals and wildlife. The Sipi Trail, which begins at the Kapkwai forest exploration centre, is the third trail. 

The Sipi trek takes between four and six days to reach the summit.

Hikers can ascend via the Sipi Trail and descend by the Salsa Trail to view the best of everything and more of the mountain characteristics. 

Adventuresome hikers can begin on the Ugandan side and finish on the Kenyan side. Hikers who opt to end their hike in Kenya will require documentation to enter the country. 

The migration office in Mbale can assist in obtaining the border crossing documents requested by their Kenyan counterparts.

Before ascending to the summit, hikers must report to the Uganda Wildlife Authority offices located outside of the main town. 

International travellers can climb Mount Elgon for $75 per day, which includes park entrance fees. Additionally, the cost covers ranger/guide fees. 

Additionally, hikers must pay porters and cooks to accompany them and assist them in setting up camp. It is customary to tip guides, porters, cooks, and even park rangers.

Climbing the peak is permitted only in the company of a UWA ranger(s). Self-guided hikes are not permitted. If you book your trip with a private tour guide, have no fear; you will also be assigned a UWA ranger in addition to a private tour guide.

Though the peak is accessible virtually all year, the ideal months to climb Mt Elgon are June to August and December to February.

Other activities

Other activities on the slopes of Mount Elgon include cave exploration, bird watching, forest and nature walks, game drives and wildlife viewing, camping, visiting waterfalls, sport fishing, abseiling, mountain biking, and rock climbing, as well as spiritual, community, and cultural encounters.

How to Get to Mount Elgon

Jinja Nile Bridge photos (1)
Using the Jinja Nile Bridge, it is approximately 240 kilometers from Kampala to Mount Elgon. FILE PHOTO

Through the Jinja Nile Bridge, the distance between Kampala and Mount Elgon is approximately 240 kilometers. Although the roads are well-paved and built on the tarmac, the Kampala – Jinja expressway suffers from traffic congestion. 

From Kampala, it takes between 4 and 5 hours to reach Mbale town via Jinja and Iganga. 

Travelling by road provides the opportunity to stop and explore spectacular sights such as the Nile’s source and Mabira woodland. 

From Mbale town, you can travel to the park headquarters on the outskirts of town or directly to the nearest mountain climbing starting point at Budadiri. 

Visitors can rent a car or take public transportation to the park, although travelling with a reputable tour company is more convenient.

For visitors who do not enjoy lengthy road rides, a chartered aircraft from Entebbe international airport to Soroti airfield near Mount Elgon is available

One would need to travel approximately one hour by road from the airfield to reach Mbale town.

Last but not least, for an all-inclusive tour experience in Uganda, view our guide to Gorillas in UgandaSsese Islands, Cost of Gorilla TrekkingMurchison Falls National ParkLake Mburo National Park and Semuliki National Park.