Mount Elgon National Park

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Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park is an extinct shield volcano on the border of eastern Uganda and western Kenya. Its highest peak, Wagagai, is located in Uganda and reaches an elevation of 4,321 meters (14,177 feet), making it the eighth-highest mountain in Africa.

Elgon is known for being home to one of the largest intact calderas in the world, a spectacular geological feature formed by the collapse of the volcano’s center. The slopes of Mount Elgon are fertile, supporting farmland and a variety of flora and fauna.

It also serves as a major water catchment area, with numerous rivers originating from the mountain, thus playing a crucial role in the regional water supply. The area is home to Mount Elgon National Park, a shared conservation area between Uganda and Kenya.

Two different national authorities run it, the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Slight differences might exist regarding specific areas of interest, accessibility, infrastructure, visitor facilities, and regulations.

Despite its beauty and accessibility, Mount Elgon is less frequented than Africa’s higher peaks, making it a hidden gem for outdoor enthusiasts. Visiting Mount Elgon National Park from either the Kenyan or Ugandan side offers an experience full of natural beauty and diverse wildlife. While both sides share similar features, there are key differences.

Kenya: The Kenyan side is well-known for its famous “elephant caves” like Kitum and Makingeni, where elephants venture deep into mine salt deposits.
Uganda: On the Ugandan side, you can hike up to Wagagai, the highest peak of Mount Elgon, a unique experience unavailable on the Kenyan side.

Also, there could be differences in the services and facilities offered, given different national authorities manage them. Regardless of which side you choose, visiting this lesser-known gem guarantees an adventurous nature exploration.

What can I do in Mount Elgon National Park? The park opens from 6 am to 6 pm. Although different activities depend on which side you visit, we will focus on the ones you can do on the Kenyan side. Hiking and Climbing: You can embark on multi-day treks or short hikes around the park, with trails varying in difficulty. 

Wildlife Viewing: The park hosts a variety of wildlife, including elephants, buffaloes, antelopes, and over 300 bird species. Game drives or guided walks offer opportunities to observe these animals in their natural habitat.

Cave Exploration: Notable for its cave systems, the park provides a unique chance to explore these geological formations. The famous Kitum Cave, visited by elephants for its salt deposits, is a particular highlight on the Kenyan side.

Bird Watching: The park is a paradise for bird watchers with hundreds of bird species, including several endemic ones.

Cultural Experiences: Engage with the local Sabaot community living around the park to learn about their traditions and way of life.

Camping is possible within Mount Elgon National Park, providing a unique opportunity to connect with nature. The park has designated camping sites where visitors can set up their tents. Also, lodges and guest houses are available around the park.

Kitum Cave: This cave, made famous by the elephants that visit it for its salt deposits, is accessible via a short hike. You could also learn about the people who lived in it. It’s of a kind experience. 

Elephant Bluff: A slightly longer hike can take you to this viewpoint for a panoramic view of the park. You could also get the chance to encounter some elephants and leopards during the late afternoon. 

Nature walks in the park: Park authorities often have designated walking trails that allow you to explore the park’s diverse ecosystems in a few hours.

Can I hike Mount Elgon on the Kenyan side? As we mentioned before, the highest peak of Mount Elgon is located in Uganda. On the Kenyan side, you could do the long popular hike to Koitobos Peak (4,222 meters), typically taking about three days.

Or shorter trails that offer a chance to explore the park’s diverse landscapes and wildlife without committing to a multi-day trek. These short treks include walks to viewpoints, cave systems, and waterfalls within the park.

Is it worth visiting Kitum Cave? Kitum Cave is situated within the national park’s boundaries, on the eastern side of Mount Elgon. It’s the most popular attraction at the park. The cave extends deep into the volcanic Mount Elgon, reaching a length of approximately 200 meters. It is a dark and mysterious place with a unique atmosphere.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Kitum Cave is the presence of salt deposits on its walls. These deposits have been formed over centuries due to the constant seepage of mineral-rich water through volcanic rocks.

