Mount Elgon National Park lays claim to one-half of Mount Elgon. The other half is in Uganda. The mountain is the 8th highest in Africa with a base area that is the largest of any freestanding volcano in the world. The 316,048-acre park is bisected by the border of Kenya and Uganda. The 41,761 acres of Kenyan territory were gazetted in 1968. The other 274,287 acres in Uganda became a park in 1992. On the Kenyan side, you may not see all the Big Five, but you will enjoy the spectacular views. When you visit, make sure to include these five things in your bucket list.
1. Discover the Colourful World of Monkeys
Mount Elgon National Park is home to the black and white Colobus monkey, the blue monkey, and the forest monkey. But you will also see a variety of small antelope as well as catch herds of buffalo, elephants and eland.
2. Spot Over 300 Bird Species
Over 300 bird species inhabit Mount Elgon National Park, including the Lammergeier, African Goshawk and Baglafecht Weaver. In 2005, Maathai’s Longleg, an endangered species of dragonfly named after Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, was discovered here.
3. Explore Kitum Cave
Kitum Cave is the largest of four caves in Mount Elgon National Park that are collectively known as Elkony. The cave extends horizontally for 200 M into the heart of Mount Elgon. In Maa language, the cave’s name means ‘place of the ceremonies’. Kitum Cave, alongside Makingeni, Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha, are a favourite gathering place for elephants. They are the only place in the world where long convoys of elephants venture deep into the cave to feed off of the salt-rich deposits.
The vegetation in the forest is low in sodium, so the jumbos arrive here in their droves to satisfy this need. It is this nightly phenomenon that has earned them the title of the ‘underground elephants’. Yet as Kitum has become a pilgrimage of sustenance, it has also ended up becoming a graveyard of the underground elephants. In the pitch darkness of the cave, the elephants grope about, stumble and break bones. Sometimes they get stuck in the crevices and are eaten by other animals. Other times they just starve to death trapped in these crevices. The growing piles of bones in the cave are evidence of this.
But it was Richard Preston’s book, ‘The Hot Zone’, which finally gave this cave its present celebrity status. In his book, Richard describes two instances of tourists contracting the deadly Ebola-like Marburg Hemorrhagic Fever here. A large American expedition came to the cave to establish the source of this virus. It took 10 years to figure out that the origin was the numerous bats that live in the cave.
4. Visit the Endebes Bluff
At the Endebes bluff, you get panoramic views of the area’s escarpments, gorges, mesas and rivers. It is a perfect spot for spectacular photography as well.
5. Scale Koitoboss
Koitoboss happens to be the highest point on Mount Elgon on the Kenya side. It rises 4,155 M (13,852 FT) into the sky. On the Ugandan side, it stands slightly taller at 4,322 M (14,178 FT) above sea level. Once you reach the peak of Koitoboss, you could opt to descend northwest into the crater to the Suam Hot Springs. Alternatively, you could go east around the crater rim and end up at the small village of Masara on the eastern slopes of the mountain (about 25 KM). This route takes you back to Endebess. If camping is in your mind, then the southwest route around the rim of the crater to Lower Elgon Tarn is right for you. Here the camping ground is good. This route also gives you the added bonus of descending the 4,302 metres of the Lower Elgon Peak, Mount Elgon’s other summit.
So if you are not big on wildlife, which is always the big reason for visiting parks, Mount Elgon National Park will be a thrill. It is about 48 KM (30 MI) from the interesting town of Eldoret by road. So what are you waiting for? Check out the park entry fees at the Kenya Wildlife Service website and start planning!