EXCLUSIVE EXPERIENCES ALONG THE EASTERN FRONTIER
While the beaten tourist track runs south-west from Kampala, those heading in the opposite direction can discover some equally stunning but far from crowded destinations.
On Mount Elgon, the world’s largest free-standing volcanic mountain, walkers will find improbably pretty waterfalls, superb montane panoramas and vast forests.
Elgon is a 4,321m high extinct volcanoe which in prehistoric times stood taller than Kilimanjaro does today. Although the mountain struddies Kenya border, its loftiest peak, Wagagai, lies with in Uganda and is best ascended from the Uganda side. Elgon is an important water shed, and its slopes support a rich variety of altutidinal vegetation zones ranging from montane forest to high open moorland studded with the other-worldly giant lobelia and groundsel plant. Spectacular scenery is the main attraction for hikers on this oft-neglected and relatively undemanding mountain, but ther is a variety of forest monkeys and small antelope, along with elephant and buffalo. A checklist topping 300 birds includes many species not recorded else where in Uganda. Other attractions include ancient cave paintings close to the trail head at Budadiri, and spectacular caves and hot springs within the crater.
Getting there; Mbale lies 3-4 hours from Kampala along a good tar road. The trail head at Budadiri, 20km from Mbale, is accessible by public transport.
CLIMATE: Mount Elgon experiences dry seasons from June to August and December to March. At high altitudes, night time temperatures are cold. In the far north, kidepo valley is hotter and drier, with a single, prolonged dry season between October and March.
LANDSCAPE: Uganda’s eastern frontier is characterized by extensive plains dotted with extinct volcanoes and isolated mountain ranges. By far the most extensive of these is Mount Elgon, covering an area of 4,000sq km. moving north through the remote region of karamoja towards kidepo valley, the landscape becomes progressively drier.
CULTURE AND PEOPLE: The Bagisu people on the southern slopes of mount Elgon are known for their biannual imbalu ceremonyin which boys are initiated into manhood through circumcision. The karamojong who live between mount Elgon and Kidepo valley, are pastoralists who continue to resist change in favour of their traditional, semi-nomadic life style.
MOUNT ELGON: Mount elgon national park is an ideal setting for both short and extended hikes. The park’s forest exploration centre at Kapkwai offers half –day and full-dayguided walks through montane forest to visit caves and waterfalls.expeditions, several days in duration, ascend to 4,321 metre summit of the mountain from the choice of trailheads. Nights are spent in basic huts and campsites.the main peaks form the shattered wall of a collapsed central caldera-at 8km in diameter, said to be the world’s largest – which contains glacial and hot springs.
Excellent opportunities for walking also exist outside the park, notably around sipi village, where the sipi river plunges in quick succession over three lofty waterfalls. If these gems are not sufficient incentive, the sipi valley’s elevated location affords fabulous sunset panoramas over the vast plains and lakes at the base of the mountain.
ACCOMMODATION: Mount Elgon national park offers basic cottages at Kapkwai while mid-range lodges, back parker cottages and campsites surround sipi village. At the foot of the mountain, below the towering Wanale cliffs, Mbale town contains several good hotels and is a good base for exploring the region.
TRAVEL: Mbale is230 km( four hour’s drive) from Kampala on good tarmac roads and another 50 km(one hour’s drive)