Kitum Cave is well-known for attracting various animal species. Elephants, in particular, are drawn to the cave due to the salt content in the walls. They visit the cave to scrape the salt off the cave walls using their tusks, resulting in distinct scratch marks on the surfaces.

Kitum Cave holds cultural significance for the local communities, including the Elgeyo and Sabaot tribes. They consider the cave sacred because their ancestors used to live there, and now they often conduct rituals and ceremonies there.

When is the best time to visit Mount Elgon National Park? The most popular time to visit is during the dry seasons (June to August and December to March) because the trails are typically more accessible, and wildlife viewing is often better because animals gather around water sources.

On the other hand, if you’re interested in bird-watching, the wet seasons (April to May and September to November) can be attractive as migratory birds are present. Remember that trails can be muddy and more challenging to navigate during these periods.

What animals can I see when visiting Mount Elgon National Park? One thing that makes Mount Elgon National Park so unique is that you can encounter wildlife very closely while hiking through the park. As you begin your hike, you will see zebras, baboons, and antelopes close up in a big field behind the entrance.

You will likely spot black-and-white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys inside the park. With a bit of luck, you might even see forest elephants. Although leopards are present in the park, sightings are rare due to their extreme shyness. Our guide, who has been working in the park for 20 years, has only spotted a leopard once.

Mount Elgon National Park is also a paradise for bird lovers, with over 300 bird species. You might also encounter buffaloes, among other wildlife. Note: Especially if you are visiting the park without a guide, you should be careful when encountering wildlife.

How to get to Mount Elgon National Park? Getting to Mount Elgon National Park on the Kenyan side involves a combination of air and road travel.
You can fly into Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

From Nairobi, there are two different destinations you could go to (by land or by air):

1. Kitale
It’s the closest town to Mount Elgon National Park (approximately 35 km from the park).

2. Eldoret
It’s the nearest major city to Mount Elgon National Park (approx. 150km from the park).

We recommend staying in Kitale since it is very convenient and close to the park.

Is it safe to visit Mount Elgon National Park? Mount Elgon National Park is generally considered safe to visit. The Kenyan and Ugandan authorities maintain and manage the park, providing security measures and guides to ensure a safe experience for visitors.

As with any wilderness area, there can be risks associated with wildlife encounters or challenging terrains, so it’s important to follow all park rules and guidelines and consider getting a guide (the park is enormous, and you might get lost).

How is the internet connection and signal in Mount Elgon? There is no Wifi within the park, and the cellular reception is in most of the paths either not existing or very poor. You can use Kitale as a base to work remotely while visiting Mount Elgon National Park.

Is it worth going to Mount Elgon National Park? Absolutely! The park is more than just a scenic spot — it offers an extraordinary journey that is a cut above your typical outing. Indeed, Mount Elgon National Park remains an undiscovered jewel in Africa.

Mount Elgon National Park

Mount Elgon National Park Facts

Mount Elgon National Park Vegetation | Ecosystem

Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve is a pristine natural sanctuary located in western Kenya, near the border with Uganda. The park is named after Mount Elgon, an ancient, extinct volcano that boasts the largest volcanic base in the world. It covers an area of 1,279 square kilometers on the Kenyan side, offering a unique blend of landscapes and ecosystems.

The park’s ecosystems are diverse, ranging from montane forests at lower altitudes to alpine moorlands at higher elevations. These ecosystems are home to a variety of flora, including the Elgon teak, cedar, and olive trees in the montane forests, and the peculiar giant lobelia and groundsel plants in the moorland zones.

The park’s vegetation zones are a result of the dramatic changes in altitude and climate, providing habitats for a wide range of wildlife and supporting high biodiversity. Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve is not only a haven for nature lovers but also plays a crucial role as a water catchment area.

The park’s forests and vegetation contribute to the regulation of the local climate and the flow of several rivers, which are vital for both the ecosystems within the park and the human communities that rely on them. As a protected area, the park ensures the conservation of these important natural resources, making it a key component in the ecological and hydrological stability of the region.


