The top places for mountain climbing and hiking in Uganda
Rwenzori Mountains margarita peak, mt. stanley, rwenzori mountains

The Rwenzori mountains

are found along the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, covering a length of 120km and width of 65km. They have Africa’s third highest mountain, Mt. Stanley that stands at 5109m, and are also one of the only three on the continent with permanently snow capped peaks. In Uganda they make up the Rwenzori Mountains National Park, the prime destination for mountaineering in Uganda.

The Rwenzoris support an array of rare and endemic wildlife, stunning glaciers, beautiful waterfalls, rivers and lakes. Basing on the stunning beauty and block type formation, the Rwenzori were ranked the best in Africa and ninth in the world for mountain climbing and hiking adventures . There are a number of trails travelers can take to for exciting treks into the mountain. The longest trail, called the Central Circuit, is 8 days (7 nights) and includes the chance to climb to the highest peak of Margherita for those who can manage. There other shorter trails that offer easier treks such as the 3 day Mahoma loop, 1 day Chimpanzee trail and 1 day Kilembe trail.

Mountain Elgon

Mountain Elgon, 4321m, lies in eastern Uganda on the border with Kenya, its highest peak Wagagai situated on the Ugandan side. It was one time, thousands of years ago, Africa’s highest mountain but was gradually eroded at the peak reducing it to the current height of 4321m – 8th in Africa, 4th in East Africa. The mountain also possesses the the largest caldera in the world measuring 50km by 80km. Climbing Mt. Elgon is not one of simply targeting to reach the summit, it is more about discovering the fascinating wildlife along the slopes. The varied vegetation zones harbor plenty of wildlife that you may encounter during the trek. There are also fascinating features such as caves, water pools, falls, and wonderful scenery. There are two major trails that lead to the peaks, taking 4 to 5 days. One is called the Sasa trail (Budadiri trail head), accessible from Mbale, is the more direct to the peaks and goes through the largest area of bamboo forest. The second trail is called Piswa and is known to be a more gentle hike than the Sasa.

Sipi Falls

The Sipi Falls are found in the village of Sipi, Kapchorwa District, in eastern Uganda and they are an iconic attraction of the eastern region of Uganda as one of the best destinations for hiking tours in Uganda. The Sipi falls also provide the starting point and end point of climbing tours in Mount Elgon, and also provide a wonderful stopover to break down the long trip to the Kidepo Valley National Park a premier Uganda safari destination that is located farther away in the remote north eastern corner of Uganda.

The Sipi Falls consists of a series of three stunning waterfalls situated in the foothills of Mount Elgon in Mount Elgon National Park. The falls are located on the Sipi River that flows from hotsprings on top of Mt. Elgon and at the bottom of the mountain the river encounters high cliffs and numerous rocks thereby creating a series of rapids and the three stunning Sipi waterfalls. After creating the waterfalls the Sipi River continues and pours into Lake Kyoga.

The 3 Sipi Falls Trail
Following the Sipi river flow from the top, the first waterfall plunges 85 meters over a cliff into the plunge pool below. It is the second highest of the three Sipi waterfalls and gives off such a thunderous splash! Midway this cliff is a trail that cuts behind the waterfall. It looks quite scary from the bottom before you get up there, but it is safe and such an incredible vantage point for better views of the falls and panoramic views of the Mt. Elgon Slopes & the distant plains of the Karamoja region.

