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Mount Elgon: Exploring the giant of eastern Uganda

By Evelyn Masaba

As you approach Mbale district in eastern Uganda, you are welcomed by a brooding object covered with mist or scattered clouds. The object magnifies as you get close to Mbale town, standing in all its glory like a Guardian Angel watching over the quaint town and its people.

Mount Elgon, or Masaba as its known in the local language, has one of the world’s largest intact caldera, and, with an estimated elevation of 10,070 ft above sea level, its highest known peak is called Wagagai. The extinct volcano is estimated to be over 24 million years old and sits on the border between Uganda and Kenya, with the largest portion nestling in Uganda.

According to the Uganda Wildlife Authority website, Mount Elgon was built up from lava debris that blew out from an enlarged volcanic vent during the pliocene epoch or system of rocks deposited. The mountain’s geological formation is dominated by basaltic materials and has a number of weathered granite at the basement complex.

It is said that after causing fenitisation of the granites,  carbonatite intrusions on the lower slopes rendered them sensitive to the instability on the slopes.

The climate around Mount Elgon can be classified as generally rainy, with the occasional months of sunny weather.

Mount Elgon is one of the oldest natural wonders in Uganda and is home to over four tribes, some Kenyan, others Ugandan. However, in Uganda, it is most known for being the home of the Bagisu, a bantu tribe that occupies most of the slopes of the mountain.

The slopes of Mountain Elgon have fertile soils that have been used to grow some of the best coffee in the world, Arabica. The slopes are also conducive for yams, cassava, bananas, beans and maize, among other perennial foods that can be easily sustained in the area by the farmers.
Teeming with wildlife
The mountain is also home to the Mount Elgon National Park, which is managed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority on behalf of the government of Uganda. The park covers a huge chunk of land that stretches into Kenya and is home to different animals, including the red-tailed monkeys, elephants and buffalos, which can mostly be seen at the slopes of the mountain.

Within the park you will find over 300 species of birds that migrate through the region, including those native to the country; some of the birds are said to be endangered species.

Though not well-known in the country, the Mount Elgon National Park is open all year round and has been attracting several hikers trying their luck at scaling their way to the Wagagai Summit. The region has so much tourism potential for the country; you can explore several caves on the hiking trail such as the crystalline walled Kitum cave and enjoy the beautiful views at the Endebess escarpment, which includes several of the rivers in the region (including River Manafwa, River Kufu) and the gorges.

There are forest walks organised by the Uganda Wildlife Authority to show visitors some of the different species of vegetation in the forests, which include bamboo trees, mahogany, eucalyptus, pine scattered through the park, and the slopes of the mountain.

Apart from the thick vegetation being home to numerous bird species and small animals, it is home to different rare species of butterflies that can be viewed in the area during the walks.

Some of the most beautiful views from the mountain are the waterfalls; Sipi, Simu and Sisi falls that cascade from the rocks and create a play of water and light. Located in Kapchwora district, the Sipi Falls are the most visited in the area and are worthy adding to your tour itinerary when exploring the Elgon.
Poor roads
Navigating areas around the mountain is slowed down by the poor road network, and there are few good travel lodges in this part of the country compared to western Uganda.

There is need for a lot more effort in promoting the tourism potential of eastern Uganda for the region to become a budding tourist hub; the same way the West is promoted. This will help improve returns on tourism in the country.

Even so, the areas below the slopes such as Mbale have good accommodation facilities such as hotels, lodges and hostels that travellers can stay in to prepare and rest after they have had a wonderful day up the mountain.
The writer is the public relations manager at Jumia Travel in Uganda. Travel.jumia.com is Africa’s No.1 hotel booking website, allowing you to get the best prices for more than 25,000 hotels in Africa and more than 200,000 hotels around the world.
Jumia Travel has offices in Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Abidjan, Algiers, Douala, Kampala, Dar Es Salaam, Nairobi, Addis Ababa, Porto and Paris.

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