Climate | Best Time to Visit

Mount Elgon National Park has a moist to moderately dry climate, with an average annual rainfall of about 3,000 mm, making it a significant water catchment area. The park experiences two main dry seasons, ideal for wildlife viewing and hiking: from June to August and from December to March. These periods are considered the best times to visit, as the weather is more favorable and the trails are passable.

While the park is open to visitors throughout the year, the wettest months are from April to October. During this time, the park can be cold, with snow and hailstorms being common occurrences that may affect climbing experiences. Despite the challenging conditions, the park’s beauty is lush and the waterfalls are particularly impressive during the rainy season.

For those planning to visit, it is advisable to bring rain gear and warm clothing, regardless of the season, due to the possibility of abrupt weather changes. The dry seasons offer clearer skies and drier trails, making them the optimal times for exploring Mount Elgon’s natural splendor.


Location | How to get to Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve

Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve is prominently positioned in western Kenya, near the border with Uganda. The park is approximately 420 km from Nairobi and can be accessed via a tarmac road to the town of Kitale. From Kitale, visitors can take a Murram road leading to the Chorlim Gate, which is the main entrance to the park on the Kenyan side.

For those who prefer air travel, flights are available from Nairobi to Kitale, followed by a road transfer to the park. The journey by air from Nairobi to Kitale offers a quick and scenic route to the park, providing an alternative to the 8-hour drive.

Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve is a cross-border park, with the Kenyan side covering 169 km² (65 square miles) of the total area. The park’s unique location makes it a significant water catchment area for the Nzoia River, flowing into Lake Victoria, and the Turkwel River, flowing into Lake Turkana. The park’s diverse terrain and dramatic changes in altitude create distinct vegetation zones, offering visitors a variety of landscapes to explore.


Mammals | Wildlife & Animals

The park is a haven for numerous mammals, including the buffalo and elephants, which are often seen on the lower slopes where they roam freely. The forests are home to primates such as the black and white colobus monkeys and blue monkeys, which are easily spotted due to their distinctive coloration and playful nature.

Smaller mammals, such as the rock and tree hyrax, are also common in the park. These small creatures are known for their unique calls and can often be found basking on rocks or in trees. The white-tailed mongoose, suni, and black-fronted duiker are other species that thrive within the park’s boundaries, each adapted to specific niches within the ecosystem.

The park also provides a habitat for the mole rat, bushbucks, waterbuck, and elands. These animals contribute to the ecological diversity of the park and can be observed in various environments, from forested areas to open grasslands.

Rarely seen but present within the park are the elusive leopard, the bongo (a type of forest antelope), the giant forest hog, and other species that are shy and tend to avoid human presence. These animals are a testament to the park’s role as a critical refuge for wildlife, including those that are under threat.


Bird Checklist | Birdlife

Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve is an ornithological paradise, boasting a remarkable diversity of bird species. With over 300 bird species recorded, the park is a critical habitat for both forest and highland birds. Among these, the park is home to over 40 restricted-range species and 56 of the 87 Afrotropical highland biome species.

The birdlife in Mount Elgon includes the majestic Lammergeier, or bearded vulture, known for its impressive wingspan and soaring flight above the park’s caldera. Birdwatchers can also spot a variety of sunbirds, including the Tacazze Sunbird and the Golden-winged Sunbird, which are attracted to the rich nectar sources provided by the park’s flora.

Other notable species include the Hartlaub’s Turaco, Eastern Bronze-naped Pigeon, and the Jackson’s Francolin, which is prominent in the montane forest vegetation and bamboo zones of the mountain. Owls, eagles, and nightjars add to the nocturnal soundscape, while ibises and hawks patrol the skies and ground for prey.


2024 Mount Elgon National Park & Reserve Park Entrance Fees

Nationality

High Season (July to March) Low Season (March to June)
Adult Child/ Student Adult

Child/ Student

East African Citizen/ Resident

400
Kenya Shillings
250
Kenya Shillings
300
Kenya Shillings

200
Kenya Shillings

Rest of Africa

20 US Dollars 15 US Dollars 15 US Dollars 10 US Dollars

International Visitors

30 US Dollars 20 US Dollars 20 US Dollars

15 US Dollars

Activities | Things to do in Mount Elgon National Park

Hiking & Trekking

Koitoboss Peak, the highest point on the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon National Park, stands at 4,155 meters (13,852 feet) and offers a challenging yet exhilarating hike. The journey to the summit begins at Chorlim Gate and includes an overnight stay at Mutamaiyu Camp, nestled under giant African wild olive and Podocarpus trees.