After the plunge, the river continues on its course through farmlands & local communities, flowing over rocks & small cliffs and thereby forming pools & rapids, before it plunges 65 meters over another big cliff, forming the second waterfall of the Sipi Falls. This is the smallest of the three Sipi waterfalls. The waterfall forms a nice “natural shower” which you can go under and enjoy the cold pour especially after a tiring hike. However during the rainy season the water volumes goes up and the shower will be too strong and risky. There is also a man made cave behind the waterfall situated near to the bottom. The cave offers a wonderful behind the waterfall experience, where you can sit silently in the shadow of the gushing waterfalls that have created a sort of a curtain to the cave. Enjoy the cool breeze, nice views and lots of good photos!

sipi falls trekking

From here the river flow continues through a bit of more bushes and less local community farmlands, before plunging over another massive cliff, 100 meters high – hence the biggest of the three Sipi waterfalls. This waterfall has a big enough plunge pool that you can dive in for a swim in the cold waters. It is commonly referred to as a “natural swimming pool”. This is considered the main waterfall and often times mistaken to be “thee” Sipi Falls without considering the two others waterfalls. It is totally breathtaking with rainbows cutting through the sparkling white falls.

Activities & Adventures to do at Sipi Falls

Hiking to the 3 Sipi falls
sipi-falls-hikingThe Sipi Falls is one of the outstanding attractions in Eastern Uganda, and arguably the most beautiful waterfalls in Uganda that you should consider to visit.

The falls being located at different areas along the cliffs-dominated foothills of the Mountain Elgon, you cannot see all three of them at once. For this matter you have to hike to each of the waterfalls, following a trail approximately 7 to 8km. It is a bit strenuous though, as there are some steep spots and rocks that give a bit of a challenge especially when it rains, the trail becoming all muddy and slippery. A walking stick comes in very handy for much needed support.

The trek meanders through villages and coffee and banana farmlands and also offers excellent views of the massive wall-like cliffs, the green slopes of Mt. Elgon from up, to the flat grounds below the foothills across Kapchorwa and in the distance panoramic views of the Karamoja plains.

On average, it takes three hours to hike all three falls, but this so much depends on ones pace & fitness levels. It is wiser though, to plan for four hours to cater for stops and time spent at the different falls. There are a number of starting points, depending on which waterfall you intend to start with or hike to. If time is not your concern and you are confident of completing the entire hike, it is best to start from the top, and save the best & most challenging for last, and that is the main waterfall. Alternatively you can hike to the first two falls before breaking off for lunch or a break at one of the lodges and later proceed to the main falls to spend the rest of the day & probably do so some swimming in the cold plunge pool. If you have limited time, it is best you start off with the main waterfall and see if you can continue up to the other two.

The hiking trail is not properly demarcated and at some places combines with the village footpaths, increasing the possibility of getting lost. It is therefore a must to take along a local guide(s), many of whom are natives of Sipi and know the trail very well. Porters are available too if you feel the need for one, more so during the rainy season. You will find these (porters & guides) eagerly waiting for any arriving visitor to Sipi.

A fee of 2000 Uganda Shillings (approx 1 USD) is the requirement to visit the Sipi Falls, paid to a representative of the Sipi local community who are the managers of the falls.

Abseiling/Rappelling & Rock Climbing at Sipi Falls
Sipi Falls is the premier destination for Abseiling in Uganda. Rock Climbing & Abseiling are done at the main waterfall. Equipment (rappels) is available as well as well trained guides to take you through this thrilling adventure.

Local experience of coffee processing
The lower inhabitable slopes of Mountain Elgon, such as Sipi, are popular for coffee (Arabica) farming as the key income earner for the local communities. You have the opportunity to join a household where you are taken through a learning experience of coffee farming to local coffee processing.

Mountain Elgon is one of Uganda’s richest destinations for birding tours to the effect that it recorded the highest number of bird species (275) on the Big Birding Day of 2013, beating off perennial favorites Murchison Falls & Queen Elizabeth National Park. Sipi Falls is ideal for a short birding tour for some of Elgon’s species or even a starting point to bird Mt. Elgon National Park.

Local Cultural Experiences
Kapchorwa, and Sipi in particular is inhibited by the Sabin, an overwhelmingly welcoming and friendly tribe with rich ancient cultures. They are mostly popular for the Male and Female circumcision. Female circumcision is almost phased out now after massive worldwide campaigns against a practice viewed as very unfavorable and disadvantageous to women. The Male circumcision ritual is an interesting cultural event one can witness and take part in. Local cultural dances are also organized by the community.