Hikers traverse dense forests, encounter the Chesurur Waterfalls, and marvel at the Endebess Bluff before reaching the golden moorland that leads to Koitoboss Peak. The hike is a multi-day adventure, often spanning five days, and is known for its diverse flora and fauna, volcanic rock formations, and the iconic Kitum Caves, where elephants are known to visit for a unique salt lick experience.

You can also hike to Endebess Bluff, which combines high-elevation climbing with a jungle climate, resulting in inspiring views. The adventure begins with a ranger-guided drive to a somewhat hidden trailhead, followed by a moderate 45-minute climb through steep sections and dense forest.

At the summit, hikers are rewarded with panoramic views of the park, the city of Kitale, and even parts of Uganda. The hike is best undertaken outside the rainy season to avoid muddy trails, and while camping options are available, many prefer to stay at the park lodge for convenience.


Mount Elgon Caves

Kitum Cave: The most popular salt cave of Mount Elgon National Park in Kenya, is renowned for its unique geological formations and its connection to wildlife. This cavern boasts walls rich in mineral salts, attracting elephants and other animals who venture deep inside to obtain these essential nutrients. The cave’s walls bear the marks of elephants’ centuries-long mining for salt, creating a fascinating landscape within the earth.

Chepnyali Cave: a natural wonder nestled within the Kenyan side of Mount Elgon National Park, enchants visitors with its stunning geological formations. This expansive cave features towering stalagmites and stalactites, formed over centuries by the slow dripping of mineral-rich water.

The unique patterns and textures of these formations create an otherworldly ambiance. As you venture deeper into the cave, the darkness reveals a fascinating subterranean world, where the echoing sounds of dripping water and the sight of bats flitting in the shadows add to the sense of mystery and adventure.

Mackingeny Cave: This captivating highlight of Mount Elgon National Park in Kenya entices visitors with its dramatic entrance adorned by a cascading waterfall. The cave’s walls, rich in mineral salts, lure animals like elephants seeking essential nutrients.

This natural wonder offers a unique opportunity to witness wildlife interactions within the cave’s depths and capture breathtaking photographs of the surrounding scenery. The moderate hike through scenic forest trails adds to the adventure, making Making’eny Cave an unforgettable experience for nature enthusiasts and explorers alike.


Camping

Mount Elgon National Park offers several camping sites for visitors looking to immerse themselves in the park’s natural beauty. One of the notable camping sites is the Koitoboss Guesthouse and Campsite, which provides basic facilities such as toilets and running water.

It’s an ideal spot for those who wish to start their ascent to the peak of Mount Elgon. Another popular site is the Makutano Campsite, located near the park’s headquarters. It offers a more communal camping experience with shared amenities and is a great option for hikers who are preparing for or returning from their trek.


Nature walks

Mount Elgon National Park nature walks take visitors on a journey across diverse ecological zones. Starting in the montane forests, walkers are surrounded by a rich array of flora and fauna, including rare bird species and small mammals. Ascending through the bamboo and Podocarpus zone, the biodiversity peaks with thick bamboo stands and towering trees.

The heath zone introduces a landscape of dense scrub and vibrant wildflowers, while the moorland zone offers expansive grasslands with giant lobelia and groundsel plants. Trails like the Endebess Bluff provide breathtaking vistas, and the Kitum Cave trail leads to the intriguing geological formations that the park is renowned for. These walks not only offer a chance to witness the park’s unique vegetation and wildlife but also to engage with the serene beauty of Mount Elgon’s Kenyan highlands.

Booking & Reservations Mount Elgon National Park Contact

Mobile: +254-721-242-711
WhatsApp: +254-721-242-711
Reservations: +254 718-179-967
Email: info@africanspicesafaris.com
Website: https://africanspicesafaris.com

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