Accommodation at Sipi Falls
Upmarket : Sipi River Lodge

Moderate: Lacam Lodge, Sipi Falls Resort

Budget: The Crow’s Nest

Getting to Sipi Falls
It is 4 – 5 hours of drive from Kampala, through Jinja, Mbale to Kapchorwa.

Virunga Mountains (Volcanoes)

virunga volcanoes ugandaUganda shares 3 of the main 8 volcanoes of the magnificent Virunga Mountains which straddle along the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The 3 are located in southwestern Uganda along the border with Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The volcanoes offer excellent day hikes filled with some of the best views in Africa. The Virungas harbor lots of unique and rare wildlife which you have chance of encountering such as the Mountain Gorillas, Golden Monkeys, endemic birds and mountain vegetation.

Muhabura (4127m):

It starts the chain of the Virungas, situated on the Rwanda – Uganda border. It is longer hike to the summit taking about 5 hours which makes it tough, and coming down takes roughly the same. It has a small crater lake at the summit which can easily circumnavigated to get access to views across the Virunga ranges.

Mgahinga (3474m)

This is a much smaller mountain of the three, situated between Muhavura and Sabinyo, but closer to former. It is a short and easier hike. It is bigger crater lake at the summit which isn’t so easy to circumnavigate to gain better views.

Mount Sabinyo volcano Hike Uganda, climbing mt. sabyinyo in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park
Mount Sabinyo

Mount Sabinyo, 3645m, (also spelled “sabyinyo”) offers one of the best mountain hiking and climbing experiences in Uganda. A dormant volcano, Mt Sabinyo is one of the numerous rolling volcanoes that make up the magnificent Virunga mountain range that spans along the borders of Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the other volcanoes either lie in one of the countries or are shared between two countries, Mt. Sabinyo lies at the meeting point of the all the three borders. It is more like the axis of the Virunga range and offers the best views across the Virungas, you could call it a 360 degree experience!

In Uganda, Mt Sabinyo is located within Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in the southwestern corner of the country.

“Sabinyo” is a local term which means “old man’s teeth” in reference to the mt. Sabinyo’s distinct summit with peaks which look like an old man’s spaced teeth.

Hiking Mount Sabyinyo

Due to the extremely rugged nature of the terrain along the Sabinyo’s slopes that has many craters with sharp ridges, the mountain cannot be trekked in the other two countries except in Uganda where they have managed to work out a safe though challenging trail that includes improvising handmade ladders to assist climbers at very steep sections. Like all the other Virunga volcanoes except the highest, Karisimbi that requires 2 days, Mt. Sabinyo is a one day hike and the round trek is 8 hours, 4 hours to the summit and 4 hours back, however depending on the pace, weather, etc…

Hiking activity sets off from the park office after meeting with and briefing by the ranger guide. Walking sticks are provided for free meanwhile the porters are available for hire.

You go through vegetation ranges from the bamboo zone between 2400 – 2800m, this is also habitat for the Golden Monkeys which you are chanced at seeing. Other big wildlife in the park includes Buffaloes, Elephants and Gorillas but are rarely seen on the trail. Between 2800 – 3200m is a beautiful forest patch of Hagenia Hypericum, over 3200 is that Sub-alpine zone that has fewer trees. This is also territory of the famous Rwenzori Turaco, a stunning bird which is also endemic to the Albertine rift region.

At the summit you hike to each of the three summits and get the chance to be at the meeting point of all the countries, and enjoy the best views of all!

What you need to carry for the Mount Sabyinyo Hike
Rain gear, i.e. rain coat
Hiking shoes
Stocking hat for warmth
Garden gloves for cold weather at the top
Long-sleeved shirt and trouser to protect from itchy plants e.g. stinging nettles
Lunch and snacks


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